107 #90: The barking of a Newfoundland dog alerted Carpathia to Titanic’s lifeboats

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Rigel dog Titanic

FALSE. The story of ‘Rigel the wonder dog’ is almost certainly— in nearly every sense of the phrase—a shaggy dog story. It seems to have originated in press reports from 1912, probably started by Jonas Briggs, who falsely claimed to have been a crewmember aboard the Carpathia. According to his account, Rigel was a big black Newfoundland dog who belonged to First Officer Murdoch. The story goes that the dog had swum in the icy water, near lifeboat No. 4, for three hours, probably looking for his master, and alerted the Carpathia’s crew by barking. The lifeboat might not have been rescued if not for the sharp barking of Rigel, as Captain Rostron saw the boat on the starboard side of the bridge thanks to his sharp barking and ordered the engines stopped. Care was taken to get Rigel on board, but he appeared little affected by his long trip through the ice-cold water. He stood by the rail and barked until Captain Rostron called Briggs and had him take the dog below. Jonas Briggs said he then kept the dog.

The dog is not mentioned by Fourth Officer Boxhall in lifeboat No. 2—the first boat to be picked up—nor any of the survivors in lifeboat No. 4, so the Rigel story is almost certainly a fabrication. However, a few days after the sinking the German ship Bremen passed near Titanic’s wreck site and saw a field of bodies, including a shaggy dog, and debris floating in the water. Passenger Johanna Stunke described the awful scene as follows:

‘We passed within a hundred feet of the southernmost drift of the wreckage, and looking down over the rail we distinctly saw a number of bodies so clearly that we could make out what they were wearing and whether they were men or women.

‘We saw one woman in her night dress, with a baby clasped closely to her breast. Several women passengers screamed and left the rail in a fainting condition. There was another woman, fully dressed, with her arms tight around the body of a shaggy dog.’

It’s been suggested that this was Ann Isham, who allegedly brought a Great Dane on board and refused to leave it, but there’s no evidence to support this. However, several passengers did bring dogs on board, including two Pomeranians, a Pekinese called Sun Yat-Sen belonging to Henry Sleeper Harper which was rescued in lifeboat No. 3 with its owner, two French bulldogs and an Airedale terrier named Kitty belonging to the Astors, which did not survive. Master William Carter vividly remembered having to leave his own Airedale behind when he got into boat No. 4, Col. Astor promising to look after the dog for him.

Claims that there was a pack of hunting hounds on board were, however, untrue. First Class passenger Clarence Moore, who died in the sinking, had been to England to buy fifty pairs of hounds for his hunt, but he did not take them on board with him.

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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