Rescue of a Cat by a Life‑boat, and the Sequel
The Hawkesdale, a trading vessel of 1724 tons, belonging to Liverpool, was on her voyage, bound from Hamburg to Melbourne with a mixed cargo, including amongst the rest 500 pianos ‘made in Germany.’ Mr. Aubrey F. Chaplin was an apprentice on board the vessel. There was also a very fine cat named ‘Freddy’ on board, which was so kindly treated by Mr. Chaplin that he used to follow at the young apprentice’s heels (he was then only seventeen years of age) up and down by the hour as he paced the deck when on watch. It was the apprentice’s second voyage.
After leaving the Elbe the vessel encountered violent winds and rough weather, and by some mistake she got out of her course for Melbourne, and eventually ran aground on the Long Sands between Margate and Clacton-on-Sea, and lay there, a prey to the fury of the winds and waves.
An attempt was made to launch the boats, but directly the first was lowered, it capsized, and three men were drowned. Soon after the other boat was broken from its fastenings and lost. For six hours the crew remained in suspense, expecting that the ship would break up or the masts would fall, the sails having been torn into shreds by the gale.
At last the signals of distress were observed, and the Life-boats from Clacton and Margate belonging to the Royal National Life-Boat Institution were seen coming gallantly to the rescue. Then there was considerable difficulty in getting the men, one by one, from the ship into the Life-boats, for as they were lifted by the waves to the ship’s level, the men had to jump over and clutch the boat’s ropes as best they could.
At this crisis, when the uppermost thoughts of all on board might have been to save himself alone, Chaplin remembered his pet cat, and another apprentice remembered a dog also on board, and asked leave to rescue them. The dog was seized by the second apprentice and thrown over into the friendly arms of the Life-boat’s crew, whilst Chaplin ran below to hunt for the cat, which he found sleeping soundly, unconscious of the danger around, but in another moment Chaplin had dived into the storeroom and found a sack, into which he tied ‘Freddy.’
When he reappeared, the captain of the Life-boat took for granted that he had been to fetch some valuables from the cabin, and protested that he could only take ‘live cargo’; but when he learned the true contents of the sack, it was allowed to be thrown over into the boat, and Chaplin followed, being one of the last to leave the ship. The poor cat was nearly drowned from lying in the water that had washed over into the boat, but his rescuer had no intention of relaxing his humane efforts.
Wet, and cold, and half stupefied by a blow on the head which he received when getting over the ship’s side, he lifted the sack with its living freight on his knees, and kept it there between three and four hours, while the Life-boat was struggling back through heavy seas to Clacton, a distance of over fifteen miles.
On that occasion the two Life-boats saved twenty-four of the crew, besides the dog and cat. ‘Freddy,’ the cat, has ever since been safe and well, and is a great favourite in the residence of his rescuer’s parents at Rugby. ◈
According to Bart
Young Aubrey fully deserved his large silver medal “in remembrance of his brave conduct in saving the life of a cat, at almost the risk of his own, in time of shipwreck.” The lad who saved the dog deserved a gong too. While Freddy showed the utmost forbearance for over three hours stuck in the sack as the boat struggled back to Clacton through heavy seas not knowing where he was going or if his next breath would be his last. However, the true grit award on this occasion has to go to the boatmen from Clacton and Margate who risked their lives to save the crew. Here’s The Lifeboat’s on-the-spot report.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution
In the early 19th century there was an average of 1,800 shipwrecks a year around Britain’s coasts. One man, Sir William Hillary, who witnessed dozens of shipwrecks on the Manx coastline and saved many lives with the help of locals, refused to sit by and watch people drown. He organised a public meeting in London and on 4 March 1824 at London Tavern, Bishopsgate, over 30 eminent gentlemen unanimously passed 12 resolutions, including:
That an Institution [National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck] can now be formed … to be supported by donations and annual subscriptions … That such immediate assistance be afforded to persons rescued as their necessities may require … That the subjects of all nations be equally objects of the Institution, as well in war as in peace [and] that medallions or pecuniary rewards be given to those who rescue lives.
Almost 200 years later their 12 resolutions still stand as part of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution charter (the name was changed in 1854), a charity that saves lives at sea around the coasts of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man as well as on some inland waterways. It’s still principally funded by legacies and donations, and most lifeboat crews are unpaid volunteers. Read more.