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Man’s Best Friend – On Land and At Sea

Original Parson's Terrier, TrumpHello, Eileen here. Dog people are familiar with the long history of dogs as not only companions, but as workers, trained to herd and hunt amongst other things. As a marine scientist, dog owner and history buff (especially English Tudor and Renaissance), a recent news story caught my eye and I couldn’t resist sharing it. Researchers working on the Mary Rose, a 16th century English warship made a surprising discovery on the sunken vessel – the almost-intact skeleton of the ship’s dog.

A Valued Member of the King’s Navy

The Mary Rose was at one time the pride of the English navy, the flagship of King Henry VIII (the one usually pictured with a turkey leg in hand and whose marital issues made the rhyme “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” as common to historians as any normal nursery rhyme). The ship served in the king’s navy for over thirty years before sinking during a battle in 1545. Since then, people have attempted to recover the wreckage almost before the river silt was settled around it. It was lost and rediscovered several times through out history before finally being recovered and brought Swimming Portugese Water Dogabove water again for the first time in 1982. Since then, it has been a virtual time capsule of English naval life.

Remains of sailors have been found on the Mary Rose before now, but the ship’s dog was the first of its kind. It has been nicknamed “Hatch” by the researchers, since it was found in the hatch (the nautical term for a doorway) to the carpenter’s cabin. During the time when the Mary Rose was sailing on the sea instead of under it, cats were considered bad luck aboard a ship. Small dogs like Hatch would have been kept on board to control the rat populations on the ship (as well as probably as companions to the sailors, we can imagine). Rats, as you can imagine, on a ship could be mean big problems for the crew. Raiders of food rations and vectors of disease, the pests could be controlled with a small dog, bred to seek and kill the rodents. Researchers say that Hatch, a female terrier-like dog about 2 years old, was apparently doing her job well – they only found a few partial rat skeletons on the wreckage with her.

Salty Sea Dogs of a Different Breed

Other dogs have a long history on the sea as well. History gives mention to dogs similar to today’s Portugese Water Dog or Standard Poodle that were bred for their abilities to swim and dive. They were valued not only for their companionship, but for their ability herd fish into nets and to retrieve lost nets and hooks and other gear for fishermen. The dogs were also prized by naval ships that would take advantage of their swimming skills using the dogs as message courier between ships and from ship to shore.

The now extinct breed, the St. John’s Water Dog of New Foundland, and its decendent the New Foundland which is a popular breed today both have working roots in the sea. Both breeds were popular with fishermen for their strong swimming abilities and love of water. These dogs were also used to retrieve loose fishing gear. The “Newfie” also has a reputation as a loyal lifeguard. They are often used as lifeguards and in search and rescue missions on and near the water. One in particular, called Bob, was credited with saving more than 20 lives in the 1830’s by pulling people to shore who had fallen into the Thames. He was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Humane League for his valor.  

Even today it is not uncommon to see dogs aboard naval and coast guard ships as mascots, though companionship and morale maintenance may be thier main occupation these days!

I have a female cocker spaniel puppy around Hatch’s age, and I can imagine my Duchess getting into mischief aboard a ship. Its amazing the connections we can find with those from another time and place with discoveries like these!

Swimming Portugese Water Dogs image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Challkhmc 

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  1. Pingback: U.S. History Notes and Reviews from the Beginning- 1877

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