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Sea StoriesDocks And Shipbuilding
Having in the previous chapters treated of the subje...
Once upon a time there were no ships. Men did not kn...
A Naval Menagerie
Denis was a pig, a very special sort of pig, a pig of German origin,
and perhaps the only animal of his species in whose favour a special
dispensation was made by the Board of Agriculture. He originally
belonged to the German light cruiser _Dresden_, and, after the
destruction of that vessel at Juan Fernandez by the _Kent_, _Glasgow_,
and _Orama_, was seen swimming about in the water close to the
_Glasgow_. A blue-jacket promptly jumped overboard and rescued him
from a watery grave, and Denis, instead of being converted into pork or
sausages, became a prisoner of war and a pet. He did not seem the
least dismayed by his change of nationality, and, being an adaptable
creature of robust constitution, throve on a miscellaneous and
indiscriminate diet of ships' provisions, eked out by tobacco,
cigarette ends, and coal. Moreover, within a month, so history
relates, he was quite accustomed to sleeping in a hammock, where he
snored exactly like a human being.
But the regulations as to the importation of animals into Great Britain
are necessarily stringent, and on the _Glasgow's_ arrival in home
waters there were complications as to the disposal of Denis. He could
not be landed in the ordinary way, but eventually, after some
correspondence, the Board of Agriculture solved the momentous question
by giving special permission for him to be put ashore at Whale Island,
the naval gunnery school in Portsmouth harbour. There, so far as I
know, he still remains as a naturalised Briton.
But a pig is by no means the strangest animal which has made its home
on board a man-of-war. In a small gunboat in China some years ago the
ship's company acquired a so-called tame alligator. Algernon, as they
christened him, came on board as a youngster a few weeks old and about
four feet long, and soon developed a habit of appearing when the decks
were being scrubbed in the mornings, when he revelled in having the
hose played upon him and in having his scaly back well scrubbed with a
hard broom. He devoured a tame rabbit and two cats, but the crux came
when he taught himself a trick of waiting until some unsuspecting
person had his back turned, of making a sudden rush at his victim and
capsizing him with a well-placed whisk of his horny tail, and then
running in with a good-humoured smile and a ferocious snapping and
gnashing of his yellow teeth. It was all very funny, but so many
innocent persons were wrought almost to the verge of nervous
prostration by Algernon's ideas of sport, that at last the fiat went
forth that he must die. He was shot at dawn, and, less lucky than
Denis, reached England in a stuffed and rather moth-eaten condition.
Goats are comparatively common as pets in the Navy, but the goat of all
the goats was a white creature rejoicing in the unromantic name of
William who lived on board a cruiser. His staple articles of food
seemed to consist of tobacco, cigarettes, stray rope-yarns, bristles of
brooms, and odds and ends of old canvas, while he was not averse to
licking the galvanised compound off the newly painted quarter-deck
stanchions whenever an opportunity of doing so presented itself. He
was a healthy goat of voracious appetite. His gastric juices would
have dissolved a marline-spike, and he even made short work of the
greater portion of a pair of ammunition boots belonging to the
Sergeant-Major of Royal Marines, and devoured with every symptom of
relish a sheaf of official and highly important documents lying on the
writing-table in the navigator's cabin.
William, in spite of his varied diet, always looked well-nourished and
in the rudest of health, and on Sundays was wont to appear at divisions
with his hair and beard parted in the middle, wearing an elaborate
brass collar, and with gilded horns and hooves. He had charming
manners, and even condescended to drink an occasional glass of sherry
in the wardroom on guest nights. Of his ultimate fate I have no
knowledge, but, with the very miscellaneous contents of his interior,
he would have provided a most interesting subject for a _post-mortem_
Several ships have had bears as pets, but one in particular, which was
the mascot of a cruiser on the Mediterranean station, was a bear with a
pronounced sense of humour. On one occasion it so happened that the
vessel to which he belonged was lying alongside the mole at Gibraltar,
while another cruiser, fresh from England, was made fast just astern of
her. It was Sunday afternoon, and all hands and the cook, except those
on duty, followed the usual custom of the Service by selecting sunny
spots on deck and then composing themselves to peaceful slumber. At
about 2.30 p.m. Master Bruin, freeing himself from his chain, landed,
ambled along the jetty, and approached the newly arrived vessel on a
tour of investigation. The sentry, not liking the look of the animal,
found something important to do at the other end of his beat, while the
bear proceeding on board unmolested, frightened nearly out of his wits
a burly petty officer doing duty as quartermaster, and then followed up
his moral victory by chasing him round and round the upper deck. The
petty officer, a well covered man, nearly dropped from heat and
exhaustion, but just managed to barricade himself in the galley before
being overtaken and fondly hugged. The sleepers, meanwhile, hearing
unusual sounds of revelry, woke up to see a wild-looking animal seeking
another victim, and thinking that Bostock's menagerie had broken loose,
rose from their couches and stampeded for the mess-deck.
The bear then waddled aft in search of further recreation, and seeing
the curtained doorway of one of the upper deck cabins, promptly elbowed
his way in. Inside was an officer fast asleep on the bunk, who,
hearing the sound of heavy breathing, opened his eyes to see the shaggy
bulk of his huge visitor interposed between him and the doorway. For a
moment he was non-plussed, and, keeping quite still, endeavoured to
mesmerise the animal by looking him full in the eyes. But the
ferocious look on the bear's face, a pair of fierce twinkling eyes, an
open mouth with its rows of sharp teeth, and a long red tongue dripping
with saliva, warned him that mere mesmerism would be useless if he were
to avoid a tussle. There was only one other exit besides the door, so
without further ado he sprang for ... the open scuttle. He wormed his
way successfully through the small orifice with some loss of dignity
and greatly to the detriment of his Sunday trousers, flopped gracefully
into the water with a splash, and, swimming to the gangway, clambered
back on board again. Then, rushing to his cabin, he slammed the door
and imprisoned his unwelcome visitor inside.
Next, seeking out the sentry, he desired him to eject the intruder.
But the marine, a wise man, firmly but politely intimated that he had
joined his corps to fight the King's enemies, not bears of unknown
origin and ferocious aspect, and added that the only conditions on
which he would undertake the job was with the assistance of his rifle,
a fixed bayonet, and some ball ammunition. The bear, meanwhile, locked
in the cabin, was thoroughly enjoying himself in clawing and tearing to
ribbons everything within reach, and by the time his breathless keeper
from the other ship arrived upon the scene to conduct his charge home
in disgrace, the cabin was in a state of utter desolation. A bull in a
china shop is nothing to an unwieldy brute of a bear in a small
apartment measuring ten feet by eight. All's well that ends well, but
the officer's best trousers were completely ruined, and he himself
never heard the end of his Sabbath afternoon adventure. The bear
received six strokes with a cane for his share in the proceedings.
The last escapade of his that I heard of was when he hugged and removed
most of the clothes from a low class Spanish workman from the dockyard
at Gibraltar. The man had baited him, eventually releasing the
terrified, half-naked wretch, and chasing him at full speed for nearly
half a mile. A crowd of excited, laughing blue-jackets went in pursuit
of the bear, but the faster they ran, the faster went the animal and
his quarry. Bruin enjoyed it hugely. Not so the Spanish workman.
Dogs and cats are as common in the Navy as they are elsewhere, and it
is surprising how soon they become accustomed to naval routine. The
cats never go ashore unless their ship happens to be lying alongside a
dockyard wall, when they usually desert _en bloc_ and attach themselves
to some other ship, a fresh detachment coming on board in their stead.
The dogs are more faithful, and their wisdom becomes positively
uncanny, for always at the routine times for boats going ashore they
will be found waiting ready at the top of the gangway.
"Ginger" was an Irish terrier of plebeian origin belonging to a
battleship. He invariably landed in the postman's boat at 6.45 a.m.,
and once ashore went off on his own business. Nobody ever took the
trouble to discover what he did, but punctually at eight o'clock he
used to reappear at the landing place and return to the ship in the
boat which took off the married officers. On one occasion, however, he
was badly sold, for though the postman landed at the usual time, the
ship sailed at 7.30 to carry out target practice. Half an hour later,
therefore, there was no boat for Ginger, and his ship was a mere speck
on the horizon; but nothing daunted, the wise hound proceeded to the
Sailors' Home and spent the day there. He was discovered the same
afternoon when the ship returned into harbour, and his admirers always
averred that his temporary absence was the result of a carefully
thought out plan to avoid the sounds of gunfire, which he detested.
There must be many officers and men in the Navy who remember "North
Corner Bob," another red-haired Irish terrier, who used to frequent the
landing place at North Corner in Portsmouth dockyard. He was not a
large dog, as terriers go, but was a ferocious creature of wild and
bedraggled appearance, who seemed to regard North Corner as his own
especial domain. He fought every other animal who dared to venture
near the place, and many a naval dog bore the marks of Bob's teeth to
his dying day.
He even boarded strange ships lying alongside and carried on his
campaign of frightfulness there. In fact he terrorised all the dogs in
Portsmouth dockyard, including two spaniels belonging to the Admiral
Superintendent. But an officer in a certain ship whose wire-haired
terrier Cuthbert had been badly beaten by Bob some days before,
conceived a brilliant idea for having his revenge. Early one morning,
at Bob's usual time for passing by the ship on his way to North Corner,
Cuthbert, wearing a brand new muzzle, was taking his morning
constitutional on deck. Bob, punctual to the minute, came trotting by
in his usual don't-care-a-damn-for-anyone manner, but the sight of
Cuthbert putting on an equal amount of side on board his own ship was
too much for him, and rushing up the brow connecting the ship with the
shore he came on board licking his lips in joyful anticipation and the
lust of battle shining in his eye.
Cuthbert, a naturally good-natured dog, hurried forward to meet him,
but Bob, spurning his friendly advances, circled round on tip-toe, with
his teeth bared and hair bristling. Cuthbert, seeing that a fight was
inevitable, adopted similar tactics, and for some moments the two
animals padded softly round and round nosing each other and preparing
to spring in to the attack. Then, quite suddenly and for no apparent
reason, there came a shrill yelp of pain from Bob, and before anyone
realised what had happened his tail went down, he rushed madly over the
gangway, and shot along the jetty like a flash of greased lightning.
"What the devil's the matter with him?" queried the officer of the
watch, staring in amazement after the rapidly disappearing figure of
the well-known fighter.
"Matter!" spluttered Cuthbert's owner, weak with laughter. "Lord!
I've never seen anything like it! Did you see the way he skipped?"
"Did I not!" answered the O.O.W., laughing himself. "But what on earth
made him streak off like that?"
"Come here, Cuthbert," said his master.
The dog came forward, wagging his tail, and had his muzzle removed.
"D'you see that?" asked his owner, pointing to the end of it. 'That'
was a long and very sharp-pointed pin firmly soldered to the business
end of Cuthbert's headgear.
North Corner Bob never visited that particular ship again.
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