Sea Stories

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_ examination. 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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