Wednesday, May 27, 2009

RIGEL and the TITANIC - fact or fiction?

Several movies have been made over the years recounting the sinking of the Titanic on 21 April 1912. Few of the movies depited the dogs which were included on the ship's manifest. There were several of various breeds and all but two perished.
Christine Jamesson, a Titanic researcher, published the allegedly factual story, 'The Legend of Rigel' about a Newfoundland - the pet of the First Mate.
On the fateful night when the 'unsinkable' ship sailing on its maiden voyage hit an iceberg more than 1500 souls perished.
Had it not been for the response of the SS Carpathia even those who had managed to find a seat in a lifeboat would have also died of exposure to the cold.
Too weak to cry out a warning and with no light signal their predicament, one of the lifeboats was almost run down by the rescue ship.
But in the water beside the boat was RIGEL, the Newfoundland, who for 3 hours had been swimming around in the icy water presumably looking for his master.
As the Carpathia steamed towards them the dog's bark was heard by the captain attracting the crew to the plight of the survivors.
All on board the lifeboat were saved and RIGEL, wet but still warm was pulled from the water.
Once safely on board the ship, one of the seamen took RIGEL to his cabin and became the Newfoundland's new master.
Whether this story is fact or fiction is yet to be established.
In fact, the body of one woman was found in the water. She was clinging to a large dog, probably a Newfoundland, but both had succumbed to the elements.

Pic: Courtesy of Newflands, NZ []
Photo by Unicorn Images NZ


Anonymous said...

Only three dogs are documented to have survived: a Pekinese named “Sun Yat-Sen” owned by Mr. Henry Sleeper Harper who made his escape in lifeboat three with his master; a Pomeranian called “Lady” belonging to Miss Miss Margaret Hays who tucked the dog inside her coat and got into lifeboat seven and another Pomeranian name unknown owned by Elizabeth Barrett Rothschild. Both escaped together in boat six because Elizabeth refused to go on the lifeboat unless the dog came with her. She was hoisted aboard clutching her pet, which a few weeks later after the disaster her dog was killed in a fight with another larger dog in New York.
Most stories during those first weeks after the disaster were unsubstantiated rumors usually made up by the press. Contrary to what has been reported or published in many books there was no canary onboard. No pig either, at least a live animal. Miss Edith Rosenbaum Russell was reported to have brought a pet pig on board Titanic, but her lucky mascot and prized possession, was a toy covered in white fur that played a popular dance tune known as “La Maxixe”. She left on lifeboat 11 and kept the spirit of the children up by entertaining them throughout the night with her musical toy box. A couple of these stories also were to become the basis for two dog myths linked to the Titanic disaster.
One is about a large dog, a Great Dane, presumably owned by Miss Ann Elizabeth Isham, a 50 year old spinster, one of the four first class female passengers who did not survive. While it is true that “a lady refused to get in the lifeboat without her large dog”, there is nothing to connect that dog to Miss Isham, just like there is no truth to the report of a woman in a lifejacket with her frozen arms wrapped around a large dog floating together that presumably was sighted a couple of days after the disaster by passengers on the German liner Bremen. Neither Miss Isham nor the Great Dane dog were ever recovered. This story was adapted by novelist Ms. Marty Crisp, for her book “White Star: A Dog on the Titanic” and in fact it may be based on the real story of Miss Rothschild and her Pomeranian.
The other story, published by The New York Herald on April 21, 1912, is the one most often quoted, but sadly is nothing more than a fabricated myth, about a Newfoundland dog called Rigel – allegedly the pet of First Officer William Murdoch – that survived in the water and alerted the crew of rescue ship Carpathia to lifeboat 4 filled with exhausted survivors too weak to shout who were perilously close to being sunk by the Carpathia. The story claimed that the dog was pulled to safety too and was adopted by Jonas Briggs, a crewman on the Carpathia. Records show that Murdoch did not have any pet with him on the ship, no surviving passengers or crew members confirmed this story and finally no record exists of anyone with the name Briggs listed as a crew member on the Carpathia.

M. C. Muir said...

Dear Anonymous,
thank you for your educated comment. It makes most interesting reading. Obviously the information about Rigel which I have noted was allegedy factual was pure fiction. But pleased to know that it was three dogs, not two that were saved from the ship.