Captain Cook’s Four-legged Friends

Today, a guest post from cartoonist and QI contributor Adrian Teal.

I hope to tickle your fancy with a couple of stories which focus on naval matters and another great British obsession: our love of animals. We often forget that, in an era before refrigeration and Heinz’s 57 varieties, eighteenth-century ships were often laden with livestock, including chickens, geese and even cows. The lives some of these critters led were sometimes as epic and noteworthy as those of the globe-trotting Jack Tars who berthed alongside them.

Lieutenant James Cook (1728-1779) was dedicated to the health of his crews, and was determined they should enjoy the benefits of fresh milk on his first great voyage of 1768 – 1771. To this end, he took a lady goat aboard HMS Endeavour for his voyage to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti, and the circumnavigation of the globe which this expedition entailed. This goat was already a seafaring veteran, however. After serving on land in the West Indies for three years, Captain Samuel Wallis (1728-1795) had her put aboard HMS Dolphin for his circumnavigation in 1766. On her return to England with Cook, she was pensioned off by the Admiralty, and enjoyed ‘good English pasture’ for the rest of her days. Not once did her milk run dry, and Dr. Samuel Johnson (who met Cook and knew his shipmate, the botanist and man-about-town Sir Joseph Banks) penned a Latin couplet about her, which was emblazoned on a collar and put around her neck. It read, “PERPETUA AMBITA BIS TERRA PRAEMIA LACTIS, / HAEC HABET ALTRICI CAPRA SECUNDA JOVIS”. Johnson’s sycophantic hanger-on, James Boswell, later translated and expanded this as follows…

                 In fame scarce second to the nurse of Jove,
                 This goat, who twice the world had traversed round,
                 Deserving both her master’s care and love,
                 Ease and perpetual pasture now has found.

In one of those inconvenient twists which too often dog true stories, she died not long after her retirement.

Rather more long-lived was another sailing companion of Cook, this time on his third and final great voyage. He was a radiated tortoise from Madagascar called Tu’i Malila. Cook (by now a Captain in charge of HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery) gave the tortoise as a gift to the people of Tonga in 1777, and he soon became a valued member of the island’s royal household. In fact, his name means ‘king of the royal residence’. He had a habit of straying, however, and seems to have been highly accident-prone. He was singed in a grass fire, kicked by a horse, and a carriage once ran him over. When he was a boy, the Tongan king used to ride around on his back. He was shown to Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Tonga in 1953. In spite of his hard life, he was clearly tough as old boots because he didn’t die until 1965, when his age was at least 188 years. His mortal remains are now on display in the Museum of the Tongan National Centre.

Adrian Teal


  • June 24, 2011 - 11:23 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I love a good sea yarn. A wonderful guest. And thanks to Randy, I had no idea Patrick O’Brian had written a biography of Banks. I love the Aubrey/Maturin novels.

    Fantastic Sketch of Captain Cook

  • Anonymous
    June 21, 2011 - 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Randy. Banks has always fascinated me, particularly as the ‘Bounty’ mutiny is one of my pet subjects.


  • Anonymous
    June 21, 2011 - 12:18 pm | Permalink

    @diamondbertie says there is a lot of talent out there on twitter and links like this are most rewarding

  • June 21, 2011 - 11:51 am | Permalink

    Additional reading: Joseph Banks: A Life. It’s a beautifully written biography by Patrick O’Brian, the author of the wonderful-beyond-words Georgian period novels know as the Aubrey/Maturin Saga.


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