Day 18: 18 January 2019
One blog entry is not enough to convey the importance of the dogs to the success of the expedition, nor the complex relationship that evolved between the animals and their drivers - nor indeed the pain that was felt when the time came for the dogs to die. So let me continue.
The dog-team drivers* considered themselves a cut above everybody else in the party. In his unpublished diary, Macklin wrote:
‘The “Dog Wallas”, as those of us who had charge of the teams were called, were occupied every day with exercising our teams. The dog-drivers were the envied ones of the expedition, and undoubtedly it was a great thing to have one’s own team, absolutely under one’s own control and untouched by anybody else. The dogs came to recognize their masters as their absolute lords, who fed them, housed them, worked them and punished them, on whom they were absolutely dependent for everything.’
As for the dogs, they were not actually pure-bred huskies (though no doubt they had a lot of huskie running around in them), but rather were a fierce pack of cross-bred, well-muscled, cold-hardened brutes that could kill if ever they were allowed to get out of control. According to Hurley, their successful training could only be achieved through the ‘frequent and judicious application of the whip … “Spare the whip and spoil the dog” is the imperative motto of all dog drivers.’
Macklin made frequent mention of his dogs. Mac, an obdurate bully, was more troublesome than most, and on one occasion Macklin had to intervene in a bloody tussle between him and Paddy before the latter was seriously injured: ‘I was compelled to give Mac such a blow that he was badly stunned for several minutes and I had a sudden fear that I had killed him.’ Another expedition member who saw it all, described it as a thudding uppercut to the chin. Several days later Mac was again causing trouble, but this time in a more measured way because, as Macklin observed, ‘he has had so many whip handles broken over his head that he does not care to carry his insubordination too far.’
Suzie was Macklin’s particular favourite, but she also could be troublesome as on one occasion when she got into a container which held ‘pemmican’ dog food. ‘She is’, he wrote, ‘a wicked little bitch and deserves more punishment than she gets’, but four days later we find all is forgiven when he wrote, ‘I would like to take Suzie home with me – she is a handsome bitch with a quiet, gentle, obedient disposition, and would make an excellent house dog.’ Then, just five days later, he wrote, ‘This morning I found that Suzie had bitten through part of the trace of my sledge, causing me considerable trouble to repair it. I gave her a good thrashing …’
Despite their dreams of taking the dogs home with them, they all knew that they had to die, but none the less, when the time came most of the dog-handlers were grief-stricken. Wild, Shackleton’s right-hand man (who had taken with him from the ship a revolver, a .33 calibre rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun) was happy to undertake the task in order to spare his friends the pain, but often the drivers felt it was their duty to perform the task. Macklin described his experience in particularly poignant terms:
‘I shot Sirius today with a shotgun. It went horribly against the grain to shoot this fine young animal, which I had brought up and trained from his birth. My hand trembled so that I could hardly do it, and he was all the time making joyous overtures to me. People at home could never understand what it meant to me, for these pups had been my daily companions in my walls down here where companions are scarce.’
On 14 January, 1915, fifty-four days after the loss of the Endurance, they started shooting the dogs. Hurley wrote: ‘During the afternoon four teams of dogs were shot … comprising a total of thirty magnificent sledgers. This step has been given lengthy consideration and … the decision is a wise one. The dogs consuming one seal daily, the same lasting the entire party three days …’ ‘It is heart-rending to see these plucky little animals being ignominiously slaughtered,’ wrote Orde Lees.
Shackleton informed Macklin that it was the turn of his dogs next. Wild and Macklin drove the team to a spot a little distant from camp. On the way the passed a dump where they had discarded the animals they had killed. One of the dogs, Songster, playfully grabbed the head of a penguin as he went. Macklin let him keep it. One by one the dogs were unharnessed and then coaxed behind an ice ridge. Each was sat down and Wild placed the muzzle of the revolver against its head and pulled the trigger. Songster died with the penguin head still in his mouth. Macklin, feeling almost sick, then gutted and skinned the animals in preparation for eating. ‘Their flesh tastes a treat’, observed Chippy McNish. ‘Not at all bad,’ concluded Orde Lees. ‘Exquisitely tender and flavorous’, commented Hurley.
Mensun Bound (Director of Exploration)
* Wild, Macklin, McIlroy, Crean, Hurley and Marston