Hero who rebelled against Shackleton is honoured with statue of beloved cat

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The Independent Online

Harry "Chippy" McNeish, the carpenter on Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated ship Endurance , was shabbily treated.

Harry "Chippy" McNeish, the carpenter on Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated ship Endurance , was shabbily treated.

Despite his crucial role in the transantarctic expedition, he never received a Polar Medal. Even worse, his beloved cat was shot dead after the ship was crushed by ice.

Now McNeish is to remembered with a tribute in the form of a bronze statue of his cat, Mrs Chippy. On Sunday, the life-size statue will be placed on his grave at Karori Cemetery in Wellington, New Zealand.

It was commissioned by the New Zealand Antarctic Society, which believes McNeish's contribution to the expedition was never properly recognised.

Endurance had spent six weeks battling through 1,000 miles of pack ice and was one day away from its destination when it became trapped in the Weddell Sea in January, 1915. Shackleton and his crew were marooned 350 miles from the nearest land, with only three lifeboats to carry them to safety.

They first sailed to the uninhabited Elephant Island but, realising they had little chance of being rescued, Shackleton led a five-man team that set out for South Georgia island, 800 miles away, returning to rescue his men nearly five months later.

McNeish's carpentry skills ensured that their lifeboat, James Caird , withstood the battering of some of the roughest seas in the world en route. But he was not awarded a medal, because he had angered Shackleton by staging a brief rebellion while the men were moving camp on the sea ice.

McNeish never forgave Shackleton for shooting Mrs Chippy, who was killed along with the sledging dogs after disaster struck Endurance .

Mariska Wouters, who chairs the Wellington branch of the Antarctic Society, said: "We can't go back and give him a Polar Medal, but this is one way of recognising what he contributed to the expedition."

One account, shows that the inappropriately named Mrs Chippy - who was male - became the ship's mascot and took great delight in leaping across the dogs' kennels, tantalisingly out of reach.

McNeish went to New Zealand in 1925 and worked in the Wellington docks. When he died in 1930, he was given a naval funeral, with pallbearers drawn from a Royal Navy ship. But his grave remained unmarked until the Antarctic Society put up a headstone in 1959.

The society has cleaned up his grave and raised NZ$6,000 (£2,000) for the statue, which has been sculpted by a New Zealander, Chris Elliott. The result, Mr Elliott said, shows the cat looking relaxed, "as if he was lying on McNeish's bunk".

Baden Norris, emeritus curator of Antarctic history at Canterbury museum in New Zealand, met McNeish when he was a boy. Even then, old and frail, the former seafarer was still mourning Mrs Chippy. "The only thing I ever remember him saying ... was that Shackleton had shot his cat," Mr Norris said. "In my view, he's the one man ... who saved the expedition. He made it possible for it to be saved through his expertise in building the boat." The statue, Mr Norris said, "balances history a bit".

McNeish's grandson, Tom McNeish, said the statue was a fitting tribute. "I think the cat was more important to him than the Polar Medal," he said.