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Ship's cat (wikipedia.org)
277 points by gwern on March 3, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments

Based on this:

  Emmy was the ship's cat on the RMS Empress of Ireland. 
  She was an orange tabby cat who never missed a voyage.
  However, on May 28, 1914, Emmy tried to escape the ship. 
  The crew could not coax her aboard and the Empress left 
  without her. She was reportedly last seen on the roof of 
  the shed at Pier 27, watching her ship sail out of Quebec 
  City.[citation needed] Early the next morning the Empress 
  collided with the SS Storstad while steaming through fog at 
  the mouth of the St. Lawrence river and rapidly sank, 
  killing over 1,000 people.
I have decided to disembark any ship when the cat leaves.

The article also led me to a Wikipedia page about the Dicken Medal [1], which is fascinating.

  The PDSA Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 in the United
  Kingdom by Maria Dickin to honour the work of animals in 
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickin_Medal

Just like a cat to save itself after years with the crew. I like that touch. It adds credibility.

the cat was trying to show the crew that they shouldn't go (the cat could have just run away, with no chances for "coaxing", etc...). The crew just didn't listen.

> She was reportedly last seen on the roof of the shed at Pier 27, watching her ship sail out of Quebec City.


I apologize to the cat for my slander.

A number of pigeons have won the Dickin Medal, according to the enthusiastic literature we picked up at Bletchley Park the weekend before last.

Please, what number of cats did not leave the ship before a fatal voyage?

Before one start to worship cats as some divine creates that can foretell the future, maybe some critical thoughts are in order.

Twas a joke methinks.

It's also an old sailor's superstition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sailors%27_superstitions#Cats

Silence Heretic! You dare to question Chairman Miaow?

I've read that your pun is unnecessary as 'mao' already can mean 'cat' in Chinese.

>Please, what number of cats did not leave the ship before a fatal voyage?

That actually doesn't matter too much. As long as the cats which do leave the ship is a predictor of disaster. Even a slight correlation, say 1%, would be useful; do you want to take a 1% risk to your life? Maybe buy an extra lifeboat or something?

Of course, the prior probability of this hypothesis is pretty low, but it isn't to superstitious people.

You must be a real joy at parties.

It seems that you and four others share my sense of humour. One doesn't. I can live with that ratio.


^^^ typical hacker news reply, everyone

The internet cats on Hacker News are of a classier variety than those you find at more run-of-the-mill pages, requesting cheese hamburgers and speaking unskillfully. These cats have Wikipedia articles, with footnotes. Some are decorated veterans.

This is one of those odd moments where everybody mysteriously agrees that something... is interesting.

Relevant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Mouser_to_the_Cabinet_Off...

This is one of those very many quintessentially British imperial traditions that I adore

Unrelated to the above but relevant to the parent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nils_Olav

Edit: ok this takes the cake, especially temporary demotion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Windsor_(goat)

> Unrelated to the above but relevant to the parent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nils_Olav

> […] On 15 August 2008 he was awarded a knighthood. He is the first penguin to receive such an honour in the Norwegian army.

Wait, other penguins have previously been knighted in non-Norwegian armies? Is there an Order of Penguin Knights out there?

> Edit: ok this takes the cake, especially temporary demotion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Windsor_(goat)

The reasons for temporary demotion are hilarious:

> [D]espite being ordered to keep in line, he refused to obey. He failed to keep in step,[16] and tried to headbutt a drummer. […]

> Billy was charged with "unacceptable behaviour", "lack of decorum" and "disobeying a direct order", and had to appear before his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Huw James. Following a disciplinary hearing, he was demoted to fusilier.

As were the consequences:

> The change meant that other fusiliers in the regiment no longer had to stand to attention when Billy walked past, as they had to when he was a lance corporal.


the end paragraph about other goat troubles in the british army is mind-blowing in its britishness:

> At one time a royal goat was "prostituted" by being offered for stud services by the regiment's serving goat major to a Wrexham goat breeder. First charged with lèse majesté, the goat major was ultimately court-martialled under the lesser charge of "disrespect to an officer" and reduced in rank. The goat major claimed he did it out of compassion for the goat, but this failed to impress the court.

> Another royal fusilier goat earned the nickname "the rebel", after he butted a colonel while he was stooped over fixing his uniform's trouser-strap. The incident was described as a "disgraceful act of insubordination."

Can't believe I've just seen Wrexham mentioned on Hacker News! That's where I grew up :)

I think this is a more interesting example. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wojtek_(bear)

As the bear was less than a year old, he initially had problems swallowing and was fed with condensed milk from an emptied vodka bottle. The bear was subsequently fed with fruit, marmalade, honey and syrup, and was often rewarded with beer, which became his favourite drink. He also enjoyed smoking and eating cigarettes

It could also be the moment when some of us integrity engineers finally find the proper name for the helper task thats supposed to be running in the background to catch bugs when they happen..

I remember when the papers gleefully seized on the fact that Cameron, apparently, doesn't like cats and refused to have another in 10 Downing Street. What sort of world leader hates cats after all.

Also relevant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tama_(cat)

DC doesn't hate cats, he likes them very much... with butter sauce and potatoes, washed down with a nice big glass of the tears of the people.

> What sort of world leader hates cats after all.

The tosser sort, obviously.

> the Treasury authorised the Office Keeper "to spend 1d a day from petty cash towards the maintenance of an efficient cat"

One wonder what was the official cat duties that had to be performed in an efficient way.

One could read the article linked in the OP to get a list, should one want to prior to commenting. I realize that's not How It's Done here, but it's a thought.

I agree this submission is somewhat odd for HN, but as it's here I'm going to take the opportunity to recommend the novel Blitzcat to anyone with kids. As the reviews point out it's unique in literature to have an animal main character in a non-Disney or cute style, especially exploring parts of WWII. I haven't read it for two decades but the article immediately brought it to mind as something I enjoyed.


Unique is too strong a word, for instance, there's Watership Down (recommended):


White Fang by Jack London is excellent. Also the original Jungle Book stories by Rudyard Kipling are beautiful as well, if a little colonial in places. My favourite when I was little was Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Both are in the public domain so can be downloaded for free from various places, including iBooks.

Don't forget The Call of the Wild, also by London - fabulous book.

Also "Tailchaser's Song" by Tad Williams, very recommended and IMO much superior to his dorstopper series:


There's also Luis Sepulveda's wonderful The Story Of A Seagull And The Cat Who Taught Her To Fly.

Or Tarka the Otter, for example.

Submissions like these are a nice reprieve from the usual start-up crap. I like the sprinkling of the various cultural things that spark discussion.

Since we are recommending books on animals, F Anstey's talking horse is really good. It's humor. If you like PG wodehouse then you will probably like this as well.


Camouflage was the ship's cat aboard an LST. He was known for chasing enemy tracer rounds across the deck.

That sounds about right.

This was my favorite of the "famous ship cats" section. Anyone who has ever owned both a cat and a laser pointer will immediately recognize this as highly probable.

The article mentions that the Royal Navy banned cats on the grounds of hygiene in the 1970's, does anyone know if the US followed suit?

I don't know about the Navy but I was at an airbase in Afghanistan and some people were feeding a cat that was hanging around our building. An email went out ordering people to not feed the cat. As an incentive to comply the NCO in charge of the area said that if the cat feeding didn't stop it would be killed, not sure if he was serious but they weren't pleased with the prospect of having a cat around.

"Unit morale dogs" were pretty common, and usually overlooked. A lot more common on the smaller bases. There were some charities to actually raise money to legally import them to the US afterward. There were also rabid dogs which bit people, got shot, got their heads cut off, and then got tested by the vets (including running them through CT machines when people got bored), so it really depended on behavior and context. I never saw cats in Afghanistan or Iraq, strangely, only dogs.

The Australians had a pet called Stretch at one of their bases in Hellmand/Kandahar area. On the cage, it said "I may look cute and cuddly, but I'm a fucking mongoose!".

Cats are known intelligence agents. Its probably not a good thing to have strays wandering around your base .. you never know what they might report back to their owner..

This would be more worrisome if they weren't so likely to report misinformation... just for fun.


I've lived on several US Navy ships and can confirm, I have never seen or heard about any cats...even from the sailors with 20 years in who liked to tell "war stories."

we're in deep debt to cats and dogs who was a major player in the successful development of human civilization. These days we forgot it, kill them by tens of millions per year, and many people grow up and live without meaningful contact with the animals.

+1 for SSL version of Wikipedia

Why would using SSL makes a difference, if all we're doing is just reading an article? I don't understand.

Subject has been found to have accessed the following listed publications:

Subject has been flagged for FRUITFLY, AFFECTIONATEOCTOPUS, EMBARRASSEDGIBBON, ■■■■RAG■■■■ and as crucial target in operation SPRINGDOM.

Profiling people based on what wikipedia pages they view is not a difficult thing to do.

Https doesn't encrypt the URL you are reading, which kind of gives away what content you're reading when it comes to wikipedia.

Yes it does. Your dns request for the hostname and the ip address you connect to might give away the fact that you're reading wikipedia but the actual path will be encrypted.

Unfortunately, this is of no help if Wikipedia or it's hosting provider (and therefore every machine it runs on) is compromised.

Surely it does. Did you think GETs are transferred before the encrypted connection is established?

It absolutely does encrypt the URL aside from the IP you're connecting to.

Shipcat - a potential name for antivirus software.

Here is a video of a cat called "Goliath" (real name Hercules)-


They should have a cat for every barrack in the army, to reduce a bit the cases of PTSD if nothing else.

Yeah, let's keep soldiers doing inhumane, abhorrent and traumatizing things... but at least let's give them cats.

? So, let's do anything for the soldiers and just focus on ending all wars even if is not a realistic expectation? Right on bro.

The Faculty of Science at my university used to have (still has?) two office-cats named Teaching and Research.

(Of course, a faculty office isn't remotely like a battleship: there's far less warfare on a battleship!)

Thanks for the Monday smile, submitter.

Why is this on HN? Trolling the Wikipedia site might be an interesting hobby, but I don't see in any way how it fits HN.

"Please don't submit comments complaining that a submission is inappropriate for the site." - http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

He's not complaining, he's asking. I also do not understand what on earth this tradition has to do with hacking. Or news.

Sure he's complaining. He complained in the form of a question, like you just did.

Yet strangely, hackers are finding this piece of news interesting. I wonder why? Could it be the idea of having a cat on a ship is interesting from a systems perspective? What's a ship's cat equivalent in a computer or human system? Some sort of roving troubleshooter?

Lots of things on HN have to do with neither hacking nor news. That's part of its charm, always has been. If PG can post about the margins of medieval manuscripts, then anything goes, so long as it isn't dumb. The only sin is to be uninteresting.

It's on HN because somebody submitted it, and it's on the front page because enough people up-voted it to get it there.

That really is about as good an explanation as you're going to get :)

The cat's have finally made a through. D-Day for cats on HN :) Interesting, albeit nothing to do with HN

using a cat to kill mice on a ship is a hack. i would argue this is much more relevant than the political stories that make the front page.

It was posted to Twitter by Jeff Atwood - https://twitter.com/codinghorror/status/440356834545647616

It is widely grokked that cats have the hacker nature. -esr

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