Sea dog

Dogs have co-existed with humans for thousands of years, but Pelorus Jack, a bulldog, took the next step: he served in the armed forces.

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Te Papa

Named for the dolphin that had accom­panied ships in the Marlborough Sounds until 1912, Pelorus Jack travelled the seas aboard the Indefatigable-class battlecruiser HMS New Zealand—just one of many military units that kept animal mascots for morale, ceremony or locating wounded soldiers.

The New Zealand government met the building costs of £1.7 million (the equivalent of $280 million today) for HMS New Zealand, evidence of its unwavering support for the Motherland during World War I. The puppy was added by a New Zealander living in England before the 1913 maiden voyage to the colony.

Pelorus Jack captivated some 500,000 New Zealanders who came to see the ship during a 10-week tour of the country. The dog was gifted a greenstone tiki in Wellington and described as a “prominent feature” in an Accession Day march in Auckland.

But Pelorus Jack’s life in uniform would be short—in 1915, he fell down the forward funnel of the coal-fired battlecruiser, and was “Discharged Dead” from the Royal Navy the following year.

“His loss is mourned by the men, who had become very attached to the dog, as he was on deck barking at the shells all through the two engagements, and he was to have been presented with a medal,” reported the Poverty Bay Herald. “A little black kitten is the only pet they have now.”

A second Pelorus Jack was soon recruited to serve on New Zealand, honouring the first dog’s ‘will’ that he be a “bull pup of honest parentage, clean habits, and moral tendencies… [and that] no Dachshund or other dog of Teutonic extraction” be appointed to the office, nor allowed aboard the ship except as rations for his successor.

Despite a fear of gunplay, the new dog lasted four years until discharge at the end of the war, and accompanied the ship on its final voyage to New Zealand before being presented to the City of Auckland by Captain Oliver E. Leggett with the rating of ‘able sea dog’.

Auckland would be the final port of call for the dog. The mascot didn’t survive its quarantine on Motuihe Island, and when HMS New Zealand returned to the United Kingdom, she was rendered obsolete herself; decommissioned and sold for scrap in Scotland in December 1922.

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