Tag Archives: dogs

Noble Hector

In art, dogs often represent loyalty and faithfulness, and quite right too.

In early May 1788, some of the last ships of the First Fleet left New South Wales, sailing north to China.  The ships’ crews were glad to get away to safer places and fresh provisions, but some at least felt regret for those they left behind in the tiny, precarious settlement at Port Jackson.

John Marshall, the master of the Scarborough, left behind a Newfoundland dog called Hector.  Who knows why?  Perhaps he thought the dog would be happier on dry land.  Certainly he cared enough to leave Hector in the care of his friend Zachariah Clark, the Assistant Commissary.

Newfoundland Dog
Newfoundland dog – from Wikimedia Commons

Hector would have worked for his keep as a ratter, and since the Commissariat was responsible for food supplies, he probably ate well – or at least as well as the rest of the settlement, which isn’t saying much.  But he wasn’t up to hunting kangaroos, as Surgeon White noted in his Journal of a Voyage to NSW (1790):

It has been reported by some convicts who were out one day, accompanied by a large Newfoundland dog, that the latter seized a very large Kangaroo but could not preserve its hold. They observed that the animal effected its escape by the defensive use it made of its tail, with which it struck its assailant in a most tremendous manner. The blows were applied with such force and efficacy, that the dog was bruised, in many places, till the blood flowed. They observed that the Kangaroo did not seem to make any use of either its teeth or fore feet, but fairly beat off the dog with its tail, and escaped before the convicts, though at no great distance, could get up to secure it.

Then in July 1790, the Scarborough returned with the Second Fleet.  David Collins, the Deputy Judge Advocate, told the story:

An instance of sagacity in a dog occurred on the arrival of the Scarborough, too remarkable to pass unnoticed; Mr Marshall, the master of the ship on quitting Port Jackson in May 1788, left a Newfoundland dog with Mr Clark, the agent… On the return of his old master, Hector swam off to the ship and getting on board recognised him and manifested in every manner suitable to his nature his joy at seeing him; nor could the animal be persuaded to quit him again, accompanying him always when he went on shore and returning with him on board. 

Newfoundland dog

Wet Newfoundland dog - from Wikimedia Commons

Newfies are good swimmers.  I really hope that Hector stayed on the Scarborough when it sailed.  Zachariah Clark, on the other hand, stayed on in NSW.  In 1802 he was arrested for incest with his adult daughter Ann, possibly on a trumped up charge.  He got off, but died in 1804 ‘from excessive drinking’.  He should have stuck to dogs.

Old Fritz and his dogs

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, lies buried beside his dogs in a small plot outside his palace at Potsdam, near Berlin.  Frederick was homosexual.  Although married as a matter of state policy, he lived apart from his wife, and had no direct descendants.  It seems rather touching that he asked to be buried with his closest companions, his dogs.  He was also a religious sceptic.

I have lived as a philosopher and wish to be buried as such, without circumstance, without solemn pomp, without splendour. I want to be neither opened nor embalmed. Bury me in Sanssouci at the level of the terraces in a tomb which I have had prepared for myself…

Frederick II of Prussia - at Sans Souci, Potsdam

Flowers mark his grave – and potatoes, to celebrate the fact that he introduced potatoes to Prussia.  The dogs’ small graves are weathered and unadorned, except with their names and the dates of their deaths, but their little plot is close to the palace, and overlooks the glorious gardens of the palace of Sans Souci.

We have just lost our much-loved dog, Toby, who died suddenly last Thursday night.  Toby was a standard poodle, a very old German breed – ‘pudel’ comes from the same German word as ‘puddle’ – and I can attest that poodles love water, the muddier the better.

Poodles have been around at least since the 17th century.  This cartoon from the English Civil War alludes to their distinctive coat, worn long like a Cavalier’s hair, unlike ‘Peper’, the shorthaired Roundhead dog.  In fact poodles (and sheep) share with us an odd genetic anomaly: our hair doesn’t fall out, and we need to be shorn regularly.  In 8 years of cohabitation, Toby and I both had regular haircuts; adjusted for the Consumer Price Index, his always cost exactly twice as much as mine.

This means that poodles were always high maintenance dogs, especially before mechanized clippers existed.  King Charles’s General in the Civil War, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, kept a famous poodle, Boye, who was killed in the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.  Frederick, on the other hand, favoured greyhounds, another ancient and aristocratic breed.

Frederick’s plan to be buried with his dogs didn’t go smoothly.  After his death in 1786, his nephew Frederick William II inherited the throne.  He ignored his uncle’s wishes, and had him buried according to Christian rites in the Potsdam garrison church beside his father (even though father and son hated each other).  There he lay until 1943, when German soldiers took the two bodies to an underground bunker, then to a salt mine in Thuringia.  American soldiers carried them off in 1945, and they spent some time in Marburg church.  Then in 1952 they were transferred to Hohenzollern Castle, the ancestral seat of the Hohenzollern family.

Finally, following the reunification of Germany, on 17 August 1991, the 205 anniversary of his death, ‘Old Fritz’ was reburied at Sans Souci palace.  The ceremony caused some uneasiness amongst those who saw this as a sign of the revival of Prussian militarism.  20 years later, it seems only right that Frederick should return to the grounds of Sans Souci, where his dogs have been waiting all this time.  Look closely, and you can see that the dogs’ gravestones are more weathered than those of their master.

Sans Souci, Potsdam - Frederick II of Prussia's dogs

The Tomb of Frederick the Great