While searching for more information on a remarkable feature of the Newfoundland dog, his rudder, I stumbled upon a newspaper account that mentioned a Newf and his tail. The article stood out as I thought there could never be another story involving a Newf that would rival the courage and compassion of Gander who saved a group of wounded soldiers in World War II by picking up a live grenade and carrying it out of their presence.
Nowadays the smaller cousin of the Newf, the Labrador Retriever, is the most popular breed of dog but in the 1800’s the darling was the Newfoundland. This account shows why the Newfie was not only well loved but also highly respected. It first appeared in newspapers and magazines in 1855/56 but continued to be reprinted until the 1880’s and as far away as Australia and New Zealand; it even made it into a fifth grade reader.
Surprisingly, except in one case, none of the editors saw fit to change the original headline which I believe completely misses the point. The exception was the The Primitive Church Magazine and their headline read “A Noble Example by a Newfoundland Dog”. Here is an abridged version of the story and you can judge for yourself which is the better title.
The Newfoundland Dog’s Vengeance
The American brig “Cecilia”, commanded by Captain Symmes, on one of her voyages, had on board a splendid Newfoundland dog, named Napoleon. He belonged to one of the crew named Lancaster. Captain Symmes, however, was not partial to animals of any kind, and had an unaccountable repugnance to dogs. This dislike he one day manifested in a shocking manner; for Napoleon having entered his room, and by wagging his great tail, knocked paper and ink off his desk, the captain seized a knife, and cruelly cut the poor animal’s tail off. The dog’s yell brought his master to the spot, and seeing the calamity and the author of it, without a moment’s hesitation, he felled Captain Symmes to the cabin-floor. Lancaster was put in irons, from which, however, he was soon released. Captain Symmes repented his cruel deed on learning that Napoleon had once saved his owner’s life.
But a few days elapsed ere poor Napoleon became the hero of a more thrilling occurrence. During the interval the noble beast was not at all backward in exhibiting his wrath at the captain by low growls whenever he approached. Captain Symmes, however, made due allowance and offered no further harm to him.
One morning, as the captain was standing on the bowsprit, he lost his footing and fell overboard. “Captain Symmes overboard!” was the cry, and all rushed to get out the boat as they saw a swimmer striking out for the brig, which was at once rounded-to. By the time the boat touched the water, their worst fears were realized, for at some distance behind the swimmer, they beheld, advancing towards him, the fish most dreaded in those waters – a large white shark.
Then Napoleon plunged into the sea. The noble animal rapidly made his way toward the now nearly-exhausted captain, who aware of his double danger, and being but a passable swimmer, made fainter and fainter stokes, while his adversary closed rapidly upon him.
Slowly the fatigued swimmer made his way, while ever and anon his head sank in the waves, behind him the back of the voracious animal told what progress he was making, while Lancaster, in the bow of the boat, stood with a knife in his upraised hand, watching alternatively the captain and his pursuer, and the faithful animal which had saved his own life.
“What a swimmer!” exclaimed the men who marked the speed of the splendid animal. “The shark will have one or both, if we don’t do our best.” Ere the boat could overtake the dog, the enormous shark had arrived within three boat’s length of the captain, and had suddenly turned over on its back, preparatory to darting on the sinking man and receiving him in its vast jaws.
The wild shriek of the captain announced that the crisis had come. But now Napoleon, inspired with increased strength, had also arrived, and with a fierce howl leapt upon the gleaming belly of the shark, and buried his teeth in the monster’s flesh, while the boat swiftly neared them.
“Saved! If we are half as smart as that dog is!” cried the first mate, as all saw the voracious monster shudder in the sea, and smarting with pain, turn over again, the dog retaining his hold and becoming submerged in the water.
At this juncture the boat arrived, and Lancaster plunged into the water where the captain also had now sunk from view. But a few moments elapsed ere the dog rose to the surface, and soon after Lancaster, bearing the insensible form of the captain. The shark came again, but a few seconds too later to snap off the captain’s legs, while the body was being drawn into the boat.
Foiled a second time, the shark passed the boat, plunged, and was seen no more, but left a track of blood, token of the severity of the wounds from Napoleon.
The boat was now pulling towards the brig, and not many hours elapsed before the captain was on deck again, very feeble, but able to appreciate the services of brave Napoleon, and most bitterly to lament his own cruel act, which had mutilated the dog for ever.
“I would give my right arm!” he exclaimed, as he patted the Newfoundland who stood by his side, “if I could only repair the injury I have done to that noble fellow. Lancaster, you are now fully avenged, and so is he, and a most Christian vengeance it is, though my inhumanity will be a source of grief to me as long as I live.”
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.Newf News