• Janean Marti

Walter, the Steamship Curly

In my decades of curly coated retriever research, I have found several stories about curlies connected to sailing boats, steamships, exploring vessels and seagoing folks. Here is a charming tale from a 1930 Australian newspaper about one of these curlies. Walter was a curly coated retriever who worked on a ship on the Pig & Whistle route. Pig & Whistle ships carried pigs and human passengers from port to port and the ships' whistles blew as they steamed in to dock.



The port of Bermagui on the South Coast of Australia. Home of Walter, the steamship curly coated retriever.



WALTER

Written by P. M. W., May 1930


He came aboard the Bermagui of his own accord one day at Sydney--a big brown curly retriever--adopted the ship, and took the crew to his heart straight away. Of course, for obvious reasons, the most favoured member was the cook. After him came the sailors and firemen, with whom he always went ashore. He kept close to their heels all the time, following them through the swing doors when they went for a "refresher," and waiting patiently till they were ready to go on again. He was no respecter of persona, for if he met in the street any member of the crew from the captain down he would greet him effusively by leaping up to put dusty paws on his shoulders and bark joyously in his face.


Even though the crew were his friends, Walter evidently considered himself an officer. He was always on the bridge, and would stand in the same position for quite a long time looking out to sea. He got his name from this habit of posing, being called after Walter Bentley, the actor.


Sometimes he went ashore alone, and on more than one occasion missed the ship. When this occurred at Sydney he stayed with a wharf-labourer who lived at Miller's Point, and, as Walter was a big dog, his board must have been an item in that humble home. However, as soon as he heard the Bermagui's whistle--he could distinguish it among all the others on the harbor--he would jump the fence and make his way in great haste to the Illawarra Company's wharf at the foot of Market street. If he missed the ship at any of the South Coast ports he would run to the next port if it was not too far; if the journey was too long for him to undertake, he would stay at the agent's house till another of the company's ships came in, when he would travel by it to Sydney, and there await the arrival of the Bermagui.


Walter was evidently under the impression that Sydney harbour belonged to the Bermagui, and he resented any other craft passing within hailing distance. He would bark furiously at each passing vessel, and in his annoyance, frequently jumped overboard. It was feared that he might be injured by a propeller or taken by a shark, and motor launches were often hailed and asked to pick him up (a proceeding to which he had no objection) and put him ashore. Wherever this might be made no difference to Walter as he had a wonderful sense of direction. Once when the Bermagui was coming up the harbour Walter went overboard, and a passing Mort's Dock launch was asked to pick him up. On the driver asking what should be done with the dog, as the launch was going to Woolwich Dock, he was told to put him ashore there. The Bermagui proceeded on her way to the wharf and in due time Walter arrived. In spite of this evidence of Walter's perspicacity, the captain was afraid of losing him, so he had a handsome brass collar made, and inscribed "Walter, S. S. Bergamui" so that anybody finding him astray would know where he belonged. In his travels, however, Walter lost his collar (probably removed by some thirsty one), and, taking into consideration the likelihood of another one meeting the same fate, and also Walter's ability to look after himself, it was not replaced.


Being a member of the crew, although self-appointed, Walter had his work to do. He would drive the pigs aboard and drive them ashore; at the mate's command "Call the bo' sun, Walter," he would depart instantly to find that worthy, and bark at him till he came on deck; and when the Bermagui was coming into wharf he would jump ashore and pull on a rope, endeavoring in his doggy way to assist the sailors to tie her up.


The captain at one time, fearing that Walter was getting too old for his strenuous sea life (he was not a young dog when he joined the ship), found a home for him with a farmer living some distance from one of the South Coast towns, and one trip Walter departed in a sulky with his master. But the next time the Bermagui arrived at that port Walter was waiting on the wharf for her. After that, no mention was made of giving Walter away. He belonged to the ship and lived his life out on her, performing his duties until the end. One day he drove the pigs ashore for the last time, but the exertion and excitement were evidently too much for him. He came back on the ship to the bridge where he had posed to often, laid down quietly, and died. It is a few years now since Walter passed on, and the Bermagui herself has gone, but Walter will never be forgotten by the members of her crew who knew him.

The steamship Bermagui was requisitioned as a minesweeper in World War II, later was used to haul timber, and, renamed the Tiburon III, was still in service hauling gravel in the 1970s.

Walter the curly coated retriever's steamship, the Bermagui, after being requisitioned as a World War II minesweeper in 1939.


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