Look What Turns Up At Memphis Estate Sales: A British Dog-Hero

Estate sales can sometimes offer the most astonishing things. They're not always piles of vintage clothing, dusty books, and other mothbally knick-knacks left over from people who have "moved on."

Case in point: An estate sale in Midtown last week that offered a nicely stuffed British "hero dog" displayed in a fine glass case.

The little white dog, supposedly close to a century old, wears a cloth vest adorned with tarnished and hard-to-read medals, though most of them refer to lifeboats and lifesaving. But it's the intriguing inscription on his collar that tells part of his story.

On a large silver plate attached to a nicely crafted link-chain collar is this: "I am dog 'Ship" — Sailor's Friend. Presented by Royal National Lifeboat Institution For Collecting Subscriptions. Owner: F.L. Holmes, Ship Inn, Denmark Street, Bristol."

Pretty unusual, I think you'll agree. And what's his story? Presented where, I wonder? And when? And the real mystery: How did this once-famous dog find his way to Memphis? The estate sale operators were taking bids for the little critter (instead of letting customers just buy him outright), so I have no idea how much it eventually sold for. If you ask me, though, "Ship" needs to go in a museum, or (even better) he should be returned to a proper home at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which is still an active organization in Great Britain. Someplace where he can truly be appreciated.

I know what you're thinking: Why didn't I bid on this? Oh goodness, the Lauderdales already have dozens of stuffed animals scattered here and there around the Mansion. Some of them my own relatives.

Reader Comments:
Aug 5, 2011 09:24 am
 Posted by  warbirdali

I checked and that pub seems to have been bombed out of existence during WW2 (as did most of the street).I also contacted RNLI in England for some information, they very nicely investigated the matter as soon as they knew it was for the fabled Vance Lauderdale. This is what they came back with:
Thank you for your email and rather fascinating article which you found in Memphis Magazine regarding 'Ship' the dog.

I have passed the enquiry onto our Honorary Librarians to research but they can find no reference to a dog called 'ship' anywhere sadly.

My colleague has suggested it could possiby be a presentation carried out locally by the Lifeboat Guild/Fundraising of which we have no record.

It's a shame we could not find anything as this has definitely been one of the most interesting enquiries we've received! I do wonder how he managed to get all the way to Memphis…

Kind regards

Elise Chainey

Heritage Administrator

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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