When researching the story of Rigel, the Newfoundland dog who saved a lifeboat of Titanic survivors in 1912, I wanted to know where the legend started. It’s a great hero tale but I thought it was strange that no survivors ever said the story was true. There was no one named Jonas Briggs on the crew list of the Carpathia. Jonas was the sailor who became Rigel’s new master.
Shortly after the survivors arrived in New York in April, 1912, the story of Rigel’s heroism was published in the New York Herald. The paper was published from 1835 to 1924.This was a penny newspaper, sold for one cent, and was printed daily with sensational news. To keep news up to the minute, carrier pigeons were even used to deliver information.
Because the nature of the paper was to print what interested the public and to startle and entertain readers, it’s quite likely that the story of Rigel was made up by a reporter. Certainly the sinking of the Titanic was the biggest news of the day and a story of a Newfoundland dog saving a lifeboat of people would attract attention.
Several wealthy passengers had taken their pet dogs on the Titanic. Yet no one will probably ever know if Officer Murdoch brought his Newfoundland dog on board. Still it was common at the time to take Newfoundland dogs aboard ships due to their instinct for water rescue.