Swansea Jack & The Legend Of The Most Heroic Dog In British History

Swansea Jack is one of the most famous dogs in the history of Wales. He is ranked at the top, along with the likes of Gelert in terms of fame, although whether Jack is real or not is undisputed.

Hailing from the city of Swansea, he is remembered fondly by the locals nearly a century after his death.

Swansea Jack was a hero in the cities and the town, saving numerous lives and inspiring the people of Swansea greatly. He may also be the inspiration for the term “Jack” being used to describe the people of Swansea, but that is currently disputed.

Swansea Jack

In the North Dock area of Swansea, near the River Tawe (which is where Swansea’s Welsh name, Abertawe – meaning estuary of the River Tawe – comes from) there was a young dog that lived with its owner.

This was a local man by the name of William Thomas, who owned a dog named Swansea Jack. However, William Thomas was not the first man to care for Swansea Jack.

His first owner was a man by the name of Taulford Davies. It was in the possession of Mr Davies that Jack got himself into a spot of trouble. In Parc Llewelyn, a lovely green area in the Morriston area of Swansea, Jack was alleged to have “Decimated” a local population of ducks, a far cry from his future reputation as a life saver

Swansea Jack was rehomed after the incident into the loving hands of William Thomas, a dockworker, and the pair moved to the North Dock in Swansea. Jack became a best friend to William, whom he stayed with for the rest of his life until his death at the age of nine (more on that later on).

Swansea Jack was famous was his many life-saving rescues of drowning passers-by. If anyone was struggling whilst swimming, Swansea Jack would also respond to their cries and go in to save them.

Jack was a black retriever dog, so was big enough to help drowning human’s stay above water, and help drag them to safety. His first rescue occured when he was just nine months old, in June 1931. Still young himself, he heard the cries of a drowning 12 year old boy in the North Dock in Swansea.

The boy was reportedly dumping rubbish into the docks, when he fell into the docks and struggled to swim. Swansea Jack immediately jumped in, and helped the boy out of the water and to safety.

What makes this tale so heroic is that Swansea Jack was actually afraid of water just months prior to this event. His owner William encouraged him to venture into the water with local boys, and this may have been what made him so enthusiastic about jumping in and saving locals struggling to swim.

A lot of people in Swansea at that time couldn’t swim, so there was a need for someone helping the local’s who fell into the water at that time.

The majority of people couldn’t swim. There’s a possibility that there were a number of people in need of saving. It’s known there were bodies that used to be pulled from the river and docks of people that were drownedCarl Gough, Wales Online

Swansea Jack is rumoured to have saved 27 people in total from the docks in Swansea. However, when he died, which was reported across the country, the Nottingham Journal claimed that he had saved 29 lives. His memorial claims 27 human lives were saved by him from drowning, in addition to to canine lives.

The dog was awarded numerous awards throughout his life, and posthumously. After saving a 12-year-old boy, and then a struggling swimmer in front of a large crowd of people.

His picture ended up in the local newspaper, and he became somewhat of a local celebrity in Swansea. The local council even awarded him his own award, a solid silver collar commemorating his brave efforts in saving 27 people from drowning.

The silver collar awarded for Swansea Jack’s bravery is on show in Swansea Museum

He even made news further afoot than Swansea. The Star newspaper in London awarded him “Bravest Dog of the Year” in 1936, and the Lord Mayor of London awarded him a Silver Cup. He is still the only dog to have been awarded TWO bronze medals (‘the canine V.C.’) by the National Canine Defence League.

Swansea Jack sadly passed away in October 2nd 1937, after eating rat poison, aged 7. His burial monument was paid for by the people of Swansea, and it is located on the promenade by the beach in Swansea. You can see it walking to and from the Swansea University Singleton Campus into Swansea city centre, along the coastline.

The Memorial for Swansea Jack in Swansea [Photo by Hamish Woodward, 2018]

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