In case you missed it, last weekend marked the annual John DeGroot Australian Goat Racing Cup, which takes place each year in the outback Queensland town of Barcaldine to coincide with Labour Day celebrations.
This year’s winner, a goat by the name of Patches O’Hoolihan, covered the 100 metres course in a record 12.49 seconds, driven by a 10 year-old local schoolgirl.
With a top prize of A$1,000 it’s Australia’s richest goat race meeting, according to ABC News, which also reported earlier in the year on organiser Tom Lockie’s efforts to establish another event in September recognising the significant role goats have played in Australian history.
“There’s another story where a goat travelled around the world for three years with a British captain, when he got home he gave it to Captain Cook,” he said. “The goat survived three shipwrecks. A third of the crew died of the plague, got washed overboard – she survived all that – went back to England and was presented with a silver collar and the British Government actually gave it a pension until the day it died.”
The goat referred to has no recorded name but did indeed sail round the world twice, first with Samuel Wallis aboard the Dolphin (1766-68), then with James Cook on the Endeavour during his first circumnavigation (1768-71). It receives little mention in the journals of either Cook or the Endeavour’s naturalist Joseph Banks, but on the return to England the latter asked his friend Dr Johnson to pen a few lines about her to be engraved on the silver collar. According to his biographer James Boswell, the great man of letters obliged, coming up with following Latin couplet:
“Perpetua ambita bis terra praemia lactis
Haec habet altrici capra secunda Jovis.”
Boswell translated and expanded on this:
“In fame scare second to the nurse of Jove,
This Goat, who twice the world has traversed round,
Deserving both her master’s care and love,
Ease and perpetual pasture now has found.”
The goat’s role on both voyages was to provide the officers with a fresh supply of milk. This she did to very satisfactory effect it seems and indeed, she was rewarded with the silver collar, a ‘pension’ from the Admiralty and, according to some accounts, a “good English pasture” in Greenwich Park where she became a tourist attraction.
Goats continued to fulfill this valuable function for many sailors subsequently and continued to serve as mascots for the Royal Navy from time to time, the above photo from the National Maritime Museum showing the one that accompanied the HMS Irresistible.
The animals also occupy a venerated place in Greek mythology.
Pan, whose homeland was Arcadia and was companion to the nymphs, was god of shepherds and flocks, nature, mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. He is said to have had the upper body of a man and the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat – in the same manner as a faun or satyr – and is associated fertility and the season of spring.
Another legend represents Amalthea, the foster-mother of Zeus, as a goat who suckled the infant-god in a cave in Cretan Mount Aigaion (Goat Mountain), while another depicts her as a goat-tending nymph.
There are several other mythological hybrid creatures believed to have consisted of parts of the goat, including the Chimera, and the Capricorn sign in the Western zodiac (above) is usually depicted as a goat with the fish’s tail.
In John Deare’s 18th century marble fresco Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster with Cupid and a Putto (left), the goddess of love and beauty reclines on a fantastic goat-headed sea monster in an allegory of lust, with Cupid astride the monster’s long tail, poised to shoot an arrow at Venus, as the goat carries her through the frothy waves.
As for the unnamed goat that traversed the world with Wallis and Cook, it has become the subject of a children’s book called The Goat Who Sailed The World. Though she returned home a hero after her second voyage her well-earned retirement was short-lived. Just a few months after being decorated and put to pasture, she died on 28 April 1772, 240 years ago last month.