Tim Ryley's Parrot
Tim Ryley's Parrot
On a cruise to South America with HMS SHEARWATER, Robert (Tim) Ryley, a signalman of the Royal Navy, acquired a pet macaw whose antics were recorded in his HMS SHEARWATER journal.
Tim purchased the parrot, which was nicknamed 'Mac', on December 9th, 1908 while SHEARWATER was docked at Corinto, Nicaragua. No leave was given during their stay in port but a woman selling fruit brought the parrot to the ship. After some haggling, the price of $1.25 was decided upon. Since his wage packet on December 1st was $3.00, that was a considerable amount to pay for the bird.
"I bought it along with about 20 parrots," Ryley recalled in an interview with The Daily Colonist newspaper of Victoria in 1969; he was at that time 83 years of age. "The boys aboard paid me the equivalent of $2 each for them, as pets. Mac was the biggest bird, so I kept it."
Tim made a cage from an old box and stowed the cage with the parrot on the search light platform. It appears that the bird wasn't always confined as the journal mentions "parrot has been qualifying for a gallant yard man. He did a trip up the foremast & back again." One of Mac's wings was clipped so the bird wouldn't fly off and drown. But as SHEARWATER neared land, Mac's feathers were allowed to grow so the bird could take solo flights over the land and perch in trees, natural behaviour for macaws.
The parrot was evidently a good companion, as the record states:
"The parrot went on watch with me this morning & did lookout man for it up in the fore-top from 8 A.M. till 2:30 P.M. when I went up aloft to fetch him down."
The lucky bird was well cared for - journal entries about the procurement of food and treats for it are frequent, such as "gave my tot away for a sugar cane for the parrot", "took the parrot ashore & stayed to dinner at friends" and "the parrot didn't do so bad, he had a plate of rice pudding."
Even the parrot's state of health was deemed noteworthy, as demonstrated by "the parrot also had a slight attack of sea sickness but bucked up immense by towards dinner time." At one time, Tim even attempted to find another parrot, further testimony to his apparent fondness for the birds.
However captivating the parrot could be at times, not all of the officers and crew were fans. For example, the bird had to be relocated within the ship when he disturbed the "Old Man" (Captain) "by whistling & singing out". The parrot also went from hammock to hammock waking sailors with a peck on the nose - we can imagine how popular this might have made him with some of the crew. Mac was generally quite popular with the men but not so with the officers - he hated officers, and the feeling was often mutual. One trick Mac performed with regularity was to waddle over to where the officers' coats were hung, and with great precision bite off each brass button. Signalman Ryley got the task of sewing them back on.
There must have been a soft spot of kindness for Mac in the ship commander's heart, however, despite the parrot's annoying ways. On one occasion, the bird veered off its yardarm perch headed for the open sea. But with one wing clipped, Mac couldn't straighten up and fly right, so fell lower and lower until ending up in the sea. The captain ordered the ship stopped, a rescue skiff was lowered, and Tim Ryley's feathered companion was rescued from a watery death.
by Clare Sharpe, Museum Exhibit Designer/Webmaster