HMS Bulldog (figurehead)

Figure head of a bulldog in leaping stance with union jack shield and collar engraved 'CAVE CANEM.'

HMS Bull Dog Figurehead, © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

  • Intro
    Museum's Description
    Teacher notes
    • This figure head is the last surviving piece of a British Navy ship which was set on fire by its Captain who preferred to burn it rather than let it be captured by the enemy.

      In the 18th Century many ships were decorated with lion figure heads, by the 19th Century figure heads were becoming much more individual like this one. The Latin words ‘Cave Canem’ inscribed on the bulldog’s collar translate as ‘Beware of the Dog’.

      The decoration and carving of vessels is not just a British tradition. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Vikings had the same idea. Ancient Egyptians would paint an eye, or mount a carved head in human or animal form, near the bow of a boat.  Historians think they were a guide or to help the ship ‘see’ its way safely through the water.

      Things to think about:
      • Why do you think a Bulldog was chosen to go at the front of the ship?
      • Admired men and women, mystical creatures, beautiful maidens and animals were typical figureheads. Who or what would you choose as a figure head for your vessel?
      • Why not create your own?
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