Swansea Jack was a black retriever with a longish coat. He was similar in appearance to a modern Flat-Coated Retriever,but was instead identified at the time as a Newfoundland dog, despite being considerably smaller and lighter in build than the typical modern Newfoundland dog, possibly because he was reported to have been born in Newfoundland. He lived in the North Dock / River Tawe area of Swansea with his master, William Thomas. Jack would always respond to cries for help from the water, diving into the water and pulling whoever was in difficulty to safety at the dockside.
His first rescue, in June 1931, when he saved a 12-year-old boy, went unreported. A few weeks later, this time in front of a crowd, Jack rescued a swimmer from the docks. His photograph appeared in the local paper and the local council awarded him a silver collar. In 1936, he had the prestigious ‘Bravest Dog of the Year’ award bestowed upon him by the London Star newspaper.
He received a silver cup from the Lord Mayor of London and he is still the only dog to have been awarded two bronze medals (‘the canine V.C.’) by the National Canine Defence League (now known as Dogs Trust). Legend has it that in his lifetime he saved 27 people from the Docks / River Tawe. Swansea Jack died in October 1937 after eating rat poison.
His burial monument, paid for by public subscription, is located on the Promenade in Swansea near St. Helen’s Rugby Ground. In 2000, Swansea Jack was named ‘Dog of the Century’ by NewFound Friends of Bristol who train domestic dogs in aquatic rescue techniques.
A pub on Oystermouth road, close to the jail in Swansea is named Swansea Jack, in honour of the dog and the nickname for natives of Swansea is “Swansea Jack’s”.
The nickname for Swansea City AFC, the only premiership football club in Wales, is “The Swans” but their offical website is called the Jack Mag and their supporters are known as the Jack army.
It is believed that this name stems from the famous dog. Others claim that the derivation is from the nickname given to Swansea’s sailors, who had a reputation as skilled and dependable mariners. Another theory is that the coal miners of nearby coalfields called the miners from Swansea “Jacks” because their lunch-boxes were uniquely made of Swansea tin and called Jacks.