News(?) from 1942: CATS, AHOY!


Mark Baber

Staff member
The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June 1942
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,
Newspapers Home - Trove

Feline Rovers of the Sea

By Illingworth Mackay
Often in a big ship there are seven or eight cats, but rarely are they seen
together. Each keeps to his own part of the ship. This is a never-varying
habit. It is in tramp steamers that one sees the sturdiest vagrants, cats
from every country under the sun, which stay for a voyage and join another
vessel at the next port!

These international ocean rovers seem to steer clear of passenger liners. No
doubt they prefer the easy-going ways of cargo vesels. [Sic.] You see, in a
tramp, the galley usually opens on to the deck. The stowaway makes friends
with the cook first, and is not put to the trouble of searching the ship for

The interloper generally appears on the second day at sea. The sailors see a
strange face peering at them, and the cook finds he has a new friend. At
meal times, the newcomer calls on members of the crew, and, in plaintive
tones, asks to be remembered. Soon the stowaway is accepted, and finds
himself a bed in a snug corner.

A chief officer in a tramp steamer told me of one of these vagrants that
came on board at a South American port. The animal took a liking to him and
he adopted it. For 12 months "Alf" (as they called him) lived in the vessel.
He seemed as permanent a member of the crew as "Doodles," who "stuck to the
ship" till the demolition gangs started work. But in Vancouver the call of
the unknown proved to be too strong for Alf. He disappeared one night, and
the ship sailed early the next morning. He must have had an exciting walk
ashore. Half a mile of floating logs separated the ship from the mainland!

He Was a "Red"

This story reminded me of Thomas, a cat from revolutionary Spain. Thomas was
powerful and muscular. He could leap with ease to the top of a six-foot
partition from a standing jump. His home was a British cargo vessel that
traded to Spain during the civil war.

He was first seen three days out from Valencia.

"Roaming the 'tween decks he was, sir, looking more like a small tiger than
a cat," said the old weather-beaten carpenter, when I asked for details. "He
chased several members of the crew, and was branded as an outcast. One night
I spotted him amidships, and got near enough to scratch his ear after
bribing him with a piece of meat. I still bear marks of bites and scratches
of the times I tried to get friendly in too much of a hurry. Now we're the
best of pals."

The cat was rubbing himself against the leg of the carpenter. He looked at
me suspiciously and drew away when I put out my hand to stroke him.

"Don't touch him, sir," warned the carpenter. "Thomas is still filled with
the revolutionary spirit and fears neither man nor beast."

The next time the ship came into port I asked about Thomas. "Sir," said the
aged carpenter sadly, "Thomas left us at Adelaide. He eloped with Kit, a
little grey tabby who had been in the ship for eight voyages. They were both
missing a day before we sailed and didn't return."

A Seasoned Traveller

When the White Star liner Cedric was broken up in 1932, the owners made a
presentation, not to the captain or the chief engineer, but to the ship's
cat, "Doodles," a regular old salt. "I am Doodles," read the inscription of
his gift collar, "I was born in 1927 in the White Star liner Cedric, in
which I have travelled over 360,000 miles."

I recall this recognition of merit on the high seas because the cry has gone
forth for more cats to deal with the rats that have sought refuge in vessels
after being bombed out of their waterfront homes. Any captain will tell you
that "Thomas" or "Mousy," the two standard names for cats at sea, are as
important for the well-being of a ship as a good quartermaster or an
efficient cook. Rats and mice are the natural enemies of seamen, and so a
stout rodent hunter is worth his weight in gold.

War risks mean nothing to seafaring cats. A sinking is all in the day's
work. There are many cats sailing the seas to-day which have been in vessels
sent to the bottom through enemy action.

Ships' cats are divided into two categories. There are the "permanents," who
stay in a ship for voyage after voyage, and there are the "vagrants," who
join and desert without warning. But whatever his class, a cat is sure of a
welcome. No cat has ever regretted the walk up the gangplank.