Tuesday 2 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

This morning an incident occurred which gave me more uneasiness than if all the hats and caps in the vessel had gone overboard, my own included, and which, though it may appear trifling in itself to some persons, caused no little commotion at the time, from the cabin to the forecastle. But I must relate it from the beginning.

Mr Thomas had disposed of his business in Fleet Street in March, but as the Africaine would not be ready for sea till June, and being obliged to quit the house, we took lodgings in the meantime at a wholesale paper warehouse, belonging to a Mr Baddington, of Fish Street Hill, with whom Mr Thomas had transacted business for many years. While there. Mr Baddington became possessed of a kitten of such remarkable beauty, being in form and skin exactly like a tiger, that one of his customers was desirous of having it, and offered him a guinea for it, but as my children had become exceedingly fond of it, and the little creature was equally attached to them, he refused to dispose of it, saying that he had given it to a little girl who was going abroad, and she should have it. Accordingly it was considered the property of my youngest daughter Helen, and we took it on board with us, where it soon became a great favourite with several of the passengers, not only on account of its singular beauty and graceful movements, which all admired, but for its many playful tricks, which afforded amusement to others as well as ourselves; for those who are acquainted with the monotony of a sea life well know that the most trifling thing tends to relieve it. We gave the kitten, which was now nearly full grown, the name of Kate after a favourite cat of similar beauty which I had many years before. This name she always responded to, and she came to our cabin at night, seldom venturing on deck.

Now it happened that the Africaine, like most vessels I believe, was by no means free from such depredators as rats and mice. We had plenty of the latter in our own cabin, and as cats are generally declared enemies to both, of course Kate was no exception to the rule. Therefore, with the propensity natural to her species, she occasionally roamed about at night, and in so doing intruded herself into some of the adjoining cabins, to the great offence of the gentlemen occupants, who loudly complained of what they considered an annoyance, though I never heard of any harm she did beyond, perhaps, making a little disturbance while hunting for her prey. As she was the only cat in the intermediate part of the vessel I thought this might have been overlooked, if it were only in consideration of her destroying some of the little imps which really did a great deal of mischief, and for which reason some others, instead of complaining of her nightly visits, were glad to encourage them. Not so, however, with those who chose to grumble, for they insisted that she should be removed, at least at night. As I did not wish anyone to be annoyed by anything belonging to us, I desired one of our men to confine her at night in an empty hencoop on the deck and let her out in the morning. This was done for some time, and the moment she was released, which was usually at daylight, she bounded down the ladder to our Cabin. If the door was shut she never ceased her cry till it was opened. One morning, as she did not come as usual, I began to be suspicious, for I had heard several ill-natured remarks. Nevertheless, as she could not disturb anyone while in the coop, and was with us the whole day, I thought all animosity to such a harmless animal must have ceased.

But in this I was mistaken, for about 7 o’clock Windebank, our man, who had put her in the coop the night before, came down and inquired if I had seen the cat. I replied that I had not, and wondered that she had not made her appearance as usual. He said it was reported among the sailors that she had been drowned in the night, and that they were all in a violent rage, declaring if they could catch the man who did it he should be drowned too. I said I hoped that was not the case for the cat was our property, and no one had a right to destroy it, but I would go on deck and make inquiries. Accordingly, I went to that part where she had been confined and met one of the sailors, who said they had been searching everywhere for her, but she could not be found. I then went to the Steward, a little half-caste African, very civil and obliging, and, having been fond of the cat, he had frequently supplied me with fresh meat for her when we had none ourselves. He said he had not seen her since the day before, and declared in his broken English that ‘If he could cash de scoundrel he trow him overboare, if he be ever so big.’

Seeing Captain Duff on the quarter-deck, I went to him and told him I had reason to believe my cat had been drowned in the night, as she was not in the coop and could not be found anywhere. He was much surprised, and said he did not think anyone on board the vessel would dare do such a thing, for he would be exceedingly angry if they did. He said she might possibly have concealed herself among the stores, as he had known cats to do so for several days together. I replied that it might be so, but I did not think it likely, for if she had, made her escape from the hencoop she would have come down to us immediately. I requested him to order a search to be made, which he did. Of course, no cat answering her description could be found, and when it became evident that she had really been made away with it caused such a disturbance from one end of the vessel to the other as few, perhaps, would believe.

Captain Duff was highly displeased, and the more so when it was ascertained that some of the cabin passengers had heard the cry of a cat about 11 o’clock the night before, which, no doubt, was that of my poor Kate struggling with the waves, for he said if he had been told of it, or had heard it himself, he would instantly have ordered out a boat to her rescue.

Mr Thomas was on deck vowing vengeance on the cowardly villain who did it if he could but catch him, and the sailors swearing if they knew who it was they would pitch him overboard, if it was the captain himself. The superstition of sailors respecting a cat being drowned at sea is well known, and nothing can prevail on them to do such a thing even when it is diseased and it would be a mercy to put it out of its misery. This was the case with a kitten in the steerage when one of them was offered a glass of grog to throw it overboard but he refused, though they will do almost anything for liquor. I heard one of them say he would hang a man for a glass of grog but would not drown a cat for a sovereign, for they consider it as the certain forerunner of a storm. One scarcely knows whether to laugh at or pity them for indulging in such ridiculous superstitions.

Strange as it may seem, it is a fact that about 4 o’clock this day, although the morning was fine, a sudden squall came on, the most violent we had yet experienced, with a tremendous fall of rain. The hatches were closed, and for some time it was a scene of confusion both on deck and below, for we could hear the captain and the mate giving their orders amidst the roaring of the wind and the crashing of the rigging. The sailors declared they knew it would be the case, and if they could catch the scoundrel who threw the cat overboard he should go after her, and I believe if they could at that time have fixed on the real culprit they would not have hesitated to have put their threats into execution. As we afterwards heard, there was more than one concerned in this cowardly deed, but they took care to keep themselves out of the way, for they began to be frightened at what they had done when they found that their action was so deeply resented by almost everyone in the ship, independently of the threatened vengeance of the sailors. They had not only been guilty of a wanton act of cruelty to a harmless animal, but had committed a positive injustice, for the cat was our property, and they had no right to destroy it – no more right than they had to kill Mr. Gouger’s Cashmere goats, of which he had three on board, or any other animal belonging to the passengers, and there were several. But with regard to our cat, had anyone offered me five pounds for it I would not have taken it.

During the gale William stumbled against something on deck and fell down a hatchway but was not much hurt. The gale lasted about an hour, the rain pouring down all the time, and when it was over the moon shone beautifully, and all was calm except the sea, which still swept occasionally over the vessel. I went on deck to view the magnificent scene, and about 10 o’clock, as there seemed to be a prospect of a quiet night, we retired to rest. We had not been there, however,  above half an hour when there came another squall more violent than the first, which tore the sails to ribbons, the rain again pouring down in torrents. The sailors again declared it was all owing to the drowning of the cat. It was observed that none of those whom we suspected of being the perpetrators of this atrocious deed came forward to exculpate themselves. The one who, from many hints which had been thrown out, I had most reason to think was guilty, was a Mr. Deacon – a manof taciturn and unsociable habits – with whom I had neverexchanged a dozen words. Although he was not the only oneconcerned, I was not altogether mistaken, for, as I afterwardsfound, he was on deck at the time and perfectly aware of whatwas intended to be done, though he may not have had an actualshare in it. I little thought when the cat was confined on the deckand could not possibly annoy anyone, that three men, callingthemselves ‘gentlemen’ too, could be so base as to take the pooranimal from her coop, and while she was seated on the shoulder ofone of them, as if they were undetermined whether to drown heror not, another should suddenly push her off into the water, and then leave her to struggle for her life. All of this I learned long after. For, as I have said before, I am writing this journal many years after these occurrences took place, but which were faithfully recorded at the time, and though I was then ignorant of the exact circumstances, I strongly suspected something of the kind. As I afterwards found, these ‘gentlemen’ were so apprehensive of some mischief being done to them by the exasperated crew that they bound themselves by an oath not to reveal who it was that drowned the cat.

As for the children, they cried bitterly for the loss of their little playmate, and I could not help sympathizing with them in a flood of tears, while Mr. Thomas and our men vented their threats in no gentle terms if they could but fix on the guilty party. But I found another way of expressing my indignation which they did not expect, and which I believe was a real punishment to them, though it inflicted no actual injury. It was by writing the following lines:-

On the death of a favorite cat, which was maliciously drowned by some person or persons on board the Africaine during a voyage from London to south Australia.

Who killed my cat? Suppose I tell;

Unless deceived, I know full well;

But you, perhaps, may guess the plot

When I have told you who ‘twas not.

‘Twas not the captain nor the mate,

For they, I’m sure, had no such hate,

But both expressed their deep regret

That Puss with such a fate had met.

‘Twas not the steward; he desired

That she should every day be fed,

And said, ‘I tink dat man so bad

Who dared do wicked act so sad.’

‘Twas not the sailors; one and all

They would apprehend a squall,

And vow that man should drowned be

Who threw a cat into the sea.

‘Twas non who in the steerage dwelt,

For they had more humanely felt,

And all, with Nature’s truth inspired,

Her stripes and beauty much admired.

Who was it, then, who killed my cat?

I can’t exactly answer that,

The miscreant tell; but this I know:

That it was someone here below.

To surgeons it does not belong

So wantonly to do such wrong,

And none, I’m sure, of that profession

Would guilty be of such aggression.

‘Twas not a youth, not yet a lad;

They would not do an act so bad.

I hope none on the starboard side

Has thrown my cat into the tide.

‘Twas not a Bishop, nor a Dean,

For none, as yet, on board we’ve seen;

Nor yet a Priest; but there are others,

In degrees of Holy Brothers.

Whoe’er it was, I almost wish

They were the victim to some fish,

To some hug monster made a prey,

Which no more pity had than they.

At all events, I hope for years

A mewing will ring in their ears;

Should thunders roll or winds be high,

Voice they my favorite’s piteous cry;

And when he’s on his deathbed laid,

And guilt makes every form a shade,

And conscience lays the sinner flat,

May he be haunted by a cat.

I hope no one will think that I really wished such a heavy malediction to fall on the head of the offender, but I confess I was exceedingly angry as well as deeply grieved, and determined, whoever it was, that they should see that I did not take such a piece of injustice and cruelty so tamely as they might expect me to do. As these lines were read, I believe, by most on board, they could scarcely fail to meet the eyes of those I suspected. I first showed them to Mr Everard, who took them into the cabin, where they excited the merriment of some, but the captain expressed himself in a different manner, declaring that they would not have had such an occurrence on board his vessel on any account. Although I was far from wishing real harm to anyone, whoever he might be, it seemed as if that implied in the last line was in some measure fulfilled, for, as we afterwards heard, it was Mr Ward who pushed poor Kate into the water; but finding what a sensation it had occasioned, the three concerned, as I said before, agreed to keep it secret, though their conduct plainly showed that they were aware of the fact that they were strongly suspected. Mr Ward was a gentleman, I believe, both by birth and fortune, but unhappily very much given to drink, and, as I was told, was sent out to this colony by his friends, in the hope of weaning him from his intemperate habits; but in this they were deceived, for he died not long after his arrival, a victim to that degrading vice. He seemed to have no regular employment, but spent his time chiefly in walking about from tent to tent, conversing with the settlers, being often for hours together with us. It is singular that when he was on his deathbed he voluntarily confessed to Mr Thomas, who went to see him, that it was he himself who was principally concerned in drowning the cat. I hope his contrition was sincere for that and all his other offences, and that Heaven forgave him, as I did most heartily.

The occurrences on board the Africaine last related occupied two days, and on this day, the 4th of August, a tremendously rough sea continued, with a strong head wind right against us. The mate declared that such a gale in such a latitude was quite unusual, for it was the stiffest breeze he had ever witnessed in those parts. We were then within seven degrees of the Line, and, though going at a great rate, made no real progress, the waves continually dashing over the deck.

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