In 1838, Captain William Barnard Rhodes forced Canterbury’s first livestock overboard to swim ashore in Akaroa Harbour. In 1840 the McGillivary, Harriot, McKinnon, Shaw and Ellis’ farming party took the first bullocks across what would become Christchurch and in 1843, the Deans brothers populated the plains with its first hoof stock, horses and chooks! But none of these settlers recorded themselves down as bringing the first cats to Canterbury. Even William Deans suggested to his younger brother by letter to bring stoats and weasels for help with pest control over the use of our feline friends.
I have no way read every journal or letter written in those early days of Canterbury but I feel pretty confident that cats would have found their way to Canterbury via whaling/sealing ships during the 1830’s and would have made a living by hanging around our first businesses – I have just not come across it recorded down as of yet.
With 700 people already calling Lyttelton home before the arrival of the Canterbury Association ships in 1850, it’s hard not to imagine a cat or two trotting down those dusty streets, on the lookout for a tasty rat or begging for scraps from those early butchers.
So I decided to share the story of the first Canterbury cat that I have come across in my studies. Thanks to Mrs. Emma Barker (the wife of the ‘Charlotte Jane’ on board Doctor) she writes about her female cat, named ‘Poor Old Puss’ in her ship diary. Unfortunately, there is no description of her colour or breed.
From the diary entries, Poor Old Puss had kittens while at sea and her and her babies had free range of the ship to explore. Poor Old Puss’ life changed for the worse when one day, while on deck, her kittens were washed overboard. From that day on, she was constantly caged for her own safety. Obviously unpleased with the new restrictions, she earned her name of Poor Old Puss.
“Poor old puss survives in her cage looking hopefully at us when we notice her.”
Dr. A. C Barker later writes, once settled on his property on the corner of Cathedral Square and Worcester Street (now the Rydges Hotel site before the quakes) that Poor Old Puss happily took her place in the Barker household, along with a terrier, a horse and two cows! Dr. A. C. Barker is mostly remembered today as being Christchurch’s first photographer, capturing many images of the city in her infancy.
Please note that the attached photo is not of Poor Old Puss or Canterbury.
*Image courtesy of Heady of Happiness – http://headywithhappiness.blogspot.co.nz*