For centuries cats were crossing the seas until humans terminated their seafaring days.

A large DNA-based study of ancient cats presented at the 2016 International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology in Oxford, UK, suggest that Vikings took cats with them on long voyages. Until at least the Second World War, naval sailors continued the tradition of keeping pets on board. British warships even had cats as official mascots.

Cats did not only serve to kill disease-carrying shipboard rats. They kept sailors company, providing them with amusement and emotional support to alleviate their loneliness and boredom. Alas, the seafaring days of felines are no more. Present-day regulations prevent them from joining merchant and naval vessels.

“When I am playing with my cat, who knowes whether she have more sport in dallying with me than I have in gaming with her? We entertaine one another with mutuall apish trickes. If I have my houre to begin or to refuse, so hath she hers.”

Michel de Montaigne
‘Montaigne’s Essays’, translation by John Florio (1553–1625)

Cats in a hammock aboard the HMAS Nizam, 1941
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

Captain A. J. Hailey in uniform with a cat on the first C.P. R.M.S. Empress of Canada, c. 1920s
Photo courtesy of the University of British Columbia Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, via Wikimedia Commons

Winston Churchill stops ‘Blackie’, ship’s cat of HMS PRINCE OF WALES, crossing over to a US destroyer during the Atlantic Conference, August 194
Courtesy of the Imperial War Museums, UK

‘Tiddles’, the ship’s cat of HMS VICTORIOUS, at his favourite station on the after capstan, 10 July 1942
Photo by Royal Navy official photographer Lt. C. H. Parnall
Courtesy of the Imperial War Museums, UK

Lieutenant Commander R H Palmer OBE, RNVR plays with Peebles, the ship’s cat, on board HMS WESTERN ISLES at Tobermory, Mull, 1944
Courtesy of the Imperial War Museums, UK

Seaman with a cat and kitten, c. 1910
Courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum

Kitty Bims, a member of the expedition of the icebreaker “Sibiryakov”, 1932
Photo by Pyotr Novitsky (Russian, 1885–1942); published in Proletarian Photo, vol. 01, 1933

~ Barista Uno

Did you like this article?  Buy me a coffee

Let us know what you think of this article

Don't Miss the Brew!

Sign up to be notified of updates to Marine Cafe Blog

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest