While considering a blog post for Trove Tuesday, I thought perhaps I would search for images relating to Victorian era fashion (a favourite topic of mine). I picked a year (1887), searched using the word ‘ladies’ and refined my results so that only the pages with illustrations would be listed. The below image was at the top of the list and after looking at the image my first thought was, “Why are there cats on their hats?”
I then read the caption and quickly realised that the cartoon related to the terrible trend in which whole birds were placed on ladies’ hats, all in the name of fashion. While I am unsure if the newspaper was in earnest with respect to the use of cats or was actually writing tongue-in-cheek, it nevertheless sparked my curiosity with respect to the use of birds on hats and I turned my attention towards searching for historical images.
2,000 cats wanted in Australia. I looked at the above article from 1857 in horror and wondered about its authenticity. Surely not. My attention caught and completely distracted from my family history research, I began to search for more information. What I discovered was a story completely unknown to me; a story which has turned all that I’d known (and assumed) about feral cats completely on its head.
While I have yet to confirm whether the above article is real it was subsequent research which led me to discover more information about the story of cats in Australia. Before discussing cats however, it’s important to provide some background, namely, the history of the rabbit in Australia.
Domesticated rabbits were first introduced in Australia by the First Fleet in 1788. Most likely used as a source of food, they remained largely out of the early newspaper articles. They were eventually brought over to Tasmania and by 1827 it was noted that the wild rabbit population had exploded. While there was a rabbit population on the mainland, these seem to have been mainly kept in captivity. It wasn’t until the late 1850s that rabbits were released in several areas in the hope of establishing a population specifically for hunting. In 1859, 24 rabbits were released by Thomas Austin on his property in Victoria and it is said that the current infestation stems from this group.