Cats have long played an important part in life at Pembroke.
But did you know that two of the Colleges most famous members were cat lovers, and in turn had cats named after them?
Christopher ‘Kit’ Smart (1739) was sent to St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in 1757, where he remained for six years. He had almost no contact with other people and relied on his cat for company. During his confinement he wrote Jubilate Agno, in which he says: ‘I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.’ Jeoffry spends his days ‘considering himself’ – a task which he ‘performs in ten degrees’:
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
Kit Smart, Christopher’s feline namesake, came to the College in 1996. She was chosen from a cat sanctuary by the then Dean, who thought that she seemed delightfully confident, and the President of the Graduate Parlour.
In fact, they soon discovered that Kit was very shy. She spent her time on the Tutorial staircase, only once venturing as far as the Fitzwilliam Museum – from which she was rescued by a Fellow in his sports car. When she died in 2012, aged around 18 years old, she was buried in the College orchard. Her names lives on as the alias of the College blogger.
Another of the College’s famous poets is Thomas Gray. Whilst a scholar at Cambridge, Gray composed his poem Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold. The cat in question belonged to Gray’s friend Horace Walpole. Selima, a tortoiseshell tabby, is delighted to spy two goldfish swimming in their bowl:
Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw; and purred applause.
Unfortunately, her keen interest also leads to her sorry demise.
Thomas Gray the feline lived on the Bursar’s staircase during the 1980s and 1990s. Some claim that her pawprint can still be seen on the Praelector’s Register. When she transpired to be a girl, some began to call her Thomasina.
However, her original name was the one that stuck after she became the star of Philip J. Davis’ Thomas Gray: Philosopher Cat (1989). This delightful story gives a fictional account of Thomas’ life in the College and gently satirises the life of Cambridge dons. In 2013 it was followed by Thomas Gray in Copenhagen, which was also filmed for Danish National Television.
Thomasina’s ‘less-illustrious’ sister, Sox, was also featured in a book on the cats of Cambridge.
Other feline friends
Over the years, our cats have found other creative ways to get involved in the life of the College. The Reverend Meredith Dewey, Dean of the College for much of the twentieth century, kept a cat called U Thant, named after the third Secretary-General of the UN. He reportedly said evensong during the winter months whilst ‘lying down with his cat assisting under the quilt’.
The Stokes Society, the College’s science society, reportedly offered U Thant an honorary membership in 1968 but the invitation was declined. Further discussions about the restrictions on feline membership took place in 1985: did the cat in question need to be a scientist? It was not until 2002 that the Pembroke Winnie-the-Pooh Society decided that cats were allowed free entry to their summer garden party.
The former Master Sir Roger Tomkys also kept a cat at Pembroke during the nineties by the name of Jeffrey. Jeffrey supposedly became an honorary Porter and was very regular at Evensong.
Our current College cat, Millie, lives on the Tutorial staircase in Ivy Court.
Millie takes her name from Mrs Sarah Lonsdale née Millicent, a generous benefactor the the College in the early nineteenth century.
Millie the cat naps regularly on the desk of our Undergraduate Admissions Officer, Elizabeth Shorthouse, and is also fond of Sarah Hendry, a Pembroke porter who goes for visits during the night shift to feed her treats.
Millie is an energetic creature with a habit of running everywhere at 100 miles per hour and tripping people over in the process!
Perhaps when the next College history is written it ought to contain a feature on cats, such is the unique and charming nature of their place at Pembroke.