The Post Office Cats 150
150 years ago cats were first officially appointed by the Post Office to catch mice. Senior Archivist Gavin reveals some early correspondence.
You may have noticed our monthly search for Postal Museum Cats over the last year. This is in a fine tradition of the employment of our feline friends at the Post Office over many years. In fact, this September marks the 150th anniversary of the first officially appointed post office cats.
In 1868 concerned by the damage being caused by a plague of mice at the London Money Order Office, Frederic Rowland Jackson, the Controller of the Office, suggested to Secretary of the Post Office John Tilley that they should add three cats to the payroll.
He wrote on 22 September: ‘traps and other means have to no purpose been used for the riddance of these vermin, and I beg to state that I have requested the resident porter, [James] Tye, to procure three cats for the purpose . . . I understand that 1 1/2d [1½ old pence] per day is usually allowed at the [British] Museum and other places of this kind for each cat kept, and I propose that Tye should be allowed 2/- [2 shillings] per week for the keep and care of these cats’.
Tilley responded to Jackson later that day: ‘Three cats may be allowed on probation. They must undergo a test examination and should, I think, be females. It is important that the cats be not overfed and I cannot allow more than 1/- a week for their support. They must depend on the mice for the remainder of their emoluments and if the mice be not reduced in number in six months a further portion of the allowance must be stopped‘.
Jackson replied on 24 September: ‘These directions have been communicated to Tye who will no doubt find means to inform the cats upon what terms they are to be employed and what is expected of them. As the destruction of Money Orders is a serious matter, it is hoped that the cat movement will be successful.’
Under these arrangements, the cats started their work. A little more than six months later Jackson wrote to Tilley giving a detailed account of expenditure on cat food up to the end of 1868 to which the Secretary replied: ‘How do the cats get on? Is it not time a report were made?’
On 7 May 1869 Jackson duly detailed: ‘With reference to this inquiry after the cats by the Secretary, I am enabled to report that, whether influenced by the Secretary’s caution that they would under certain contingencies have diminished rations, or by a laudable zeal for the Service and their own characters, cannot be clearly made out, but it is certain that the Cat System has answered exceedingly well and that the cats have done their duty very efficiently.’
These unnamed cats set the bar for numerous subsequent mouse catchers including Tibs the Great. Tibs weighed 23lbs and lived in the Headquarters’ refreshment club in the basement of the building. He not only kept Post Office Headquarters completely mouse-free during his 14 years’ service but found time to appear at a ‘cats and film stars’ party and have his portrait included in a 1953 book Cockney Cats. Tibs worked diligently until his death in November 1964.
The last Post Office HQ cat, Blackie, died in June 1984, since when there have been no more cats employed at Post Office Headquarters. Read more about other animals in the postal service.
– Gavin McGuffie, Senior Archivist
Sources: POST 30/837 Cats: maintenance allowance
Book: ‘Dear Cats’ edited by Russell Ash, 1986