Thursday, July 11, 2013
'Get a cat' again
In a post a couple of years ago I recalled the lovely story in Patrick Leigh Fermor's Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese about a Greek ship's captain whose boat was troubled with rats. The captain called in a priest, who duly carried out the rituals for casting out vermin – chants, incense, holy water, the lot. As the clergyman prepared to take his fee and depart, he assured the seaman that he would have no trouble now: the rites always worked. 'One more thing,' the priest added. 'Get a cat.' And Paddy remarks: 'Since then the phrase "getting a cat" means, in maritime circles, making surety doubly sure.'
My original post on this theme was about a church in Gloucestershire that got a cat and memorialized the creature in the churchyard. Now here is another of the remarkable garden structures at Shugborough, a monument to what may have been a genuine maritime feline. According to one account of the monument, this is a memorial to a family pet. But another story says that it commemorates the cat that accompanied Admiral George Anson on his ship the Centurion in 1740–44, when Anson undertook an expedition to the Pacific with the aim of seizing a Spanish treasure ship.
Anson's expedition was so poorly planned that one wouldn't have given it a chance. There were eight ships and the motley crew of 1,000 included 259 Chelsea pensioners (average age just under 70) and 210 untrained recruits. Ill winds and navigational errors played havoc with the expedition. At one point they mistook a fleet of Spanish warships for cargo vessels and had to make a hasty retreat. Disease killed hundreds of the men, supplies ran low, and at least one ill-repaired vessel simply broke up. Anson and his remaining 200 men pushed on, finally found a (heavily armed) Spanish galleon, attacked it, and relieved it of its cargo of treasure. Limping into the Chinese port of Canton, for a rest presumably, they found the place on fire and had to lend a hand putting out the flames. They eventually sailed home and Anson's share of the treasure helped rebuild Shugborough.
By the time he got home, Anson had circumnavigated the globe. I like to think that the cat did too, and that it is remembered with this imposing monument of the late 1740s, in its tranquil glade, surrounded by shrubs and a sea of green grass.