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Week 24: Pets

[ View the related 'Weekly Post': Week 24 - Trouble on land and at sea ]

Last week we celebrated the arrival of the first ship, the Duke of York to South Australian shores. This vessel was closely followed by the Lady Mary Pelham.  As we continue to read these historical sources, we will start to explore both the lives of emigrants who have reached South Australia and those who are still making the journey.

This is both a week of joy and sadness onboard the Africaine. On the 1st August, we start with a birthday celebration, while the very next day we are saddened with the news that Kate, a cat belonging to Helen, the daughter of Mary Thomas was thrown overboard and never seen again. Is there a correlation between these events? Did a night of celebrations and too much drink lead to someone committing a terrible act? This week’s journals give us an insight into the highs and lows of life onboard.

It is interesting to note that Mary Thomas, upon her arrival in South Australia and after learning more about the fate of Kate the cat added comments to her journal. Her entries draw the reader in, containing great detail and effectively use descriptive language. This week we will focus on Mary Thomas, examining the content and language features of her journals.Scene: pomfrey's cat pomfrey’s cat. Edward Snell, 1849

Inquiry Questions:

  • What does George Stevenson onboard the Buffalo mean when he writes that people should be obliged to keep their “cats sweet and clean and confined to a hutch during the voyage?
  • What guidelines do you think should be in place onboard these vessels to ensure cats and pets are not a nuisance to others?
  • How has the introduction of cats in Australia affected ecosystems and native animals?

Research Topics:

  • What are the benefits of keeping cats onboard vessels?
  • What are the disadvantages of keeping cats onboard?
  • What other domestic animals were brought to South Australia onboard these early vessels?

Historical Skills:

Chronology, terms and concepts:
  • Research the types of domestic pets kept in English homes in 1836. Were they the same animals kept by people in Australia today?
  • Some cats in Australia have become feral. Differentiate between a feral and domestic cat.
    Use this week’s diary entries to explore the concepts of values, relationships and companionship. Highlight the text that draws connections with these concepts.
Historical questions and research:
  • Cats are part of a family called the felids and are thought to have been around for 12 million years. Egyptian paintings and sculptures of domestic cats date back to 3000 years BC. They believed that cats were so important, that they were often mummified and entombed with their owners when they died. Anyone who killed a cat would be served with the death penalty. Cats remain popular pets today. Question members of your class to find out the pros and cons of keeping a domestic cat. Show your findings on a ‘t-chart.’ What conclusions can you draw from your recordings?
Analysis and use of sources:
  • If you were to write a headline for this journal, what would it be? Consider the issues expressed by Mary Thomas and identify the most important aspect(s) of this journal entry.
  • Mary Thomas finishes her journal by stating that she forgave Mr Thomas for drowning her cat. What does this tell us about Mary Thomas, her values and beliefs?
  • The government takes strict measures to ensure animals that come into Australia do not carry rabies. What is rabies and how would it affect humans and animals if introduced into Australia?
Perspective and interpretations:
  • It is important to note that some of this week’s sources contain language that today we would consider to be offensive. These entries have been kept in their original state, as they are a historical record and evidence of past attitudes. Research / discuss: Are there words today that are used in Australia that were not used in 1836? Why does language change and what influences these changes in society?
  • Mary Thomas writes, “We had not been there, however, above half an hour when there came another squall more violent than the first, which tore the sails to ribbons, the rain again pouring down in torrents. The sailors again declared it was all owing to the drowning of the cat.” How does this statement relate to people’s beliefs and superstitions?
Explanation and communication:
  • On August 2nd, Mary Thomas writes, “This morning an incident occurred which gave me more uneasiness than if all the hats and caps in the vessel had gone overboard.” What do you think she meant by this?
  • Retell the events recorded by Mary Thomas this week through a cartoon that includes speech bubbles.
  • Read the poem Mary Thomas wrote about her beloved cat Kate. Have you had or do you own a pet that is special to you? Using the same format as Mary Thomas, write your own verses about your pet.


Activity Suggestions:

1.  Listen to the teacher read this week’s journal entry written by Mary Thomas. Make notes of things you find interesting and important.  Once you have finished reading the extract, take time to reflect on your notes. Following this, choose a colour, symbol and image that best represents the journal entry. Share your colour, symbol and image in a small group. Discuss individual perspectives, similarities and differences

2.  A number of people who migrate to Australia today bring their pets with them. Research the quarantine laws regarding the bringing of pets to Australia. What procedures need to be followed to ensure animals are brought into Australia with a ‘clean bill of health?’

3.  Find out more about bringing pets to Australia in 1836. How do you think the companionship of a pet onboard would have hindered / helped the passengers during the voyage?

4.  Read George Stevenson’s journal entry from Friday 5th August.  We learn that there are too many cats onboard the Buffalo, causing trouble for the passengers. Use a Venn Diagram to compare the situations onboard the Buffalo and Africaine.

5.  The drowning of Kate caused great tension onboard the Africaine. How would you have coped in this situation? If you were asked to interview the passengers to investigate this matter, what questions would your questions be?

6.  George Stevenson’s believes that cats ‘are probably valuable in the colony.’ Why did he think this? Would the same be said today?  Since this time, many cats have become feral, causing changes in ecosystems, becoming a nuisance for farmers and a threat for native birds. Use the ‘Think, Puzzle, Explore’ strategy to explore this topic in greater depth.
     -     What do you think you know about this topic?
     -     What questions or puzzles do you have?
     -     How can you explore this topic in greater depth?

What do you think?

Do you agree with George Stevenson’s comment that people should be obliged to keep their “cats sweet and clean and confined to a hutch during the voyage?”

What if?

Discuss the following:

  • If Mr Thomas was found to have committed the act of throwing Kate overboard during the voyage to South Australia, would he have received a punishment? If so, what would the consequences have been?
  • If no cats were brought to the colony of South Australia in 1836, would people still have them as pets today?

Stay tuned:

This week, on Wednesday 3rd August, we read the following statement in  White’s log onboard the Tom O’Shanter, “thomas washed a Shirt Handkerchiefe and one pair Of stockings Mr  Fink Consented for the Cheaf Mate to Sleep in.” White’s log entries are all very short, but this does get us thinking about the types of clothing our passengers wore in 1836. Stay tuned next week as we explore clothing, passenger allowances and suitability of clothing for the new colony.

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