An Unlikely Friendship: The Cat and Mouse of Lord Lucan’s Bailiff

Playing Cat and Mouse by John Henry Dolph (1835-1903).

In the early 19th century, at the Earl of Lucan’s residence at Laleham, there was a very singular cat.  She belonged to Lord Lucan’s bailiff, Mr. Smith, and had the “constant habit” of curling up on the rug before the parlor fire.  According to a story related in multiple 19th century British newspapers, as well as in author Edward Jesse’s 1834 book, Gleanings in Natural History, after the death of her recent litter of kittens, this particular cat struck up a very close friendship with a mouse.  As Jesse explains:

“One evening as the family were seated round the fire they observed a mouse make its way from the cupboard which was near the fire-place, and lay itself down on the stomach of the cat, as a kitten would do when she is going to suck.  Surprised at what they saw and afraid of disturbing the mouse, which appeared to be full grown, they did not immediately ascertain whether it was in the act of sucking or not.  After remaining with the cat a considerable length of time it returned to the cupboard.”

The family witnessed the mouse visit the cat in this manner on several other occasions and it was soon observed that not only did the cat appear to expect the mouse, but that the cat actually called to the mouse in the same “greeting purr” which she would have used to summon a wayward kitten.  As Jesse writes:

Harvest, Wood Mouse by A. Thorburn, 1920.
Harvest, Wood Mouse
by A. Thorburn, 1920.

“When the cat, after being absent, returned to the room, her greeting call was made, and the mouse came to her.”

Upon the mouse’s arrival, he would lay beside the cat and give “every appearance of being in the act of sucking.”  But despite its preoccupation, the mouse remained vigilant and, at any attempt the family made to capture it, the little creature swiftly retreated back to the safety of the cupboard.

Jesse states that “the attachment” between the cat and mouse “could not be mistaken.”  Unfortunately, though their unique relationship continued for some time, it was not destined to last.  He writes:

“The fate of the mouse, like that of most pets, was a melancholy one.  During the absence of its nurse, a strange cat came into the room.  The poor mouse, mistaking her for its old friend and protectress, ran out to meet her, and was immediately seized and slain before it could be rescued from her clutches.”

As one might expect, the family cat had a significant reaction to the loss of her little companion.  Jesse reports:

“The grief of the foster-mother was extreme.  On returning to the parlour she made her usual call, but no mouse came to meet her.  She was restless and uneasy, went mewing about the house, and shewed her distress in the most marked manner.”

The cat did not die of grief, thank goodness, but there is no more information about her and nothing to indicate that she ever befriended another mouse.  However, Jesse does state:

“What rendered the anecdote I have been relating the more extraordinary is the fact of the cat being an excellent mouser and that during the time she was shewing so much fondness for the mouse, she was preying upon others with the utmost avidity.”

Curiosity by Horatio Henry Couldery, 1893.
Curiosity by Horatio Henry Couldery, 1893.

Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History.  If you would like to help a cat in need, either by providing a home or by donating your time or money, the following links may be useful as resources:

Alley Cat Rescue, Inc. (United States)

The Cats Protection League (United Kingdom)

If you would like to learn more about pet mice, the links below may be of use:

The American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association (United States)

The National Mouse Club (United Kingdom)

Mimi Matthews is the USA Today bestselling author of The Matrimonial Advertisement, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law.

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John Eyre
A Tale of Darkness and Shadow

From USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews comes a supernatural Victorian gothic retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s timeless classic.

Yorkshire, 1843. When disgraced former schoolmaster John Eyre arrives at Thornfield Hall to take up a position as tutor to two peculiar young boys, he enters a world unlike any he’s ever known. Darkness abounds, punctuated by odd bumps in the night, strange creatures on the moor, and a sinister silver mist that never seems to dissipate. And at the center of it all, John’s new employer–a widow as alluring as she is mysterious.

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From a cliff-top fortress on the Black Sea coast to an isolated estate in rural England, John and Bertha contend with secrets, danger, and the eternal struggle between light and darkness. Can they help each other vanquish the demons of the past? Or are some evils simply too powerful to conquer?

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“In this thrilling remix of Charlotte Brontë’s work, Matthews skillfully transforms a well-known story into a truly original tale.” -Kirkus Reviews

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Angelyn
Angelyn
5 years ago

“An excellent mouser.” That is remarkable, indeed!

The Thorburn print is very nice.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Angelyn

Thanks, Angelyn :) I thought it was a very unique story. And something different to think of when you hear the name Lord Lucan!

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

How extraordinary! It’s remarkable enough that such a companionship existed between a cat and mouse, but especially so considering the cat happily preyed on other mice.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

I thought the same thing, Sarah :) It was a very unique relationship!

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago
Reply to  Mimi Matthews

It’s like Twilight re-envisioned! ;)

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
5 years ago

We saw a mouse in the room the other day. We have 12 cats. You’d think one of them could deal with it. However, I suppose if it survives that, it has won a right to survive…. sometimes odd friendships happen! it was a wee harvest mouse that has no real right to be indoors at all.
Cats do grieve for those they lose. Ours are still huddling up on mother’s bed, two days after her death, those that had a relationship with her, and Saffron is sleeping with her nose in her dressing gown.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Waldock

So sorry about your mom, Sarah :( Grief is hard enough for humans, but animal grief is really difficult because we can’t explain to them what has happened. I wish we could – at least in a way they could understand!

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
5 years ago
Reply to  Mimi Matthews

we told them we had to take her to the vet, and I swear they were giving us accusing looks over not bringing her back in a cardboard box to bury in the garden.

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
5 years ago

I didn’t click the notify button, sorry for an extraneous letter here

Vickie
Vickie
5 years ago

A lovely post of inter-species affection – Thank you Mimi

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Vickie

You’re very welcome :) So glad you liked it!

Undine
Undine
5 years ago

I feel so sad for that long-dead mouse now! What an awful shock it must have been for him to think he was running to an old friend, and then…horror movie moment.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Undine

I feel the same way! I wonder if that’s why the family tried to capture the mouse? To save it from such a fate? In any case, I hope his death was quick and (relatively) painless.

Noirfifre
Noirfifre
5 years ago

I always wonder when I see videos and read of one animal befriending another animal it is known to hunt. Maybe in this cat’s case it was the death of her kittens left her needing consoling and companionship.

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago
Reply to  Noirfifre

I think you’re right. Likely, since the mother cat was mourning her kittens, she was more accepting of the mouse than she would have been otherwise.

slowlygoingcrazy5
slowlygoingcrazy5
5 years ago

Reblogged this on thekittycatclan.com and commented:
Fascinating! Thank you for sharing!

Mimi Matthews
Mimi Matthews
5 years ago

Thanks for the reblog :)

slowlygoingcrazy5
slowlygoingcrazy5
5 years ago
Reply to  Mimi Matthews

Thanks for the post! Loved it!

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