Tag: Superstition

The Peacock in Myth, Legend, and 19th Century History

Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.
Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.

In his 1836 book On the Mental Illumination and Moral Improvement of Mankind, Reverend Thomas Dick calls the peacock “the most beautiful bird in the world.”  There are few that would dispute this description; however, throughout history, there has always been more to the peacock than its dazzling plumage.  At various times and in various cultures, it has served as a symbol of good and evil, death and resurrection, and of sinful pride and overweening vanity.  And much like its avian brethren, the crow and the raven, the peacock has figured heavily in folktales and fables, as well as in countless superstitions that still exist today.[…]Continue Reading

The Last Ravens in 19th Century London

A Raven by T. A. Coward, 1919. (Image from The Birds of the British Isles.)
A Raven by T. A. Coward, 1919.
(Image from The Birds of the British Isles.)

In medieval London, ravens were a common sight.  By the late eighteenth century, however, they had been almost entirely eradicated.  According to nineteenth century ornithologist William Henry Hudson, the last pair of wild ravens in London resided in a large elm tree in Hyde Park.  This pair bred annually up until 1826 when one of the park keepers pulled down their nest, which at that time contained two of their young offspring.  Deprived of their home and their young, the pair of old ravens quit the park and were never seen again.[…]Continue Reading

Black Tom, the Captain’s Imp: A 19th Century Seafaring Cat

A depiction of Mowler, a black cat, a pet and mascot of HMS Manica, standing on a flat surface amongst the rope attachments of the ship's balloon, 1915.(Image via The Imperial War Museum.)
A depiction of a black cat, pet and mascot of HMS Manica, 1915.
(Imperial War Museum.)

For a brief time at the end of the 19th century, Her Majesty’s gunboat “Tickler” was the home of a mysterious cat by the name of Black Tom.  According to the ship’s doctor, Gordon Stables, many on board suspected that Tom was a demon or an imp.  No one knew where he had come from, how he had managed to get on board, or who had brought him there.  He simply appeared one windy, treacherous evening when the sea was rough as the Tickler was crossing the Bay of Biscay.  At eleven at night, while smoking on the quarter-deck, Stables saw something as “black as Erebus” whisk past his legs.  When he inquired of the old sailor at the wheel what the dark shadow could possibly have been, the sailor replied with the utmost solemnity:

“That’s the devil, sir.”

[…]Continue Reading

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