While the exploits of Whitehall Cats – Palmerston and Larry most recently – have been recently making the news, cats in Government employ are nothing new. In fact, here at National Records of Scotland, we have evidence of a feline curiosity – a cat tasked with protecting records more than three centuries ago.
The Exchequer Office in Parliament Close, Edinburgh, set up in 1708, initially had problems with records being ‘greatly damnified, eaten and destroyed by rates and myce’. After giving the matter some thought, doorkeeper Robert Morison decided that perhaps a cat might give the rodents pause.
This was not a simple matter and number of cats ‘deserted’ their post. Morison eventually collared one which didn’t flee, which was soon “furnished and bred up” to defend the records and documents.
In 1715 Morison attempted to claw back some of the expenses he incurred in raising and feeding the cat, estimated at £7, by approaching the Barons of the Exchequer. He requested money for the cat’s future upkeep and also for ‘passages to be made in the apartments of the office’ to allow her to patrol unimpeded.
Sadly, although the petition has been marked as read, we have no record of whether the Barons were able to scratch together the money and the cat got a salary by a whisker, or whether the kitty was empty and Morison had to put the cat’s expenses on his own tabby.
The image below, (GD18/2704, courtesy of Sir Robert Clerk of Penicuik Bt), reads (with capital letters and punctuation rationalised):
“Unto the Right Honourable my Lord Chieff Baron and Remanent Barons of His Majesties Exchequer in Scotland.
The petition of Robert Morison Humbly sheweth
That where the records warrands and other papers and parchments in the Exchequer House were greatly damnified eaten and destroyed by rats and myce, to the great prejudice of the leidges and officers and members of this Honourable Court. And your petitioner for the interest of all concerned having furnished and bred up a catt for expelling these creatures and has not only been at considerable paines in tameing and accustoming her to the House (after severals have deserted) but also been at the charge and expences of maintaining the said creature for the use and ends forsiad for these several years bygone, the expences whereof has coast your petitioner seven pounds sterline or thereby. And seing this piece of management has proven very usefull and profitable as the officers of Court can attest and no allowance given therefore
May it therefore please your Lordships in consideration of the premisses To ordain me payment of the said sum of seven pound sterline for the space above mentioned and such allowance in time coming as your Lordships shall think fit, for the use and end forsaid, and appoint passages to be made in the several doors for her outgoing and coming into the severall roums and appartments of the office. And your Lordships answer.
[Endorsed] Petition for Robert Morison 1715 R[ead] 12 Febry
For a Cat [added in Baron Clerk’s handwriting]
Further information about this and later Exchequer cats can be found in an article by Dr Athol Murray in Scottish Archives 2006 Volume 12 p53. Thanks to Dr Murray for bringing this tale to our attention.