Baby boom 

A knitted toy kittenWithout any fuss or bother, the ship’s cat calmly delivered a litter of nine healthy kittens in a cosy corner of the chart room while BHP steamer Iron Monarch was riding through a storm off Wilson’s Promontory and huge seas were breaking all over the ship.  
THE CAT THAT HAD 62 KITTENS A Batch of Nine During Gale
By A Contributor

Saturday October 17, 1925 — Although Capt. E. G. Scott Olsen, of the steamer Iron Monarch, at Port Pirie, is passionately fond of animals as pets, and they reciprocate his kindly nature, he is not disposed to regard himself as being well treated by his favourite puss, which on his recent voyage from Newcastle presented him with a batch of nine kittens to provide for on board.

The captain also points out that this latest effort on the part of the cat brings her tally up to 62 – that is, to his knowledge. When he took over control of the ship some months ago puss had already distinguished herself from the viewpoint of increasing the feline population on more than one occasion.

A cardboard box full of warm fuzzy kittens and one kitten wearing a sailor's hat

The latest event, if associated with the human species, would have enriched the fortunate mother almost beyond the dreams of avarice because of the attendant maternity bonuses. But, if the “baby” bonus were to be extended to cats, particularly of the sort on the Iron Monarch, it would soon spell financial disaster to any country. The day of the birth of this latest batch of kittens was only last week while the steamer was riding through a storm well loaded down with her cargo of coal from Newcastle to Port Pirie. The locality was between Wilson’s Promontory and the Gabo light. Huge seas were breaking upon different parts of the vessel, and thousands of tons of water were being hurled with a mighty crash at the fabric that man had fashioned. The crew were at their different stations.

Away down in the bowels of the ship the stokehold hands piled the coal in the furnaces to create a successful opposition to the fury of the elements. Officers were at their posts, their set features betraying the acute mental stress through which they were passing. And wherever and whenever opportunity offered members of the crew were holding on for grim life to straining standards or iron rail, awaiting cessation of the storm.

And then through the spume that made its way from length to breadth of the ship, biting and lashing the faces of those who were “only doing their duty,” there was heard a thin, small voice, which asked in beseeching tones, “Oh, where is our poor old cat?”

A sensational chase

And over the face of each seaman – men inured to hardship and rough life; mariners who have voyaged the seven seas of the world – came a pallor only associated with death or with some great mental upheaval. As one man, they rushed through the seething waters to all parts of the ship, jeopardizing their own lives (even, the cook left his galley) in the search for pussy.

Hither and thither they ran (the officers only remaining cool and collected) – up and down companion ways, in and out of the forecastle, through the skipper’s stateroom, in and out of the officers’ quarters. On to the bridge, down from it up to the truck, down to the keelson, in and out of the engine room – but no cat was to be seen.

keelson
a structure running the length of a ship and fastening the timbers or plates of the floor to its keel.
truck
a wooden ball, disk, or bun-shaped cap at the top of a mast, with holes in it through which flag halyards are passed.

Then the small, shrill voice suggested, “Let’s go on to the bridge again.” And away they went, when lo! and behold a peep into the chartroom revealed, in a cosy, corner, dear old puss with another family of nine to render life worth living.

And as the captain put his head in at the door she proudly greeted him with “Meeowl” as much, as to ask him: – “May I and my family stay here, Capt. Olsen?”

Well, what else could he do?

CREDIT The Register (Adelaide), Courtesy Trove
ILLUSTRATION Ad Long

According to Bart

Able Sea-cat BartThe Iron Monarch’s cat was just looking for somewhere quiet, private and dry to settle down to the serious business of bringing a litter of kittens safely into the world. The chart room sounds like the perfect place away from general hustle and bustle. Most female cats are excellent midwives and can manage this all on their own. However, nine would challenging to feed with only eight nipples, so those youngsters are going to get an early lesson in taking turns. My guess is the entire crew will be providing Mum with tasty extras to help her keep her strength up. Nine kittens, however, is nowhere near the world record. That, Google tells me, goes to four-year-old brown Burmese, Tarawood Antigone, who delivered 19 kittens (15 live, 4 stillborn) on August 7, 1970.

A doting mother cat with a basket full of lovely kittens

As for the “attendant maternity bonuses,” these would have totted up to ₤45 (about UK₤500 or USD$700 today) in 1925 for a white Australian female member of the human species to use the contributor’s terminology. Australia’s “baby bonus” was a remarkable initiative that Prime Minister Andrew Fisher introduced in 1912. It gave married and single women £5 (equivalent to about two weeks’ wages) to help cover the cost of medical care. However, while the law-makers (all men) may not have fussed about a marriage certificate, they did exclude Indigenous women and those from Asian or Pacific Island backgrounds. Times, fortunately, have changed. 

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