A Domestic Cat-astrophy

catastrophicOn Tuesday, 21 May  1867 a peculiar case was presented to the Lewes Petty Sessions. A case of nuisance was brought against a Mr Robert Dennis Chantrell, a resident in Rottingdean. The complaint concerned Chantrell’s residence, which was so inundated with animals, especially those of the feline persuasion, that it causing ill health on the resident population. Indeed, a recent near-by outbreak of cholera was attributed to the smell of these animals.

The complainant had been asked by the Board of Guardians in Newhaven to visit the residence, which he did earlier in the month. His visit began as follows:

When I approached the residence, I first passed through the garden and saw nearly 30 cats running about, two decomposing dead cats, and a number of animal skeletons – I am assuming they were cats. I made my way into the defendant’s kitchen to find at least 30 more cats. A visit to the stable/outhouse found another 40-50 cats residing – some were roaming free, while others were in cages. Food for the cats was strewn about, being raw meat – some of the free-roaming cats were feasting upon this foul-smelling food. Next, I came to the yard. Gladly, I found no cats. Instead, though, I found 20 dogs, a fox, a goat, turkeys, geese, ducks, and innumerable other fowls. Next, I visited the defendant’s house, which was attached to the residence. Upstairs I found all of the doors were closed. Upon opening them – more cats. Sadly, these animals were living in a squalid state – defecation lined the floors, the cats were caked with dirt, numerous cat skeletons laid about. The total number of living cats in this residence are likely around 200.

As a result of this visit, and the corroboration of the state of affairs by innumerable witnesses, a legal case was opened against Mr Chantrell. Surprisingly, Chantrell agreed with the complainants, which his solicitor echoed in his proceedings. The residence was, indeed, a state of squalor. However, Chantrell denied full responsibility. The animals were not his property, but the property of a young female artist who resided in the residence. This young lady enjoyed painting cats and, apparently, required a cat-cophany of felines as they were her muse. Indeed, Chantrell had purchased this very property in order to accommodate this young lady’s cat-needs. Her art required that she be surrounded by them continually. The young lady had even offered a financial stipend to neighbours to bring additional cats to become part of her paradise.

Chantrell was ordered to abate the nuisance, or it would be removed by force. It is unclear which was the underlying nuisance…the young lady, or the cats (or both?) We’ll never know…


An Extraordinary Collection of Cats. The Daily Post. 24 May 1867

The Illustrated Police News. 1 June 1867.


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