The search for UC’s beloved felines

The spooky season comes to a close, we at the Canterbury College Survey team offer you a challenge – can you find the three cat graves on Ilam campus?!! 

While stage two of the Survey continues, we continue to look for objects and stories which illustrate the history of UC, and we are finding some very quirky items. Did you know, for instance, that the Ilam Campus has plaques dedicated to three beloved feline friends? Our team has been able to find one of those graves – that of Bentley – but there are still two we haven’t located.

Hubert was the Psychology Department’s cat during the mid-’60s to early ‘70s. He came to the Department by way of Professor Gregson, whose wife was a great lover of rescuing cats. It seems as though Hubert had a reputation as a rogue and scoundrel, having managed to prank call the fire brigade. The story goes that he managed to pull the alarm on an indicator box, which summoned the fire trucks, one of which then got stuck in the freshly prepared lawn and had to be towed out. On the 26th of August, 1983, the University Chronicle wrote a piece about Hubert stating “he showed a total absence of any endearing features in his character and showed no affection to staff or students.” In other words, he was a cat, just doing his thing.

Tom Skinner on the other hand was the beloved cat of the Student Health Service, known for often joining the students in their evening functions at the Student Union building. He apparently mixed and mingled “charmingly” with the guests and behaved in “seemly fashion”. One Chronicle article records that one of the then Cafeteria ladies believed him to be better behaved than some of the students; “He never threw food or jumped on the furniture” she said. He was known to have enjoyed his time by sitting on students’ laps while they were waiting in the Student Health services, or prowling around campus getting into all sorts of places. Sadly, Tom was drowned in the stream that cuts through Ilam campus. The writer of his obituary wrote “I wonder if Tom’s killer will experience in their whole lives half the love, affection and friendliness that Tom in his short life knew as everybody’s campus cat.” He was obviously a much-loved cat. 

Finally, Bentley was the Student Union cat in the 1980s and 90s, until 1997, when he succumbed to an immunodeficiency virus. He was a political figure, coming second in one of the UCSA Presidential races, and gaining national TV coverage. Bentley was held in such esteem that when he passed the UCSA held a ceremony where the UCSA planted a Magnolia tree next to the grave. The poem and “The Naming of Cats” by T.S. Elliot was also recited.

Bentley’s tombstone is still seen on campus in a garden near the UCSA building but both Tom’s and Hubert’s plaques have gone missing! Can you find them? If you are able to locate find the plaques of either Hubert or Tom Skinner, let us know and win a block of chocolate!  

As always, if you have any other information on heritage items relating to the history of the University, please contact us – we would love to know more!

Find out more about the Canterbury College Collection here  

Contact the Canterbury College Survey Team at teecemuseum@canterbury.ac.nz

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