I’m reading a crime adventure novel written in 1895 by the Australian writer Guy Boothby. A Bid For Fortune features an Australian hero and one of the earliest ‘master criminals’ in literature, Dr Nikola. As well as being possessed of hypnotic eyes, Dr Nikola also has a huge black cat for a companion, and he often sits stroking it while coming up with evil schemes – just like James Bond’s nemesis, Blofeld.
This is how the hero of the book describes this menacing moggie: ‘I have seen cats without number, Chinese, Persian, Manx, the Australian wild cat and the English tabby, but never in the whole course of my existence such another as that owned by Dr Nikola.’
Australian wild cat?! There are of course no indigenous cats in Australasia but there are rumours of a marsupial ‘cat’ known as the Queensland tiger. Could Boothby have meant this classic cryptid? Might he even have seen one? Boothby spent time exploring the Australian outback before moving to England to pursue his literary career.
I emailed two of the UK’s most respected cryptozoologists, Dr Karl Shuker and the director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, Jon Downes, for their opinions. Jon has posted my query on the CFZ’s website (www.cfz.org) to see what members think. Karl responded: ‘I think he was probably referring to a feral domestic cat, many of which exist throughout Australia and sometimes attain quite prodigious sizes, especially black ones. Feral domestics are often dubbed ‘wild cats’ both in Australia and elsewhere, not least because their temperament can sometimes be quite ferocious.’
That may well be the explanation. If any alternative views come in via the CFZ, I’ll let you know.