The tall tale of Dick Whittington and his adventurous cat reminded children that good deeds and generosity will ultimately lead to great fortune. So listen up kids, goodness will be rewarded.

Among the thousands of wallpaper fragments and treasures held in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection is a small, ragged edged section of wallpaper made in 1888 showing an illustrated version of Dick Whittington's famous moral fable. The fragment was rescued from an 1830s homestead called Terragong, in Merriwa NSW and was probably hung when renovations were carried out in 1888.

As curator Michael Lech tells us, nursery rhyme wallpapers with vivid and moralistic designs, drawn sometimes by famous illustrators like Kate Greenaway, were popular in Victorian nurseries.

The story begins with Dick Whittington, an impoverished young boy, whose only possession is his precious cat. He lives in a rat-infested home, but luckily his cat is an adept pest controller. Dick is adopted by a wealthy merchant who decides to take one item from each family member for his trading business. Dick's cat, his only possession, is therefore sent faraway to lands unknown. This leaves Dick heart-broken and his home once again filled with rats. The cat, however, finds itself on an island also over-run with rats where it becomes highly valuable. In the end, not only is Dick showered in riches but is happily reunited with his precious cat. Dick's wealth brings him power and fame and, topping it all off, he grows up to marry the merchant's beautiful daughter and become the Mayor of London.

This video was originally produced by Sydney Living Museums as part of the exhibition Toys Through Time at the Museum of Sydney, 28 March–9 August 2015.

...if you can imagine turning the pages of a children's book, that’s what the wallpaper looks like...


About the Author

smiling man seated on the back of a boat wearing cap and sunglasses with red ensign flag waving, with blue water and Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background, under blue sky.
Gary Crockett
Curator, Interpretation
Curatorial and Exhibitions
It was the dog‐eared world of Rouse Hill House, back in 1991, that inspired Gary Crockett to become a curator.

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