Magic lantern body and lens, circa 1857. [composite image] . Rouse Hill House & Farm Collection, Sydney Living Museums. Photo © Jamie North

Pussy’s road to ruin

‘Pussy’s Road to Ruin’ is not a comic story but a cautionary moral tale for children.

When the tale opens the principal character, Pussy, is a well brought up kitten living with her mother Dame Tabby in the household of a fruiterer. She is taught to catch mice and to behave prettily as all kittens should but is accosted one day by a stranger named Grimalkin. He is an older ‘man of the world’ who may have lived the rough life of a sailor and he leads her into a life of crime by teaching her to kill birds and chickens and inciting her to steal food from her master’s table and larder. To prove her independence Pussy decides to kill the family canary, expecting it to be a delicate morsel, but her master catches her in the act and confines her to a cellar where she must eat mice or starve.

Sydney merchants Brush and MacDonnell of George Street first  advertised sets of magic lantern slides for ‘Pussy’s Road to Ruin’ in July 1865 but the story first appeared in slide format in England around 1859 and the Rouse Hill slide set was probably made at that time or within a couple of years of that date.

It is a twelve slide set, mounted in three timber-framed sequences, each of four scenes, and was produced by Newton & Co., like all the other lantern slides at Rouse Hill.

Related objects

  • Set of three static, timber-framed, glass slides for a magic lantern. These slides show a sequence of twelve scenes from the story ‘Pussy’s Road to Ruin’.

    ‘Pussy’s Road to Ruin’, full set of slides

  • Pussy's Road to Ruin book 4th edition

    ‘Pussy’s road to ruin’, or, ‘Do as you are bid’

Pussy’s Road to Ruin, or, Do as you are bid

The 12 slides in Newton & Co’s magic lantern set of ‘Pussy’s road to ruin’ are based closely on hand-coloured, wood-engraved, illustrations from a small octavo children’s book first published in England in the late 1840s or early 1850s. Pussy’s road to ruin, or do as you are bid, ‘translated freely from the German’ by Madame de Chatelain was published in Leipzig by William Engelmann and in London by Joseph, Myers & Co of Leadenhall Street. It was retailed by William Tegg & Co of Queen Street, Cheapside and reprinted in at last eight editions before 1859.

The engravings are unsigned and may be by a German artist, but the translator, Clara de Chatelain, nee Clara du Mazet de Pontigny (1807-1876) was born in London, the daughter of a French gentleman. She was a prolific writer and composer and translated other German stories for Joseph, Myers & Co, sometimes under a pseudonym. All were, according to the publisher, ‘amusing books for children’, all with ‘a decidedly moral tendency’ and all illustrated with hand-coloured engravings ‘so spirited and brilliant’ that children were ‘found to take more than an ordinary interest’ in the works. Spirited, perhaps, but not light-hearted.

For further details, see library catalogue

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About the authors

Head and shoulders photo of woman holding up card to face with conservator's white glove on hand.

Megan Martin

Former Head, Collections & Access

Megan is the former head of Collections & Access at Sydney Living Museums. She has a particular interest in the working of the historical imagination, in teasing out the meanings of objects in museums collections and in crafting the stories that can be recovered/discovered through a close reading of those items of material culture.

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Holly Schulte

Curator Digital Assets

Holly is the Curator Digital Assets with Sydney Living Museums where she is part of the Collections & Access team.