WARNING: Some images in this story may be disturbing
Halfway up Fort Street sits a heritage building which was one of the first and largest settler homes to be built outside of Fort Victoria.
Now known as the Wentworth Villa Architectural Museum, the home was built in 1862 and belonged to the Ella family, immigrants from England. The family lived in the abode for 80 years before it was purchased and turned into an antique store and eventually to today’s museum.
It wasn’t until Stefan and Magda Opalski purchased the property in 2012 and began renovations and preservation techniques that an interesting discovery was made under the floorboards of the servants’ entrance at the back of the house: a mummified cat.
“It seemed they uncovered other bones of different animals that lived in this area but they’d all decomposed naturally, but the cat well preserved so they think it was intentionally dried or mummified,” said Angela Andersen, director at Wentworth Villa.
WARNING: Graphic image—@WentworthVilla director Angela Andersen shows off a unique part of the museum’s display: a mummified cat found buried under the house, likely in the late 1800s. #yyj @VictoriaNews pic.twitter.com/NaSWXhEy9J— Nicole Crescenzi (@NicoleCrescenzi) October 31, 2019
The Opalski’s did some research and learned that it was a common practice in Europe to bury cats underneath homes or near the threshold in order to keep out rats and witches and bad spirits.
“Whether this was the goal of the people who lived here or the people who worked for them, that is unclear,” Andersen said. “But it’s something unique and unusual.”
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The remains of the cat are now kept in an air-tight crate upstairs amongst headstones, glass bottles, broken plates, children’s toys, and jewelry also found in the yard and between the walls of the house.
|Oct. 31, 2019 – The mummified cat was buried under the servant's entrance at the Ella household in the late 1800s. The building is now known as the Wentworth Villa Architectural Heritage Museum. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
The very large cat is frozen in a snarling pose, with flecks of dark fur still attached. It’s unclear if the cat was male or female, how old it was when it died and when exactly it was buried.
As it is now, however, the cat and the other discoveries offer a look into the layered world of Victoria’s past.
“It’s all the things they brought here from all over the world; perfume bottles form New York and Europe… the house itself is built of parts made in California,” Andersen said. “It showcases Victoria as a hub for things happening all over the pacific.”
Visitors to the museum are welcome to visit the cat and the other finds at its 1156 Fort St. location from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.
For more information you can visit wentworthvilla.com.