Now why are you laughing boy? It was a serious business, let me tell you. There I was, not much older than yourself, and I’d stowed away on a ship outbound from New South Wales.

What? Well, it seemed like a sensible idea at the time. The gold rush was starting to wane and being a lad it was looking like there wasn’t much of a fortune to be made. So, I packed up my swag, took what gold I had and snuck aboard.

We were barely a day into the trip when I was found by the crew. They’re small ships you see. So they dragged my up in front of the captain and he asked me all manner of questions, mostly trying to put the fear of God in me. You know, the usual stories, how they cut up stowaways and use them for bait, how they make you swab decks until your hands are worn down to the wrists, all that kind of stuff. But he shut up when I showed them my small bag of gold, and asked why I hadn’t just paid a passage in the first place!

Tell you what, there was some hilarity when they heard my name, how was I to know that “Tibby” means “ship’s cat”? The captain thought that was just the thing, and so it stuck, and the ship’s cat I was. Now there’s a job you’d avoid if you could. I was fetch and carry for every sailor aboard… But I kept my gold at the end, having worked out my passage.

What? The name? Well, I was found an orphan you see, wandering there in the gold fields. I never knew what happened to my parents, or where they might have come from. Who knows! I used to wonder if they hadn’t been murdered by other gold miners, or perhaps fled in the night from the attacks of the savages. But women weren’t common in that part of the world in those days, so now, in my older years, I think I was likely just the child of a midwife, and maybe I one mouth too many to feed.

But still. To cut loose a toddler like that. Thank the Lord for the kind-hearted people who took me in, and raised me.

Still! It’s not like they had to feed me for long! I was working for my supper in no time, and soon on that ship bound for Otago with my own money. And proud I was.

What? Oh, the name! I’m an old man you forget sometimes.

“Tibby” was the only word I could say when they found me you see. And so they named me that. The thing with the ship’s cat was just a coincidence like. But it was a name fair enough, and so now it’s yours as well. A humble beginning, but a beginning all the same.