Captain Cat is probably the most iconic character from Dylan's Under Milk Wood. Dylan's name actually means 'Son of the wave' and he loved being near the sea. He also met many sailors in the pubs of Mumbles, Swansea and Newquay, but is John Thomas of Laugharne the main inspiration for Captain Cat?

John Thomas was a mariner, who owned Lorenzo, which was a one storey house before he added the upper storey. Gosport St was a dangerous road in the 19th century, and a report at the time said, '...not one to walk through at night.'

Thomas was born in the late 1820s, went to sea at 13, and came to know Florence Nightingale during the Crimean war. In the 1850s he married Jane, had six children and sailed the 'Nautilus', a smack built in Bristol. Thomas shipped stone from the local quarries to Bristol and brought grain and malt back to Laugharne.

By the 1870s his cargo also included coal, some of which would have been sold by his wife who as well as running a large family, was also a coal merchant. John was a strict father, and the boys had a little ditty about him:

The Lord have mercy upon us
And save us from John Thomas.
For when he comes
He'll rattle our bums
And have no mercy on us!

John Thomas died c.1912 and his son Samuel quit the sea when he got married to run a grocery business from Lorenzo. Another son, John remained a seafarer and drank in the Cross House Inn, sometimes in the company of Dylan Thomas. He was known as Johnny Holloway, as he lived in Myrtle Cottage, Holloway, (featured elsewhere).

Whilst Dylan's reputation was for heavy drinking, he usually made his pint last all evening, listening, fascinated by Johnny Holloway's tales of his father's adventures at sea. Captain Cat (above, played by Peter O'Toole in the classic 1972 film) was blind, and in later life, John Thomas lost his sight.

As Dylan wrote the bulk of Under Milk Wood whilst living in Laugharne, surely Captain Cat and his tales of the sea were inspired by John Thomas.

More info on Dylan Thomas - The Road To Milk Wood can be gleaned from this BBC ebook, written by Jon Tregenna who authored this site. Click here.

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