Saturday 14 June 2008

The history of the domestic cat

Photo copyright polandeze - Abyssinian cat see below

The history of the domestic cat includes, this time, a brief look at the second national cat show in England at the fine Crystal Palace. It took place in early December 1871.

There were 349 entries. The competition was divided into 4 divisions: Short-haired cats, long-haired cats, "cats of no sex" and "working men's cats". A highly interesting and unusual classification by today's standards. "Cats of no sex" must mean altered cats (spayed and neutered) which implies that the other cats were not altered. This would equate with the neuter class at cat shows today, it seems.


The idea behind the 4th division was "to encourage the kind treatment of domestic cats". In 1871 cat fanciers were feeding their show cats the same kind of luxury food as now despite cats of that era being much more of a useful working animal catching mice and rodents for their keepers. One person fed 2 "smelts" (a small fish) "exquisitely" fried in breadcrumbs and a roast chicken leg.

Male Tortoiseshell

The number 1 cat of the show was a male tortoiseshell cat. He was described as the first and last of his kind. In other words an extremely rare cat. They are rare because of the manner in which the genetics work and are inherited. For a tortoiseshell cat to be male there has to be a genetic aberration or a foetal abnormality. They are still very rare as only females should be tortoiseshell but their rarity does not make them valuable.

The male tortoiseshell cat mentioned above took a prize of £1 and 10 shillings (£1-50) at the 1871 value. An interesting thing the author said was this.

Wild cat Hybrids

He referred to "hybrid wild cats" from that were in cages next to tabbies and which came from a Zoo (perhaps Regents Park zoo if it had been built by then). Are these domestic cat/wild cat hybrids or wild cat to wild cat hybrids? I would have thought the former and if so the first wild cat hybrids were not the Bengal cats of Jean Mill or the scientist experimenting on the Asian Leopard cat from whom she acquired her first hybrid but these perhaps.

Indeed in the Crystal Palace Show of 1873 the organizers made sure every possible type of domestic cat breed was represented including a new class being for any hybrid between domestic cat and wild cat. There were no entries that year but clearly they were well know enough for the organizer to make up a class for them in the competition. This predates the Bengal cat by almost exactly 100 years.

Abyssinian cat

The author usually described cats by their coat type. He does, though, mention an Abyssinian cat, called "Zeyla". The author says that an officer of the 102nd Fusiliers took the cat (but didn't say from where - presumed Abyssinia - to India and then to England. The author also said that this cat (described as a tabby cat) would drink from a cup with her paw a lot of the time.

This supports the stories of The history of the domestic cat in relation to the Abyssinian cat.

1 comment:

  1. Finn Frode, Denmark24 October 2009 at 12:26

    The Abyssinian cat "Zeyla" was apparently named from the town of Zeyla (or Saylac) - then Abyssinia, now in Northern Somalia near the boarder to Djibouti.

    A snip from Wikipedia:
    The 102nd Regiment of Foot (Royal Madras Fusiliers) was an infantry regiment, originally raised by the British East India Company and absorbed by the British Army in 1862.

    And another:
    The British 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia was a punitive expedition carried out by armed forces of the British Empire against the Ethiopian Empire. [...] The task was given to the Bombay Army, and Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Napier was given command of the expeditionary force. [...] The units that participated from the campaign belonged, with the exception of the Madras Sappers, to the Bengal and Bombay Presidency Armies.

    So the story of the officer, who alledgedly brought an Abyssinian cat with him to India and then on to Britain is plausible, but might as well have been constructed at a later date. If only we knew the name of the officer...


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