Wednesday 13 April 2022

The First Siamese Cats in the Western World

Mrs Vyvyan of Dover, England, UK was the person who first brought the Siamese cat to the Western world from the Orient. The year: 1886. I am sure that snippet of information will be disputed by many! However, it comes from Mrs Vyvyan herself who sent the information to Harrison Weir, the founder of the cat fancy. This is referred to in Harrison Weir's book: Our Cats and all about them at pages 77-79.

If she is not the first, she is one of the first and it is, therefore, interesting to hear what Mrs Vyvyan has to say about the Siamese cat - the original version before cat breeders in the West got hold of the breed and mangled it 😉.

We don't have a photo of her Siamese cats (if you can help, please comment) but below is an early Siamese showing a normal body conformation and head shape.

An early Siamese cat showing a normal body conformation and head shape
An early Siamese cat showing a normal body conformation and head shape. Photo: Wikipedia Commons and in the public domain.

Her experiences with this famous breed relate to Siamese cats that came direct from Siam (now Thailand). She nursed and cared for the original Siamese cats believed to have come from the King's Palace and sent to her from Bangkok. At the time she was in China.

These are some of the comments she makes about the first Siamese cats in the western world. I think her comments will interest aficionados of the Siamese cat breed.
"They are very affectionate and personally attached to their human friends, not liking to be left alone, and following us from room to room more after the manner of dogs than cats." 
We know that the Siamese cat is famous for their loyalty, close relationships with people and being talkative - see character. She confirms this.

She says that the male Siamese is very strong and that they fight with strange dogs. The male Siamese can "conquer all other tom-cats in their neighbourhood". 

Apparently, while Mrs Vyvyan was living in China one of her cats had had a fight with a wild cat and lost. He was killed but managed to walk home before dying.

Being the time before the existence of pet food manufacturers Mrs Vyvyan fed her cats fresh fish with boiled rice, bread, warm milk, chicken and game.

She supported the idea that they were better off going out and catching their own food, "feather and fur".

Mrs Vyvyan said:
"We find these cats require a great deal of care, unless they live in the country, and become hardy through being constantly out of doors". 
A thought which is out-of-step with today's trend towards indoor cats. She said that kittens are more likely to survive if born in late spring so they could benefit from the warmer weather.

The predominant illness in her kittens appears to have been worms. They were so bad the kittens tried to vomited them up. She gave them raw chicken with heads and with feathers on as a relief from the discomfort.

She describes the gradual development of the pointing. The first Siamese cats were seal pointed. This is the classic pointing. Breeders have developed a lot of different colours for the pointing including lynx (tabby) pointing. Mr Vyvyan believed that the "true breed, by consensus of opinion" was the seal point which she describes as, "of the dun, fawn, or ash ground, with black points." She mentions other colours which implies that even then there were other colours. I think chocolate pointing has been referred to as an original color. Although Mrs Vyvyan didn't refer to this.

"When first born the colour is nearly pure white, the only trace of 'points' being a fine line of dark gray at the edge of the ears; gradual alteration takes place, the body becoming creamy, the ears, face, tail, and feet darkening, until, about a year old, they attain perfection, when the points should be the deepest brown, nearly black, and the body ash or fawn colour, the eyes opal or blue, looking red in the dark. After maturity they are apt to darken considerably, though not all specimens."

Mrs Vyvyan says that the Siamese is a delicate cat (she is referring to a delicacy of health). She recommends that only a "real cat lover" should get involved in caring for a Siamese cat. They still are delicate, ironically, due to selective breeding. They have the most inherited genetic illnesses of all the cat breeds.

She refers to the intelligence of the Siamese cat. This is a known quality and in fact the Siamese related cats such as the Oriental Shorthair are also rated in the top bracket for cat breed intelligence, if you believe such things.

Harrison Weir's drawing of a Siamese cat's head pointing 1889.

To finish off this page I'll show you what Harrison Weir considers to be the "properly marked Siamese cat". The picture above is also interesting for the shape of the head. This is a perfect example of a traditional Siamese cat. That is the way the Siamese cat looked in Siam before 1886! The modern Siamese or even the Thai cat are not representative of the original Siamese cat.

Associated page: Siamese cat history.

Note - copyright. I have decided that, despite what some have said, the copyright in Harrison Weir's book has expired due the passage of time and it is now in the public domain. If I am wrong, please tell me and I will take prompt action. 

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