Among the beautiful varieties of the domestic cat brought into notice by the cat shows, none deserve more attention than "The Royal Cat of Siam." In form, colour, texture, and length, or rather shortness of its coat, it is widely different from other short-haired varieties; yet there is but little difference in its mode of life or habit. I have not had the pleasure of owning one of this breed, though when on a visit to Lady Dorothy Nevill, at Dangstein, near Petersfield, I had several opportunities for observation. I noticed in particular the intense liking of these cats for "the woods," not passing along the hedgerows like the ordinary cat, but quickly and quietly creeping from bush to bush, then away in the shaws; not that they displayed a wildness of nature, in being shy or distrustful, nor did they seem to care about getting wet like many cats do, though apparently they suffer much when it is cold and damp weather, as would be likely on account of the extreme shortness of their fur, which is of both a hairy and a woolly texture, and not so glossy as our ordinary common domestic cat, nor is the tail, which is thin. Lady Dorothy Nevill informed me that those which belonged to her were imported from Siam and presented by Sir R. Herbert of the Colonial Office; the late Duke of Wellington imported the breed, also Mr. Scott of Rotherfield. Lady Dorothy Nevill thought them exceedingly docile and domestic, but delicate in their constitution; although her ladyship kept one for two years, another over a year, but eventually all died of the same complaint, that of worms, which permeated every part of their body.
Mr. Young, of Harrogate, possesses a chocolate variety of this Royal Siamese cat; it was sent from Singapore to Mr. Brennand, from whom he purchased it, and is described as "most loving and affectionate," which I believe is usually the case. Although this peculiar colour is very beautiful and scarce, I am of opinion that the light gray or fawn colour with black and well-marked muzzle, ears, and legs is the typical variety, the markings being the same as the Himalayan rabbits. There are cavies so marked; and many years ago I saw a mouse similarly coloured. Mr. Young informs me that the kittens he has bred from his dark variety have invariably come the usual gray or light dun colour with dark points. I therefore take that to be the correct form and colour, and the darker colour to be an accidental deviation. In pug-dogs such a depth of colour would be considered a blemish, however beautiful it might be; even black pugs do not obtain prizes in competition with a true-marked light dun; but whatever colour the body is it should be clear and firm, rich and not clouded in any way. But I give Mr. Young's own views:
"The dun Siamese we have has won whenever shown; the body is of a dun colour, nose, part of the face, ears, feet, and tail of a very dark chocolate brown, nearly black, eyes of a beautiful blue by day, and of a red colour at night! My other prize cat is of a very rich chocolate or seal, with darker face, ears, and tail; the legs are a shade darker, which intensifies towards the feet. The eyes small, of a rich amber colour, the ears are bare of hair, and not so much hair between the eyes and the ears as the English cats have. The dun, unless under special judges, invariably beats the chocolate at the shows. The tail is shorter and finer than our English cats.
"I may add that we lately have had four kittens from the chocolate cat by a pure dun Siamese he-cat. All the young are dun coloured, and when born were very light, nearly white, but are gradually getting the dark points of the parents; in fact, I expect that one will turn chocolate. The cats are very affectionate, and make charming ladies' pets, but are rather more delicate than our cats, but after they have once wintered in England they seem to get acclimatised.
"Mr. Brennand, who brought the chocolate one and another, a male, from Singapore last year, informs me that there are two varieties, a large and small. Ours are the small; he also tells me the chocolate is the most rare.
"I have heard a little more regarding the Siamese cats from Miss Walker, the daughter of General Walker, who brought over one male and three females. It seems the only pure breed is kept at the King of Siam's palace, and the cats are very difficult to procure, for in Siam it took three different gentlemen of great influence three months before they could get any.
Mrs. Vyvyan's Royal Cat of Siam.
"Their food is fish and rice boiled together until quite soft, and Miss Walker finds the kittens bred have thriven on it.
"It is my intention to try and breed from a white English female with blue eyes, and a Siamese male.
"The Siamese cats are very prolific breeders, having generally five at each litter, and three litters a year.
"We have never succeeded in breeding any like our chocolate cat; they all come fawn, with black or dark brown points; the last family are a little darker on their backs, which gives them a richer appearance than the pale fawn. Hitherto we have never had any half-bred Siamese; but there used to be a male Siamese at Hurworth-on-Tees, and there were many young bred from English cats. They invariably showed the Siamese cross in the ground colour."
From the foregoing it will be seen how very difficult it is to obtain the pure breed, even in Siam, and on reference to the Crystal Palace catalogues from the year 1871 until 1887, I find that there were fifteen females and only four males, and some of these were not entire; and I have always understood that the latter were not allowed to be exported, and were only got by those so fortunate as a most extra-ordinary favour, as the King of Siam is most jealous of keeping the breed entirely in Siam as royal cats.
The one exhibited by Lady Dorothy Nevill (Mrs. Poodle) had three kittens by an English cat; but none showed any trace of the Siamese, being all tabby.
Although Mr. Herbert Young was informed by Mr. Brennand that there is another and a larger breed in Siam, it does not appear that any of these have been imported; nor have we any description of them, either as to colour, size, form, or quality of coat, or whether they resemble the lesser variety in this or any respect, yet it is to be hoped that, ere long, some specimens may be secured for this country.
Besides Mr. Herbert Young, I am also much indebted to the courtesy of Mrs. Vyvyan, of Dover, who is a lover of this beautiful breed, and who kindly sends the following information:
"The original pair were sent from Bangkok, and it is believed that they came from the King's Palace, where alone the breed are said to be kept pure. At any rate they were procured as a great favour, after much delay and great difficulty, and since that time no others have been attainable by the same person. We were in China when they reached us, and the following year, 1886, we brought the father, mother, and a pair of kittens to England.
"Their habits are in general the same as the common cat, though it has been observed by strangers, 'there is a pleasant wild animal odour,' which is not apparent to us.
"Most of the kittens have a kink in the tail; it varies in position, sometimes in the middle, close to the body, or at the extreme end like a hook."
This tallies with the description given by Mr. Darwin of the Malayan and also the Siamese cats. See my notes on the Manx cat. Mr. Young had also noted this peculiarity in "the Royal cat of Siam."
Mrs. Vyvyan's Royal Cat of Siam.
Mrs. Vyvyan further remarks:
"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.
"They are devoted parents, the old father taking the greatest interest in the young ones.
"They are friendly with the dogs of the house, occupying the same baskets; but the males are very strong, and fight with great persistency with strange dogs, and conquer all other tom-cats in their neighbourhood. We lost one, however, a very fine cat, in China in this way, as he returned to the house almost torn to pieces and in a dying condition, from an encounter with some animal which we think was one of the wild cats of the hills.
"We feed them on fresh fish boiled with rice, until the two are nearly amalgamated; they also take bread and milk warm, the milk having been boiled, and this diet seems to suit them better than any other. They also like chicken and game. We have proved the fish diet is not essential, as two of our cats (in Cornwall) never get it.
"Rather a free life seems necessary to their perfect acclimatisation, where they can go out and provide themselves with raw animal food, 'feather and fur.'
"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. The kittens are difficult to rear unless they are born late in the spring, thus having the warm weather before them. Most deaths occur before they are six months old.
"We have lost several kittens from worms, which they endeavour to vomit; as relief we give them raw chicken heads, with the feathers on, with success. We also give cod-liver oil, if the appetite fails and weight diminishes.
"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; a 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, eyes opal or blue, looking red in the dark. After maturity they are apt to darken considerably, though not in all specimens.
"They are most interesting and delightful pets. But owing to their delicacy and the great care they require, no one, unless a real cat lover, should attempt to keep them; they cannot with safety to their health be treated as common cats.
"During 'Susan's' (one of the cats) illness, the old he-cat came daily to condole with her, bringing delicate 'attentions' in the form of freshly-caught mice. 'Loquat' also provided this for a young family for whom she had no milk.
"Another, 'Saiwan,' is very clever at undoing the latch of the window in order to let himself out; tying it up with string is of no use, and he has even managed to untwist wire that has been used to prevent his going out in the snow. We have at present two males, four adult females, and five kittens." One of our kittens sent to Scotland last August, has done well.
Mrs. Lee, of Penshurst, also has some fine specimens of the breed, and of the same colours as described. I take it, therefore, that the true breed, by consensus of opinion, is that of the dun, fawn, or ash-coloured ground, with black points. Other colours should be shown in the variety classes.
Properly marked Siamese cat.
The head should be long from the ears to the eyes, and not over broad, and then rather sharply taper off towards the muzzle, the forehead flat, and receding, the eyes somewhat aslant downwards towards the nose, and the eyes of a pearly, yet bright blue colour, the ears usual size and black, with little or no hair on the inside, with black muzzle, and round the eyes black. The form should be slight, graceful, and delicately made, body long, tail rather short and thin, and the legs somewhat short, slender, and the feet oval, not so round as the ordinary English cat. The body should be one bright, uniform, even colour, not clouded, either rich fawn, dun, or ash. The legs, feet, and tail black. The back slightly darker is allowable, if of a rich colour, and the colour softened, not clouded.