Sarah Hartwell, 2017

The following are all taken from Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle over several decades. The phrase “tortoiseshell tom cat” referred to something rare, much as we talk about something being as rare as “hen’s teeth” or “rocking horse poo.”

The “Frosty Face Fogo” column was evidently satirical and sometimes referenced the writers (fictional) tortie tom. The one-liners appeared in a column called “Answers” where the journal provided a brief answer to questions it had received, including reports about tortie tom cats and the value of these rarities.

To The Editor of Bell’s Life in London. Sir, —The humane promptitude, with which you devote your columns to the exposure of public and private grievances, induces me to trouble you with this letter; not much in the expectation, that, by its publicity in your columns, it will produce any benefit to as from a hope that it may save others from mortifications equally cruel with those to which I have been exposed. Being an elderly woman, unmarried, or, as my neighbours think proper to call me, “an old maid" (which I take leave to say, is a matter they have means of deciding), and being rather straightened in circumstances, consequence of the departure Mr. Sheriff Parkins from this country, I determined to part with a favourite Tortoiseshell Tom Cat, which originally cost me a considerable sum, and which has been the solace of my solitary hours for many years.

I need not describe to you the anguish which I suffered in my mind before I adopted this resolution; but, having at last taken it, I dispatched the following advertisement to the Times Newspaper, for which I was charged seven shillings, and which appeared in the supplement of that paper on Saturday last, at the head the column, announcing the sale of sundry dark brown geldings, bay mares, and other cattle –

A handsome Tortoiseshell Tom Cat, to be disposed of, reasonable terms. Apply at Mr. White’s, 5, Swinton-place, Bagnigge-wells road.

Knowing the extensive circulation of The Times, I, of course, anticipated I should have several applications, and took care to have Tom washed and combed so to shew him off to the best advantage; but, Lord, Sir, had no conception of the trouble, expence, and vexation to which I should be put, or I never would have ventured upon such experiment; in fact, my life has been one continued scene of misery and disappointment ever since the advertisement appeared. As early as eleven o’clock on the same day, I received the following letter, which I was informed had been left at Mr. White’s, by a livery servant.

The Duke of St. A— requests the proprietor of the Tortoiseshell Tom Cat, advertised in The Times, this morning, if it can warranted a real Tom, will be at the trouble of taking it to Mrs. C--, Highgate-hill, where, if approved, a liberal price will be given. —Piccadilly, June 17, 1826.

My heart jumped the moment I received this letter. I had heard of Mrs. C——, and of her partiality for Toms, and without further delay, determined to wait upon her. Popping on my cloak, therefore, and putting Tom in a band-box, off I set for Highgate-hill. It was a broiling day, and I had enough to do to keep my pet quiet. As I made “cock-sure" of a good purchaser, however, I bore all this with patience but, help me, when I got there, I found I had been completely hoaxed. The moment I told my business, I was laughed at by the servants. I found that Mrs. C-- did not want Tom, and that, in fact, some person had made most unwarrantable use of the Duke of St. A——‘s name. It was late in the evening when I got hack to town, completely worn out; but what was my surprise, on calling at Mr. White’s to tell him of my mortification, to find that during the day, he had received no less than two hundred and eighteen letters by the two-penny and three-penny post! the postage which alone came to upwards of a pound. I could scarce believe my eyes, but the fatal truth became too apparent, when Mr. White required to be paid for his outlay on my account [postage was paid by the recipient, not the sender]. I was forced to give him a sovereign in part, but instructed him not to take in any more letters, fully calculating upon the certainty of securing a customer out of so many applications, and having placed the epistles in the band-box along with Tom, home I went to peruse them at leisure.

Right glad was Tom to get out of his confinement, and equally glad was I to get a cup of tea; after which I proceeded to examine my packet of letters; and when I tell you, that out of eighty-four places to which I have since gone, and from which these letters professed to come, there was not one in which a cat was really wanted, you may perhaps form some estimate of the trouble and annoyance to which I have been exposed. To describe to you, at length, the extraordinary scenes in which I was engaged, would occupy the whole of your paper. I must content myself, therefore, with simply telling you, that in some places I was received with laughter — in others, with angry abuse - in others, with threats of being sent to the treadmill — and in a few only, with expressions of commiseration but, after all, cat is still on hand, and if any of your readers feel inclined to become a purchaser, I have only to repeat, in the words of the advertisement, that he shall go “on reasonable terms.” I inclose you copies of a few of the cruel hoaxes to which have been subjected, trusting that their publication will excite a blush on the cheeks of the authors. I am. Sir, your humble servant, TABITHA BRIMSTONE.


Sir Edmund begs Mr. White will send his tortoiseshell Tom Cat to the Lord Chamberlain’s office, St.James’s, for the inspection of Mr. Mash, who has orders to provide such an animal for the improvement of the breed of his Majesty’s domestic establishment, at the cottage in the Great Park, Windsor.

The Duke of Wellington desires Mr. While to bring the tortoiseshell Tom Cat to Apsley House, to-morrow morning, at eight o’clock, when, if approved, it will be purchased.

17th June, 1826
Mr. Manners Sutton wishes to be informed, if Mr. White will warrant his cat a good one at killing rats, if so, he will be purchased for the use of the House of Commons during the approaching Parliament.—Palace Yard, 17th June.

Mr. Tattersall suggests to Mr. White, that if his tortoiseshell Tom Cat should not be sold, it might be advantageous to have him advertised to cover for the season, at 5s a bead, and 1s for the groom. Mr. Tattersall has no objection to undertake the charge. — Grosvenor-place, 17th June, 1826.

Mr. Gully wishes to know the pedigree of the tortoiseshell Tom Cat, advertised in the Times of this morning — with the names his sire and dam, and whether he has any progeny. - One Tun, Jermyn-street.

Mr. Corckford desires to know, whether the Tortoiseshell Tom Cat, advertised in the Times this morning, is entire or gelding — if the former, and not too old, a purchaser may obtained by bringing him to Fishmonger’s Hall, St. James's street.

If Mr. White is quite sure of the capabilities of the Tortoiseshell Tom Cat, mentioned in the Times of this day, he may bring him on trial to Miss Wilhelmina Wilkins, at Fenton’s Hotel, St. James’s-street.

Mr Holme Sumner will purchase the Tortoiseshell Tom announced for sale in the Times of this day, provided he has a vote for the county of Surrey. — Guildford, Saturday.

Josh Hudson, wishing to cross the breed with a poodle dog, for the sake of enlarging his menagerie, would be glad to know if the Tom Cat, advertised in The Times this morning is likely to answer that purpose, if so, may be brought to the Half-Moon-Tap, Leadenhall-market.

Miss Matilda Fairchops would thank Mr. White to let her know the age and size o’ the Tom Cat, advertised in The Times of this day — whether he has his eye-sight perfect, is cleanly in his habits, of a domestic turn of mind, a good mouser and tender towards singing birds .—Maid-a-hill, l7th June, 1826.

Is the Tom Cat, advertised in The Times of this day, active in killing varmint? Does he play with the rats or put them out of pain at wonst? Can he eat black beetles and drink buttermilk? If he can, you may bring him to Potatoe hall, Galway-court, St. Giles’s. Ask for Richard Martin, one pair of stairs down the chimley. – N.B. You must take a bill [an I Owe You], payable after the Sitting of Parliament.

We must reserve the remainder of these hoaxing another opportunity.

Frosty-faced Fogo has a tortoise-shell tom cat, rising two years old, but blind of one eye, which he can match against any cat of the same age, colour and defect, for any sum from a tanner to a poney. May be heard of at the Cat and Shoulder of Mutton, Hackney-fields. N.B. The said tom open to procreative visits from his own species on the usual terms, and a fee to the groom. [The Fogo column was humorous]

FOGO’S TORTOISESHELL TOM CAT {Satire- 29th June 1828
To The Editor of Bell’s Life in London. Sir, — Allow me to request you to correct a groundless rumour which has gone forth, that I have sold me tortoiseshell tom-cat. My figure is too high for every customer who has yet offered; and when I do sell him, you may be assured, that neither a gross of muffins not a pound of Scotch snuff shall induce me to part with such a rarity. I am off to Norwich, but Mrs. Fogo will be ready to treat with any person who may be desirous of treating for the purchase. He would be a great acquisition to the Zoological Society, in the Regent’s Park, and I have no doubt would increase their funds, as they have now set up in opposition to Exeter ‘Change. Yours, FROSTY-FACED FOGO. [The Fogo column was humorous]

21st March 1830
Charles Ward of No. 2, Spring-row, Half-way-house, Portsea, is informed that his tortoise-shell Tom Cat, nine months old, if entire, is a great curiosity, and worth “a Jew’s eye,” and if brought to Houndsditch will fetch that price. The dragsman to the Portsmouth Regulator will bring it up safe.

3rd October 1830
Tortoiseshell tom cats are now at a discount – they have become quite common, and all the “virtuosi” are stocked. Our Upton friend, therefore, must not come to the London market.

9th November 1834
Great Novelty! To be seen at 267 Strand, opposite the West Entrance of St. Clement’s Court, a most beautiful Tortoiseshell Tom Cat, weighing upwards of 9lbs. It has been shown to several Gentlemen belonging to the Committee of the Zoological gardens, Regents Park, and considered a most splendid animal and a great curiosity. It is not only admired on account of its richness of colours and immense size, but also for its sagacity in going through a variety of pleasing performances, even at the command of strangers, and is allowed [believed] to be the only one in the kingdom. Admittance, one shilling, from ten o’clock in the morning till nine in the evening.

2nd April 1843
There’s a tortoiseshell tom cat at Mr. J. Woodford’s near Newport, Isle of Wight.

11th August 1844
A Tortoiseshell Tom Cat – No Quibble – For Sale at Frank Cruso’s, Crown and Sceptre, 27 Foley-street, Portland-place, where it may be seen.

27th December 1846
Betty Taylor, of the Railway Tavern, Oldham, has a tortoiseshell tom cat, weight 8lb.

13th August 1848
T.R. – We cannot say how much a tortoiseshell tom cat would fetch.

15th May 1853
Mr Donovan – Try an advertisement. We should think £5 a fair price for a tortoiseshell tom cat; they are not very uncommon now.

7th November 1852
Clyde – Tortoiseshell tom cats are no longer rarities.

20th April 1856
Sam Stone – We cannot tell the value of your male cat. If he is nearly all white as you say, we should doubt his being a tortoiseshell Tom; but even if her were, we should be compelled to decline “inserting him in our paper,” as he would take up too much space.

27th April 1856
Samuel Stone – Cat shows are not sports. Your proposition to show your tortoiseshell Thomas is an advertisement.


This saga began when the Glasgow Evening Post printed a list of trivia in its "Items" column.

ITEMS Glasgow Evening Post, 28th June 1892
There are two curious things about cats that are not generally known. Yellow hairs, however few in number, always indicate the female ; no male ever has the slightest tint of yellow.

THE COLOUR OF CATS. Glasgow Evening Post, 25th July 1892
Sir - Some days ago you made an extraordinary statement about cats. You say it is a curious thing, and not generally known, that yellow hairs, however few in number, always indicate the female cat, and that no male ever has the slightest tinge of yellow. It certainly is not generally known, for it is far from being the case. Your correspondent must either be hopelessly ignorant about cats, or the facts have got unintentionally mixed up. A yellow, or yellow-and-white, cat is always a male - at least, I never saw an exception. A male cat never has three colours, the Muscovy or tortoiseshell cat being always a female, and the yellow or yellow-and-white cat is the male of the tortoiseshell female cat. I am, etc., A. F., Kilmarnock, 22nd July, 1892.

THE COLOUR OF CATS. Glasgow Evening Post, 27th July 1892
SIR, - “A. F.” is quite correct in taking exception to the statement of a former correspondent that yellow colour is an indication of the female sex. At the same time he has himself made several mistakes on the subject - a yellow or yellow-and-white cat is not always a male, although it is quite possible “A. F.” has never seen one. Some years ago, in experimentally breeding for colour, I had a very fine yellow female which had on more than one occasion female kittens of a similar colour, and I am very much mistaken if I have not seen others at cat shows before and since. He is also wrong in saying that “a male cat never has three colours." Tortoise-shell and white males are to be seen occasionally at the cat shows, although the pure tortoise-shell coloured male is a rare animal, only one, so far as I remember, having been exhibited. I have bred them almost pure – i.e. black and red. As these colours in the domestic cats are subject to much individual variation, the mating of coloured individuals, as mentioned by “A. F.” in his concluding paragraph, is, to those who know the habits of the species, absurd. In speaking of colour, it may be worthwhile mentioning that the most persistent and consistent marking to he found in coloured cats is the streak which runs from the corner of the eye in an oblique downward direction. An interesting paper on the variation in colour of the domestic cat will be found in the “Zoologist” a year or two ago. - I am etc, “A GLASGOW NATURALIST. “Glasgow, 26th July, 1892.

THE COLOUR OF CATS. Glasgow Evening Post, 29th July 1892
Sir – I think "Naturalist" can show vary little reason for contradicting what I put forward as a general rule about the colour of cats. My letter was merely to contradict a glaring mis-statement by a previous correspondent, who said that yellow fur always indicated the female cat. and to show that the reverse was almost the case. I said that a yellow-and -white cat was always a male. “Naturalist” says this is wrong, because he once bred a yellow-and-white female cat. I can quite believe he did such a thing - it may happen once in thousand times. Just the same with my other statement that a tortoiseshell cat is always a female. He denies this, because he once saw an exception. I once saw a Tom tortoiseshell cat many years ago. For that part of it I once saw a cat with two heads, yet who would think of describing a cat as an animal that had sometimes one head and sometimes two. I wasn t taking curiosities into account, and curiosities are sure to find themselves at shows. His exceptions are merely freaks of nature that may happen now and then, but not disprove the general rule. Is “Naturalist” prepared prove that the Muscovy cat was not originally a separate breed, the males of which were yellow and white and the females black, yellow, and white? Of course, one does not easily come across a pure bred cat, unless when bred cat-fancier such as “Naturalist.” - I am, etc, A.F., Kilmarnock, 28th July, 1892.

THE COLOUR OF CATS. Glasgow Evening Post, 1st August 1892
SIR, - I should be very sorry to follow “A.F.” or any other into the realms of personalities or of the acrimonious discussion which his last note might lead to, but at the same time “A. F.” will, I hope, pardon me if I still dispute his statements. What he calls his “general rule about the colour of cats” is, I presume, the sentence in his letter follows“ A yellow, or yellow and white, cat is always a male ; at least, I never saw an exception. If "A. F.” will again read my letter he will see that I did not breed the yellow female cat, which, a matter of fact, I picked up in a casual manner, but from that parent I had several female kittens of the same yellow colour, and I am therefore quite justified in my opinion that this was not isolated case. Regarding the other statement of "A. F’s,” he said, “A male cat never has three colours.’” The many records of various cat shows throughout the country are sufficient to disprove that, and I may point that all colour in the domestic cat is more or less a freak of astute.” I am not, as challenged by “A.F.” prepared prove that the Muscovy cat was not originally a separate breed, the males of which were yellow and white and the females black, yellow, and white but I deny that A. F. can prove that to be fact, and I will to hear of any carnivorous mammal in a state of nature where the males and females differ so much in colour as he states. I am, etc, A GLASGOW NATURALIST. Glasgow, 30th July, 1892.

ITEMS Glasgow Evening Post - Wednesday 31 August 1892
There are two curious things about cats that are not generally known. Yellow hairs, however few in number, always indicate the female; no male ever has the slightest tint of yellow. That is one curiosity, and the other is that a blue-eyed cat is always deaf. To be sure, blue-eyed cats are scarce, and it is possible that some deaf cats may not be blue-eyed, but wherever you had a blue-eyed cat that feline is absolutely incapable of hearing thunder.

Despite reprinting the original erroneous "fact" as well as the generalisation about blue-eyed cats (since it did not mention them having white fur), no further replies appeared to be forthcoming.


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