LOST BREEDS - AUSTRALIAN CAT
Although the Australia cat originated in Australia and several were imported into the USA. It was only developed as a breed on the east coast of North America and there seems to be only one reference (The Cat Journal) of one such cat being owned in Australia, this being a male cat from the Sydney area. Generally they were seen as curiosities, or even as ugly freaks (along with the “weird” Siamese), although this description is partly due to the preference for long-haired exhibition cats at that time.
According to D B Champion “Australian Cats” in The Cat Review April 1925, “The cats known here as Australian vary in many respects from the ordinary shorthaired cats, in shape, color, and coat, the latter being much shorter than that of any other cat; it is almost as short as the pile of velvet, and at the extremities it is even shorter, resembling the coat of a horse that has just been clipped. Their whiskers are hardly noticeable – not more than an eighth of an inch in length, and the ear tufts are only conspicuous by their absence. In color, many resemble our domestic shorthairs, but some are brown or seal skin in color, not showing any tabby markings, and these are the most remarkable and foreign-looking, as this self-colored brown is never seen in the domestic cats . . . Mrs J C Mitchelson owned several – one a very beautiful seal skin color – and also gave me one of this coloring but showing her fine tabby markings on the sides. I sent her several times on a visit to an Australian male without results, then finally bred her to Red Admiral, a remarkable cat for his long hair. Out of three only one kitten survived. This one was exactly like the mother, with even shorter hair, showing that this extreme shortness of coat is a very strong characteristic of the breed. This kitten when it left my cattery won a number of prizes as a “thoroughbred” Australian . . . It seems a pity that these cats have not been increasing in the last years for they are charming pets, and now they are hardly ever seen at our shows.
Champion also tells us “It is hard to trace just what part of Australia these cats were brought from; some say they were found on the wharves and were brought to this country by sailors; then again, people who have lived in Australia contend that they are a cross between a little tree animal and the domestic cats. This sounds more than probable and accounts for the smallness, for they are smaller than most of our short-haired cats, also for the unusual seal skin color and the extreme shortness of the coat. In disposition we have never seen a wild or timid one—they are unusually friendly. “
The main breeders in the USA were Dr and Mrs H L Hammond (Washington), Mrs J C Mitchelson, Mrs Ida J Ketchen, Mrs Clifford Harmon and Mrs F L Mathis. Mrs Harmon and Mrs Mathis joined forces in breeding these cats.
The Helena Independent Morning of June 24 1891 wrote “Not all the entries are in yet but about 200 cats will be accommodated, and Mrs O Borris, known to many as the proprietor of the cats’ boarding school on Wren street, West Roxbury, has personal supervision of the show and introduces the visitors to all the curious felines there exhibited. Among the cats already ‘receiving’ is a Kangaroo cat with long ears, rabbit-like head and long hind legs.”
The New York Sun of April 25 1895: “About 200 entries were received for the National Cat Show, at Madison Square Garden, yesterday, when it had been announced that the entries would close. The time, however, has been extended to next Saturday. An ocelot, a civet, and a wild cat have been entered, as well as specimens in each of the fifty-four classes catalogued. Among the nominators are Mrs Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Mrs Edmund C Stedman, Miss Hazel Clark, and Mrs Dr H L Hammond, who enters blue Australian cats, a novelty here. “ According to the The Washington Times , 9th May, 1895, “Dr and Mrs H L Hammond have on exhibition three Australian cats, very sleek looking animals with short fur and small heads, looking like terriers with their great bright eyes. “
Helen Winslow wrote in "Concerning Cats" (1900): "Dr. H. L. Hammond, of Killingly, Ct, makes a speciality of the rare Australian cats, and has taken numerous prizes with them at every cat show in this country, where they are universally admired. His Columbia is valued at six hundred dollars, and his Tricksey at five hundred dollars. They are, indeed, beautiful creatures, though somewhat unique in the cat world, as we see it. They are very sleek cats, with fur so short, glossy, and fine that it looks like the finest satin. Their heads are small and narrow, with noses that seem pointed when compared with other cats. They are very intelligent and affectionate little creatures, and make the loveliest of pets. Dr. and Mrs. Hammond are extremely fond of their unusual and valuable cat family, and tell the most interesting tales of their antics and habits. His Columbia was an imported cat, and the doctor has reason to believe that she with her mate are originally from the Siamese cat imported from Siam to Australia. They are all very delicate as kittens, the mother rarely having more than one at a time. With two exceptions, these cats have never had more than two kittens at a litter. They are very partial to heat, but cannot stand cold weather. They have spells of sleeping when nothing has power to disturb them, but when they do wake up they have a "high time," running and playing. They are affectionate, being very fond of their owner, but rather shy with strangers. They are uncommonly intelligent, too, and are very teachable when young. They are such beautiful creatures, besides being rare in this part of the world, that it is altogether probable that they will be much sought after as pets." A photo of Tricksey also appeared in “Angora Cats” by Robert Kent James, 1898.
This was re-iterated by May Eustace and Elizabeth Towe (Fifty Years of pedigree Cats, 1967): "In very early days too, mention was made of a Dr H. L. Hammond, of Connecticut, who specialized in collecting rare Australian cats. Amongst these were two of great value, known as 'Columbia' and 'Tricksey'. These won prizes whenever shown and were definitely Siamese in type, being descended from the first imported Siamese to Australia about 1895. Dr and Mrs Hammond were extremely devoted to these two beautiful cats and told many anecdotes about their antics and behaviour. The depth of their slumbers was very Siamese-like in character. The doctor said, 'They have spells of sleeping when nothing has power to disturb them, but when they awake they are immediately bright and high-spirited.' These observations are very interesting for it is well-known that Siamese cats will certainly outsleep all others."
Australian Cat (1900) (Tricksey, male)
Australian Cat (1902)
Australian Cat (circa 1920) (short-legged female)
Australian Male "Amee"
In March 1902, another description of the "Australian cat" appeared in the magazine "Our Cats": "An interesting little spotted cat from Australia. This animal's peculiarity is a triple-kinked tail and very curious hindquarters. We don't know if it would be right to describe this as kangaroo-like, but certainly we never saw a cat so well furnished for a squatting position, the curve from the heels going deep into the fleshy part of the hind-legs, and suggesting a long, leaping gait. The kinks are knots in the joints on which it might rest at different angles if employed, and as you pass the hand along the tail it is as if it had been broken and set again."
In “Animal Life and the World of Nature” (Vol 1, 1902-1903), a contributor wrote "There is, of course, no breed of cats indigenous to Australia, but, amongst others, a strain of cats has formed itself exhibiting very marked characteristics which, however, lead us to agree with an American author who asserts the probability that they are derived from imported cats of Eastern origin, possibly Siamese. Very curious is the little grey spotted cat here shown, though unhappily the position does not bring out his great length of hind leg nor his peculiar rather long and tiger-shaped nose, which, seen sideways, gives him a queer expression. He has, like his mother and his brothers and sisters, a triple kink in his tail."
Other reports in the daily press were less complimentary about the Australian cat breed. According to The Brownsville Herald of November 19th, 1902 "They are our old friend, the maltese, under a new name." Maltese was the American term for a shorthaired blue-grey cat, although the term was often extended to other colour shorthairs ("black maltese cat" etc). The writer didn't consider the imported shorthairs to be anything special.
In Frances Simpson's 1903 "Book of the Cat" H C Brooke wrote "There are, of course, no cats indigenous to Australia. An American writer gives it as his opinion that a certain strain of Australian cats is derived from imported Siamese cats. A specimen we possessed last year, which was born on a ship during the passage from Australia, and which exactly resembled its dam, certainly had every appearance of being of Eastern origin. It had the marten-shaped head, and a triple kink in the tail; its voice also resembled that of the Siamese. In colour it was grey with dark spots." In the same book, in the chapter "Cats in America" Simpson wrote that the first authentic Australian Cats were believed to have made their appearance in the USA in about 1900 or 1901 (this is inaccurate since they were described or depicted in 2 American books published in 1898 and 1900). Her American correspondent wrote “On one or two occasions we have had Australian Cats exhibited and they were funny little beasts, sitting up like a squirrel, and with much the same shape of head.”
At the CFA Annual Meeting 30th December, 1910, held in conjunction with the Atlantic Cat Club show, Australian Cats were formally recognized as a breed. They were described as being very small cats with velvet-like fur, resembling moleskin. Their whiskers were extremely short and they had no ear tufts. The first Australian Cat registered in the Stud Book was Champion Amee, born August 1909, bred by Mrs Grisley and owned by Mrs FY Mathis, of Greenwich, Connecticut (CFA Yearbook 1959). Amee was described as tabby-and-white with yellow eyes. His parents were Australie (sire) and Stella (dam). Amee went on to win quite a few prizes including Firsts in 1911 at Empire, Philadephia and Atlanta shows. Another cat, also called Australie, was a tortie-and-white owned by Mrs Mitchelson. Mitchelson had several other Australian cats including Kangaroo (tabby/white female), Opossum (tabby female), Orama (an odd eyed white female), Sealskin (seal brown female) and Lady Grey (tabby-and-white with yellow eyes) who is also claimed to be the first in the register, predating Amee.
Another early breeder was Miss J McIntosh who owned Sidney (blue tabby male with green eyes) and Victoria I (blue female with orange eyes). The first appearance of an Australian Cat at a show (excepting that mentioned by Winslow in 1900) was in January 1906, when James Anderson's male Australian, Teddy Roosevelt, was exhibited. Miss AK Richards exhibited her Australian Cats for many years, beginning in 1909, and had a consistent winner in a female called Budget.
This report from August 3rd, 1909 (Vancouver Daily World) describes an imported Australian cat quite different to the lean, long-hind-legged cats bred in the USA as “Australians”. While described as “a black Australian by breed,” he seems to share only his country of origin with the variety being perfected at that time as “Australian Cat.” SOME SIZE TO THIS AUSTRALIAN CAT (Vancouver Daily World, August 3rd, 1909). BOSTON, Mass., July 31 - Nigface, a giant cat owned by Miss Evelyn Landy, of Central avenue, Everett, is believed to be the largest cat in greater Boston. Not only is he a wonder as regards size, but he is capable of performing tricks worthy of the most intelligent dog. A black Australian by breed, Nigface is peculiarly marked, being nearly all white. His back and face are partially black and it is his black face which gives him his name. The cat weighs nearly forty pounds and he is more than a yard long. When sitting he is about twenty seven inches high. So large is he that he attracts a great deal of attention from persons passing the house, and many persons stop to ask Miss Landy if he is really a cat.
Among the many cute and intelligent tricks which Nigface is capable of performing is that of eating with a spoon, which he can handle as well as a child. He answers “yes” and “no” by winking his eyes either three or two times. He can walk on his hind feet and play “dead.” This cat is not by any means everybody’s pet, for he has his likes and dislikes, and he seems to know by instinct the persons who are fond of felines. Exceedingly aristocratic in his habits, Nigface will refuse to eat anything from the floor. He insists on having his napkin tied about his neck and on being fed each mouthful or eating from his plate at the table.
“I have always treated Nigface more like a child than a cat,” said Miss Landy, “and perhaps that is why he seems so much more intelligent than other cats. He has always been a companion to me since I have had him and I believe he understands every word I say to him. He does not like to associate with other cats at all, but is fond of dogs. Buster the dog which lives in the house adjoining is his constant companion and they play together as prettily as two kittens. I bought Nigface in Australia when I was abroad and brought him with me to America. I believe he is the only cat of his kind in greater Boston.” Miss Landy often takes her pet with her for a trolley ride and when the cat is dressed in his traveling suit, with boots and bonnet, he attracts a great deal of attention. When on the cars he is very quiet, never making the least disturbance. "He enjoys going for an outing as much as any child and makes far less trouble than most children,” says his mistress.
In December 1909, the New York Times published the following article (with possible journalistic licence): "Aristocratic Cats at Poultry Show. Nicely groomed felines look their best at Madison Square Garden. Australian Kitten Nobby. Kept late hours once, but has reformed and is now considered a classy prize pet. The aristocracy among cats, lying on soft pillows of yellow satin in silk-lined cages, are taking life easy at the Atlantic Cat Show in Madison Square Garden, where the lazy looking, handsomely groomed felines are an added attraction to the Poultry Show. These are not the kind of cats you see on the back fence, but are sleek and have pink noses and soft fur. There is one kitten from Australia, homely and small, which one may purchase for $500. It is the only Australian kitten in this country and has a distinguished pedigree [...] It belongs to Mrs FY Mathis of Noroton Heights, Conn, who is manager of the show. The kitten is named Aimee Amos and was brought from the Antipodes by a missionary who didn't like it because it was so homely and insisted on meowing at any hour of the night. But Aimee Amos has reformed and taken on cultured manners and a distinguished air."
Miss Richard’s article in Cat Review, April 1910, notes the alternative name of Kangaroo Cat which "evidently comes from the peculiarity of the tail, which was long and close-coated, and when the cat jumped or leaped, it curved in a peculiar way suggestive of a kangaroo.” In December 1910 at the Madison Square Garden show was “The only white Australian kitten ever shown in this country is “Orama”, owned by Mrs JC Mitchelson of Tarrifville, Conn. There are nine valuable Australians benched this year; the largest number ever brought together at a show here.”. A few years later, in December 1913 at the Atlantic Cat Club, Astor Hotel was “Another rare species of cat which is seldom shown was the Australian pair owned by Mrs Clifford B Harmon of Greenwich and shown by Mrs FY Mathis. They are George Washington and Martha Washington. Like the Siamese cats, this breed never changes, and its colour is a brownish blue.” This latter comment was inaccurate as white, tabby-and-white, tortie-and-white and tabby were also recorded; in fact the seal-brown cat Sealskin sounds and looks like an early Burmese type cat. In January 1914 at Madison Square Garden was “Two playful little kittens, Sapphire Grace, a blue female, and George Washington, an Australian grey, earned their spurs with victories in the “Best Kitten”. Sapphire Grace, a winner in an earlier class on the opening day, scored in the class for the best shorthaired, and George Washington won in the longhaired division.” A longhaired Australian seems unlikely unless there had been a mismating with a longhaired stud.
AUSTRALIAN OR KANGAROO CATS - from Our Cats, May 21st, 1910, p. 532 By A. K. Richards: About eight years ago, while driving through one of the summer places of beautiful Martha's Vineyard, I saw a curious little animal leap across the road directly in front of the carriage. At first I thought it some wild animal, but the near vicinity of houses, boat-building shop, and noisy traffic made that seem impossible. Suddenly, on the piazza of a nearby house, I saw another of the same little creatures, and I just had to alight and get a nearer view. A lady came out at the house, and, seeing my interest, offered to show me some kittens.
"Are those cats?"
"Yes," she assured me, "they are Australian or Kangaroo cats,"
My next question was, "How can I get one?"
"You can buy one," she replied, "if you can prove to me you will be a good mistress to it. I never sell my cats unless I know who will have them, and how they will be treated."
I qualified, and my purchase, Dollie Gray, has been the queen of our home ever since. Her comfort and the comfort of her children is the first thought of the entire family. I wish I could describe her so my readers could realize the beauties of these cats. Unlike the Persians, their fur is very short, much shorter than the domestic cat. Their heads and paws are like very short velvet, or moleskin, and their large delicate ears are thin and hairless on the inside. Their eyes are large and sometimes button-like or bulging slightly. They are lithe and panther like in their movements, taking long leaps frequently. Their tails are long and close coated, and when they jump it curves in a peculiar way suggestive of a Kangaroo. Some think they may have Kangaroo blood back in their ancestry, but that is hardy probable, though as far as I can discover their origin is unknown. Dollie Gray's grandparents came to this country in a trading vessel, brought as a present to the lady's parents of whom I purchased Dollie. Early in the spring Dollie passed away lamented by all the family. She left me one daughter, Budget, who resembles her greatly. They are not hard to raise, but they are not prolific like the domestic cat, having but one or two litters a year, and rarely over two at a litter. Mated to the common cat they will sometimes have three offspring, but only two will have the characteristics of the thoroughbred.
I would like to see these cats better known, for they are so clean, and their lines are so beautiful. They are a delight to the eye and the most lovable pets in the world. Even the devotees of the fluffy Persian grant they are a beautiful curiosity. The points of these cats seem directly opposite to those of all other cats. Their heads should be narrow, their noses long, thin ears, large, and without hair on the inside, thin tails, long and willowly, and their paws and toes long and narrow like the hand of an artistocratic lady. They love their owners, but are generally haughty and hold all strangers in disdain.
AUSTRALIAN CATS - from Our Cats, December 17th, 1910 p. 165: We are much indebted to one of our subscribers, Mrs. Mitchel son of Tarriffville, Conn., for sending us a most interesting description and photos of an entirely new breed of shorthair cats. This variety is the Australian or Kangaroo Cat. In type it is quite different from the English Shorthair. It is a small cat and should be long in the body with large ears, a long slender tail, no whiskers and very little hair on the ears. The shape in fact is very like the Kangaroo. The hair is very short, somewhat like the fur of a mole. In colour the Australian Cats vary, but many are a seal brown, like our frontispiece. They are exceptionally intelligent and of an affectionate disposition ; they are becoming popular in the States. In one point the Australian cats resemble the Manx, as they are not prolific, seldom having more than one or two kittens in a litter.
A short note appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer on November 27th, 1910 "The Australian cats, which are owned and bred by Mrs. J.C. Mitchelson, of Tariffville, Conn., and were recently shown at the Empire Poultry Show in New York, are declared to be the rarest cats in domestication. It is a shorthaired cat, with a Cassius-like, lean and hungry look." At this time there were several breeders worting with the variety and they were regular exhibits at the major cat shows.
The Sun (N.Y., USA), December 2nd, 1915 notes “I. J. Ketchen, who, besides being their manager, is one of these cat shows’ largest exhibitor, presents three Australian cats, each one homelier and more fascinating than the other. They are Adelaide, who is called by her own “the little brown bug”; Untum and Tasmania. The Australian cats will not exactly be rivalled but they will be closely pressed in interest by some weird looking Siamese kittens.”
On November 26th, 1916, the same publication gives us this: “The Westchester and the Empire Cat Club shows, one following the other, the two taking up the whole of five days, make this altogether the most notable "cat week" ever in New York. Unlimited interest is being taken in the programme and it will be a stunning, striking set of felines, to the number of several hundred, that will greet both expert and sightseer. The two shows together will bring the Palace show up above high water mark in catdom. Real, genuine Australian cats that do not look like cat at all and have a strange and savage air, are to be shown for the first time this year. They should prove a very large drawing card, having much novelty. [. . .] One beautiful animal which attracted much attention was Mrs. Clifford B. Harmon's Australian cat Taulahloo. There are only fifteen Australian cats In America, it is said, and Mrs. Harmon has the only blue cat ever imported from the antipodes. Mrs Harmon's Taulahloo resembles a kangaroo and is smaller than the cats seen in this country. It has a beautiful velvety coat and took all the blue ribbons in its class. There is to be a second Australian cat exhibitor, Mrs. A. K. Richards. Mrs. Richards is putting in her Togar III., and she may possibly give Mrs. Ketchen a close run for honors."
There is then a relative lack of information due to wartime, before the story resumes properly in 1921. According to The Cat Review, the 16th Championship show of the Boston Cat Club at Hotel Vendome, Boston, Massachussetts in Jan 1921 had an Australian female class judged by Miss J R Kroeh. It was won by “Bronda” owned by Mrs Elma A Burns while the Australian kitten class was won by “Cherzo” owned by Mrs Annie S Greeley. Then in January 1922 at the Atlantic Cat Club and The Silver Society show at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York judged by Mrs Warriel and Mrs Sidney R Kelf the winning female Australian cat was “Greenwich Phoebe Snow” (pictured above) owned by Mrs F Y Mathis. Another notable trait is shown in the photos - their tall, narrow ears.
By 1925, a lack of males saw the breed in rapid decline in the USA and it became extinct. It is possible this was due to inbreeding depressing having reduced male viability/fertility especially as the breed does not seem to have been very numerous to begin with. Also the photo of the deformed female cat, from around 1920, could indicate health issues in the breed. The Australian breed was still hanging on (just) in September 1926. At the Michigan State Fair and Detroit Persian Society, the Boston Cat Club Challenge Cups include: “209 Blue Australian Trophy. Donated by Miss Richards. Four wins, two in Boston.” The October 18th, 1926 edition of the New York Times tells us that the “Atlantic Cat Club show has Australians entered for the November show.” A year later, the Baltimore Sun of October 24th, 1927 says “Australian Cats To Be Shown. Of particular interest will be the entries in the Australian cat class. These animals are distinctive from the usual run of cats in that they have extremely large ears and comparatively small heads. “
The story then crosses to England. H C Brooke commented in "Cat Gossip" in December 1926 "The white Australian SH [Shorthair] cats which, it is said, will be seen at the Southern Counties, will no doubt arouse much interest. From the description of them given me by the owner of the original specimens, they would seem to be of a decidedly Oriental type, slender legged, long in build, with big ears, arched noses, and rather pointed face. In Helen K. Winslow’s book, Concerning Cats (1900), there is a very good photo of an Australian cat (of course, no cat species is native to Australia), owned by Dr. H. L Hammond of Killingly, Connecticut. This was apparently a very fine-coated cat, beautifully “mackerel-striped,” with very big ears and arched face. It says there: “Some authorities claim that the cats known in this country (America) as Australian cats are of Siamese origin,” About 1900 or 1901, I think, I owned a cat brought by a sailor from Australia. I fancy I exhibited him once or twice. He was a small cat of decidedly Oriental type, a grey, “spotted tabby,” thin legged, with large ears, arched forehead, pointed small face, and a tail of normal length, but with three kinks or breaks equidistant down its length." These were the only white Australians to be exhibited at the Southern Counties show.
Brooke then continued "Quite by chance I came across a reference to this Australian Cat in Our Cats for March, 1902. I cannot now be sure by whom written, but I fancy by my old friend Mrs. Leuty Collins. “An interesting little spotted cat from Australia. This animal’s peculiarity is a triple-kinked tail and very curious hindquarters. We don’t know if it would be right to describe this as kangaroo-like” (No, it wouldn’t — Ed.) “but certainly we never saw a cat so well furnished for a squatting position, the curve from the heels going deep into the fleshy part of the hind-legs, and suggesting a long, leaping gait. The kinks are knots in the joints on which it might rest at different angles if employed, and as you pass the hand along the tail it is as if it had been broken and set again." This is the same description printed in Winslow's book.
In a January 1927 edition of Cat Gossip, Brooke continues: We are indebted to Miss Katharine Wilson for some highly interesting information about the white Australian Cats to which we referred last week. Miss Wilson writes:- “ Our original cat was given us by a sailor who brought her over, and we are told these eats are known as Australian Squirrel Cats, Soon after arrival she presented us with three kittens, only one of which, a male, survived. In due course she mated again with her son, and had male and female kittens, both of which, with the original queen, are still alive. Since then several more have been bred. All these cats are very long in body, ears and tail, of decidedly Oriental type, and with the exception of two, have amber eyes. Of these two the male has blue eyes. the female one blue and one amber. They have a peculiar cry, akin to that of the Siamese. They are excellent climbers, and, in fact, seem happier when at a height than on the ground. This very morning one climbed to the top of our wireless aerial pole. When kittening the queens make their own nest in some dark corner, and if the kits are touched before their eyes are open. in all probability the queens will desert them altogether. They sit up on their back legs and hold their food between their front paws and eat it in much the same manner as a squirrel eats a nut. They are most affectionate, except with each other at feeding time, when they grab for their food and use horrible language to each other. They are most hardy, provided they get their liberty, and are wonderful hunters. We find that they prefer to eat raw meat given in lumps which they tear. When the meat comes for the dogs there is generally a wild. scramble of white cats and kittens, and it is with difficulty that we get the meat to a place of safety as they all fight for it tooth and claw.” From these remarks it is evident these cats, like the Siamese. possess considerable personality. They would appear in some respects to resemble my own Australian Cat described last week, and it would seem that the authorities mentioned in Concerning Cats. who attribute a Siamese (or possibly ‘Malay?) origin to these Australians. are probably correct in their views. At any rate, they should form an interesting feature at the SCCC [Southern Counties Cat Club] Show, . though on what lines any judge is to judge them - for what judge knows anything about them ? - is somewhat of a mystery.(or possibly Malay) origin for the Australian cat. (The "Malay Cat" was another variety attracting considerable interest at the time.)
The SCCC Show was held Jan 26th, 1927 in Kentish Town and the Shorthairs were judged by Mrs Ambrose. The results simply read "AUSTRALIANS (3). All same owner." In the AC Novice class, 3rd place is awarded to "an Australian". Sadly no names are given for any of the cats. The Birmingham Daily Gazette, Friday 28 January 1927, gives a little more information under its heading "New Type of Cat." "Actress's 'Australian Squirrel' Specimen. A completely new type of cat, the Australian squirrel cat, has been introduced to this country by the well-known actress, Miss Sydney Fairbrother, and was exhibited at the Southern Counties Cat Club, London, for the first time yesterday. The cat, which is a pure white, short, silky-haired animal, has an unusually long type of body, a small, winsome face, large eyes, and bushy tail. "Their origin seems to be wrapped in mystery," Miss Fairbrother said to the Gazette yesterday, " but fable has it that a stray white cat, lost from a ship, mated with a squirrel, and the result was these Australian squirrel cats." (Apart from the impossibility of the hybrid, squirrels are not found in Australia).
Then in the 23 November issue of Cat Gossip, the British and American versions of the Australian cat collided following this article: “Curiosities at the Royal Canadian Cat Club’s Show - Australians are very different to those whites shown by Miss Wilson last January, and approach more those described by “Cat Gossip.” “The head is to be wedge-shaped with Roman nose, muzzle pinched, whiskers very short or not at all . . . wrinkles on forehead and chin . . . hind-legs higher. . . . Paws high-arched, bony in appearance: claws unsheathed. . . . Colour: Those marked with white are eligible to championship points.”
That article sparked much unpleasantness, as reported in Cat Gossip of 7th December 1927: We were grieved to learn at the N.C.C. that Miss Wilson had been hurt by persons telling her that our remarks on the difference between her Australian cats and the description of Australians in the Toronto schedule implied that her cats were not Australians. We do not know how anyone properly conversant with the English language could read this meaning into our remarks, which simply meant that Miss Wilson’s strain of white Australian cats are evidently not identical with the variety described in the Toronto schedule, which would seem more to resemble the grey, stripy, and very long hind-legged variety of distinct Oriental type which we ourselves possessed some thirty years ago.
The debate on Australian cats continued in Cat Gossip in the 7th March 1928 issue when the editor, H.C. Brooke, wrote: It had not been our intention to say anything about the “Australians,” as we had some unpleasantness about an absolutely harmless and innocent remark we made about these last November, when commenting on the description of Australian cats printed in the Toronto Schedule. In every Fancy we have been in it has always been our aim and desire to give every encouragement to the “new and strange” - the hackneyed and every day does not appeal to us; we have always sought to exhibit, and to arouse interest in, rare foreign varieties, whether of cats, dogs, rats, or what not. Hence we wore doubly hurt by the unpleasantness above referred to, especially as “Cat Gossip” had extended a hearty welcome to the Australians on their appearance, though really we could not see anything particularly interesting about them. However, we see in our contemporary an article about Australian cats which coincides with our views thereon, so if any more “unpleasantness” is forthcoming our contemporary's broad shoulders must bear the larger share thereof.
There are, of course, no native Australian Cats, the animals usually so called being Dasyures and other Marsupials. Of course, cats of all kinds have been, imported into Australia, and are thus in a sense Australian. It seems that some Siamese or Malayan cats did found, years ago, a very distinctive looking Oriental strain, resembling the grey spotted cat of Eastern type we ourselves possessed thirty odd years ago. When we heard of the arrival of the White Australians here we hoped they might be of this type. We shall hope later to give a picture of one of these cats which did some winning years ago. At best, however, the “Australian Cat” has never been a breed, but merely a strain. American schedules sometimes give classes for them, and print descriptions in their schedules (from which we quoted last November); but our colleague of “The Cat Courier” says the cats never materialise. Whilst extending every praise to the efforts of those who tried to work up a variety of Australian cat in this country, we think it a pity they did not interest themselves in some more striking and distinctive variety; there are many foreign domestic varieties possessing far more individuality which might well be taken up and pushed.
The debate over the Australian cats reached a head in “Cat Gossip” on April 18 1928: “Miss Sydney Fairbrother returns to the charge re the “Australian” cats in the columns of our contemporary, and as she refers to us by name we will comment on what she says. To begin with, we would remark that the ipse dixit [“he said”] even of a cousin of a Premier is of no value in feline matters, unless the gentleman is also an authority on cats. We take it that Australian fanciers would not be impressed by the pronouncement of a cousin of Mr. Baldwin’s on English cats?
Further, despite the “gentleman now in Africa,” there is NO native or wild Australian cat, and science knows nothing of any “spider-cat,” rare or otherwise. Miss Fairbrother remarks (apropos of what we do not quite know): “I am not sure what hybrid means unless it be selective or experimental mating.” Well, we certainly never suggested her cats were» hybrids. The animals sometimes called “native cats” are Marsupials, and are no more cats, or even like cats, than is the “native bear”—poor tiny mite — a bear, or the “Tasmanian wolf” a wolf! The names given by Colonists are often weird and wonderful, and just as unreliable; but from the fact that: A. There is no native Australian cat; B. The animals popularly so-called are Marsupials, and no more nearly related to the cat than is a dog — in fact, less so — and consequently incapable of breeding with cats, we obtain the certainty that Miss Fairbrother’s cats are by no means a native breed, but simply derived from ordinary cats imported into Australia. Nothing whatever can possibly be adduced to contradict this our plain statement!
Now, it is quite possible that in course of time the mating of two different breeds imported into any country might produce a local variety having strongly marked characteristics of its own, which, if carefully bred and fostered, might attain the dignity of a new breed just as varieties, for instance, of dogs have been produced. Whether the whites now under consideration have thus so far progressed on lines of their own as to deserve separate classification on account of their remarkable characteristics is matter of opinion.
We gave offence where none was intended - or, rather, we should say offence was taken where not intended — last year by the harmless statement that the description of the Australian cats given in the Toronto schedule was very different from that of Miss Fairbrother’s cats. We are not wont to make definite statements which we cannot substantiate. We refer readers to Miss Helen M. Winslow’s book, “Concerning Cats” (1900), where they will find a portrait of a grey tiger-striped cat, of very remarkable and pronounced Eastern type, owned by Dr. H. L. Hammond, of Killingley. Ct., U.S.A. It is there stated that these Australian cats were probably evolved from Siamese imported into Australia, and mated to other cats.
We also refer them to Messrs. Hutchinson’s “Animal Life,” p. 255, where they will find a portrait of a grey, tiger-striped cat we ourselves owned, exhibited, and won with some thirty years ago, which came from Australia. Further, we now present our readers with an excellent portrait of an Australian cat formerly owned by Miss Elsie G. Hydon, of the Lavender Cattery, Bogota, N.J. (well known to many of our L.H. readers). These three cats were of an exactly similar and very distinct and striking Eastern type. Our own specimen further announced his Eastern origin by a triply-kinked tail. In these cats we certainly find that a distinct variety, possessing very marked characteristics of its own, had arisen (and, we fear, been allowed again to lapse). And though not a “native breed,” strictly speaking, it could have been made a breed which Australia could with pride have called her own. We need not labour the difference between these striking cats and the white Australians shown to-day!
Miss Hydon writes of her cats: “We used to have several entered at some of the big shows, and they were queer looking cats, quite distinct from the ordinary S.H. domestic. Their fur resembled the skin of a newly-clipped horse — (here again we see the Eastern origin, compare our own red S.H. Indian cat, whose coat was just like this — Ed.) — and they always had the claws exposed, which is very noticeable in the enclosed photograph of my queen, Unique Melba, dam of Melbourne Timmie. She was born in March 1910. She could never sit still if you even glanced at her, but must rise and come purring and showing every possible sign of affection. Timmie was just like her.”
[Editorial note] If only someone could obtain specimens of this very interesting variety we should be the first to support their being given a well-deserved separate breed classification!”
However the debate evidently perplexed Australian cat lovers. The Cat Gossip issue of 4th July 1928 reproduced a letter that had been published in an American magazine: “From Australia, the following is written to the 'Cat Courier:' We have wondered upon reading of your American standard for the Australian cat. We have never seen or heard of one here. We have a small native *cat, more like a ferret, with brown tone of coat spotted with a lighter shade, but which we have never known to be tamed; and, of course, we have the regular ordinary domestic short-hair cat, which we believe, is to be found in almost all countries.” (*This is, of course not a cat at all, but a Marsupial (Dasyure)). Evidently the handsome 'made' variety we recently illustrated has died out in Australia - a pity, for it was well worthy of being fostered. In America it has apparently also lapsed.”
Perhaps this was te final straw, because after this, the trail of the Australian Cat in both countries appears to go cold.
In summary, what do we know about these cats?
They were sometimes called Kangaroo cat because of their long legs, small head and large ears. They were small, long-bodied, lithe and excellent jumpers, during which the tail curled in a peculiar or kangaroo-like manner. They had rather small, narrow heads with a long nose. The forehead was arched. A Roman nose was acceptable (hence comparisons to modern Oriental cats) and the whiskers were very short, about one eighth of an inch (hence comparisons to Rex cats). Their eyes were large and sometimes slightly bulging. The ears could be extremely large, lacking tufts. They had “unusually” long and finely boned legs, though this might have been a comparison to the rather cobby longhairs that were popular at the time. The paws and toes were also long and narrow “like an aristocratic lady” and they were said to have an extra claw on each paw to aid climbing, but this might have referred to long front dew claws. The tail was long and thin with a very close coat and, ideally, 3 kinks or “breaks” in the tail equidistant from each other. The coat was much shorter than other shorthair cats, and described as being as short as the pile of velvet (like moleskin) on the body, and even shorter on the legs, tail and head. All colours seem to have been accepted, except the Siamese pattern of course, but the sealskin or brown colour is of most interest to cat historians as it suggests the brown/sable colour of the Burmese. They were also intelligent, affectionate with their owners, but aloof with strangers.
AUSTRALIAN CATS TIMELINE:
(Information about the Australian as a breed in the USA partly researched by Lesley Morgan Blythe and Amanda Bright)
You are visitor number