SHORTHAIRED CATS OF THE 19TH CENTURY - MANX

The Manx Cat (Harrison Weir)

The Manx cat is well known, and is by no means uncommon. It differs chiefly from the ordinary domestic cat in being tailless, or nearly so, the best breeds not having any; the hind legs are thicker and rather longer, particularly in the thighs. It runs more like a hare than a cat, the action of the legs being awkward, nor does it seem to turn itself so readily, or with such rapidity and ease; the head is somewhat small for its size, yet thick and well set on a rather long neck; the eyes large, round, and full, ears medium, and rather rounded at the apex. In colour they vary, but I do not remember to have seen a white or many black, though one of the best that has come under my notice was the latter colour.

I have examined a number of specimens sent for exhibition at the Crystal Palace and other cat shows, and found in some a very short, thin, twisted tail, in others a mere excrescence, and some with an appendage more like a knob. These I have taken as having been operated upon when young, the tail being removed, but this may not be the case, as Mr. St. George Mivart in his very valuable book on the cat, mentions a case where a female cat had her tail so injured by the passage of a cart-wheel over it, that her master judged it best to have it cut off near the base. Since then she has had two litters of kittens, and in each litter one or more of the kittens had a stump of tail, while their brothers and sisters had tails of the usual length. But were there no Manx cats in the neighbourhood, is a query. This case is analogous to the statement that the short-tailed sheep-dog was produced from parents that had had their tails amputated; and yet this is now an established breed. Also a small black breed of dogs from the Netherlands, which is now very fashionable. They are called "Chipperkes," [Schipperkes] and have no tails, at least when exhibited.

Mr. St. George Mivart further states that Mr. Bartlett told him, as he has so stated to myself, that in the Isle of Man the cats have tails of different lengths, from nothing up to ten inches. I have also been informed on good authority that the Fox Terrier dogs, which invariably have (as a matter of fashion) their tails cut short, sometimes have puppies with much shorter tails than the original breed; but this does not appear to take effect on sheep, whose tails are generally cut off. I cannot, myself, come to the same conclusion as to the origin of the Manx cat.

Be this as it may, one thing is certain : that cross-bred Manx with other cats often have young that are tailless. As a proof of this, Mr. Herbert Young, of Harrogate, has had in his possession a very fine red female long-haired tailless cat, that was bred between the Manx and a Persian. Another case showing the strong prepotency of the Manx cat. Mr. Hodgkin, of Eridge, some time ago had a female Manx cat sent to him. Not only does she produce tailless cats when crossed with the ordinary cat, but the progeny again crossed also frequently have some tailless kittens in each litter.

I have also been told there is a breed of tailless cats in Cornwall.

Mr. Darwin states in his book on "The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication," vol. i. p.47, that "throughout an immense area, namely, the Malayan Archipelago, Siam, Pequan, and Burmah, all the cats have truncated tails about half the proper length, often with a sort of knob at the end." This description tallies somewhat with the appearance of some of the Siamese cats that have been imported, several of which, though they have fairly long and thin tails, and though they are much pointed at the end, often have a break or kink. In a note Mr. Darwin says, "The Madagascar cat is said to have a twisted tail." Mr. St. George Mivart also corroborates the statement, so far as the Malay cat is concerned. He says the tail is only half the ordinary length, and often contorted into a sort of knot, so that it cannot be straightened. He further states, "Its contortion is due to deformity of the bones of the tail," and there is a tailless breed of cats in the Crimea.

Some of the Manx cats I have examined have precisely the kind of tail here described - thin, very short, and twisted, that cannot be straightened. Is it possible that the Manx cat originated with the Malayan? Or rather is it a freak of nature perpetuated by selection? Be this as it may, we have the Manx cat now as a distinct breed, and, when crossed with others, will almost always produce some entirely tailless kittens, if not all. Many of the Siamese kittens bred here have kinks in their tails.

The illustration I give is that of a prize winner at the Crystal Palace in 1880, 1881, 1882, and is the property of Mr. J. M. Thomas, of Parliament Street. In colour it is a brindled tortoiseshell. It is eight years old. At the end of this description I also give a portrait of one of its kittens, a tabby; both are true Manx, and neither have a particle of tail, only a very small tuft of hair which is boneless. The hind quarters are very square and deep, as contrasted with other cats, and the flank deeper, giving an appearance of great strength, the hind legs being longer, and thicker in proportion to the fore legs, which are much slighter and tapering; even the toes are smaller. The head is round for a she-cat, and the ears somewhat large and pointed, but thin and fine in the hair, the cavity of the ear has less hair within it (also a trait of the Siamese) than some other short-haired cats, the neck is long and thin, as are the shoulders. Its habits are the same as those of most cats. I may add that Mr. Thomas, who is an old friend of mine, has had this breed many years, and kept it perfectly pure.

The Manx (Frances Simpson)

Simpson wrote: "These quaint cats are rapidly and surely coming into notice in the fancy. As a breed they are intelligent and affectionate, and, I believe, splendid sporting cats. They are undoubtedly great favourites amongst the sterner sex, perhaps because they are such keen and plucky cats. As a breeder of Persian cats, and having become used to the beautiful wide-spreading tails of these cats, I confess there is something grotesque and unfinished, to my eyes, in the Manx, and from choice I should not care to keep these tailless pussies as pets. They do not appeal to me and to my sense of the beautiful. Having, therefore, never kept or bred Manx cats, I feel diffident in writing about them.

If I were to adjudicate, I should first closely examine their tails, or, to be more correct, the place where the tails ought not to be! I remember in former times, stump-tailed cats, called Manx, used to win comfortably at shows, but in our up-to-date times I should make a black mark in my judging book against those cats with a stump or an appendage, or even a mere excrescence. I do not fear contradiction when I state that a Manx cat of the true type should have no particle of tail - only a tuft of hair, which ought to be boneless.

The next point for which I should search would be the length of the hind quarters, which lens such great individuality to this breed of cat. No doubt the lack of tail in itself makes a cat's hind legs look long, but we want more than that; we need a very short back, so that from the point of the quarters to the hocks there is a continuous and decided outward slope. In fact the hind legs stand right back from the body, like a well-trained hackney's [a type of horse] in the show ring. Coat I should next consider, as this differs, or should differ, considerably from both the long- and short-haired breeds. It should bear more resemblance to the fur of a rabbit, being longer and softer than that of our common or garden cats."

Simpson noted that the common colours of Manx being tabbies (both silver tabby and brown tabby), orange, bicolours of these and also tortoiseshells. Self-colours were apparently uncommon and she quoted Harrison Weir as never having seen a white Manx., while other contributors to the chapter stated that blue-eyed white Manxes were rare. One of the champions of the time was a spotted tabby whose colour/pattern was described as peculiar and unattractive, but whose conformation evidently outweighed those deficiencies. The eye colour of Manxes was customarily unimportant, but Simpson believed that the it should match the coat colours according to the standard for short-haired English cats. Long-haired Manx, though they occurred, were not acceptable and Mr H C Brooke a famous cat fancier, breeder and exhibitor of the time stated "Now and then we see long-haired Manx advertised, but these are, of course, mongrels or abortions, and by no means Manx cats."

Manx cats were considered difficult to show as they needed to be judged in a large empty pen to display the cat's rounded rump and long hind legs and preferably the rabbity gait. Six different Manx types were exhibited: the long straight-backed cat; the long roach-backed cat; the long straight-backed cat with high hind quarters; the short straight-backed cat; the short roach-backed cat and the short-backed cat with high hind-quarters. The short-backed cat with high hind-quarters was the "correct" type. The long straight-backed Manx was the commonest and worst type. The other types were intermediate and should be judged accordingly, although many breeders felt that some all-round judges were not competent to judge Manx cats. They wanted to see specialist Manx judges capable of appreciating the subtleties between the Manx types and of awarding the highest honours to those which best met the Manx standard. One judge even stated that he could manufacture perfect specimens - breeders called for his name (unfortunately now lost to us) to be publicised so that Manx breeders could boycott the class whenever he officiated, "he should be saved the trouble of going over cats which he neither likes not understands."

Mr H C Brooke, emphasised that the Manx should have a "round, guinea-pig like rump, round as an orange, which of course, can only be obtained when there is absolutely no tail. Even a tuft of gristle or hair, as found in many specimens, though in itself but a very trifling defect, detracts from this typical 'rumpy' appearance […] unless it be situated so far back between the hip-bones that it in no way projects."

Of the varying degrees of taillessness, Brooke wrote that the tails should be like snakes in Iceland [this is not a misprint - he wrote "Iceland", not Ireland] - absent. Brooke's perfect specimen had a hollow or depression where the tail would otherwise begin. Slightly less perfect was the cat with a little tuft of gristle and hair, with at most a suggestion of a twisted and withered bone. Thirdly was the Manx with a distinct caudal vertebra, but not more than two joints in show specimens (although cats with more than two could still be used at stud if otherwise excellent in type). If the vertebra were twisted or abnormal in shape, this was preferable. Brooke saw no reason, if breeders were careful and if incompetent judges were banned, that 99% of Manx cats should not be tailless.

Not knowing anything of lethal genes, breeders like Brooke aimed to create true-breeding (what we would now call homozygous) Manx. Simpson wrote that only recently had English fanciers tried to breed true Manx cats. One Miss Samuel had successfully established a strain which bred true to type. Interestingly, one of her cats was named "Kangaroo" - perhaps because of its long hind legs. Many of the Manx at the time were exhibited by the owner, but their details read "Breeder and pedigree unknown", which Simpson considered a pity. These were what today might be termed "foundation cats" i.e. cats of the correct type, but whose background is not known. Some were found as strays, possibly the offspring of Manx cats taken from the Isle of Man over the years, since the toms were often allowed to roam free and mate with local cats.

"At one time, we may presume, the Manx cat was kept pure in the Isle of Man; but alas! the natives, with an eye to the main chance, have been led into manufacturing a spurious article, and many more tailless cats and kittens than ever were born have been sold to tourists eager to carry home some souvenir of the island to their friends on the mainland. I have been told that the landing pier is a frequent resort of dealers in so-called Manx cats, where the unwary traveller is waylaid and sold. On some out-of-the-way farms on the island I believe none but tailless cats have been kept for generations, and some genuine specimens may thus be picked up, if the tourist gives himself the trouble to go off the beaten tracks." As well as faked Manxes, there was also the problem of genuine Manx cats being stolen by visitors to the island.

Simpson also included a paragraph from the German weekly paper "Mutter Erde" which had been translated and appeared in Our Cats in March 1900; it represents one of the earliest studies into how the Manx trait was inherited and in what proportion of kittens. It even assigned a separate taxonomic classification to the manx cat, as though it were a subspecies of domestic cat, rather than a breed.

"The Progeny of a Tailless Cat of the Isle of Man. A cat brought from the Idle of Man (felis catus anura) to S. Germaine en Laye, of which the pedigree is unknown, was mated with ordinary long-tailed cats, and among twenty-four kittens, the four following kinds appeared:

I - Kittens with ordinary long tails.
II - Kittens with short and stump tails.
III - Kittens without tails, like the mother.
IV - Kittens without the least sign of a tail.

The comparison between the influence of the sire and that of the dam on the young is interesting:-

1 litter - 1 kitten like the mother.
2 litter - 6 kittens, 5 like the mother, 1 like the father.
3 litter - 5 kittens, 3 like the mother, 2 like the father.
4 litter - 3 kittens, 1 like the mother, 2 like the father.
5 litter - 4 kittens, 1 like the mother, 3 like the father.
6 litter - 5 kittens, 3 like the mother, 2 like the father.

It will be seen that the influence of the mother predominates."

"Mutter Erde" had, without realising it, identified that Manx was a dominant gene and that the mother was heterozygous. What they, and other breeders, were not to know was that homozygous - or genuinely true-breeding - Manx cannot occur. Simpson wrote that Manx were "shy breeders", frequently having only a single kitten in a litter. Manx females often bred only once per year and many Manx males were peculiar in that they showed no interest in the females presented to them. The small litter sizes were due, unknown to the 1900s breeder, to the lethal gene involved - embryos which inherit two copies of the Manx gene generally died in the womb early on in pregnancy. Some of the problems of females and males simply not breeding was possibly due to intensive inbreeding in the attempt to create true-breeding Manx cats.

No chapter on Manx cats would be complete without at least one theory about their origins. As well as including letters stating that the Isle of Man was home to both tailed and tailless cats and that these interbred and had mixed litters, Simpson included several breeders' and writers' ideas, including passing mentions of cat-rabbit matings (the cabbit myth), shipwrecked cats from the Armada, accidental tail amputation and as "sports" (mutations) of ordinary cats.

"A lady friend of mine, who was brought up in the Isle of Man, has told me that she always understood that Manx cats came from a cross with a rabbit, but if this supposition is correct it seems too strange to be true that cats and rabbits should only form matrimonial alliance in the little island off our coast! It would appear more probably, therefore, that a foreign breed of cat was brought to the island, and the following article from the pen of Mr Gambier Bolton gives his ideas on the subject:-

'In the Isle of Man today we find a rock named the Spanish Rock, which stands close into the shore, and tradition states that here one of the vessels of the Spanish Armada went down in the memorable year of 1558, and that among the rescued were some tailless cats which had been procured during one of the vessel's voyages to the Far East. The cats first swam to the rock, and then made their way to the shore at low tide; and from these have sprung all the so-called Manx cats which are now to be found in many parts of Great Britain, Europe, and America.

The tale seems a bit 'tall' and yet the writer feels so satisfied of its truth that he would welcome any change in the name of this peculiar variety of the domestic cat to sweep away the idea that they sprang from the Isle of Man originally.

Any traveller in the Far East - Japan, China, Siam, and the Malay region - who is a lover of animals must have noticed how rarely one meets with a really long-tailed cat in these regions, for instead one meets with the kink-tailed (i.e. those with a bend or screw at the tip of the tail), the short kink-tailed (i.e. those with a screw like tail like the bull-dogs), the forked-tailed (i.e. those having tails which start quite straight, but near the tip branch out into two forks) and finally the tailless (or miscalled Manx) cats; and the naturalist Kæmpfer states definitely that the specimens of this breed now so common in parts of Russia all come originally from Japan. Again, anyone who breeds these tailless cats, and keeps the breed quite pure, must have noticed how they differ in appearance and habits from the short-haired cats. They are, and should be, much smaller in size; the coat should be longer and more 'rabbity'; the 'call' is much nearer that of the jungle cat of the East than that of the ordinary cat; and their habits, like those of Siamese cats, are much more dog-like. In all these points they keep closely to what the writer firmly believes to be their original type, the domesticated cats of the Far East. […] Kink-tailed, screw-tailed, fork-tailed and absolutely tailless cats have all be exhibited at British shows of recent years.' "

The June 30th, 1900 issue of "Our Cats" carried two letters from gentlemen of the Isle of Man who wished to remain anonymous.

"When I was a boy there was a kind of tradition that the tailless cat was brought here by the Spanish Armada. We have a headland called 'Spanish Rock' where it has been believed that some tailless cats escaped and took refuge here, and that from such cats all the so-called Manx have been derived. During my life I have frequently met persons who have travelled in Spain, and I think I have always asked from such persons if they had ever met with tailless cats there, but I never met anyone who had seen them. I never heard any other (traditional) origin of the Manx cat alleged. They are very common here, but not so common as cats with tails. Both cats with and cats without tails associate together."

The writer went on to note that utterly tailless cats were called rumpies, but that litters included rumpies and also kittens with vestigial tails. He added that he had owned a pure black rumpy tomcat, but that it had gone missing, apparently stolen by a tripper [holiday-maker], this being a common problem. He added that many tailed kittens were "deprived of their tails" (i.e. surgically) to meet the demand. The second writer was equally dubious of the spanish Armada tale in his letter:-

"Certainly we have cats with tails - the rumpy being the rare form. Perhaps one in a litter, and one or two of them with half tails. As to what they are supposed to be, I have of course heard the Spanish Armada story. My own belief is that they have originated in a sport [a mutation], e.g. as we find in dogs and fowls, and have been perpetuated as curiosities, and in modern times on account of their commercial value. […] The height of the hind legs is perhaps more apparent than real, caused by the abrupt ending, without the falling tail as in ordinary cats. Professor Owen made a preparation, which may be seen at the British Museum, showing the bones (if any) of the tail. I think in a perfect specimen there should be no bones. Of course, there are all degrees of stumps."

Breeder and fancier, Mr H C Brooke "What is the origin of the Manx? That is a question which in all probability will never be answered. The theory that it originated from a cat (or cats) having lost its tail by accident I do not consider worth a moment's considerations. Such a cat might well have tailless progeny [note: this is the out-of-date theory of Lamarckian inheritance still given credence in Brooke's time], but that would have nothing to do with the abnormal length of the hind legs, which in good specimens is patent to the most superficial observer, and which makes the gambols of a couple of Manx a comical sight calculated to excite laughter in the most mournfully disposed person. Quaint is the old versified explanation, which I remember hearing some years ago. It ran, if I remember rightly, somewhat like this:-

Noah, sailing o'er the seas,
Ran high and dry on Ararat.
His dog then made a spring, and took
The tail from off a pussy cat.
Puss through the window quick did fly,
And bravely through the waters swam,
Nor ever stopped, till, high and dry,
She landed on the Isle of Man.
Thus tailless puss earned Mona's thanks,
And ever after was called Manx.

The most feasible explanation, in my opinion, though of course it can be but a theory, is that these cats were originally imported from the East. Asiatic cats of domestic varieties show remarkable variety in the shape of their tails, as witness the kinks often found in the tail of the Siamese cat, and the knot tails of other varieties."

Note:The first Manx to become a champion was a Silver Tabby kitten called Bonhaki, who was owned by a keeper at the London Zoo. The award was made in the presence of Queen Alexandra, who was then the Princess of Wales, and the show was held in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Louis Wain, the famous cat artist of those days, was judging.

The Manx (by contemporaries and correspondents of Frances Simpson)

Miss E Samuel, who was mentioned by Frances Simpson, wrote in "Our Cats" of March 1903: "I have had such a busy week with my mother cats, and though there have been some disappointments, I have some grand kittens, and my nursery is almost too many for me to manage comfortably. 'Manx Monarch' has sired some lovely tabbies, and 'Manx Exile' is the proud sire of the loveliest-shaped white and black baby you could wish to see. Though both these cats came to me pedigree-less, I presume from their offspring they came off good parentage. My 'Manx Philip's' offspring are always a success for shape. I have been so successful too, with a poor little starving mite that came here one stormy night begging to be taken in. I couldn't turn her out again, so I gave her a little house all to herself, and though I fed her most carefully she was for days at death's door, just a bag of skin and bones; it made one's heart ache to look at her. A week ago we quite gave her up, but I still persevered with hot water bottle and drops of liquid food, and got her round a bit; and then on Wednesday she had a bad miscarriage, and once more the case seemed hopeless, but I stuck to my guns, and today the kitten is on the road to recovery, and almost human in her expressions of gratitude. She is a very dark tortoiseshell, with such quaint little ways. I wonder anyone could turn her out to die, but unfortunately it is only too common a practice in London, when a cat or kitten gets 'troublesome'. I am entirely in sympathy with the sentiments expressed this week in 'Our Cats' in an article called 'Cats I have known'. I liked reading it very much."

She wrote in the same magazine in October 1904: "King Kangaroo was three years old on September 27, and he is still a bachelor. So far I have not been able to persuade him to look with favour on any of my queen cats. He will sit with them for hours without moving, and run off so thankfully when I open the door to let him out. I mean Mokie for a wife for him, but I dare say he will not have anything to do with her. His two objects in life seem to be his love for his mistress and his hatred of his sire. He watches for Phil like a cat for a mouse, and once he got him. I believe Phil would have been killed if I had not been to the rescue, and fortunately I got nearly all the bites and scratches intended for Phil. Phil really ought to go to shows, he is such a big beauty, with a grand head, but he is very nervous, and his mistress is quite unable to spare him, so he has to be content to shine through his children."

Miss Samuel was also mentioned by Miss Higgins (who wrote under the pseudonym "Dick Whittington") in The Ladies Field in 1903: "I am glad to say that we have at present two or three breeders who have procured, with great pains, large studs of good Manx cats, and are working steadily to establish strains which will breed true to type. Miss Samuels' black Manx cats are well known, and she has so far been our most successful breeder, for in litter after litter really good kittens have predominated." Elsewhere that year, Miss Higgins wrote "Mr Witt has repurchased from Mrs Singleton his old favourite, the blue Persian stud cat, Moko. Moko was bred by a non-exhibiting lady named Miss Simpson, [note: not Frances Simpson] who sold him to Lady Marcus Beresford, who in turn passed him on to Mrs Greenwood, but until he became the property of Mr Witt, but little was heard of him. He was first known to fame as the sire of Mabel of Lozells, who took the Gold Medal at Westminster, and whom Mr Witt bred by Sen Sen. Moko, Sen Sen and Mabel were not long after sold to Mrs Barnett, of Birmingham, at a very high figure, and when this lady gave up cats, she sold them to Mrs Singleton, of Yeovil, from whom Mr Witt has now purchased Moko and Mabel. Mr Witt tells me that Moko 'looks like a two year old instead of the ten or eleven years he must be, and that his eyes are now deep orange, and appear to have darkened with age instead of paling, as is usually the case."

The Manx (R S Huidekoper)

According to R S Huidekoper in his book, "The Cat" (1895), "The Manx Cat really can be classed as a monstrosity, having been developed probably by the interbreeding of some freak of nature in the form of a cat which inhabited the Isle of Man at an early period. An ordinary cat can easily be rendered tailless if operated on at a young age [...] especial attention should be paid to see that the absent tail is natural and that there is no scar as evidence of operative interference, or, as such things are called in dog shows, “faking”."

Manx Cat Extinct - Lebanon Daily News, 18th September, 1909

More than fifty years ago the real Manx cat was becoming very rare in the Isle of Man, owing to interbreeding with common cats from the mainland; but the pure breed was easily distinguished by the great length of its hind legs, because, although the natives used to cut out the tails of the hybrid kittens soon after birth in order to sell them as “Manx cats," they could not artificially imitate the long hind limbs, says a writer In Queries and Notes. These gave to the real Manx cat more the appearance of a hare than a rabbit, especially when sitting upright; and its sand colored fur increased the likeness, insomuch that my correspondent; who was going out shooting one morning soon after he joined his regiment in the Island, was about to fire at what be thought to be a hare sitting up on its hind legs, when a sentry at the gate called out, “That's our cat, sir!”

Subsequently, be procured a real Manx cat and brought it to England with him; but it soon died, this I believe almost always happened with the original Manx cats when they were brought from the island. Whether any pure Manx cats exist at the present day I do not know, but I should say, not, from the fact that the animal figured as a "Manx” in “Living Animals of the World” is a tabby-marked creature with hind legs of the ordinary length. A tailless cat is not, however, necessarily a Manx. It is worth noting that 100 years ago the Manx cat was known in Devonshire that an enthusiastic cat fancier some years ago found a previously unknown, colony of “bunny cats” which are exactly like the Abyssinian cats of our cat shops and have fur closely, resembling that of Manx cat or the rabbit. It is not impossible, perhaps, that in some isolated corner of Cornwall or Devonshire the pure-bred Cornish or Manx cat may still exist.

MESSYBEAST.COM HISTORY INDEX

You are visitor number