BALLOCHMYLE BILLIE BLUE EYES (c1896)
PHOTOS | SOCIAL MEDIA | REFERENCES
Among the most strikingly beautiful of British Shorthairs, and equally as rare, are Blue-Eyed Whites and Silver Classic Tabbies. These colours and patterns are notoriously hard to beat, regardless of the breed being represented and, if exhibited in top show condition, put themselves forward for taking honours. When combined with the best phenotype, good temperament and a sound clean coat, they are virtually guaranteed winners.
'Ballochmyle Billie Blue Eyes' was one such strikingly handsome male. He was of sound type and structure, carried a dense coat, which in the one surviving photo of him, can be seen cracking open around the lower chest and top of the legs. But apart from the fact that his name appears in both the registers of The National Cat Club and The Cat Club, he would have been mostly lost to history but for two chance references, plus images, one appearing in the section on Shorthaired Cats, in Charles Lane's book on Rabbits, Cats and Cavies published in 1903; and the other being a simple photographic reference and caption that appeared in the 20th December 1902 edition of Our Cats magazine.
Apart from his wins at shows as a young cat, his greatest claim to fame was as the blue-eyed white King male of the famous 'Ballochmyle' stud, owned by Sir Claud and Lady Alexander, who lived at Ballochmyle House, Maunchline, in Ayrshire, Scotland.
'Billie' is found in both The National Cat Club Stud Book and Register, (NCC:3356*) and The Cat Club Register(CCR:v4). In the National Cat Club Register he is listed in Vol.5 (1896-1899) as 'Champion Master Billie Blue Eyes' with his original owner as Miss R. Mortivals and an asterisk with the notation: "Now the property of Lady Alexander of Ballochmyle". No date of birth is given, and Miss Mortivals is not specifically listed as his breeder2. In The Cat Club Register, he appears in Volume 4 (1900), as 'Ballochmyle Champion Billie Blue Eyes', pedigree 'unknown', and his owner as Lady Alexander3.
Unknown Unknown | Unknown Ballochmyle Billie Blue Eyes, c1896, Blue-eyed white English Shorthair, M | Unknown Unknown Unknown
Both Sir Claud and Lady Alexander were animal enthusiasts from an early age, and were experienced breeders, owners and exhibitors of several breeds of dogs, cats, and poultry. In his review of their personal interests and achievements, dog and cat judge Charles H. Lane gives the following account:
"It is not often one has the pleasure of coupling husband and wife together as ardent fanciers, but it may be truthfully done in this case, for it would be difficult to say which is the more enthusiastic of the two about their several hobbies, and, in a very experience of fanciers in all ranks of life, I never remember to have met a couple who devote so much time and trouble to the various branches of the Fancy, in which they have taken such a prominent position."7
"Lady Alexander with her cats probably occupies even a higher position in the Cat Fancy than she has yet obtained in the Kennel World, as she has spared no trouble or expense to get together a grand train of several varieties of shorthairs. This is another hobby of mine in which I have taken some hundreds of prizes at many of the best shows, and I should say that at the present time Lady Alexander owns the best collection of Blues, Tortoiseshells, Red Tabbies, Tortoiseshell-and-white, Black, Manx, and White, Short-haired Cats, in the possession of any one person in the country; and is the founder and very active supporter of the British Cat Club, recently started."7
"Lady Alexander does not confine herself entirely to four-footed pets, as she also keeps several varieties of poultry, and from an early age was a keen fancier of Black Cochins, some of which variety she still has, and, if I mistake not, has occasionally acted as a judge of some of the breeds of poultry."7
Mr. Lane then gives account of the hobbies and interests of Sir Claud:
"Sir Claud Alexander has been for many years - I think he told me ever since he was a schoolboy - a staunch admirer of one of his national dog breeds, the Skye Terrier, and has often acted as their judge at leading shows. He is an active member of the committee of the Kennel Club, and a liberal supporter in general of anything relating to dogs and dog shows. Although he goes in for both Drop-eared and Prick-eared Skyes, I think, perhaps, at the present time his team of the latter is rather the stronger of the two. As I have said before, I am very partial to Skyes, and although there are several strong kennel of these beautiful animals in England and Scotland, and I have had many hundreds of them before me at different times, I do not remember any that have been put down in better form than those shown by Sir Claud, and very few anything like as good. Those who know anything of this variety will be aware of the importance of coat and condition, which will often turn the scale in close competition."7
What he doesn't mention about Sir Claud, is his own devoted interest in cats and the keen support in that hobby that he gives to Lady Alexander. In January 1903, he was also elected to the position of Hon. Treasurer of The National Cat Club and was to be seen exhibiting the 'Ballochmyle Cats' at most of the leading shows.
As 'Billie Blue Eyes' had no known pedigree, there is no way to verify whether he had siblings or not. We do however have some evidence of some of his show wins. Charles Lane, in his book tells us that he had FOUR Championships and many First Prizes.¹ Attached to his National Cat Club registration were his wins to date which included:
These wins he appears to have gained under the ownership of Miss R. Mortivals, before changing ownership to Lady Alexander, circa 1900. Although he is likely to have been shown after this date, there are no records currently available to provide confirmation for his wins. However, for Charles Lane to report in 1903, that he held four Championships, he must have been shown to attain the last one after his transfer of ownership.
Only two records can be found for progeny of 'Ballochmyle Billie Blue Eyes', both of them being White Shorthair females; the first being 'Ballochmyle Miss Billie', born 30th August, 1898, (out of Sedgemere Betty Blue); and the second being 'Ballochmyle White Violet', (NCC: 7024), born 26th May, 1906, (out of 'Ballochmyle Mother Bump').10
This would suggest that 'Billie' had a reasonably long and active life as a stud cat. It would also indicate that he was probably born somewhere between 1896 and 1897, so approximately rising 10 years old by the time his daughter 'Ballochmyle White Violet' was born.
From the Supplement to Volume 1 of the Stud Book of the GCCF, we find evidence of 'Ballochmyle White Violet' being shown at the Crystal Palace Cat Show of December 10th and 11th, 1912. She would have been six years old at the time9. There are no other clear indications that she was shown before or after this date.
The accompanying photograph herewith, shows Sir Claud Alexander holding a White British Shorthair. The image is cropped from part a photograph that came from the Estate of Miss Gladys Cheetham, now in The Harrison Weir Collection. These photographs date from the period between 1910 and 1914. It is therefore quite possible that this may be from that specific date, and therefore may be the only photograph in existence of 'Ballochmyle White Violet' with her mistress's husband. On that occasion, she was placed first in the White female class, against Lady Alexander's 'Weybourne Polly' who took Second, and Lady Decies 'Ch.Fulmer Snowstorm' who took Third9.
The above illustration by Rosa Bebb appears to be based upon the prior photograph, in all probability provided by Lady Alexander. It was commissioned for the book, Rabbits, Cats and Cavies (1903) by Charles H. Lane. In this case it would appear that, in reality, the cat was in fact better in type than could have been anticipated, if you had seen the illustration first. When the photograph was published in Our Cats, in December of 1902, it is affirmed beneath, that: "This is the only photo in existence of this cat, and that is has never before been reproduced."4
It is clear that although not bred by Sir Claud and Lady Alexander, 'Champion Ballochmyle Billie Blue Eyes' was a shining example of the breed variety, in this colour. That he continued to be shown successfully, and to be siring at around ten years of age, stands testament to his care under the stewardship of both Sir Claud and Lady Alexander. Charles Lane testifies to the immaculate grooming and healthy, sturdy presentation of their dogs in competition, and from the photographs of 'Billie' at home, and that possibly of his daughter 'White Violet' in the arms of Sir Claud, it appears likely that the cats were also only ever shown in the peak of condition.
This is the fulfilment of the idiom, "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing well."
Registers associated with this article include The Incorporated Cat Fanciers Association of Great Britain (TICFAGB), National Cat Club (NCC), The Cat Club (CCR), Beresford Cat Club (BCC), Feline Federation Francaise (FFF), Siamese Cat Registry (SCR), US Register & Studbook for Cats (USR)including Supplement(USRS), The Studbook of the American Cat Association (ACA), and the Studbook & Register of the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA).
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