GALLERY: Abyssinian

The Abyssinian Story | Abyssinian Gallery

Mr. H.C. Brooke, with his Abyssinian 'Ras Tafari'
Photo: Cat Gossip, December 7, 1927
Image courtesy of Karen Lawrence

The Abyssinian is a much admired and treasured breed throughout the world, yet it is one whose origins are steeped in mystery. There is written historical evidence that a cat, called an Abyssinian, was imported into Britain in the latter part of the 19th century, specifically during the era of the Abyssinian War (1867-1868). It is said that when the British troops departed from Ethiopia, they "took a large number of treasures"1 with them. Should we speculate whether the Abyssinian cat was one such treasure?

Printed news reports indicate that an Abyssinian cat was exhibited at the second cat show held at the famous Crystal Palace in London, England, on December 16, 1871. In a January, 1872 newspaper article, it is reported that "the third prize was taken by the Abyssinian cat"2 . The report further describes the exhibit as "captured in the late Abyssinian war, and was most remarkable for her woe-begone appearance, seemingly discontented at her sudden elevation into notoriety, and longing for her barbaric freedom in the good old days of King Theodore"2.

An 1874 book by W. Gordon Stables, Cats: Their Points and Classification, includes a color lithograph titled "Abissinian [sic]" with a notation that the cat is "the Property of Mrs. Captain Barrett Lennard". The cat is further identified within the book as "ZULA" who was "brought from Abissinia [sic] at the conclusion of the War."3 Most likely, Zula was the Abyssinian exhibited at the Crystal Palace Show in 1871.

Ethiopia, a country historically known as Abyssinia4, can thus logically be determined to be the source of the first acknowledged and recognized cat of the Abyssinian breed. If we concede that Ethiopia is indeed the "logical" origin of the Abyssinian breed, as we know it, it is not too far of a stretch to also believe numerous sources when they say that the Abyssinian resembles the paintings and sculptures of ancient Egyptian cats. The close proximity of the two countries - both in northeastern Africa with early inhabitants belonging to nomadic tribes - could easily sustain a theory that the cats so revered in ancient Egypt migrated south to Ethiopia at some point, were taken to England after the Abyssinian War, and there became the basis of the Abyssinian breed.

In fact, Harrison Weir wrote, "still several have been imported from Abyssinia all of which were precisely similar, and it is stated, that this is the origin of the Egyptian cat that was worshipped so many centuries ago."5

That there were other Abyssinians imported into England after the war is supported by this report by Mrs. Helen Winsor:

"Three or four years ago a friend of mine who breeds Abyssinians met an old lady of ninety, who told her that as a child she had owned two Abyssinian kittens. They were bred by a Sir Joshua Dunze, whose son brought a pair back with him from Abyssinia. (One of these kittens, incidentally, was a red, so that the red gene must have cropped up from time to time ever since Abyssinians were known.)

"Sir Joshua's cats were never written about as Zula was, probably because he kept them merely for the fun of breeding kittens.

"In those days - round about 1880 - cats did not attract the same attention as today. There were comparatively few shows; there was no television or wireless. Most probably there were other imports which were kept and bred from privately and not even registered, but which kept the Abyssinian breeding pure".6

But, if you find this theory of the breed origin at all believable, there are also those who say it's all hogwash!

Hilary Scathard, in the 1973-1974 Cat Lover's Journal, states that the Barrett-Lennard family can find no record of the Captain ever having served in Ethiopia. Scathard goes on to relate that "Mr. Sydney Denham, then chairman of the Abyssinian Cat Club, wrote to the Ethiopian Embassy who disclaimed all knowledge of cats in Ethiopia resembling our Abyssinians 7"

At one point, the Abyssinian Cat Club(UK) appointed Mr. Derek Trail as Honorary Research Secretary, and his research confirmed a previous theory that "the Aby is the brilliant result of highly specialized breeding by the British breeder."8

However, none of the Abyssinian Cat Club's research addresses the statement in Mrs. Winsor's article, confirming the importation of Abyssinian cats from Abyssinia, and the reported breeding of these cats to continue the breed.

So, the ultimate question is, what is the truth? In simple fact, we just don't know the origins of the Abyssinian breed and, while we can speculate as much as we want, we will probably never be able to accurately document the beginnings of the breed.

Regardless of the proof in the theories put forth, or lack thereof, we recognize that the Abyssinian cats of today are stunning examples of the diligence of early British breeders, among them Mr. Sam Woodiwiss and Mrs. Constance Carew Cox, and it is they who have earned the credit for the beginnings and early evolution of the Abyssinian as a true breed. Aficionados of the Abyssinian breed owe them our gratitude.

In 1929, Mr. H.C. Brooke wrote, "The general appearance of the Abyssinian is that of a rather small and very elegantly built cat, with graceful slender limbs, elegant head, with rather large ears and lustrous eyes."1. This observation could easily apply to the Abyssinian that we see in fairly large numbers at cat shows throughout the world today. It's comforting to know that the vision of the breed appears not to have changed much in over 80 years!

GALLERY: Abyssinian

1860-1900
1867
1890
1894
Zula
History
Queen Jumbo
History
Sedgemere Peaty
History

1900-1919
1907
1908
1909
1909
1912
Salt
History
Ras Dashan
Ouizero Taitou
History
Southampton Red Rust
History
Puma

1920-1939
1924
1929
c 1930
1932
1933
Ras Tafari
Ankaret
History
Queen Kangaroo
Woodrooffe Zeus
Woodrooffe Ena of Newton
 
1934
1935
1935
1936
1938
Woodrooffe Moya
St. Vincent's Aida
Woodrooffe Ras Seyum
Croham Menelik
Croham Isana of Djer-Mer
 
1938
1938
1939
1939
Djer-Mer's Makonne
Djer-Mer's Mamite of Windy Corner
Djer-Mer's Davark
Djer-Mer's Deru

1940-1949
1943
1948
1949
Fairchild's Wazero Crackerjack
Raby Neferatri
Asino Aureo

1950-1959
1950
1950
1951
1951
1951
Kreeoro Sheba
Croham Zara
Caper Cat Trinket of Selene
Chirn Sa-Hai Ani
Chirn Sa-Hai Ricki
 
1952
1952
1952
1952
1952
Bograe's Naith
Caper Cats Simbu of Hollycat
Frensham Bonhaki
Mao Kano
Selene's Sunbeam of Ammon Ra
 
c1952
1953
1953
1954
1954
Saite's Zenia
Abigal of Shermax
Petrozanne Jezebel
History
Caper Cat Isis of Calspuss
Selborne Catalpa
History
 
1954
1954
1955
1956
1957
Selene's Sha of Shermax
Su-Ryan Saadia of Dalai
Rufus The Red of Selene
Calspuss Delire
Dabru of Sheramain
 
1957
1958
1958
1958
1958
Shermax Tish of May-Ling
Ring's Abi Abdel of Selene
Ronnvikens Mirabella
Tranby Sitra
Tranby Timaeus
 
1959
1959
1959
Chatwyn Nimrod
Samdur's Top Brass of Pallady
USAF's Anson

1960-1969
1960
1961
1962
1962
1962
May-Ling Toni
Parkan's Atum
Nigella Amapola
Pallady's Raffles
Tranby Red Serqet
 
1962
c 1962
c 1962
1963
1963
Tranby Red Sothis
Nelarie Nyika of Sharru
Nelarie's Ahmed of Sharru
Aurelia Van Mariendaal
Chota-Li Flame Mist of Kala
 
1963
1964
1964
1964
1964
Pharoh Ramses II
Amun's Fatma
Amun's Sethos
Hermoso Van Mariendaal
Taishun Leo
 
c 1964
1965
1966
1966
1966
Kooky's Susuki
Cirmos Mehir
Abyseal Jade
Chota-Li R.S.T.
History
Taishun Sabina
 
1967
1967
1968
1968
Amulet's Amenhotep of Van-Lyn
Chota-Li Russett
Chota-Li Flair
Taishun Jacaranda


REFERENCES:

  1. The Abyssinian Cat, H.C. Brooke, Tauton UK, April 1929
  2. "An Afternoon with the Cats", Harper's Weekly, January 27, 1872
  3. Cats: Their Points and Classifications, W. Gordon Stables, London, 1874
  4. Wikipedia, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopia
  5. "Abyssinians", Our Cats and All About Them, Harrison Weir, Boston, 1889
  6. "The Origin of the Abyssinian" by Mrs. Helen Winsor, Our Cats, December 1964
  7. "The Abyssinian Cat" by Hilary M. Scatchard, The Cat Lover's Journal, UK, 1973-74
  8. ibid

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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