PHOTOS | SOCIAL MEDIA | REFERENCES
It is a matter of record, that as the wife of an active diplomat in David McLaren Morrison, who usually spent more than half the year stationed in India; the Hon. Mrs. McLaren Morrison was seldom at home in her family estate at Kepwick Park, Northallerton, near Thirsk, in North Yorkshire.
Never-the-less she was stalwart cat fancier and can be found listed in the first volume of the National Cat Club Stud Book (published in 1893) as a member of the committee, and later in Volume Five (published in 1899) as one of its Vice-Presidents.
For many years, she had what was one of the largest catteries in the north of England, filling it with her favourite breeds and colours, which were chiefly but not limited to: White Longhairs, (or Blacks), Silver (or Chinchilla) Longhairs, and an array of other foreign-bred Long-haired and Short-haired varieties, including Russian, Chinese, Japanese (the first Bobtails), Syrian and Siamese short-hairs. She is even known to have exhibited the only Mexican Hairless cat ever to be seen in Britain.
She was without doubt, probably one of England's best known and most intrepid adventurers in her quest for both foreign cats and dogs. She was well known in all the doggie circles and a founding member of the Ladies Kennel Association. In fact, her contribution to introduced breeds in the late 19th and early 20th century is well documented by canine historians, as the following report from Doggy Shows and Doggy People (1903) written by dog Judge and breeder of dogs and cats, Mr. Charles H. Lane, helps to clarify:
"If anyone had any doubts about this lady being a keen and enthusiastic fancier if animals, they would be dispelled by the fact that although her kennels are situated at Kepwick Park, far from a railway station, in the neighbourhood of the Yorkshire Moors, near Thirsk, she has represented, even during her frequent visits to India with her husband, who has held an appointment there, at many of the shows in other parts of England.
As well as the afore-mentioned breeds, Mrs. McLaren Morrison also had Icelandic or Lapland dogs, her fashionable passion for 'white' in both canine and feline species being prominently apparent. But to care for the many dogs and cats, and to agent them successfully at shows throughout England while she and her husband were abroad, she employed an Indian born kennel-man named Succo, whose image has been captured with favourites of both her representative species.
Charles Lane then has the following to say about Mrs. McLaren Morrison's interest in and enthusiasm for fancy cats:
"Mrs. Morrison has not confined her attention to dogs alone, but has for many years kept a considerable number of both long-haired and short-haired cats, with which she has won numerous prizes at the best shows at the Crystal Palace and other places. I think she has chiefly kept Blues and Whites in the former, and Tortoiseshells, Tortoiseshell and Whites, Blacks and Pure Whites in the latter, and she has been one of the most spirited buyers at the shows, frequently claiming some of the high-class specimens which took her fancy."
The Acquisition of MUSAFER and TONMO
From the editorial pages of the very first issue of Our Cats published November 1st, 1899, we glean the following clarification on the origins of 'Musafer':
"The Hon. Mrs. McLaren Morrison, who is at present in Calcutta, has become possessed of a cat which is likely to create no little stir when seen on the show benches. Musafer is a very large, shaggy-coated, Thibet Tom of the purest white, while his eyes are of the bluest blue. It is to be hoped that coming, as he has, direct to this country from the cols steppes, that our climate may not prove too damp for this valuable addition to our long-haired cats."
Unknown Unknown | Unknown Musafer, c 1898, blue-eyed Persian, M | Unknown Unknown Unknown
Obviously, there are no records on lineage for 'Musafer' as he was intended as a foundation cat; neither, to date at least, have we found any record of him being shown, although that is certainly still a possibility, as he was photographed at home for Frances Simpson's The Book of The Cat, published in 1903, and he is duly featured in the chapter on 'Whites'.
But, in the very next issue, published November 8th, 1899, we read an excellent example of the very real dangers of being an English gentlewoman on a personal mission to collect live specimens of new cats with which to compliment or expand the gene-pool at home:
"The Hon. Mrs. McLaren Morrison, who is a valued member of the National Cat Club, and one of its vice-presidents had had an alarming experience at Darjeeling, when the awful catastrophe happened by which so many lives were lost. She was in an upper room of a house, the lower part of which was swept away, the upper portion being kept up by the boulders and earth which had been flooded into the space below.
In the January 3rd edition of Our Cats follows another report giving further details on the Darjeeling catastrophe, as well as news of another impending feline import:
"The Hon. Mrs. McLaren Morrison, who is expecting to return to England in the spring of 1900, has recently become possessed of a handsome white Afghan cat, with deep blue eyes. This cat, Tonmo by name, belonged to the school at Darjeeling, which was wrecked in the terrible landslip which occurred a few weeks ago. The cat was given to Mrs. Morrison, by the girls who survived the awful catastrophe, and will doubtless be seen in England at the National Cat Club's Show at the Crystal Palace next year."
There are no records of any progeny from 'Musafer'. But his mistress had always been passionate about White longhairs and imported several over a roughly twenty-year period. The following written by Frances Simpson and then by Mrs. McLaren Morrison herself, (in 1903), alludes to her early career exhibiting Whites, and to her preference for imported cats like 'Musafer':
"It was in 1890 that Mrs. McLaren Morrison, then Mrs. H. Warner, made her name as an exhibitor of white Persians; for no less than six of this breed put in an appearance and gained prizes at Sydenham. Mrs. McLaren Morrison writes:
Non currently available.
Sadly, what began in the 1880's as genuine enthusiasm and a desire to find and preserve rare breeds for future generations, by the young and passionate aristocratic daughter of Baron Pirbright, much later declined into the all too common disorder of 'animal hoarding', seen amongst older, often well-intentioned collectors, who no longer have the means, or mental/physical energy to adequately provide for the needs of their charges. By the late 1930's and early 1940's, the by-now elderly Mrs. McLaren Morrison, was living on her own, with her extensive menagerie of birds, cats and dogs. Her children had long ago moved on, and her husband was no more, and her kennel help had been dispersed a generation beforehand, along with the sale of the family estate in north Yorkshire.
Accordingly, she found herself at odds with both the local authorities and the welfare officers of the R.S.P.C.A., and unable to deal with or adequately provide for all the physical needs of her animals. Dispersal was difficult, without the professional help and assistance of others, and she found herself the subject of abatement orders from the courts, as the local authorities and animal control officers attempted to bring her to a decision on either the disposal or dispersal of her charges. The picture of a distraught elderly lady, trying to come to terms with the need to drastically reduce her numbers while at the same time mentally dealing with her profound perception of loss, of the only family she now knew on a day to day basis, is nothing short of horrific. But of course, the physical welfare of all the animals and her own hygiene, cossetted as she was, in a large multi-roomed house, together with the animals, was of paramount importance.
Although the end of this story is not the one any of us would have preferred, it is important to acknowledge that symptomatic with any hobby involving livestock, there will always be risks associated with any imbalance between the necessary preservation of bloodlines, as well as the proper and effective management and/or shared responsibility for the welfare of all the animals.
Regardless of our personal views on what could or should be done in such situations, we need to detach ourselves somewhat so that we can properly consider Mrs. McLaren Morrison's initial and critical contribution to the fancy, made while she was in possession of all her faculties and while her menagerie was being more than adequately managed. Taken in its true historical context and perspective; the data supporting that, is in fact quite staggering.
SOME FACTS WORTHY OF CONSIDERATION
Between 1893 and 1899, the National Cat Club issued five volumes of Stud Books, with a date range covering registrations for cats between 1875 to 1899. These contained 1800 cats. Of these, 65.59% (approximately two thirds) were of long-haired cats. 34.41% were for short-haired cats. 93 cats could be categorically classified as imported, or 5.17%, and that figure does not include cats from fully imported parentage.
As can be ascertained from these figures alone, Mrs. McLaren Morrison's contribution to the expansion of usable bloodlines in the United Kingdom was far from insignificant! While other English naturalists collected and brought back foreign plants, trees and birds and an array of other wild animals, Mrs. McLaren Morrison followed that very English trend, seeking out both dogs and cats. For that enthusiasm and effort, we as cat fanciers, must be truly grateful. 'Musafer' the blue-eyed beauty from what is now modern-day TIBET, is a shining example of that sheer tenacity!
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).
Home | Cats | Gallery | Clubs | People | Artifacts | Articles | Updates | Contact Us
©The CFA Foundation, Inc and The Harrison Weir Collection