QUEEN JUMBO (c1890)
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'Queen Jumbo' could quite fairly be described as 'the forgotten Queen', for in many of the histories written about the Abyssinian breed, she hardly ranks a mention and/or is simply not mentioned at all! Many writers launch into a preamble about the Abyssinian, by only mentioning an early pair of Abyssinians owned by Mr. Sam Woodiwiss, namely 'Sedgemere Bottle' and 'Sedgemere Peaty' and claiming in some cases that these were the first Abyssinians in the Register of The National Cat Club.
In fact, they were not. 'Queen Jumbo' appears in Volume One of the Register, (NCC: 1561). 'Sedgemere Bottle' and 'Sedgemere Peaty' appear in Volume Four, as (NCC:2314) and (NCC:2315) respectively. And, even though we do not have a definitive date of birth for 'Queen Jumbo', the dates we do have and the show records bear witness to her being born earlier.
'Sedgemere Bottle' was born in 1892, and exibited in 1895. 'Sedgemere Peaty' was born in October, 1894, and likewise exhibited in 1895. The Register, although not providing a date of birth for 'Queen Jumbo', never-the-less confirms a date for her death, given as April, 1893. But it also records her being exhibited three times in 1892, specifically at Wantage, at Brighton and at Clapham, all in 1892. This was the birth year of 'Sedgemere Bottle', which means that she had to have been born at the very latest in 1891, and more probably in 1890 or earlier.2
So 'Queen Jumbo' can quite fairly claim to be the earliest recorded Abyssinian to appear in any official register.
She was not, however, the first to be shown. That distinction goes to a female Abyssinian named 'Zula', some 20 years earlier. The first we hear of this cat, is in a report of the Crystal Palace Show of December 16th, 1871. The article is accompanied by an illustration by Percy Macquoid, which was first published in The Graphic (London), in December 1871 and then in a Supplement to Harper's Weekly (New York), on 27th January, 1872. The portion of the article featuring the Abyssinian reads as follows:
"The first prize was won by a Persian she cat of rare violet colour, whose portrait is given on this page. The third prize was taken by the Abyssinian cat, shown in the lower right hand corner of the illustration. She was captured in the late Abyssinian war, and was mostly 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."3
The author and early cat judge, Dr. W. Gordon Stables, provides us with another view of 'Zula' in his book Cats: Their Points and Classification (1877), in which he provides a coloured lithograph entitled 'Abyssinian', including a notation that the cat is the 'property of Mrs. Captain Barrett Lennard'. Within the book, the cat is identified as 'Zula', and 'bought from Abissinia[sic] at the conclusion of the War.'
Unknown Unknown | Unknown Queen Jumbo, c 1890, Silver Abyssinian, F | Unknown Unknown Unknown
'Queen Jumbo' is the earliest Abyssinian recorded in the Register of The National Cat Club. No date of birth is given, but from her show records, she had to have been born at least by 1891 in order to have taken the adult awards credited to her in 1892. However, it seems more likely that she would have been moderately older, so we have estimated her date of birth as circa 1890. Her ownership, however, is not in doubt, as she is listed as the property of Mrs. George (Louisa) Herring, the sister-in-law of Harrison Weir, whose first wife was Ann Herring.
Of particular interest is to note that neither 'Queen Jumbo', nor 'Sedgemere Bottle' or 'Sedgemere Peaty' owned by Mr. Sam Woodiwiss, are noted as 'imports' which indicates that they were bred in England. In all three cases, the breeders are not listed. This points to the possibility that there were already a number of fanciers established in breeding them. Yet despite a lack of evidence in the Register to support importation, and although Mr. Harrison Weir himself mentions that a hybrid between the English Wild Cat and the domestic resembles it, in 1889 he further unequivocably states:
"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. The mummies of the cats I have seen in no case had any hair left, so that it was impossible to determine what colour they were. The imported cats are of stouter build than the English and less marked. These bred with an English tabby often give a result of a nearly black, the black band extending very much down the sides, and the brown ticks almost disappearing, which gives a very rich and beautiful colouring."6
From the above statement we can draw some conclusions. If Mr. Weir states that several have been imported from Abyssinia, then it is information that can be relied upon, as he was meticulous in his research. His reference to the 'imported cats being less marked' is the result of pure and honest 'observation', for which he was renown! This also implies that the pure strain of imports showed less barring than the English and hybrid cats.
In describing the colours of the Abyssinian he gives us the following descriptions:
"I now come to the last variety of tabby cat, and this can scarcely be called a tabby proper, as it is nearly destitute of markings, excepting sometimes on the legs and a broad black band along the back. It is of a deep brown, ticked with black, sometimes resembling the back of a wild (only not so gray) rabbit. Along the centre of the back, from the nape of the neck to the tip of the tail, there is a band of black, very slightly interspersed with dark brown hairs. The inner side of the legs and belly are more of a rufous-orange tint than the body, and are marked in some cases, with a few dark patches; but they are best without these marks and in the exhibition pens it is a point lost. The eyes are deep yellow tinted with green; nose dark red, black edged; ears rather small, dark brown, with black edges and tips; the pads of the feet are black. Altogether it is a very pretty and interesting variety.
"I find there is yet another tint or colour of the tabby proper which I have not mentioned, that is to say, a cat marked with wavy lines, and an exceedingly pretty one it is. It is very rare; in fact, so much so that it has never had a class appropriated to it, and therefore is only admissible to or likely to win in the class 'For Any Other Colour,' in which class usually a number of very beautiful varieties are to be found, some of which I shall have occasion to notice further on. The colour however, that I now refer to is often called the silver tabby, for want of a better name. It is this, The whole of the ground colour is of a most delicate silver-gray, clear and firm in tone, slightly blue if anything apart from the gray, and the markings thereon are but a little darker, with a tinge of lilac in them making the fur to look like an evening sky, rayed with light clouds. The eyes are orange-yellow, and when large and full make a fine contrast to the colour of the fur. The nose is red, edged with a lilac tint, and the pads of the feet and claws are black, or nearly so. The hair is generally very fine, short, and soft. Altogether it is most lovely, and well worthy of attention, forming, as it does, a beautiful contrast to the red, the yellow, or even the brown tabby."6
'Queen Jumbo' was registered as a 'Silver Abyssinian'.
Of her owner, Mrs. Herring, we find that she was one of several very influential and active breeders of both long and short-haired cats, and a member of the Committee of the National Cat Club. Among the breeds registered by her we find, Persians, (in a wide variety of colours and patterns), Siamese, English Shorthairs, Manx, Russian and Abyssinian. In fact, we find sixty-four cats in the first five volumes of the Register, either owned or bred by Mrs. Herring. She was well known for her Silver Tabby English Shorthair, 'Champion Jimmy' and was one of the early stalwarts of Blue Persian.
Given that Mr. Weir acknowledges that at least in some cases Abyssinians were bred to English shorthairs, we can only come to the conclusion that some hybridisation took place and the resultant progeny put back into the gene pool of the developing breed. And it seems reasonable to assume that Mrs. Herring may also have experimented in this way. A drawing by Harrison Weir, of Mrs. Herring's Blue small-banded tabby features in the Chapter on Abyssinians in his book to illustrate what he described as a wave-banded tabby.
No records exist of any siblings or progeny for 'Queen Jumbo'.
Her show wins were all gained in 1892, taking a 'First' at Wantage, a 'First' at Brighton, and another 'First' at Clapham.2
There are no progeny of record, but this may be an opportune time to consider what options were open to breeders of Abyssinians in these early years. Even acknowledging Mr. Weir's statement that "several have been imported from Abyssinia" we can speculate that the number of direct imports would have been small compared to the demand to breed the 'ticked' varieties. Mr. H.C. Brooke was an ardent fancier, as was Mr. Heslop and Mr. Sam Woodiwiss. Other devotees included Mrs. Constance Carew Cox, Mrs. E.A. Clark, Sir Claud Alexander, and Mr. C.A. House.
The fact that some early of the early specimens were hybrids is alluded to again in a short history of the Abyssinian Cat written by Mr. Brooke, in which he states:
"About thirty years ago, some very good Abyssinians were shown by the late Mr. Heslop of Darlington." (Could some of these have been the imported cats referred to by Mr. Harrison Weir?) "Mrs. Alice Pitkin also exhibited some fair specimens, many of hers however, being too dark and 'British Ticks' in type. Later, Mrs. Clark of Bath possessed many excellent specimens."13
Certainly by the turn of the new century the classification of Shorthaired Varieties for registration included both 'Ticks' and 'Abyssinian'. This at least allowed for the separation of the British style 'Ticked' shorthaired cats from the more foreign and refined 'Abyssinians' which could be registered and shown separately.
Mr. H. C. Brooke, in particular, studied the possible early origins and, as an importer and fancier of foreign varieties in both cats and dogs, was in a prime position to offer an experienced view on the subject. He was the importer of a 'Red' Indian Cat, named 'Indischer Furst', which sported a bright red ticked tabby coat with some considerable barring on the legs, head and tail and which, when it was shown at the Crystal Palace in 1901, caused quite a sensation. He also imported what was described as an 'Egyptian' or 'African' wild cat, whose image is given here, and whose resemblance to the basic features of the Abyssinian we know today, appears unmistakeable.
From a newsy note published in Our Cats on 7th November 1903, we discover a further importation of Indian Cats:
"Mrs. H.C. Brooke informs us that she has now four Indian cats of the same breed as 'Indischer Furst', who created such a sensation when he came out at the Palace two years ago, and whose portrait, (albeit justice is not done to him) appears in Cassell's "Book of The Cat". The new specimens are quite red all over, not having white throats and forepaws like the original, but have not such short coats as he has."8
In The Book of The Cat, Mr. Brooke elaborates more on possible origins:
"It is usually assumed that the Egyptian or Caffre cat is the progenitor of the majority of domestic cats. This is the variety which was domesticated, revered, and embalmed by the ancient Egyptians. It is found over the whole of Africa, and it is quite easy to understand how, with its eminently tameable disposition, it gradually spread over Europe. Our so-called Abyssinian cats, to which reference will be made to later on, bear a very striking resemblance to his handsome variety of cat."12
Although the detail of the establishment and rise of the early Abyssinian breed is somewhat clouded due to lack of definitive information on the number of imports and a lack of verifiable data through non-registration, we get to find glimpses of activity within the breed. The below advertisement appeared in Our Cats magazine in March, 1903. The cat 'TSANA' named here, is not to be confused with another Abyssinian queen named 'Tsana of Bath' (born considerably later, in 1908). From this advertisement, we find a well-known breeder of Siamese, Mrs. W.R. Temple, was equally engaged in breeding Abyssinians! And from this one advertisement we are made aware of four named cats, a Abyssinian male named 'Young Menelik', another Abyssinian male named 'Exhail' and then two Abyssinian females, 'Tsana' and 'Greek Maiden' respectively.
In the booklet, "Child of the Gods", written by Helen and Sidney Denham in 1951, we find a reference to 'Greek Maiden', who was apparently exhibited at The Crystal Palace show of 1902, by her then owner and breeder Mrs. C. Heslop. The names of her sire and dam are also provided as 'Old Greek' and 'Greek Maid' respectively. Given that the show is usually held in mid to late October or early November, we must presume that 'Greek Maiden' was then quickly on-sold to Mrs. Temple. In fact, 'Greek Maiden' produced her first litter for Mrs. Temple on 8th January 1903, as an Abyssinian male from that litter named 'John Bunyan', was sold as a future stud to Lady Alexander. The sire was similarly 'Exhail'.9
Although we know next to nothing about the life of 'Queen Jumbo', the fact that she was a silver Abyssinian female bred around 1890, owned by a prominent breeder, exhibited successfully in 1892 and that she was one of the few to be recorded at a time when the Abyssinian was seemingly struggling for survival and for recognition, places her almost at the epicentre of a period akin to the 'dark ages' for the Abyssinian breed. But it is clear that a number of British breeders were experimenting during this time with ticked tabby shorthairs, and that some imports did come to British shores, whether they were from Abyssinia or Egypt or India or all three, we may never know. The only thing we can be sure of knowing is that we simply don't know!
In the not too distant future, with the help of gene mapping and DNA research, our scientists may be able to recognise and mark specific gene sequences within a breed, and then track the movement of gene pools between continents and between regions. Until then, we should defer to this very common-sense conclusion from the pen of Karen Lawrence, CFA Judge and Historian, who wrote:
"Ethiopia, a country historically known as Abyssinia, can thus logically be determined to be the source of the first acknowledged and recognised 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 quote that the Abyssinian 'resembles the paintings and sculptures of ancient Egyptian cats'. The close proximity of the two countries - both in north-eastern 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 and there became the basis of the Abyssinian breed.
"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 recognise that the Abyssinian cats of today are stunning examples of the diligence of the early British breeders and it is they who have earned the credit for the beginnings and early evolution of the breed." 10
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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