THE COLONEL (c 1884)
The story of 'The Colonel' is that of a deaf white longhair, found at a Crystal Palace Cat Show. It is a clear example of the dangers and humor associated with dealing with deafness in cats, in this case, a yellow-eyed White. The writer has personal experience with this, having owned a Blue-eyed White Persian female which was totally deaf, and a blue-eyed white domestic male cat which had perfectly sound hearing in both ears. So there is no hard and fast rule on deafness, and the claim that "all blue-eyed whites are deaf", which is so often heard, is untrue. The genes for Dominant White certainly possess the potential to pass on deafness, but the delivery of this anomaly is random and cannot be predicted with certainty. It is true, that it is associated more with blue eyes, but being white and having either one or both eyes blue, does not automatically mean that the cat has been affected.
But before we take time to read Harrison Weir's own story of his White longhaired cat, let's first take a closer look at the man himself, his passion for cats, and his relationship and observations of them. This is best achieved by reading some of his commentaries about cats in general, including some illuminating anecdotes of cats that have shared their lives with him and his growing family and the cats ingenious antics.
As 'The Colonel' was not a breeding cat, the usual headings in this file will bear no relevance, but will be supplanted by a pertinent headline.
IN DEFENSE OF CATS:
From his book Animal Stories Old and New published in 1885, we take the following introduction to the world of cats, written by Harrison Weir himself:
" 'Cats never attach themselves to individuals' has been so often stated, and, as often is the case with regard to other matters, by persons who know nothing of the subject, and by persons who have never kept a cat in their lives, but simply, parrot-like, repeat what they have heard, without first testing its truthfulness. From a number of years' knowledge of the cat, its ways and habits, I am quite certain that it does attach itself to persons, and that in a remarkable degree, almost, if not quite as much so, as the dog, for like that sagacious animal they have been found dead on their loved one's grave, having seemingly died of grief. As regards myself, I am fond of both dogs and cats, though I must admit that after the experience of years of having both as companions and pets, I think I give the preference to the cats for their gentleness, affection, sagacity, watchfulness, and knowledge of their surroundings, setting apart their great love for those whom they take a liking, which they often do for one person only in a household of many, though that may not be the one by whom they are fed."3
ANECDOTES OF AN OBSERVANT CAT OWNER:
We now look at a few anecdotes on cat ownership and cat behaviour from the personal experiences of Harrison Weir. These also give us an insight into his home-life both at 'Weirleigh', his country home near Matley, in Kent, where he kept a large garden, vinery, poultry yard and orchard, and later at Henwick Lodge ……
"I have but two cats at the present time. Both are 'outdoor' cats, kept in my poultry yard on account of the rats. I generally go every day to feed my fowls, and there, waiting for me, I invariably find my cats. They follow me from place to place, even out on the highway or in my garden, keeping all the time close to my legs, and whenever I stop they generally rub themselves against me; perhaps one will run up my back and sit on my shoulder. When I reach my orchard, which is not far, and where more fowls are kept, they still follow. Sometimes, when I stand still, they will climb the apple trees, jumping down directly I move off, and they often nearly throw me down by running between my legs, or suddenly getting in front when I am walking.
"This to me is not in the least singular as regards these two cats. Nearly all that I have had have acted in a similar way. One, a red-tabby she-cat, 'Lillah', which I bought at the Crystal Palace Cat Show, used to clamber to my shoulder when I went into the garden, and there would sit purring as I walked in and out of the vineries, poultry-houses, and even along the road until I returned to the house, when she would jump off and never attempt to enter with me unless I enticed her to do so."3
'Weirleigh' was purchased in 1866 and was initially a comfortable but modest two storey country residence for a gentleman used to the confines of a London outskirts property in Peckham and Camberwell, but desirous of more land to pursue his interests in both poultry and horticulture. The below image was published in 1874, on the occasion of the artist's 50th birthday, for which a floral competition was organised with prizes for the local children. In it, we see the original house, before its alterations and some of the extent of the gardens.
'GEORGE', 'JETTIE' & 'THE OLD LADY'
In the following, we have anecdotal evidence of his own relationship with 'The Old Lady', a blue tabby female, whom he allowed to be on 'exhibition only' at the first Crystal Palace Cat Show in July of 1871, and the antics and relationship of the cats 'George' and 'Jettie' with two of his children. Harrison Weir writes:
"Other cats had their fancies. One, a blue tabby, 'George,' would go to rest with no one but my youngest daughter.* A black-tabby, 'Jettie,' would leave all others for the room of my youngest son.*
A blue-tabby, 'The Old Lady,' came up to my bedroom door every morning, and often sat on my shoulder while I was painting a picture, or went to sleep on my knees.
"At one time I had six cats, and each had their 'likes and dislikes.' They would rest only with the one they regarded most, and no inducement of food or fondling would have any effect in alluring them from their devotion to that person.
"The truth of this character of the cat is fully corroborated by numbers of persons who have kept cats, and with whom I have conversed on the subject. Depend upon it, gentle reader, if you make up your mind not to like cats, cats will not like you, nor will dogs or any other animal, if not kindly treated. Cats like to be talked to and cosseted quite as much as dogs. To my thinking no animal moves with more grace than a cat, nor have more gentle ways, and yet few are more misunderstood. Their instinct and sagacity is indeed great, which I think is due often to their observation, I might say is almost marvellous.
"One night I was sitting at work after my family had retired for the night, when, about twelve o'clock, I heard a knock at the front door. 'Well,' thought I, 'they shall knock again, whoever they are, coming at this late hour.' Presently another and another knock. I went to the door and opened it, when in walked my cat! 'Master George' purred, and then ran upstairs to my daughter's room. That cat had never been taught to knock at the door, but had noticed that when there was a knock at the door, it was opened; so HE jumped and knocked. Having found he was right, he did it several times afterward. This is not an isolated case. I have had many cats that have knocked for admittance, and so have my friends, and none have been taught so to act."3
DOLLY, TOMMY & BROWNIE
"It is no unusual thing for a cat, if it cannot reach the milk in a jug, to put in its paw, taking as much milk as it can between the toes, and then to lick it off. I have seen this done many a time. Once I was very much amused with three of my cats, who were sitting around a quart mug that was rather more than half full of bread and milk. First one put in its paw, and carried as much milk as it could to its mouth, then the next, and so to the next, in fair rotation, each taking its turn as regular as three hammermen do when beating consecutively a piece of red-hot iron.
"However, in a few minutes, 'Dolly,' the elder, thought 'Tommy' was getting rather too much, so she gave him a pat, which had the desired effect, being that of making him look at her each time before he put in his paw after that. 'Brownie,' the third, never got chastisement; this, I think, was because he was such a little cat, consequently he had a much smaller paw."3
THE STORY OF 'THE COLONEL'
"A curious fact relating to the white cat of not only the long but also the short-haired breed is their deafness. Should they have blue eyes, which is the fancy colour, these are nearly always deaf; although I have seen specimens whose hearing was as perfect as that of any other colour.
"Still deafness in white cats is not always confined to those with blue eyes, as I too well know from purchasing a very fine male at the Crystal Palace Show some few years since. The price was low and the cat was 'a beauty', both in form, coat, and tail, his eyes were yellow, and he had a nice, meek, mild expressive face. I stopped and looked at him, as he much took my fancy. He stared at me wistfully, with something like melancholy in the gaze of his amber-coloured eyes. I put my hand through the bars of the cage. He purred, licked my hand, rubbed against the wires, put his tail up, as much as if to say, 'See, here is a beautiful tail; am I not a lovely cat?'
"'Yes' I thought, 'a very nice cat'. When I looked at my catalogue and saw the low price, 'something is wrong here' I said musingly, 'Yes, there must be something wrong. The price is misstated, or there is something not right about this cat.' No! It was a beauty, so comely, so loving, so gentle - so very gentle. 'Well', I said to myself, 'if there is no misstatement of price, I will buy this cat'. and, with a parting survey of its excellences, I went to the office of the Show Manager. He looked at the letter of entry. No, the price was quite right, 'two guineas!'. 'I will buy it' said I, and so I did.; but at two guineas I bought it dearly. Yes, very dearly, for when I got it home, I found it was 'stone' deaf. What an unhappy cat it was!
"If shut out of the dining-room, you could hear its cry for admission all over the house; being so deaf, the poor wretched creature never knew the noise it made. I often wish that it had so known,- very, very often. I am satisfied that a tithe would have frightened it out of its life. And so loving, so affectionate. But oh! horror, when it called out as it sat on my lap, its voice seemed to acquire at least TEN cat power. And when it lost sight of me in the garden, its voice rose to the occasion, I feel confident it might have been heard miles off. Alas! he never knew what that agonised sound was like, but I did, and I have never forgotten it, and I never shall.
"I named him 'The Colonel' on account of his commanding voice…..
"One morning a friend came - blessed be that day - and after dinner he saw 'the beauty'. 'What a lovely cat' he said. 'Yes' said I, he is very beautiful, quite a picture.' After a while he said, looking at 'Pussy' warming himself before the fire, 'I think I never saw one I liked more'. 'Indeed' said I, 'if you really think so, I will give it to you; but he has a fault - he is stone deaf'. 'Oh I dont mind that' said he.
"He took him away, miles and miles away. I was glad it was so many miles away for two reasons. One was, I feared he might come back, and the other that his voice might come resounding on the still night air. But he never came back, nor a sound. - A few days after he left to 'better himself', a letter came saying, would I wish to have him back? They liked it very much, all but its voice. "No" I wrote, 'no, you are very kind, no, thank you; give him to anyone you please. - do what you will with 'the beauty', but it must not return, never.
"When next I saw my friend, I asked him how 'the beauty' was. 'You dreadful man!' he said, 'why that cat nearly drove us all mad - I never heard anything like it.' 'Nor I' said I, sententiously. 'Well' said my friend, 'all is well that ends well.' 'I have given it to a very deaf old lady, and so both are happy!'. 'Very, I trust' said I.
"The foregoing is by way of advice; in buying a white cat, - or in fact, any other, - ascertain for a certainty that it is not deaf!"1
The humorous anecdote about 'The Colonel', from the pen of Harrison Weir, clearly shows that even the most experienced of cat enthusiasts, can be 'taken-in' unawares by the singular beauty and individual charm of a striking-looking cat. Harrison already knew about the possibility of a white cat being deaf, but it never crossed his mind that this yellow-eyed 'beauty' before him at The Crystal Palace Show might be so afflicted. The price should have made him think twice, but he acted on impulse, which is not unusual where animals are concerned, and where at a show, there is a pressure to be the first to make a claim on a 'for-sale' cat, or lose out to another potential purchaser.
White longhairs of 'The Colonel's quality would have been few and far between, and this was quite a few years before the establishment of the National Cat Club's register. 'The Colonel' could have been bred by Mr. A.A. Clarke, or possibly bred or imported by Mrs. Davies, but that he was a thoroughbred, albeit of unknown pedigree, was never in doubt.
Weir has given us with a noteworthy, witty and educational reminder of the frailties of the human condition, while using his talent as an artist, to provide a wonderful historical record of the unmistakeable charms of 'The Colonel'.
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