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As a breed the 'Royal Cat of Siam', or 'Wichien Maat', is one of the great "pillars" or "cornerstones" of the Cat Fancy. In this regard, it is very likely unsurpassed as it has the distinction to date of being the most widely used parent breed, and/or at the very least, a contributing breed, in the genetic make-up of so many of the latter-day felines. Every breed today which sports its genetically unique 'pointed' pattern, has been developed and hybridised by an introduction of its bloodlines.
This variety, at the very least, dates back to period of the Ayudhya Empire (circa 1350AD) and its vast city of temples based at Ayutthaya. The breed is inextricably linked to the Ayutthaya precincts, and it is due to the efforts of the 'Chakri' dynasty and their predecessors, who had the responsibility and foresight to nurture and preserve this unique breed of cat, that we can enjoy the benefit of its existence today. However, the invasion of the great inland temple city eventually necessitated the relocation of the royal court to the southern city of Bangkok.
In The Siamese Cat by Phyl Wade (1934), the author refers to the work of M. Oldfield Howey, who, in 'he Cat in the Mysteries of Religion and Magic (1930) says: "For two hundred years Siamese cats were only to be found in that portion of the Royal City of Bangkok, where the monarch and his court resided."18
Historians appear to divide themselves into two camps with regard to whether the breed was the exclusive province of the royal family and whether the Kings of Siam were personally involved in their breeding, or whether this is a myth and the majority of writers sit in one camp or the other, some claiming the link to royalty as mere myth. Taking a very pragmatic view, the truth is most likely to sit somewhere in the middle, with clear royal patronage, but highly unlikely to have had much in the way of personal involvement.
It is clear that in the high culture of Siam, cats were linked to the transmigration of souls, were known to be buried with their royal owners and were cared for and bred both within the palace and temple compounds. The cats, in their various forms, were the responsibility of the priestly cast and were certainly reverenced and prized. There is also a distinct possibility that there were several types retained, some bred by priests or monks in the Royal household, and some by the priests in the Temple compounds.
Were they used in royal ceremonies? Yes. Were they personally bred by members of the Royal family, likely not. But it is always important to view this in context; i.e. Were the Royals aware that they were unique? 'Yes'. Did they recognise western amazement in the unique distribution of their pattern? 'Yes'. Were there instances of 'Siamese' gifted by the King, or his representatives, to western ambassadors and dignitaries? Absolutely, 'Yes'. Does this mean that the King of Siam bred them? A reserved 'Yes', but not strictly speaking, in the 'personal' context. The Kings of Siam were 'absolute' monarchs, so everything in the palace compounds, belonged to the King. So if someone were to ask an official for a cat, permission would still need to come from the King's secretariat for it to be released. A similar procedure would have applied to the Royal household in England. Did Queen Victoria breed cattle and poultry? 'Yes'. Was she personally involved? 'Not necessarily'. Did they belong to her? 'Yes'. Was permission needed to move the stock? 'Yes', under the strict supervision and recommendation of a manager. So why would we expect anything different from the Royal House of Siam?
And it is equally ludicrous to think that examples of the breed were not being simultaneously bred and distributed outside of the Royal district, in small numbers at least. The cats had been in existence for centuries, and for centuries had very likely been gifted to members of the extended Royal Family over succeeding generations, and so too, to the surrounding lands; into what would today be Laos and Cambodia, not to mention, the possibility that some may have been gifted to other officials and dignataries of eastern origin. So this meant that Siamese cats were very likely to have been available from other sources, but that does not mean, that they were necessarily any less 'Siamese' than those obtained directly from the palace precincts in Bangkok, or that the Palace cats were not still a relatively 'protected enclave'.
The first specimens of this utterly unique and much-loved breed of cat, were brought to England most likely around the 1860's. We know from the notes on this breed by Harrison Weir, that among those lucky few who first possessed them, was Lady Dorothy Nevill, whose cats were "imported and presented by Sir R. Herbert of the Colonial Office. The late Duke of Wellington imported the breed, also Mr. Scott of Rotherfield."14 In context, Lady Dorothy was an avid importer of plants and animals, particularly birds, all of which were cultivated and displayed in the extensive grounds of her estate at 'Dangstein' in Kent.
It is also known that Siamese cats were in attendance at the very first Crystal Palace Cat Show, in July of 1871, and in that case the owner/exhibitor is named as Mr. Maxwell, and were reported as "said to be the first of their kind ever brought to this country".16 We also know that Lady Dorothy, also entered some of her cats, either at this show, most likely at the subsequent show held at the Crystal Palace in December of 1871 and again in May 1872.
The breed however, was still exceedingly rare in England, and it did not take serious hold of the fancy until a pair from the Palace in Siam were given in 1884 to Mr. Gould, who was Consul General in Bangkok. These were 'Pho' and 'Mia', whom he gifted to his sister, Lilian Gould (later Mrs. Veley). Their kittens, 'Duen N'gai', 'Kalahom' and Kromata' were shown at the Crystal Palace in 1885, but sadly died shortly afterwards.
In 1886, another pair with kittens, were imported by Lady Vyvyan and her sister Miss Forestier Walker, from which eventually sprang the famous 'Tiam O'Shian' strain of Siamese.
Nevertheless, on the subject of the difficulty in obtaining Siamese, we need only again refer to Harrison Weir's book published in 1889, in which he quotes Mr. Young of Harrogate, who had purchased his Siamese cat from Mr. Brennand:
"I have heard a little more regarding the Siamese cats from Miss Walker, the daughter of General Walker, who brought over one male and three females. It seems the only pure breed is kept at the King of Siam's palace, and the cats are very difficult to procure, for in Siam, it took three different gentlemen of great influence, three months before they could get any."14
Harrison Weir then provides the following illumination:
During the 1880's the Hon. Mrs. McLaren Morrison, who spent a great deal of time outside of the United Kingdom in the middle and far east, was an "importer extraordinaire" of many breeds and varieties of both cats and dogs, including, (to mention only a few) Persians and other Longhairs(via India and Afghanistan), as well as Siamese, Chinese and Japanese cats!
Certainly the demand for imports was considerable as evidenced by the large number of privately imported Siamese cats which are recorded in both the Registers of the National Cat Club and The Cat Club, as well as in the Siamese Cat Register, compiled by Major R. Sydney Woodwiss. In the latter document, there are over 50 cats which are either direct imports, or are the progeny of unidentified imported cats, between 1880 and 1920. So by the mid 1890's, direct importation was no longer a novelty and it was during this period that 'Wankee' made his appearance, being born in Hong Kong, and imported into the United Kingdom around March of 1896.
'Wankee' is one of the key progenitors of the modern Siamese breed, and from him, sprang the all the cats carrying his genes descended from 'Boojum' and 'Bandoola' through 'Prince Vudighi' and his son 'Southamption Ju-Jitsu'; and descended from 'Cairo Rameses' through, 'Ch. Kew King of Siam' and his son, ''Ch. Sancho'.
Unknown Robert, Seal Point | Unknown Wankee, Sept-28-1895, Seal Point, M | Unknown Nims, Seal Point Unknown
'Wankee' was born on 28th September, 1895, the result of a breeding supervised by Mrs. Hastings, based in Hong Kong, between his dam 'Nims' (aka known as 'Mons') and his sire 'Robert'. In The Book of The Cat Miss Forestier Walker records of 'Wankee':-
"He was bred in Hong Kong, his mother -'Nims'- being a stolen palace kitten. 'Wankee' was six months old when he arrived in England; and was born in September, 1895."1 (Editors note: This would put his date of arrival, as at March 1896).
He was imported by Mrs. Robinson, of Barons Court Road, West Kensington of whom we read the following:
"But it is chiefly as the owner of the celebrated 'Champion Wankee' that Mrs. Robinson is known in the cat fancy in general, and among Siamese breeders in particular...
"Mrs. Robinson, who is a member of the National Cat Club Committee, has frequently acted as a judge of Siamese, and has kindly written the following account for this chapter:*
"One of the most beautiful of the shorthaired cats is undoubtedly the royal cat of Siam, and the breed is greatly increasing in popularity; but is never likely to be common, as the cats are delicate in this country. The best description is that drawn up by the Siamese Cat Club, in their standard of points...
"The kittens are born absolutely white, and in about a week a faint pencilling comes round the ears, and gradually all the points come. At four or five months, they are lovely, as generally they retain their baby whiteness, which contrasts well with their almost black ears, deep brown markings, and blue eyes. Some kittens are much longer than others in getting dense, these making the lightest cats.
"This breed is said to be kept very carefully in the palace in Bangkok, -hence the title 'royal' - and is by no means the common cat of Siam. One gentleman (a missionary), who had lived there fifteen years, had during that time, seen only three. A few years ago, there was a pair of these cats in the Zoological Gardens in Bangkok, but they were very poor specimens.
"They have occasionally been given by the King as presents of great value, and several pairs have come to England in this way; also kittens have undoubtedly been stolen from the palace from time to time."1
No siblings of 'Ch. Wankee' are known.
Although he did not make his first Show appearance until June of 1898, he holds the singular distinction of being the first Siamese cat in the history of the Fancy to gain the coveted title of 'Champion', setting his name firmly down for this particularly honourable achievement, but also over time, contributing immensely to the establishment and furtherance of the breed, by being a tremendously reliable and prolific stud cat, whose progeny would in some instances travel even greater distances than that travelled by their illustrious sire, reaching to almost every conceivable corner of the globe!
Again, from Miss Forestier Walker: "He won over thirty prizes, but was never shown till June, 1898, therefore losing the time in which most Siamese cats gain their honours - namely, between six months and two years, when they are pale in colour of coat."1
On the matter of 'kinked tails' we read the following in The Book of The Cat:
"A point on which the Siamese Fancy is divided, is whether the ideal cat should have a kink in the tail or not. The Club remains neutral. Champion Wankee has a decided kink, looking, in fact, as though the tail had been caught in a door in his early youth. Tiam-O-Shian IV, on the contrary, has none."1
Mrs. Carew-Cox, also in The Book of the Cat informs us:
"Miss Forestier Walker and her sister Mrs. Vyvyan, who have owned and bred many beautiful specimens, first made their acquaintance with this breed in 1883, and soon afterwards, were presented with 'Susan' and 'Samuel', direct from the palace at Bangkok. 'Tiam-O-Shian I' also came from Bangkok. All these cats had kinked tails."1
In the register of the National Cat Club, we find the following specific wins recorded:
Two firsts, two specials and Championship, Botanic, 1898; First and Championship, Crystal Palace, 1898; 1st Championship and Pr, Botanic, 1899; First and Special, Crystal Palace, 1899.3
That 'Wankee' was both successful as a sire and that a good number of his progeny followed in his winning ways is indisputable. We can begin to look at his record by reading Frances Simpson's brief review of 'Champion Wankee' included in the list of illustrations for her book Cats and All About Them (1902):
"CHAMPION WANKEE, the noted Siamese, is owned by Mrs. Robinson of West Kensington who has always been an enthusiastic and successful breeder of Siamese. He has won over 30 prizes, and sired, among other notable kittens, Beba, Menelik, Sam Sly and Chaseley Robin, all winners of Championships."7
Interestingly, although these four are all winners of Championships, only one, 'Beba' (Biba), a daughter of 'Ch. Wankee' and 'Rynda', is to be found in any register. So in this case, rather than list his progeny by males and then females, we will list as many as we can find, by 'Dam', so that we can follow what became of the progeny. It will be noted that some of the finest Siamese queens of the era, all found their way to 'Champion Wankee'.
From: 'Asaia', owned by Mr G.Dimond, we find two kittens, with irreconcilable birthdates. These were 'Thames Valley Missus', ostensibly sired by Mrs. Robinson's 'Ch.Wankee' in the (SCR) and sired by Mr Dimond's 'Wanzies' in the (CCR). Both registers agree that the breeder was Mr. Dimond, and with 3rd August as the birth day, but the year conflicts. 1897 in the (CCR) is most likely to be the correct year as 1895, in the (SCR) predates the birth of 'Ch.Wankee'! 'Zetland Queen', for whom there is no date of birth, could quite possibly be correct as sired by 'Ch.Wankee'.2
From 'Rynda', bred by Mrs. Brodie, but owned by Mrs. Robinson, the owner of 'Ch. Wankee' , we can find three kittens, from two different verifiable birth dates. These were 'Ch. Biba', (a female), born 12th February, 1898, 'The Ranee', (a female), and 'The Begum', (a female), both born 29th April, 1903.2
From 'Klinkie', (a daughter of 'King Kesho') owned by Mrs. K.O. Chapman, we can find three kittens, all from the one litter, born 16th May, 1899. These were 'Israfil', (a male), 'Koschka, (a male), and 'Princess Neta', (a female). There is conflicting evidence as to the sex of 'Koschka' which we shall deal with separately below.2
From 'Yvette', owned by Miss Willard. From one litter, born 8th July, 1899 there are three kittens recorded. These were 'Fulmer Boo Boo', (a male), 'Boodoo', (a male), and 'Wykee', (a male).2
From: 'Ch. Eve', owned by Mrs. Backhouse, we find four kittens, but only one with a verifiable date of birth. These were 'Boojum', (a male), 'Bandoola, (a female), 'Sin Jin', (a female), and 'The Bogie Man' (a desexed male). The latter being born 7th April, 1900.2
'Prince Vudighi' , and hence, 'Boojum', 'Boojum II', 'Bandoola', 'Wankee' and 'Eve' may all be found on the pedigrees of many of today's Siamese.
From 'Polyphema', owned by Lady Vyvyan, we find four kittens, all verifiable and all born from the same litter, born 8th February, 1901. These were 'Tamagno', (a male), 'De Reske', (a male), 'Nada', (a female), and 'Van Dyke', (a male).2
From 'Jun', owned by Mrs. Parker Brough, we can find at least four verifiable kittens and one unverified. Three are registered as born 8th Jan, 1901, while the fourth appears to be from a repeat breeding, born 18th April, 1901. The unidentified kitten may not be from 'Jun' but is listed here for continuity reasons. They were, 'Cairo Cleopatra', (a female), 'Cairo Darling', (a female), 'Cairo Duro', (a female) (all born 8th Jan, 1901), followed by 'Cairo Sphinx', (a female) born 18th April, 1901. The last is 'Cairo Rameses', (a male), whom we shall treat separately, and for whom no date of birth is available.2
From 'Cora', owned by Mrs. Armitage, we can find three kittens, of which only one is recorded an official register. These were 'Chaseley Mascotte', (a female), 'Chaseley Valentine', (a male), and 'Chaseley Robin' (presumed male). The first has a recorded date of birth of 14th April, 1902.
'CHASELEY MASCOTTE' is found in the Siamese Register, compiled by Major Woodiwiss in (1924) and is the prize-winning kitten pictured in Frances Simpson's The Book of The Cat, along with her dam.2
From 'Smuttikins', owned by Mrs. L.E.Musson, two kittens, born on 12th February, 1903. These were, 'Mango', (a male), and 'Mangosteen', (a female).2
From 'Briska', owned by Miss Kemmis Betty, one kitten, born on 22nd April, 1903. This was 'XERXES' (a male), for whom there are no further records and no recorded progeny.2
The three remaining sons, none of which may be found in an official register are:
When 'Wankee' died in his 8th year, in late June of 1903, his death was reported in the 4th July 1903 issue of Our Cats, as follows:
"Mrs. M. Robinson has sustained an irreplaceable loss in the death of Ch. Wankee, the Siamese stud cat, who has been for many years a most prominent figure in the cat fancy. Mrs. Robinson has a young son of Wankee's coming on to fill his place, and meanwhile has at stud a very good Siamese from Devonshire."8
We can understand what a wrench the loss of 'Ch. Wankee' must have been. However, he was widely used and left progeny far in excess of the few we have listed here.
In fact, his kittens reached back around the globe, to as far afield as Australia, as evidenced by a report in the 3rd October, 1903 issue of Our Cats which gave a summary of a visit to the Melbourne cattery of Mrs. McLennan, in Moonee Ponds, Victoria. Although chiefly a breeder and importer of Persians, the cattery had recently been augmented by the importation of two pair of Siamese. These were sired by none other than 'Ch. Wankee' and 'Tiam O-Shian.8
In short, this modest little feline, originally imported from Hong Kong, became the first official Champion of his variety in the world. He seriously augmented the breed in the United Kingdom, and his progeny, which ventured far and wide to many shores, brought with them, the appeal and the magic of the sapphire-blue-eyed, pointed patterned, intelligent and devoted, almost dog-like feline which we today now know and respect, as the very unique 'Siamese' cat.
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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