Origin: Thailand (Siam)
Colour: Many Colours
The best known of the ancient cats of Siam, it appears in The Cat Book Poems written some time between 1350 and 1767 (most probably in the 1500s) in the old Siamese capital of Ayudhya. It is depicted as a pale-coloured cat with black tail, ears, feet and lower face.
Domestic Breed. The best known of the ancient cats of Siam, it appears in The Cat Book Poems written some time between 1350 and 1767 (most probably in the 1500s) in the old Siamese capital of Ayudhya. It is depicted as a pale-coloured cat with black tail, ears, feet and lower face.
Known as the Vichien Mat, it was only one of seventeen varieties that appeared in the poems. It later acquired the name 'Siamese' (rather than a more specific title) because it was the first, and most strikingly unusual one to be seen in the West. Because of its traditional association with Siamese royalty, it has sometimes also been called 'The Palace Cat', 'The Royal Siamese', or 'The Royal Cat of Siam'. In France is it known as the Siamois; in Germany as the Siamkatzen; and in Holland as the Siamees.
Appearance: The blue-eyed Siamese has a highly characteristic shape, being slim, elongated and angular. The earliest examples of this breed to reach the West had two additional, unusual features: a crooked, kinked tail and inward-squinting eyes. Both these features were soon removed by selective breeding. The angularity of the breed, on the other hand, has been retained and greatly exaggerated during recent times, creating an extreme type of Siamese which some feel has moved too far from its original form.
The diagnostic feature of the Siamese Cat has always been its unique coat pattern. The body of the animal is light in colour, but its extremities are dark. This configuration, referred to a 'colourpoint' pattern, or 'points' pattern, develops in an unusual way. To understand this, it is best to think of this cat as a dark-coated animal carrying a gene which inhibits the pigmentation of its fur if its body temperature rises above a certain level. So, where the cat's surface is coolest - on its extremities - the pigment is able to develop normally. But where its surface is hottest - around the main trunk of its body - the pigment is unable to develop and the coat remains pale.
Needless to say, when Siamese kittens are born, emerging from the heat of the womb they are hot all over and therefore pale all over. But then, as they grow older, their extremities gradually become cooler and darken. In elderly Siamese, the whole body becomes slightly cooler and all the fur then darkens a little.
It is easy enough to confirm that the fur of the Siamese is temperature-dependent. Any Siamese that has, say, a foot injury which needs bandaging for a long period of time, will eventually show a pale foot where the bandages increased the heat of that extremity. Any Siamese that suffers a high-temperature fever will also eventually develop paler fur.
Legends: There are several popular fables connected with the special features of the Siamese Cat:
(1) The kinked tail and the squinting eyes of this breed, which so intrigued those who first encountered the early specimens, are said to be the result of escapades of an intoxicated monk. This particular monk, who served in a temple that housed a golden goblet once used by the Great Buddha, was in the habit of disappearing for days on end, leaving his pair of Siamese Cats to guard the sacred goblet.
Eventually the male Siamese decided to seek a replacement for the monk and set out in search of another holy man. The female Siamese Cat stayed behind to guard the precious goblet on her own and she stared at it so hard and so long that she developed a permanent squint. As the days passed she became so exhausted that she wrapped her tail around the goblet and sank into a deep sleep. When the male cat finally returned with a new monk, they found the female, still protecting the goblet, but now surrounded by a litter of five kittens, all with crossed eyes and kinked tails.
(2) The kinked tail was the result of a Buddhist monk tying a knot in his cat's tail to prevent him from forgetting something important.
(3) The kinked tail was the result of a Royal Princess, preparing to bathe in a stream, threading her rings on her cat's tail and then tying a knot in its tip to stop them sliding off.
(4) A variant of this last story omits the tying of the knot. In this version it is the cat itself that deliberately kinks its own tail to prevent the loss of its mistress's rings.
(5) The blue eyes of the breed were gained as a result of the devoted courage of these cats when defending a sacred altar. When raiders had driven the priests from their temple, the intruders were confronted by menacing cats, sitting on the altar steps.
Frightened of the teeth and claws of the loyal felines, they left the altar untouched. When the priests were able to return to the temple, they marvelled at the cats' loyalty and from that day forward, the fiery red of the animals' eyes was turned into a heavenly blue, reflecting the way in which they has served heaven in their stand against the barbarians.
History: There are five theories concerning the possible origin of this ancient breed:
(1) The Siamese is descended from an oriental wild cat species, thus giving it a different zoological origin from all other domestic cats and thereby explaining its striking differences in voice and personality. Although this has been put forward as a serious suggestion as recently as 1992, there is no scientific evidence to support it.
(2) Egyptian traders took their domestic cats with them to the Far East, where they developed directly into the Siamese breed, without any European influence on the way.
This direct route might be sufficient to explain the special features of the breed.
(3) An extremely rare and greatly prized, pure white cat was given to the King of Siam as a special gift and from this animal the Siamese breed was developed by crossings with the dark-furred temple cats.
(4) During the victory of the Siamese and Annamese people over the Cambodian Empire of the Khmers about three hundred years ago, Annamese Cats were imported into Siam, where they crossed with specimens of the Sacred Cat of Burma to produce what we now call the Siamese Cat.
(5) Centuries ago, a natural mutation occurred in the local cats of Siam in which an all-over dark brown coat became temperature-dependent in such a way that it resulted in a dark-pointed pattern.
In the absence of any hard evidence, it is impossible to decide between these five alternative theories, and it is unlikely that we will ever know, with complete certainty, the true origin of this breed of cat.
It is often stated that the Siamese Cat was of such elevated status that it was confined solely to the Royal Palace of the King of Siam and that the theft of one was punishable by death. Such a strict degree of confinement is certainly an exaggeration. A modified view suggests that this type of cat was also present in many princely homes, in the mansions of the Siamese aristocracy, and in the precincts of the sacred temples. This view insists that, although it may not have been an exclusively royal cat, it was nevertheless a cat of high social standing.
According to one frequently repeated tale, the role of this breed was not merely to rid the palaces and mansions of rodents, but to provide a repository for the souls of the human occupants when their earthly lives ended. When a member of the royal family died, one of their favourite cats would be entombed with them. This was not as cruel as it may sound because there were a number of holes in the roof of each tomb, through which an athletic feline could make its escape. When it did so, it was considered that the dead person's soul was now successfully reincarnated in the cat.
In this sacred role the animal was said to have played a vital part in the religious lives of the people and, for this reason, it was supposed to be highly unusual for a foreign visitor to be allowed to take away any Siamese cat. Only if it was felt necessary to pay some great tribute to honour a foreigner, would one of these cats be offered as a special gift. It followed that, if this were true, the number of these cats leaving the country was extremely small.
There are early records of occasional ones being exhibited as curiosities at European Zoos. And we know that a few must somehow have been obtained as pets because of their presence at the very first of the British cat shows, held in 1871. Unfortunately there are no detailed records of these cats. How they came to be there remains a mystery.
Part of the problem with these very first references to Siamese Cats is that, at that time, individual animals were often named by their country of origin. In other words, a 'Siamese Cat' would simply mean one that came from Siam, without saying anything about its appearance. The earliest confirmation we have of the exhibition at a cat show of a true Siamese, with typical coat pattern, dates from 1879, when an article in the London Daily Telegraph refers to a 'couple of juveniles of Siamese extraction, with black muzzles, ears, feet and tail setting off a close yellowish drab coat....the exhibitor of these curiosities being a Mrs Cunliffe-Lee.'.
The next specific reference to the breed appears in St George Mivart's classic work on feline anatomy The Cat, published in 1881. There he mentions that: 'The Royal Siamese Cat is of one uniform fawn colour, which may be of a very dark tinge. There is a tendency of a darker colour about the muzzle...It also had remarkable blue eyes [and] a small head.'
A little later we have the following comment from Harrison Weir in 1889: '...it will be seen how very difficult it is to obtain the pure breed, even in Siam, and on reference to the Crystal Palace catalogues from the year 1871 to 1887, I find that there were fifteen females and only four males, and some of these were not entire; and I have always understood that the latter were not allowed to be exported, and were only got by those so fortunate as a most extraordinary favour, as the King of Siam is most jealous of keeping the breed entirely in Siam as royal cats.'
In fact, the first fully documented case of the export of a Royal Siamese bears out Weir's words, for it was a special gift to the White House in Washington. It was a present for Lucy Webb Hayes, the wife of the American President, from David Stickles, the American Consul in Bangkok. A female called Siam, she started her long sea journey in 1878 by being sent from Bangkok to Hong Kong. From there she was shipped to San Francisco after which she had to travel by land right across America.
Arriving at the White House early in 1879, she did not survive long. She fell ill in September of the same year and died in October, despite being offered the finest cuisine the White House kitchens could provide. In her short spell at the presidential home she did, however, become immensely popular and created great interest in this exotic new breed.
The earliest properly documented case of Siamese Cats being exported to the Britain dates from the year 1884, when Mr Edward Blencowe Gould, an Acting Vice-Consul (not the Consul General as usually stated) at Bangkok, acquired a pair. It is claimed that he obtained them directly from King Chulalongkorn (who ruled from 1868 to 1910 and who was the son of the King of Siam so well known in the West as the central figure in the musical The King and I). Apparently, when the Vice-Consul paid his farewell call on the King, he was offered any gift he liked from the Royal Palace, to take away with him. He chose a pair of the magnificent royal cats. The king was dismayed, but reluctantly honoured his obligation.
Some authors take a sceptical view of this incident, viewing it as pure invention designed to add glamour to the new breed. Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald flatly rejects it with the words: 'We can dismiss the "direct gift from the King" story straightaway.'. Milo Denlinger is particularly scathing: 'There is no record that Mr Gould, himself, claimed that these two cats were a present, reluctantly made to him, by the King of Siam, but much romantic drivel has been printed about his difficulty in obtaining them. It seems more likely that they were merely purchased at some bazaar in Bangkok, like any other commodity.'
A partial confirmation of this unromantic view is to be found in a letter written by Gould's sister, Mrs Lilian Velvey, for whom the cats were a gift. Many years later, in 1930, she wrote: 'It is curious to note now that my original queen, Mia, a very beautiful cat, only cost my brother three ticals or about 7/6d.' However, although this seems to destroy at least half the legend, it should be remembered that no mention is made in this letter concerning the male cat, who was called Pho. So it is still possible, though unlikely, that Gould did acquire the male from the King and then purchased the female from a less noble source to make up a breeding pair.
However he obtained them, we do know that the Vice-Consul gave these two cats to his brother, Owen Gould, who brought them to England as a gift for their sister. These are the oldest 'official' Siamese and are recorded as 1a and 2a in the Siamese Cat Register. They produced a litter and the kittens, who were given the exotic names of Duen Ngai, Kalahom and Karomata, were exhibited by Mrs Velvey at the 1885 Cat Show at Crystal Palace, where they enjoyed great success, winning both the 'best shorthaired cat' prize and the 'best cat in show', out of 480 entries. This created a huge demand for Siamese Cats and, in the final decade of the nineteenth century, the royal embargo (if it ever existed) was weakened and many more were imported and shown. Mrs Velvey herself was involved in the importation of many of these Siamese between 1885 and 1890, a fact that is perhaps not entirely unrelated to the report that her brother, the Consul, had by then built his own cattery in Bangkok.
Despite Mrs Velvey's triumph in 1885 (or perhaps because of it), when more Siamese Cats began to appear at cat shows in Britain, they met with a mixed reception. One critic, who had seen the breed at one of the first exhibitions, had called it 'an unnatural nightmare kind of cat'. Another, writing in a magazine in 1889 commented that 'all our informants agree in confessing that almost any other cat is pleasanter and safer to live with.'. However , Harrison Weir, who organized the early shows declared (also in 1889) that: 'Among the beautiful varieties of the domestic cat brought into notice by the cat shows, none deserve more attention than "The Royal Cat of Siam".'
In January 1901, the Siamese Cat Club was formed to promote and protect the breed. Without delay, its members contacted the Siamese Legation in London to find out a little more about their favourite feline. The Legation's reply, dated 17th September 1901, held a few surprises for them: '...the fawn-coloured animal with the dark points and blue eyes is rare in all parts of the country. In Bangkok because there are more leisured people who can devote time to hobbies of the sort, these cats are bred a good deal....The King of Siam does not keep any special breed, nor are there any specially preserved in his palace...There is no Royal Cat of Siam....Nor does any religious sanctity attach to any cat of Siam....These ideas have probably arisen from the fact that the Siamese generally are fond of animals, cats included.'
If these statements are true, and not merely the unverified comments of a snobbishly dismissive Legation bureaucrat, then they contradict all the earlier stories concerning the exotic background of this breed. A similar and equally unromantic view was offered thirty years later by a Dr Hugh Smith: 'I was well acquainted with cats in Siam...There are no 'palace' cats...There are no 'royal' cats....Any person can have a Siamese Cat, and as a matter of fact there are many people outside the palaces and many foreigners who keep such cats as household pets...There are no 'temple' cats...'.
However, whether true or not, these negative comments had little impact on the cat world and were soon forgotten. The romantic legends of the Siamese Cat, both regal and sacred, stubbornly survived and are still being told re-told to this day.
For those who find the unromantic dismissals depressing, there is a glimmer of hope in remarks made by a Mr. A.N.M. Garry who, in 1930, visited Siam and remarked that: 'Having been a contemporary of the then King [of Siam] at Eton, I got a special permit to see the Bangkok Palace...and I saw one or two of these 'Royal' cats...'. So perhaps there was something feline in the Royal Palace, after all. And a Major Walton of the Rice Purchasing Commission, who became a personal friend of the Prince Regent of Siam in the 1940s, tends to confirm this because, before leaving Siam, he was presented with a pair of Siamese as a special gift from the Prince Regent. This again suggests that the breed had some sort of royal connections. But more solid, historical evidence is needed before we can be sure of this.
Returning to the earlier days of the cat fancy, At the very end of the nineteenth century, a few of the famous European Siamese Cats found their way across the Atlantic . Under the aegis of Mrs Clinton Locke of Chicago, the 'Mother of the American Cat Fancy', they were soon appearing in cat shows there, also with great success. In 1899 she founded the Beresford Cat Club, and in the club's first stud book published in 1900, the first two American Siamese Cats recorded were a champion male called Siam and a female called Sally. Their full names were Lockhaven Siam and Lockhaven Sally Ward, which indicates that they were owned by Mrs Locke herself.
Among these early Siamese there was a high mortality. Despite this, rich Americans were paying as much as $1000 at the turn of the century to import a British-bred Siamese Cat. Translated into today's monetary value, this would make an early Siamese one of the most expensive felines of all time. Presumably this also gave them a certain glamour and they soon became favourites in American high society. By 1909 the Siamese Cat Society of America had been formed and the breed was firmly established as an important new type of show cat.
From that point onwards, on both sides of the Atlantic, the Siamese went from strength to strength. Throughout the twentieth century its popularity has continued to spread world-wide as it has progressed to become one of the most celebrated of all pedigree breeds.
Personality: Terms used to describe this breed include: unpredictable, demanding, noisy, thieving, mischievous, determined, lively, active, agile, demonstrative, domineering, graceful, loyal, affectionate, devoted, intelligent and resourceful.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Siamese, that sets it apart from other breeds, is its voice. No other cat is quite so noisy. As one owner commented plaintively: 'He is so vocal with his incessant yowling and mewing that he drives a person forced to listen to him almost to distraction. He talks all the time he is awake...with his raucous and always persistent voice. There are frequent alterations in the tone, pitch, timbre and volume of that voice...'. For some this may be an irritant, but for many Siamese owners it is one of the qualities that helps to give this unusual breed its unique charm.
Several authors have referred to the Siamese as 'more like a dog than like a cat'. Although this is an exaggeration, it is fair to say that, of all the various cat breeds, the Siamese is the one nearest to the dog in personality.
Colour forms: When it first arrived in the West, the Siamese Cat displayed only one colour pattern: Seal Point. This was to be the only colour form recognized for half a century - from 1871 until the 1930s. Even today, when there are many different variants, it has remained in the public mind as 'the' Siamese colour.
The history of the development of the other Siamese colours is complex. In the early days, when a variant occurred, it was usually written off as 'poor seal'. From time to time, however, a particular breeder would become attached to one of these alternative colour forms and start a serious breeding programme. Then, after a while, the variant would be given official recognition and become registered as a distinct breed. For example, the Blue Point, first noticed as early as 1894, was not recognized as a breed by the GCCF until 1936. (In America it was recognized a little earlier, in 1932.) Another early variant, the Chocolate Point was not given official blessing until 1950. The Lilac Point had to wait until 1960. (To avoid confusion, it should be mentioned that the Lilac Point had already been accepted in America in 1954 under the title of Frost Point.)
The Tabby Point, mentioned as early as 1902, was finally recognized in 1966, along with the Cream Point, Red Point and Tortie Point. However, these four breeds (and other, later ones) are not considered as true Siamese in the United States. There, they are called Colourpoint Shorthair Cats. (For details see separate entry.)
In recent years many other colour combinations have been added until, today, there is a huge variety from which to choose, including the following:
GCCF: Seal Point; Chocolate Point; Blue Point; Lilac Point; Cinnamon Point; Caramel Point; Fawn Point; Seal Tabby Point; Blue Tabby Point; Chocolate Tabby Point; Lilac Tabby Point; Red Tabby Point; Cream Tabby Point; Cinnamon Tabby Point; Caramel Tabby Point; Fawn Tabby Point; Seal Tortie Tabby Point; Blue Tortie Tabby Point; Chocolate Tortie Tabby Point; Lilac Tortie Tabby Point; Cinnamon Tortie Tabby Point; Caramel Tortie Tabby Point; Fawn Tortie Tabby Point; Red Point; Seal Tortie Point; Blue Tortie Point; Chocolate Tortie Point; Lilac Tortie Point; Cinnamon Tortie Point; Caramel Tortie Point; Fawn Tortie Point; Cream Point.
CFA: Seal Point; Chocolate Point; Blue Point; Lilac Point.
This is undoubtedly the most extensively documented of all breeds.
1907. Rideout, H.M. The Siamese Cat. McClure, Phillips, New York. (Fiction)
1928. Underwood, L. The Siamese Cat. Brentano, New York. (Fiction)
1929. Morse, E. The Siamese Cat. Dutton, New York. (Juvenile)
1934. Wade, P. The Siamese Cat. Methuen, London.
1935. Becker, M.L. Five Cats from Siam. McBride, New York. (Juvenile)
1947. Sim, K. These I Have Loved. London. (Anecdotal)
1949. Joseph, M. Charles. The Story of a Friendship. London (Anecdotal)
1950. France, S. W. Siamese Cats. Cats and Kittens Publications, Derby.
1950. Hart, E. A. Practical Handbook of the Siamese Cat. Privately Printed, London.
1950. Holdworth, I. Little Masks. London. (Anecdotal)
1950. Lauder, P. Siamese Cats. Williams and Norgate, London.
1950. Tenent, R. The Book of the Siamese Cat. Rockliff, London.
1950. Tute, W. Chico. London. (Anecdotal)
1950. Williams, K.R. The Breeding and Management of the Siamese Cat. Williams, London.
1952. Baker, H.G. Your Siamese Cat. Verschoyle, London.
1952. Denlinger, M.G. The Complete Siamese Cat. Denlinger's, Richmond, Virginia.
1953. Lauder, P. New Siamese Cats. Williams and Norgate, London.
1956. Anon. Siamese Cats as Pets. TFH, New Jersey.
1956. Nelson, V.M. Siamese Cat Book. All-Pet Books, Wisconsin.
1958. Chetham-Strode, W. Three Men and a Girl. London (Anecdotal)
1960. Colfer, E. Cucumber. USA. (Anecdotal)
1960. Van der Meid, L.B. Siamese Cats. Sterling, New York.
1960 Williams, K.R. Siamese Cats. Foyle, London.
1962. Eustace, M. Cats in Clover. Michael Joseph, London. (Anecdotal)
1963. Lauder, P. Siamese Cats. Ernest, Benn, London.
1963. Roth, B. Beulah. The Cosmopolitan Cat. New York. (Anecdotal)
1963. Smyth, J. Beloved Cats. London. (Anecdotal)
1964. Naples, M. This is the Siamese Cat. TFH, New Jersey.
1964. Warner, E.R. Siamese Summer. Viking, New York. (Juvenile)
1967. Hindley, G.Siamese Cats Past and Present. The Wharf, Goldaming, Surrey.
1968. Denham, S. and Denham, H. The Siamese Cat. Arco, London.
1968. Eustace, M. The Royal Cat of Siam. Pelham Books, London.
1971. King, F.D. Siamese Pussies. Stockwell, Ilfracombe, Devon. (Juvenile)
1971. Lauder, P. The Siamese Cat. Batsford, London.
1974. Lauder, P. The Batsford Book of the Siamese Cat. Batsford, London.
1974. Dunhill, M. The Siamese Cat Owner's Encyclopedia. Pelham Books, London.
1975. Eustace, M. A Hundred Years of Siamese Cats. Research Publishing, London.
1976. Stranger, J. Kim. The True Story of a Siamese Cat. London.
1981. Reagan, R. Siamese Cats. TFH, New Jersey.
1983. Dunhill, M. Siamese Cats. Batsford, London
1989. Naples, M. A Step-by-Step Book about the Siamese. TFH, New Jersey.
1992. Collier, M.M. The Siamese Cat; A Complete Cat Owner's Guide. Barron's, Hauppauge, New York.
1993. Burns, B.S. All About Siamese Cats. TFH, New Jersey.
1995. Franklin, S. The Complete Siamese. Ringpress Books, Gloucester.
National Siamese Cat Club. 5865 Hillandale Drive, Nashport, OH 43830, USA.
Siamese Cat Association, which publishes a Journal. Address: Wrenshall Farmhouse, Walsham Le Willows, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP31 3AS, England.
Siamese Cat Club, one of the oldest of all breed clubs, was founded in 1901. It issues a twice-yearly Newsletter. Address: Fistral, 10 Noak Hill Close, Billercay, Essex, CM12 9UZ, England.
Siamese Cat Society of America. Publishes a Siamese News Quarterly. Address: 304 S.W. 13th St., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315, USA.
Siamese Cat Society of the British Empire. Woodlands Farm, Bridford, Exeter, Devon, EX6 7EW, England.
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