Manx Cats from the Past, Our Cats by Harrison Weir

From “Our Cats”  Harrison Weir, printed in 1889.



The Manx cat is well known, and is by no means uncommon. It differs chiefly from the ordinary domestic cat in being tailless, or nearly so, the best breeds not having any; the hind legs are thicker and rather longer, particularly in the thighs. It runs more like a hare than a cat, the action of the legs being awkward, nor does it seem to turn itself so readily, or with such rapidity and ease ; the head is somewhat small for its size, yet thick and well set on a rather long neck ; the eyes large, round, and full, ears medium, and rather rounded at the apex.In colour they vary, but I do not remember to have seen a white or many black, though one of the best that has come under my notice was the latter colour.



I have examined a number of specimens sent for exhibition at the Crystal Palace and other cat shows, and found in some a very short, thin, twisted tail, in others a mere excrescence, and some with an appendage more like a knob. These I have taken as having been operated upon when young, the tail being removed, but this may not be the case, as Mr. St. George Mivart in his very valuable book on the cat, mentions a case where a female cat had her tail so injured by the passage of a cart-wheel over it, that her master judged it best to have it cut off near the base. Since then she has had two litters of kittens, and in each litter one or more of the kittens had a stump of tail, while their brothers and sisters had tails of the usual length. But were there no Manx cats in the neighbourhood, is a query. This case is analogous to the statement that the short-tailed sheep-dog was produced from parents that had had their tails amputated ; and yet this is now an established breed. Also a small black breed of dogs from the Netherlands, which is now very fashionable. They are called "Chipperkes," and have no tails, at least when exhibited.

Mr. St. George Mivart further states that Mr. Bartlett told him, as he has so stated to myself, that in the Isle of Man the cats have tails of different lengths, from nothing up to ten inches. I have also been informed on good authority that the Fox Terrier dogs, which invariably have (as a matter of fashion) their tails cut short, sometimes have puppies with much shorter tails than the original breed; but this does not appear to take effect on sheep, whose tails are generally cut off. I cannot, myself, come to the same conclusion as to the origin of the Manx cat.



Be this as it may, one thing is certain : that cross-bred Manx with other cats often have young that are tailless. As a proof of this, Mr. Herbert Young, of Harrogate, has had in his possession a very fine red female long-haired tailless cat, that was bred between the Manx and a Persian. Another case showing the strong prepotency of the Manx cat. Mr. Hodgkin, of Eridge, some time ago had a female Manx cat sent to him. Not only does she produce tailless cats when crossed with the ordinary cat, but the progeny again crossed also frequently have some tailless kittens in each litter.

I have also been told there is a breed of tailless cats in Cornwall. Mr. Darwin states in his book on "The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication," vol. i. p.47, that "throughout an immense area, namely, the Malayan Archipelago, Siam, Pequan, and Burmah, all the cats have truncated tails about half the proper length, often with a sort of knob at the end." This description tallies somewhat with the appearance of some of the Siamese cats that have been imported, several of which, though they have fairly long and thin tails, and though they are much pointed at the end, often have a break or kink. In a note Mr. Darwin says, "The Madagascar cat is said to have a twisted tail." (See Desmares, in Encyclop. Nat. Mamm., 1820, p.233, for some other breeds.) Mr. St. George Mivart also corroborates the statement, so far as the Malay cat is concerned. He says the tail is only half the ordinary length, and often contorted into a sort of knot, so that it cannot be straightened. He further states, "Its contortion is due to deformity of the bones of the tail," and there is a tailless breed of cats in the Crimea. Be this as it may, we have the Manx cat now as a distinct breed, and, when crossed with others, will almost always produce some entirely tailless kittens, if not all. Many of the Siamese kittens bred here have kinks in their tails. 



The illustration I give is that of a prize winner at the Crystal Palace in 1880, 1881, 1882, and is the property of Mr. J. M. Thomas, of Parliament Street. In colour it is a brindled tortoiseshell. It is eight years old. At the end of this description I also give a portrait of one of its kittens, a tabby; both are true Manx, and neither have a particle of tail, only a very small tuft of hair which is boneless. The hind quarters are very square and deep, as contrasted with other cats, and the flank deeper, giving an appearance of great strength, the hind legs being longer, and thicker in proportion to the fore legs, which are much slighter and tapering; even the toes are smaller. The head is round for a she-cat, and the ears somewhat large and pointed, but thin and fine in the hair, the cavity of the ear has less hair within it (also a trait of the Siamese) than some other short-haired cats, the neck is long and thin, as are the shoulders. Its habits are the same as those of most cats. I may add that Mr. Thomas, who is an old friend of mine, has had this breed many years, and kept it perfectly pure.