Pussy galore: The first ever Christchurch cat show

Papers Past, the New Zealand online newspapers resource, holds many treasures, not the least of which are articles on the pressing cat news of 19th century Christchurch.

The Christchurch Poultry, Pigeon, Canary and Cat Association

When perusing Papers Past the other week I came across a reference to the Christchurch Poultry, Pigeon, Canary and Cat Association. This sounded like a recipe for disaster to me, and I had visions of yowling kitties, squawking birds, and fur and feathers flying. I dug a little further, concerned for for our feline and feathered friends. 

It turns out that the Poultry, Pigeon and Canary Association had been around, under various titles, since the 1860s showing cocks and hens. In 1884 they decided to hold a cat show, and shortly after, in a general meeting held at Warner's Hotel, the word cat was added to the association's title.

Crystal Palace Cats

The first ever cat show, internationally, was held in the Crystal Palace in London in 1871 and by 1884 the Poultry, Pigeon and Canary Association decided they wanted a bit of the action, as they knew "that a number of fancy cats, in addition to several fine specimens of the ordinary cat, are in various households of Canterbury." 

This was certainly the first dedicated cat show in Christchurch and possibly in New Zealand - please let us know if you know! 

The Show

The cat show was well advertised and took place on the second day of the Seventeenth Grand Annual Exhibition of the Christchurch Poultry, Pigeon and Canary Society, held at the Oddfellows Hall on Lichfield Street. There was a good turn out for this "mustering of 'pussies'", and the following day, 4th July, both the Lyttelton Times and and Press had full reports detailing Christchurch's prize-winning moggies.

The judges were Mrs Catherine Lucy Innes and Mrs Mary Eliza Dampier-Crossley of Brockenhurst, Woodend (who was also showing in the Angora class, which seems a little dodgy), and there were 12 classes based on breed - Persian, Brown Tabby, French, black etc - plus heaviest cat (for which my own cat, Neville, would have been a shoo-in). The cat of the show was Toby, belonging to Mrs Hamer of Rangiora. She was a pure breed tortoiseshell and had won prizes at Crystal Palace, but in this competition was shown in a open class, which she won.

There was also a sniff of controversy - the Star reported that "one jocular gentleman had apparently been endeavouring to produce a tri-coloured cat by the aid of Judson's Simple Dyes". Thankfully this subterfuge was spotted. All in all it was agreed that the show was a success and more were held in following years in tandem with the bird shows. The Press did hope that in future the show would be held in "a larger and better lighted room, where the result will be still more satisfactory".

I certainly enjoyed this Papers Past fuelled dip into the feline history of Christchurch. Whatever will we find next?

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