Siamese Cats – their origin in England and link with the Gould family of Victorian Bovey Tracey
Malcolm Billinge 2018
In the 1880s the Gould family at Knowle House, Lustleigh, then in the parish of Bovey Tracey had two sons, Edward and Owen both working in the Kingdom of Siam. Edward was in the consular service and Owen in the teak-logging industry. This large and prestigious family produced other noteworthy offspring including James who became a well-respected London actor, and Lilian, one of the first women to establish a formidable scientific career in the early years of the twentieth century. Lilian’s career is described more fully on this site under The Pioneering Women of Bovey Tracey.
Siam and other lands in the Far East must have seemed exotic places for young people like Edward and Owen Gould who went there to pursue their careers. Foreign travellers would bring home keepsakes and we know that one or perhaps both of these brothers were no exception because on display at the 1890 Lustleigh Art Show was ‘Mr Gould’s exquisite collection of Siamese curios’.1
A more unusual memento involved Siamese cats and there is a legend that Edward Gould was the first person to bring a breeding pair of Siamese cats to England. He is said to have given the pair named Pho and Lia to his sister Lilian who exhibited them at the Crystal Palace.2
A Siamese Cat
The Great Exhibition of 1851 was held in Hyde Park and its Crystal Palace was moved to Sydenham in 1854.
There was a cat show at the Crystal Palace in 1871 with 200 entries including two Siamese cats that were said to be the first of the kind ever brought to this country. Edward had been out in Siam at the time but these cats were exhibited by Miss E. Maxwell of Belgrave Road, Manchester. 3 Lilian Gould was still only ten years old at the time
In May 1885 Lilian, while still living at home, offered for sale, ‘two pure-bred kittens of the very rare and curious Siamese variety marked like pug dogs, fawn coloured, with dark brown points; the first born in this country £3 each or £5 together.4
In October 1885 Lilian exhibited one Siamese cat named Duen Nagi at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in Battersea Park. This exhibition venue was more correctly termed the Albert Palace to distinguish it from the Crystal Palace at Sydenham in the area that had become known as Crystal Palace. Miss F. G. Millar also exhibited a Siamese cat at this show. There were three hundred cats on show and, ‘The cat to which the judges have awarded the honours of the show is a curious little animal named ‘Duen Nagi’ – a pure-bred Siamese, whose smoke-coloured ears and dark tail are in striking contrast with its light-coloured face and soft, cloudy, grey fur … the property of Miss Lilian Gould of Bovey Tracey.’5
Lilian married Professor Veley in 1895 and she and her husband Victor certainly did keep Siamese cats that were in all probability bred from cats brought home by her brother Edward. Before Lilian and Victor moved to London from their home in Oxford they took a neighbour to court claiming that his/her cat had attacked their own cat. Their cat was a Siamese cat and they valued it at £30 which today would equate to at least £3000. The alleged injury to their cat had only incurred a vet’s bill of 3s 6d but they made the point in court that this particular cat was a very rare variety of cat, so much so that the King of Siam had by now banned any further exportation.6
Lilian Veley [ née Gould] is said to have been the co-founder of the Siamese Cat Club in 1901, but to date no firm evidence has been found to support this.7
As a footnote, Owen Gould had two sons who were both born in Ceylon where by then he was working as a tea-planter. Both sons worked for Siam forestry firms during the inter-war years and their descendants are still living in Lustleigh.
Do you own a Siamese cat? If so would you like to send us a photograph which we would be pleased to incorporate into this article?
Did you have a Bovey Tracey forebear who worked in Siam? If so, we would be most interested in learning about them.
 Manchester Evening News 13 July 1871, p. 3.
 Western Morning News 23 May 1885, p. 2.
 Ibid. 23 May, 1885, p. 2; West London Observer 26 September, 1885, p. 6; Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 21 October, 1885, p. 4.
 Oxford Journal 10 June 1899, p. 10.
 . www.whalleybush-siamese.co.uk/history.
14 May 2018