Three Generations of Lunatic Cats: Galton’s Take on Feline Eugenics

Source: V. Stilwell-Banfield

..she had wild fits, tearing round and round the room, ‘swearing’ horribly, and fighting with teeth and claws anyone who tried to pick her up…

Source: Francis Galton.

Francis Galton, the Victorian founder of eugenics, thought that humanity could be improved through breeding the best to the best.  But eugenics was only one of his many pursuits, which also included explorations of Africa (he travelled to southern Africa and advised Speke and Burton on their travels in central Africa), fingerprints, and other interests (see references at the end of this blog, for more information on his ideas). 

In the communication that is the topic of this blog, Galton suggests that the hereditary basis of various traits – including lunacy – could be extended to cats and other animals.  As in his other work on eugenics, his analysis is based on objective indicators that could be scientifically analyzed.  The piece suggests that ‘cat-lunacy’ is highly hereditary, and that “domestic cats are subject to mental disorder which would tend to be combined, as they are in man, with vile temper and outbursts of rage.”

Below are the main portions of his communication, which informs as much about his methodology as it does about the conditions of the cats and their minders.

 Here follows descriptions of each of the seven members of the cat family being studied:




A fitting, Victorian ending to this ‘study’:  “.. the kitten was gentle and affectionate, and stood on its head and purred till it died.”

Source: all above quotes are from Francis Galton. “Three Generations of Lunatic Cats.”  The Spectator, April 11, 1896.

“Cat in an affectionate frame of mind,” by Darwin, who was a cousin of Galton.  Source:

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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