The story of the Cornish Rex begins in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. On 21st July, 1950 a tortoiseshell cat by the name of Serena & owned by Mrs Nina Ennismore gave birth to a litter of five kittens. One red & white coloured kitten in this litter had an unusual curly coat. The kitten was named Kallibunker (Kalli)& was to become the founder of the Cornish Rex breed.
Nina Ennismore’s veterinarian suggested she contact geneticist A C Jude. He advised she mate Kallibunker back to his mother. This mating produced three kittens. A straight coated female & two curly coated males. Sadly, one of the males died at 7 months of age, but the second male named Poldhu (along with Kallibunker) went on to sire further litters. The early Cornish Rexes were outcrossed to domestic cats.
This is where the history of the breed temporarily splits:
Cornish Rex in the UK
Sadly in 1956 due to financial costs & a large population of 40 cats, Nina Ennismore had a number of her cats put to sleep, including Kallibunker & his mother Serena.
By the late 1950’s Nina Ennismore had stopped breeding Cornish Rexes. Brian Sterling-Webb continued to work with the breed. By this time, there were only two male Cornish Rexes left in Britain. One of whom was Poldhu. He was a tortoiseshell blue-cream-and-white male. This is rare in males & when it does occur they are almost always sterile. A veterinarian took a tissue sample from Poldhu for research, unfortunately he was accidentally castrated. Ironically, the tissue samples taken from Poldhu were lost. It is now believed that Poldhu was a chimera.
This left one remaining male Cornish Rex in Britain, Sham Pain Chas. Due to heavy outcrossing, the Cornish was losing it’s slender type. The great-great-great grandson of Kallibunker, a blue boy by the name of Rio Vista Kismet & bred by Miss Jeanne Jeffrey of Calgary, was imported from Canada by Mrs Alison Ashford. Kismet managed to enable breeders to bring back the Cornish Rex to it’s original “slender” type.
Cornish Rex in the USA
In 1956, Life magazine published an article on Cornish Rexes which generated much worldwide attention and the following year Frances Blancheri of California imported Lamorna Cove. She was pregnant by her father Poldhu at the time. She went on to have a litter of 4 kittens. In 1960 to celebrate 10 years of the Cornish Rex The Daily Mirror ran an article on the breed, with a photo of a winking kitten. The article said that the kitten (Du-Bu Lambtex) was the only curly coated kitten in Britain. A lady by the name of Miss Beryl Cox contacted the paper to say that she too had a curly coated cat named Kirlee. Believing that Kirlee also carried the Cornish Rex gene, Brian Sterling-Webb arranged for Kirlee to be sent to Cornwall to be a part of the breeding programme.
When mated to several Cornish Rex females the offspring came out straight coated. It was concluded that Kirlee’s mutation was different to that of the Cornish Rex & the two recessive genes were named: Gene 1 (Cornish Rex) & Gene 2 (Devon Rex).