In 1960, Miss Beryl Cox was living in Buckfastleigh, Devon, England, near an old abandoned tin mine.
A curly-coated feral tomcat was known to live around the mine, but no one had been able to capture the wild cat.
Miss Cox, a kind woman who had been crippled as a result of a war injury, gave shelter to a feral tortoiseshell and white female behind her house. When this female gave birth to kittens in her back garden, Miss Cox was not surprised to find that one of them was a beautiful, brownish-black male with lots of curls, some of which even cascaded in ringlets on his tail. It is believed that this mother was an offspring of the unnamed and untouchable tin mine troubadour, and that this litter was sired by him as well. Miss Cox, being a cat lover, decided to keep this lovely kitten who was the spitting image of his father as her own pet. She named him Kirlee.
Ten years earlier, another curly kitten had been found in Cornwall, England. This kitten was named "Kallibunker," and a group of interested breeders had been working diligently to try to establish the Rex cat as a breed. It was found through outcrossing to straight-coated cats that the gene responsible for the rexed coat mutation was a simple recessive. The first litters all yielded straight-coated kittens, but when those kittens were bred back to Kallibunker, the yield was 50% curly and 50% straight. The gene pool was tiny and the breeders were struggling to increase it.
Ten years to the day following the birth of Kallibunker, that first rex-coated kitten, an article was published in The English Daily Mirror, an English newspaper. It featured a picture of a lovely curly cat that had one eye closed and appeared to be "winking." He was touted as the only curly-coated kitten in the country. This kitten was Du-Bu Lambtex, the first rex-coated kitten to be born as a result of the concerted breeding efforts with Kallibunker. Miss Cox saw the article and wrote a letter to the breeder group stating that "Lambtex" was not the only curly coated kitten in the country, as she also had one - Kirlee. It is interesting to note that Kirlee and Kallibunker shared identical histories. Both were born from tortoiseshell and white feral cats, both had fathers that could not be positively identified above rumor, and both were single curly-coated kittens in litters of all straight-coated siblings.
The breeders in England were ecstatic over the possibility of another curly kitten. This could be just the boon that was needed to infuse life into their breeding program. Kirlee, as a supposed distantly related cat with the same spontaneous genetic mutation, would be a good outcross. Mr. Brian Stirling-Webb, a noted breeder of Rex cats and Rex rabbits, and Mrs. Agnes Watts of Du-Bu Cattery agreed that someone should go to see this kitten to confirm that he was indeed another genetic mutation with rexing of the coat. Agnes Watts and her daughter Susan made the trip to the neighboring county to see Kirlee, who was indeed a lovely rexed cat. Miss Cox was encouraged to allow Kirlee to be integrated into the current breeding program. Understanding what Kirlee could mean to the establishment of the breed, she sold her beloved pet to Mr. Stirling-Webb for 25 English pounds. Kirlee then left the county of Devon and at the request of Mr. Stirling-Webb, went to live at Darby House with Agnes and Susan Watts.
Kirlee was mated to several Rex queens and the group waited in anticipation for the kittens to arrive. The days rolled by and one by one the litters were born, but there were no curly kittens to be had in any of them. Breedings were repeated and still no curly kittens. It was a large discouragement to all. It became apparent that Kirlee did not carry the same genetic makeup as the other curly cats. After breeders accepted the knowledge that he was a definite separate genetic variation, the first rexed cats which we now know as Cornish Rex were referred to as "Gene I Rex," while the cats which we now know as Devon Rex became known as "Gene II Rex."
One member of the group, a Mrs. P. Hughes, had kept one of the straight-coated females from one of the litters that she had bred. This female was named Broughton Golden Rain. When she was bred back to Kirlee, her father, the resulting litter yielded two straight-coated kittens and, lo and behold, one curly blue-cream female. This tiny dilute girl became the first curly-coated kitten to be born from Kirlee. (Of interest, "Golden Rain," the straight coated female born out of Kirlee and a descendant of Kallibunker, was later mated to a Gene I Rex and produced a litter of two straight-coated kittens and two curly kittens. She thus became the first hybrid known to carry both Rex genes.) With this confirmation that the genetic material for the Cornwall Rex and the Devonshire Rex were not compatible, a new breed was born. The task now at hand was to proceed with diligent work to establish both Rex cats as independent breeds. Kirlee and his descendants were and are, the Devon Rex. In 1964 Kirlee was neutered and placed in a loving pet home by Mr. Stirling-Webb. Kirlee lived out a long and productive life and even continued to preside at cat shows until 1970 as the much admired original Devon. Unfortunately, Kirlee passed away in 1970 as a result of injuries suffered in a street accident.
Since the Devon Rex had such an intertwined beginning with the Cornish Rex, it is interesting to take a step back and really look at the differences between these two breeds. There are several features that set the breeds apart phenotypically as well as genetically. The coat of the feline has three different types of hair: guard hair, awn and down. The guard hair is the coarsest of the three types of hair and makes up the outer layer of a cat's coat. The Cornish has a short coat with no guard hair. This makes for the silky feel and a more orderly natural pattern to the wave. The Devon has all three types of coat hair; however, the guard hair is very sparse, short and rexed. It has a slightly denser texture and is thus responsible for the more open, billowing wave and the looser curl of the Devon coat. To pet a Rex is pure pleasure, and fortunately these curly cats love to be handled. Both breeds are very affectionate. (The Devon likes nothing better than to cuddle up right under your chin.) The Devon head is not narrow at the nose like the Cornish, but is shorter and squarer and has a definite whisker pinch. The nose also has a definite stop or change of direction where the Cornish profile sports a straight Roman nose. The Devon ears sit lower on the head and extend out to the side, while the Cornish ears are positioned higher and sit more atop the head. The Cornish is also a thin, svelte cat with an arch to its back and a definite tuck-up to its abdomen as is seen on the greyhound dog. The Devon, on the other hand, is a somewhat fuller bodied cat without the arch or tuck-up. The chest of the Devon is broad, with the legs coming off of the outside shoulder and sloping gently inward, giving the appearance of a little bulldog in stance. All in all, it seems that the only things that these two breeds do actually have in common is that they both have lovely, silky, luxurious curly coats with kinky little whiskers that are short, curly and brittle.