Originally called the Golden Siamese, the Tonkinese is a hybrid created by crossing Burmese with Siamese cats. While the modern Tonkinese is a “man made” breed originating in America there is evidence that it has been in the West for quite some time prior. Mr Young of Harrogate is said to have brought a Copper cat to England. This cat is described as a “chocolate variety of the royal Siamese cat, rich chocolate or seal, with a darker face, ears and tail; the legs are a shade darker which intensifies towards the feet“. In 1930, Dr Robert Thompson imported the now famous Wong Mau, who went on to become the matriarch of the Burmese. Wong Mau is the first known Tonkinese.
A Burmese breeder by the name of Milan Greer of New York decided to cross a Siamese to a Burmese to determine if the offspring would breed true. Greer mated Anyo, his male Burmese to a chocolate-point Siamese who belonged to breeders Genevieve Gibson and Helen Arthur. Five generations were produced from the resulting offspring, proving to Greer that they did indeed breed true. Once proven, he stopped breeding these “Golden Siamese” and went back to his Burmese, however, these Golden Siamese had already proven extremely popular.
Then in the 1960’s a Canadian breeder by the name of Margaret Conroy crossed a seal-point Siamese to a brown Burmese. She was trying to produce a cat which had the best traits of both breeds. It is Margaret who wrote the first breed standard for the Tonkinese and registered them with the Canadian Cat Association (CCA), which is why you may often read that the breed originated in Canada. While not technically true, Canada was the first country to register the breed.
Edith Lux is the breeder credited with changing the name from Golden Siamese to Tonkinese. Its name comes from the Gulf of Tonkin, which is close to Burmese and Thai (Siamese) territories.
The breed was accepted for championship status with the CFA in 1984.
Appearance of the Tonkinese cat:
Words used to describe the Tonkinese include medium and moderate. There is nothing extreme about the appearance of this breed. They are medium sized, with a muscular body that lacks the exaggerated length of the Siamese. They are surprisingly heavy when picked up. Legs are long and slim, with the hind legs being slightly longer than the front legs.
The head is wedge-shaped giving the appearance of an equilateral triangle. It has with a blunt muzzle, there is a slight nose break, the ears are oval shaped and reasonably large, the almond shaped eyes are blue or aquamarine in colour.
The coat is short and close lying. It feels silky and soft. The colours are midway between the Siamese and the Burmese, they have clear points but the body is darker than that of the Siamese. It can come in three patterns:
Pointed – Dark colouring on the extremeties such as face, ears, limbs and tail on a white to cream base.
Mink – This colour is an intermediate between pointed and solid. The points are still clearly visible, but the base is darker than that of the pointed Tonkinese.
Solid – The darkest of the three patterns, the solid colour is similar to that of the Burmese, with much less of a contrast between the points and the base.
The colours are referred to as mink, and the four basic colours are; Seal, Chocolate, Blue and Lilac.
The genes responsible are incomplete dominant, that is they carry both the genes for the Siamese (cs) and the Burmese (cb). So a Tonkinese genetically is cs/cb (we inherit one gene from each parent). Neither the cs (Siamese) or the cb (Burmese) is dominant over the other, hence the term “incomplete dominant”. The first generation of a Siamese/Burmese crossing will produce Tonkinese kittens (cs/cb), if those kittens are mated, the offspring may be Siamese (cs/cs), Siamese (cb/cb) or Tonkinese (cs/cb). So, if you mated a Tonkinese to a Tonkinese you would typically expect to get 50% Tonkinese, 25% Burmese and 25% Siamese.
As with most breeds, the male Tonkinese is usually larger than the female.
Tonkinese cat personality:
Tonkinese are an extremely intelligent breed of cat. They are active, playful, mischievous, friendly, and loyal. They are people oriented and don’t like to spend long periods of time on their own, so if you are out of the house a lot, they would do better with a feline companion.
They can be talkers, but not as much as their Siamese cousins with a sweet and quiet meow. They get along with people, children and other pets.
Due to their intelligence, they can be taught to do tricks such as play fetch and many are happy to walk on a lead outdoors.
We recently lost our Singapura cat, Levi, which was devastating to us all. It was decided that the perfect cat would come along when the time was right. Three weeks after Levi’s death two adult Tonkinese became available at the RSPCA. We adopted these two boys (Calvin and Norman) and they have brought us so much happiness. They are affectionate without being clingy like the Siamese can sometimes be, they are curious, independent, funny and brave. They had no problem adjusting to a house with two resident cats and two dogs. In my experience, they really do have the best of both the Siamese and the Burmese. I can highly recommend this breed to anybody, especially families, I don’t think we will ever be without a Tonkinese from now.