Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Jack Black (rat catcher)

Jack Black was rat catcher and mole destroyer by appointment to Her Majesty Queen Victoria during the 1860s. Black cut a striking figure in his self-made "uniform" of scarlet topcoat, waistcoat and breeches, with a huge leather belt inset with cast-iron rats. Black was, amongst other things, an accomplished dog breeder. He is quoted in Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, Vol. 3 as saying: "I had a little rat dog--a black tan terrier by the name of Billy which was the greatest stock dog in London of that day. He was the father of the greatest portion of small black tan dogs in London now. I've been offered a sovereign per pound (in weight) for some of my little terriers, but I wouldn't take that price, for they weren't heavier than two or three pounds. I once sold one of the dogs to the Austrian Ambassador...My terrier dog was known to all the London fancy. As rat-killing dogs, there's no equal to that strain of black tan terriers."

Jack Black had another interesting sideline. When he caught any unusual coloured rats, he bred them, to establish new colour varieties. He would sell his home-bred domesticated coloured rats as pets, mainly, as Black observed " well-bred young ladies to keep in squirrel cages." Beatrix Potter is believed to have been one of his customers, and she dedicated the book Samuel Whiskers to her rat of the same name. The more sophisticated ladies of court kept their rats in dainty gilded cages, and even Queen Victoria herself kept a rat or two.

It was in this way that domesticated--or fancy--rats were established, though the fancy proper did not begin until Mary Douglas asked for permission from the National Mouse Club to bring her pet rats to an exhibition at the Aylesbury Town Show on October 24, 1901. Her black and white hooded Rattus norvegicus won "Best in Show," and the Rat Fancy was formally launched.

The original Rat Fancy lasted until 1931, as part of the National Mouse and Rat Club. The modern Rat Fancy was revived in 1976 with the formation of the National Fancy Rat Society, and the fancy spread around the world. Nowadays, fancy rats are accepted as perfectly normal pets and exhibition animals.