Good Reading : April 2013
The canary must have sparked memories for Cayley. His home town of Norwich had long been renowned for its large canaries, and in the 1870s there were thousands of canary breeders in the area. Across England, many shops, factories and homes kept the singing cagebirds. It seems likely that Cayley would have attended the British National Cagebird Show of 1873, held in Norwich, which attracted a huge crowd. The exhibits of a local breeder, Edward Bemrose, caused a sensation. His canaries were luminous orange, the colour of marigolds. Bemrose claimed that he had developed the birds through selective breeding. There were skeptics and not without reason – purchasers of the songsters found that the birds’ colour faded after the autumn moult. Yet the birds had not been dyed. By the end of the year an employee had sold Bemrose’s secret for 50 pounds. Bemrose came clean, publishing an article entitled ‘How to Obtain High-coloured Canaries’ in the December issue of The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, revealing that he had fed the birds red peppers. ‘Colour feeding’ was briefly regarded as cheating, but soon everyone was doing it to improve the fancy. Although it was not realised at the time, Bemrose’s discovery was early evidence that nurture, as well as nature (genetics), had a role to play in the expression of characteristics such as colour. 51 Neville Henry Cayley, Black Duck c 1896 This image of a black duck, hanging suspended midair at the moment it is shot, was Cayley’s best known work, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased the first version of it, painted in 1890. Cayley made several versions – variously titled Dues, Hard Hit and, perhaps coined by cataloguers, Shot Duck. The work spawned similar images of other hunted waterfowl, including snipe, godwits and mountain ducks.