I read Gavin Lloyd Wilson's article about black rabbits with particular interest. It has been a subject that has been lurking at the back of my cryptozoological consciousness for some years. According to accepted wisdom, although rabbits were once native to Britain in the middle Pleistocene - as written by Sir Christopher Lever in his latest edition of The Naturalized Animals of Britain and Ireland (2009) - and although they were kept in Roman times when they were well known as a (somewhat revolting) delicacy called laurices, they were not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and appear not to have been released into the wild in this country until some time after the Norman Conquest.
Some years ago a friend of mine - the late Jane Bradley, the original CFZ art director who was tragically killed in 1995 - showed me a book on Cornish legends that had belonged to an elderly relative. In it was a claim that the rabbit had been a sacred animal to the Cornish tin miners and that like so much else of their lore it had been directly inherited from the Phoenician tin traders who plied their trade between their homeland in the Middle East and the south-western peninsular of these islands. Jane told me that her father had made somewhat of a study of such things and believed that the Phoenicians had brought wild rabbits from their homeland and introduced them to the UK at least 1,000 years before they were introduced by the Normans. He went on to say that the rabbits in the wilds of Cornwall were smaller and darker than those elsewhere in the country.
Mr Bradley is also long dead, I cannot remember the name of the folklore book and although over the years I have thought vaguely about this conundrum, I would be lying to say that I had given it any serious thought whatsoever.
Some years ago when Corinna and I went to Jersey on a sacred pilgrimage to Les Augres Manor we found a Channel Islands guidebook that claimed that the rabbits of one of the islands (I think Alderney, but as I can't find the guidebook now it is only a supposition) tend to be smaller and darker than those on the mainland, but whether there are any significant links between the Channel Islands and the Phoenician tin traders of the first millenium I know not.
Is this all just a tissue of nonsense that I got at third-hand from a long dead alcoholic, or could there actually be some small grain of truth? I give this story to you of the bloggo readership as it stands; one of those mildly intriguing little stories that has been floating around the intersteces of my mental filing cabinet for the last 20-odd years. Make of it what you will, and if anyone out there has anything to add to this story please do not hesitate to get in touch.