Posts Tagged ‘Don of Gerwn’

This dog won the retriever stake at the International Gundog League trials in 1904.

His dam was a liver flat-coat named Rust.

His sire was a yellow flat-coat named Lucifer, who was bred by none other than Dudley Marjoribanks, the 1st Baron Tweedmouth.

He was half  “golden retriever.” Golden retrievers didn’t then exist as a breed but were a type of wavy or flat-coated retriever that was starting to gain prominence.

Because of Don’s color and that of his dam, I wonder if Lucifer may have been a brown-skinned yellow. If he had been a black-skinned yellow, Don would have been black.

Of course, Lucifer could have been a black-skinned yellow that carried the brown-skinned gene, but that would mean that the majority of his litter mates would have likely been blacks.



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Don of Gerwn was out of Rust and Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer.

Don of Gerwn was out of Rust and Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer.

The winning dog was either very old or very slow, and it was not until the following year that any smart work was seen. This was done by Mr. Abbott’s Rust, whose name explains her colour and appearance; but she did some brilliant work, especially when she was set to wipe the eye of one which appeared to have a good chance until she had failed at a running pheasant, one that gave Rust no trouble whatever ten minutes later, and with so much the worse chance. Rust on that occasion was the only dog present that either by pedigree or reversion went back to the old race of retrievers….This was not all that the show men could desire, and the following year another sandy liver-coloured dog, named Mr. A. T. Williams’ Don of Gerwn, easily won first. This dog was a son of that Rust spoken of before, and his sire was a cream-coloured dog of Lord Tweedmouth’s strain—even more of a facer for the believers in exhibition dogs.

–George T. Teasdale-Buckell The Complete English Shot.

This piece tells you that golden retrievers were very much a part of Flat-coated retrievers, enough that a successful field champion could be produced by using a light gold retriever and a liver flat-coat. Don went on to win the International Gundog League’s retriever championship in 1904.  Maybe we should consider him the first 1/2 golden retriever field champion. (Cream-color does not mean “almost white” at this time period. It means light gold.)

It is also interesting that the author felt that Don, who would today be called a mongrel, had great conformation for a show dog. In an ideal world, I wish goldens and flat-coats could once again share genes, but that is no longer permissible in the current kennel club system.

This was at a time when retriever almost always meant black flat-coat in Britain. The Tweedmouth dogs were a rarity, only known to the bigwigs in the Liberal Party who shot over them, so for a liver dog with yellow sire to beat the black dogs was something of note.

Rust and Don were of the chestnut liver color. This color is a liver with a sort of reddish-tinge to it. At a distance, the dog looks a bit like an Irish setter. However, when you get close to the dog, it has distinct liver characteristics.


Another picture of one of this color can be found here.

Yellow colored dogs of any sort were usually not considered desirable in retrieverdom.  This is one of the reasons for the separation between goldens and flat-coats. The yellow dogs were not able to compete with the black ones in bench shows. The process of separating them, though, required a myth.

The origins of the Russian circus dog story can be traced to Colonel William le Poer Trench, who had his own line of goldens that came from Guisachan culls, including an “albino.” These dogs had been sold or given to ghillies around Inverness, and the Colonel purchased one off of one of these fellows. He liked the dogs a lot, and he wanted to show them. However, they were not black wavy-coated retrievers, and black was the color that judges preferred in a wavy-coated show dog. In order to make them more competitive in the ring, Trench began spinning a yarn about his yellow dogs’ origins that would force the KC to recognize them as a separate breed.

First of all, he got the head gamekeeper at Guisachan to write a letter explaining how the 1st Baron Tweedmouth had purchased a bunch of circus dogs at Brighton and bred them to bloodhounds at Guisahcan.  The keeper supplied a detailed analysis of the dogs’ origins, including photographs of a dog we know now to be Nous, a yellow wavy-coated retriever, and Nous’s progeny with a Tweed water dog. It is from that keeper’s testimony that the story of their Russian origins can be traced. The Russian dogs were said to be shepherd dogs from the Caucasus, which is about as far away from the flat-coated retriever as you can get.

In 1911 0r 1910, Trench even claimed to have gone to the “Caucasus and Siberia” in search of new blood for his retriever line, which he convinced the KC to register as “Russian retrievers.” These dogs even competed in dog shows as a separate breed against the other retrievers, including other dogs that became golden retrievers, which were being registered and shown as “Flat-coats (Yellow).”

Now, in the early twentieth century, it would take you a very long time to get from the Caucasus to Siberia, and both of those regions were thousands of miles apart in terms of distance and the type of dogs available. My guess is that he went to the Caucasus but not Siberia. He said that the farmers of the Caucasus told him that the dogs were with the sheep in the mountains for the summer, so he could not have one. I think it is also possible that he actually met one of these supposed circus dogs, and he discovered that it was not a useful retriever at all. It was the breed we call Caucasian Ovtcharka, which is a big livestock guardian dog that is used to guard against wolves. It is an independent thinking dog that is very difficult to regiment. It is also very dog aggressive, and it might be something of a hazard in a time when gentlemen friends brought their dogs together for a weekend shoot.

The Russian retrievers with their owner, Colonel Trench.

The Russian retrievers with their owner, Colonel Trench.

(The Trench strain of retrievers, the St. Huberts line, went extinct following their owner’s death in 1920. They did not contribute to the three founding lines of golden–the Ingestre, Culham, and Noranby lines.)

However, this story captured the imaginations of several golden fanciers, not the least of whom was Mrs. Winnifred Charlesworth, who was the founder of the modern golden retriever. She held onto this story, because in that story lie the ability of the golden to fully split off from the flat-coat. Its origins were not with that breed. It was its own unique retriever, entirely unrelated to any of the others. It had to be its own breed, a breed that came from the mystical far-reaches of Western Civilization, the land of the Tsar, the Volga, and vast expanses of wilderness.  The story fit perfectly with the pseudo-Romantic notions of the time period.

The story persisted until the 1952, when the Earl of Ilchester, a nephew of the 1st Baron Tweedmouth, published an article in Country Life detailing the breed’s origin using the actual kennel records from Guisachan. This article would later form the basis of Elma Stonex’s iconoclastic book that meticulously explained the origin of the breed.

So because of what amounts to a creation myth, the golden and flat-coated retrievers were split in what I call The Great Retriever Schism.

Interestingly, the debunking of the Russian circus story is the only case I can find in which a dog’s supposed origins was totally destroyed and the fanciers of this breed largely accepted those findings. People like to hold onto romance and lore a bit too much. The truth is the breed was only split off because it could not win ribbons when shown with the black dogs. It is no more Russian than the English bulldog or the Scottish collie.

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Don of Gerwn was a liver flat-coat that won the International Retriever Trial, which was run by the Retriever Society (of Great Britain). His sire was a Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer, a "cream-colored" dog. His dam was a "Rust," another reddish liver dog.

Don of Gerwn was a liver flat-coat that won the International Retriever Trial, which was run by the Retriever Society (of Great Britain). His sire was a Tweedmouth dog named Lucifer, a "cream-colored" dog. His dam was a "Rust," another reddish liver dog.

And here is another:


Photos from The Complete English Shot (1907), by George Teasdale Teadale-Buckell. (Not in Copyright).

Because this dog was 1/2 golden retriever, should we count him as the first golden retriever field champion by 1/2?

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Don of Gerwn pictured above a black flat-coat. 




The picture of Don of Gerwn comes from here — The Complete English Shot. He is not a “Liver-coloured” dog as described here, at least as how liver is described in the flat-coated retriever. His nose and eyes are clearly dark, not liver as we mean in the flat-coat. He is juxtaposed with a true black flat-coat here. He is clearly a dark red retriever (“sandy liver”), which makes sense considering he was from Tweedmouth lines. He actually reminds me of Mrs. Charlesworth’s Noranby Diana, an early show champion golden that also placed in a few trials. Black and white pictures are hard to discern, but I think it is clear that his liver color is different from liver flat-coats. His coloration could carry the pale yellow of his grandsire, Lucifer. This would also be true even if he were a true liver. 

Don was born in the earl 1900’s or late 1890’s, placing in trials 1904.

If you look at the reddish tinge that appears in many liver flat-coats and compare the darkest red golden retrievers, you can see how similar the colors are. No wonder things got so confusing at the separation.

Incidentally, I like this type of golden.  It’s a shame that we’ve decided that the Newfoundlandy type retriever excoriated in Teasdale-Buckell’s book is the only type promoted in conformation.

The most interesting thing in this book is how widely the retrievers vary in appearance. The dog called “Devil” is so different from anything I’ve seen in a retriever. He is sandy colored with “whiskers [bearding] like an otterhound.” I don’t know what the hell he was. Could someone have crossed an otterhound with a retriever or an airedale terrier (a descendant of the otterhound) with a retriever? Maybe it’s an early goldendoodle.

When you read this book closely, the golden is considered part of the flat-coated breed when the book was written. The curly is deemed ruined for working purposes. Only the Labrador and the flat-coat (including Tweedmouth’s strain of golden flat-coats) are used for hunting, because flat-coated breeders have done their best to breed out the lumber and cobbiness that plagued the breed in the 1890’s. In the book, he claims that Americans don’t use retrievers, because Americans make their pointers and setters retrieve. Perhaps true in the early twentieht century. He also describes a breed that fascinates me– the Norfolk retriever. It sounds kind of like a Chesapeake bay retriever, only smaller. He points out that Labs and flat-coats (including what became the golden retriever) were interbred.  This book is certainly a great historical document. I’m definitely going to purchase it. This is an account in which the Labrador was consider secondary to the flat-coat (including the golden) in working ability. And look at the working conformation!

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While doing some research on the history of wavy coated retrievers, I found a description of Don of Gerwn. Previously, I said that he was a black dog that carried the yellow gene. I was wrong. He is described as a “sandy liver,” which a dark gold dog. His grandsire, Lucifer, was a cream-colored dog from Tweedmouth’s strain. Don’s dam, Rust,  daughter of Lucifier, is often thought of as an early golden retriever field trial champion (one of my golden retriever books claims her).  Her color is self-explanatory– golden red.  Dark colored dogs can carry the gene that produces pale gold puppies, which will make sense when you think of the color of yellow flat-coats. 

Don of Gerwn’s progeny would later be used in the development of a standard breed that became the flat-coated retriever. This piece comes from The Complete English Wing Shot by George Teasdale Teasdale-Buckell. If you read on to the next few pages, Don was lightly built and competed better against the heavier bodied wavy-coats, which were common in some lines of the breed. He was “easily” the winner of an early trial.

This heavy body comes from the use of heavily bodied Newfoundlands– the ancestors of the modern Newfoundland dog– to produce new strains of the wavy/flat-coat breed, which became necessary when the smaller Newfoundland (St. John’s water dog) became rather rare after the Newfoundland government began to promote sheep farming over commercial fishing. The big Newfoundland was being hawked on the street as a fashionable pet at the this time. So it was used in some of those crosses. Again, the even big Newfoundland was much more retriever-like than its modern descendants, but it was not the same breed of dog used by fisherman in Newfoundland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The author argues for a body type more like Don of Gerwn and away from the heavily bodied dogs.  Perhaps we should follow this advice. I mean these early retriever people knew a lot more about retriever working conformation than dog show enthusiasts!

 A.T. Williams, Don’s owner, was an early patron of the British Retriever Society, and Don was one of the founding dogs of the flat-coat/golden retriever line. In The History of Retrievers by Charles Eely, Don’s son, Quis of Gerwn, becomes a well-kown field trial flat-coat and is actually referred to as a flat-coat. His color is not mentioned, so I am assuming that he is black. A black dog carrying the genes for both gold and cream could easily pass these onto his progeny, and this explains why most yellow flat-coats are light yellow and not golden red. From Lucifer, they get this pale gold coat. (If you read this book, politically incorrect names exist for several black dogs. Just be forewarned!)

Quis and Don were being trialed just as a growing movement appeared to make the golden retriever a separate breed.  Everyone with a brain knew that goldens were just a color variety of flat or wavy-coat, not Russian retrievers. And they were registered as such. Eventually, they were separated into different studbooks and registries. But black dogs carrying yellow genes still point to the common ancestry of the two breeds.

This post has been corrected. However, it is likely that his dam was a dark gold dog, and his grandsire was a Tweedmouth dog. Therefore, he did carry the yellow color.

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