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Posts Tagged ‘Lord Tweedmouth’

Ishbel Maria Hamilton-Gordon, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, was the daughter of the 1st Baron Tweedmouth. Besides their yellow retrievers, this family was also associated with Skye terriers.

Regular readers will know that I often reference the 1st Baron Tweedmouth, Dudley Marjoribanks, and his family. Because of the nature of this blog, I tend to focus on their retrievers. However, the family is also known for their patronage of another breed. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this family was known more for its Skye terriers than its retrievers.

Now, I have mentioned that it was the daughter of the 1st Baron Tweedmouth who introduced the golden retriever to North America. Ishbel Marjoribanks married John Hamilton-Gordon, the Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair. He would eventually become Governor-General of Canada from 1893 to 1898, and he and his wife purchased an estate in the Okanagan Valley. This estate was called Guisachan after her father’s estate in the Highlands near the small village of Tomich.

Now, I’ve mentioned all of this before on the blog, but it has always been within the context of retrievers.  However,  if Ishbel’s name had been mentioned in 1900, most of the intelligentsia would say something about her push for various reforms in Canada and probably would say something about her Skye terriers.

In Charles Henry Lane’s Dog Shows and Doggy People (1902), the section on “The Countess of  Aberdeen” discusses her patronage  of Skye terriers and also mentions how much her father loved the breed:

There is no need to tell any of my readers who have seen this lady at a show with her pets that she is a lover of animals, and I am very pleased that her chosen favourites are Drop-eared Skyes, as they will be all the better for her ladyship’s patronage and influence, and are not so much kept as they deserve.

I believe Lady Aberdeen’s love for Skyes, which was inherited from her father, Lord Tweedmouth, dates from the time of her childhood; but it is only during the last few years that any of them have been exhibited.

The accompanying portrait of the Countess in company with a number of her pets will give a better idea of what a typical lot they are than any words of mine. Some of their names are: Monarch of Haddo, Feuriach (meaning Little Squirrel), Coulaig (Little Darling), Chluarain (Thistle), Bheown (Mountain), Darkie, Fraoch (Heather), and Angus Grey, evidently for the most part names of Gaelic origin well suited to the holders of them.

The Countess is well known as a lady of culture and ability, which she has shown in the valuable help she has given her distinguished husband in carrying out the receptions and social functions connected with the high Colonial appointments he has held, and has accompanied him also in some of his sporting expeditions.

The Ladies’ Kennel Association has the advantage of Lady Aberdeen’s active patronage and support as one of their Grand Council, and she is also one of the Committee of the Ladies’ County House Club, and a representative of the National Poultry Organisation Society.

Matters intended to benefit women in all ranks of life find in the Countess no lukewarm advocate – one who can both act and speak in their favour, frequently presiding over meetings held for such purposes, both in England and Scotland, and occasionally, as at the last show in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Regent’s Park, distributing the prizes to the successful exhibitors of the Ladies’ Kennel Association.

As I have mentioned here before, drop-eared Skye terriers are very rare today. However, the Marjoribanks family had at least one of these dogs when the first litter of yellow retrievers was born at Guisachan. Here is a depiction of Mary Marjoribanks (Ishbel’s sister) with one dogs from that first litter. The dog is either Cowslip or Primrose:

The terrier on the left is a drop-eared Skye terrier. The dogs were common pets for Scottish aristocrats, and the are actually quite closely related to the Cairn terrier, which was once considered a variety of Skye.

Skye terriers are from the Hebrides, and although they were used as working terriers to bolt otters and badgers from their holts and settes, the dogs were not often worked in the nineteenth century.

This evolution from working terrier began centuries earlier. In the sixteenth century, John Caius sent a description of all sorts of British dogs to the Swiss naturalist Konrad Gessner. In his analysis, Caius described dogs very similar to the Skye-type terrier:

[L]ap dogs which were brought out of the barbarous borders from the uttermost countryes northward [such as Skye in the Inner Hebrides], and they by reason of the length of their heare, make show neither face nor body, and yet these curres forsooth because they are so strange, are greatly set by, esteemed, taken up, and made of, in room of the spaniell gentle, or comforter [the ancestral toy spaniel].

By the 1860’s, it was obvious that Skye terriers were meant to be pets. Many of these Scottish landowners were newcomers to the Highlands. The Marjoribankses  certainly were. Dudley had made his fortune as chairman of the Meux Brewery, and although a native of Scotland, he was not a Highlander. His roots were in the Borders near Berwick. The Skye terriers were thought as part and parcel of life in the Scottish Highlands. Sir Walter Scott had romanticized Scotland’s history, and many wealthy people in Britain were searching for Scottish land to call their own. Scott also kept Skye terriers (or dogs very similar to them).

It would have made sense that a family like the Marjoribankses who had come to the Highlands in search of that Scotland immortalized in Scott’s prose. In that part of Scotland, no country noble could be without a pack of Skye terriers.

Within this narrative there lies a certain irony. You’ll notice that Lane extols the virtues of the Skye terrier and laments that they are not “so much kept as they deserve.” The breed was beginning to fall from grace by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Today’s Skye terrier is a very rare breed. The KC has listed them as a Vulnerable Native Breed. In fact, on that list, the Skye is the most endangered breed, and it is estimated that this breed could become extinct within the next 40 years.

However, in 1900, no one was talking about the Marjoribankses’ other dog. If you mentioned a yellow retriever, someone would say that they exist, but they are inferior to black ones. Today, if you mention a golden retriever, I believe most people would know exactly what you’re talking about. If anyone knows anything about the Marjoribanks family, it is about their golden retrievers and their commitment to the old Liberal Party.

It is very unusual to find a family that has become associated with two different breeds of dog. It is even more unusual to see how the fortunes of these two breeds have played out in history.

Maybe in 100 years, the golden retriever will be in the same place that the Skye terrier is today.  The golden retriever is being considered to be little more than a family pet.  It won’t take centuries for the golden retriever to become nothing more than a romantic image. The Skye terrier didn’t have competitors that could easily replace them in the popular imagination of Scottish nobles. The golden can be replaced, and that is something that all people who appreciate the breed should consider.

If the Skye terrier teaches us anything, it is that breeds must be prevented from going sideways when their numbers are high enough to actually engage in real selective breeding. Once those numbers start to plummet, it is very hard to bring them back around. The time for reform is now.

If the Skye terrier fanciers had made some changes when their dogs were at the peak of their popularity, it is very likely that this breed wouldn’t be staring at a possible extinction in the very near future.

But it seems that very few dog people really look at these things until it is too late.

And that is the real shame.

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We have finally made it to the origin of the golden retriever. The golden retriever started as a line of wavy-coated retriever. (Check out part II of this series to learn about this breed).  During the nineteenth century it was commonly suggested that only black retrievers were capable of doing work. The vast majority of retrievers were black. Black early Labradors were being bred from the short-haired St. John’s Water Dog, while black wavy and curly-coats were much more common on shooting estates. The black color in retrievers is dominant, but whenever new blood from other breeds was introduced, recessive genes for other colors began to appear. Liver or chocoloate was in the original St. John’s Water dog, and most retriever breeds have this coloration– curlies, Labs, flat-coats, and chesapeakes all allow for this color and the Newfoundland comes in it, too. It was not a preferred color. Crosses with setters and yellow or reddish water spaniels introduced the recessive red color into retriever lines. This happened a lot in water spaniels because all water spaniels were deemed liver, even if they were actually genetically red dogs with brown skin pigment.  The Welsh black setter often carried a gene for red, and there are setters in the North of England and Scotland, such as the Featherstone Castle Setter, which came in pale gold. If two black retrievers were bred that carried the gene for recessive red (which is the color of all yellow or gold retievers and all red setters– Irish, gordon or otherwise), then yellow, red, or gold puppies could be born in the litters.

Such was the case of “Nous,” a wavy-coated retriever born in 1864. Here’s a picture of Nous as an old dog.

Nous is the founder of the Tweedmouth strain of wavy-coats. He resembles a modern golden retriever of the dark color almost exactly.

Nous is the founder of the Tweedmouth strain of wavy-coats. He resembles a modern golden retriever of the dark color almost exactly.

Nous was born to black wavy-coated parents belonging to Lord Chichester. The yellow or reddish pup would have probably been drowned, but the Lord gave him to a cobbler who lived at Brighton in lieu of a debt. The cobbler kept Nous at Brighton as a pet, but like many perfomance bred dogs, one can only assume that he was driving his owner crazy. When Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks saw the dog. He offered to buy him, but since it was a Sunday when he made the proposal, the actual purchase wasn’t until Monday. Nous was taken to a shooting estate called Guisachan in Inverness-shire.

Marjoribanks was a politician, a Liberal MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, and had been made a baron. His title was 1st Baron Tweedmouth, which is often incorrectly called “Lord Tweedmouth” in breed lore. He was an experienced victorian animal breeder, starting his own line of Aberdeen-Angus cattle, breeding quality setters and pointers for the grouse moors, and generally trying to improve the stock he produced of all species. He was somewhat unusual in his desire to start a line of yellow retrievers.  Yellows were deemed less trainable than blacks. However, in his plan, he had found a yellow breed to cross into his yellow retrievers that would increase their trainability.

This yellow breed was one of the “liver” water spaniels. It was actually a yellow breed with black pigment, which came from cream to tawny gold in color. It was called the Tweed Water Spaniel, and one had been procured  to breed with Nous. (Nous’s trainabilty was already evident because his name denoted his “wisdom” and “common sense.” That’s what his name means in vernacular nineteenth century English. It’s borrowed word from Greek that means “mind or intellect.”)

Here’s what Tweed Water Spaniels looked like:

This breed’s origins are unclear. Some have suggested that this breed is a mixture of every sort of dog that retrieves, including the St. John’s Water Dog, which might explain its retriever-like appearance. Collies may have been introduced to increase trainability. And golden colored setters, perhaps culls from the Featherstone Castle Line, may have been crossed in. This breed was common among fisherman living in the River Tweed valley. The River Tweed is part of the border between Scotland and England. The dog depicted above is a dark gold dog that appears “liver.” However, it has black pigmentation. This is the only depiction of this breed.

Nous was bred to one of these intelligent, working class water spaniels named “Belle.” Their offspring would start the line known as “Tweedmouth’s strain” of wavy-coated retrievers. This litter was born in 1868, meaning that the first litter of golden retrievers is older than the first registered yellow Labrador, Ben of Hyde, a dog born in 1899.

In the next installment, I will explain how the Tweedmouth strain developed, and how it affected the development of both the golden and the flat-coated retriever. I will also explain how those breeds interacted with the development of the Labrador. I will also show you some areas in the historical record in which I have some skepticism.

BTW, the records are clear that this was how the golden retriever started. There was a crazy myth that persisted until the 1950’s that the breed was descended from a Russian circus dog called a “Russian tracker” that Baron Tweedmouth bred to bloodhounds to make the retriever. This breed was said to be a sheep dog, used for guarding sheep. Russian sheepdogs are livestock guardian dogs, but they can’t be used for tracking or for retrieving game either. Crossing them with bloodhounds would be counterproductive. And none of them would be circus dog. Some early fanciers believed this so much that they registered golden retrievers as Russian retrievers, even showing them against yellow flat-coats, which were also golden retrievers.

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The owner of Zomarick golden retrievers, Djanick Michaud, put this video together. He points out how his dogs look so much like the originals. This is in French, but you don’t need to be Francophone to see the similarities.

You can visit Zomarick’s webite here. The website is in both English and French, and all of his dogs have hunting titles and working certificates or are working on them.

In a post coming soon, I will talk about how goldens evolved into several different types. The working type most closely resembles the orginal dogs. If the dog business was about “original intent,” we would be able to preserve so much of our dogs’ working abilities and working conformation, which is different from show conformation. Of course, I don’t think rational people think we should maintain the old fighting bull terrier of yore, simply because its original ability was used for something barbaric.

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