Posts Tagged ‘Smoaker’

This dog was owned by Grantley Berkeley and was painted by Abraham Cooper, who, as a young man, worked for Sir Henry Meux. Meux owned the Meux Brewery in London, which Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, purchased from him. One of Meux’s black retrievers appears in the pedigrees of the retrievers kept at Guisachan, so this unusual retrieving greyhound did have some interesting connections. (Meux is pronounced “Myooks.”)

Cooper was famous as painter of dogs and horses, and Smoaker was far from the only retriever he painted.

On the occasion of Smaoker’s death in 1832, Cooper describes him in a letter to the editor The New Sporting Magazine:

Mr. Editor,

I Was much grieved to read in your last number an account of the death of the Hon. Grantley Berkeley’s dog Smoaker, whose performances I have frequently witnessed—and very clever they were; added to which, a more magnificent animal was never seen, especially when employed as a retriever. The style with which he took his fences, clearing the highest at a single bound, cannot be surpassed.

The first time I saw him do this, was one day when out shooting with the Hon. Moreton and Grantley Berkeley, at Cranford, when,having just killed a cock pheasant, Mr. G. B. exclaimed, ” Now, Cooper, if you wish to see something beautiful, and worthy a painter’s notice, observe Smoaker as he comes out of the cover with your bird;” and it certainly was a treat; the rich and varied plumage of the pheasant, contrasted with the white colour of the dog, and the whole so admirably relieved by the sombre dark wood, made an impression on my mind which I hope will never be erased. On my return home I made a slight sketch, which, though it does not come up to my ideas of the beauty of the subjects, yet, in the absence of Nature herself, I hope will prove acceptable to your numerous readers. Mr. Editor,

Your obedient servant,

A. Cooper, R. A.

Smoaker was well-known in his day. His exploits were described in another letter:

I forward you an account of Smoaker, a celebrated Deer Greyhound of the old English sort, famed alike for his speed and courage when in pursuit of deer, as for his qualities in retrieving to the gun all sorts of lesser game ; he was the property of the Honorable GrantleyBerkeley, and died of old age, on the 19th of this month, at Harrold Hall, Bedfordshire, aged fifteen years. Smoaker was originally purchased by Mr. Berkeley of a Farmer residing at Burnham, near Maidenbead, when about two years old, and was one of the largest and finest dogs ever seen. As a proof of his great muscular strength, his neck was so large that he never could be chained up, having the power of slipping the collar whenever it pleased him over his head. Shortly after he came into Mr. Berkeley’s possession, be was, for greater safety, kept locked up in a granary at Cranford, from whence an attempt was soon made, by some person well acquainted with tho dog, to steal him; he was safely locked up at nine at night, and at about three the next morning was found barking under his former

Master’s window at Burnham, a distance of fourteen miles.

What gave rise to the suspicion that an attempt had been made to steal him, was, that on the day previous to this, a man had been inquiring at the Keeper’s Lodge, where the dog was kept, and it has since been thought that Smoaker escaped from the person who stole him and returned thus to his former home. After this he was scarcely ever separated from Mr. Berkeley, and from his extraordinary qualities in the field and docility in the house, he became a welcome guest at all houses where the sporting arrangements of his master required his presence, travelling in his carriage and sleeping in his room.

Smoaker has frequently singlehanded coursed, brought to bay, and pulled down a Royal Hart, and has twice been severely wounded by the antlers ; once in particular he coursed a stag in Hamstead Park, a seat of Lord Craven, from which the deer broke into the open country, but was brought to bay in the river, and here the stag had the advantage, the water being deep enough to cause the dog to swim, yet sufficiently shallow to enable the stag to make use of all his powers; Smoaker was severely wounded in the body, and was only saved by the presence of mind of Mr.

Cary, a servant of Mr. Berkeley, who happened to be on the spot, and who ran in and caught the dog as he was again attacking the deer, and thus saved his life; the deer was secured, being so exhausted that he would not leave the water. Smoaker in his capacity of retriever was pronounced by his late Royal Highness the Duke of York to be one of the cleverest dogs of the sort he had ever seen; his nose was’ remarkably fine, and the way in which he used to mark where a bird fell was wonderful. An instance of this was seen on the Downs at Ashdown Park (Lord Craven’s); Mr. Berkeley had killed a brace of Partridges, but the bird from the first barrel had flown some distance, towered, and fallen in some standing barley without any perceptible object to mark the place, whereas the second bird was killed dead; the dog first picked up the second bird, and then, though he must have had his eyes off the spot where the first bird fell, he ran directly to within a yard of where it lay, though at a considerable distance, and picked up that also. In the house his sagacity was also remarkable, if his master was not in his shooting-dress he never showed any desire to follow him, unless called ; and if he went out on horseback, the dog invariably used to go up stairs to a passage window which commanded a view of the different roads and watch the direction his master took; he would then return quietly to the drawing-room, and sit or walk out with Mrs. Berkeley till his master’s return. If his master left the house without his being aware of it he would not rest until, accompanied by Mrs. Berkeley, he had looked into every room in the house, scratching at all the doors till they were opened for him, and when he had ascertained that his master was not to be found, he would then return and remain quietly as usual. It was also curious to see his different ways of finding out if his master had left the house, either at home or in any house where he mighthappen to be a guest. If he missed Mr. Berkeley he used to go into the hall and examine all the hats, and if he found his master’s he would contentedly lay down and watch; but if not, and he knew that his master was dressed for shooting, he was always uneasy, returning to the drawingroom and seeming to wish to look over the house. He was an excellent water dog, but at times if the river was slightly frozen and the ice annoyed him in crossing to fetch any bird that had fallen on the other side, he would on his return go round by the bridge, and on strange ground, would frequently run to any object that looked like a bridge, and though in doing this he had sometimes to jump over fences, yet he always brought the bird, whether snipe or any thing else, as clean as when it was killed. For sagacity and good temper Smoaker has never been surpassed, and his great attachment to his master and mistress was duly appreciated by both ; when they went from home without him, as was but rarely the case, he used to live in the same rooms as when they were at home, as nothing but force could induce him to take up his residence either in the kitchen or offices. One thing is worthy of remark, which is that nothing could ever induce this dog to fetch and carry either a glove, stick, or any thing else, whether thrown into the water or not, such inducements to make him swim he always appeared to treat with contempt, but if the smallest bird or even a rat was in the water he would swim any distance to fetch it.

There are now in Mr. Berkeley’s possession three descendants of Smoaker, called Shark, Skim and Snake, the former a yellow dog, the other two white with a spot like the sire. Shark is an excellent Deer Greyhound and retriever, and has succeeded his sire in the field and in the house; he is of great size but not so large as Smoaker; the others are bitches and have entered to deer only. To give those who have never seen Smoaker in idea of his size, I need only say that when standing by the dining table his head was six or seven inches above it, and when standing on his hind legs he could place his forefeet with ease on a person’s shoulders, standing above six feet in height.

Grantley Berkeley wrote Smoaker the following epitaph:

And dost thou wonder why beneath this shade,

A lonely tombstone stands upon the green,

And wherefore near it others are not made

To add their silent numbers to the scene ?

‘Tis answer’d thus—No hallow’d ground appears,

No land allotted to the human clay,

If sacred—’tis alone from sorrow’s tears

Shed fast for one but lately pass’d away;

For one whose walk through life was in the light,

Who held no bitter passions in his breast,

Who had no envy in his heart to blight

Or man or woman from a place of rest.

One who was beautiful without conceit,

Was brave not boastful in his given pow’rs,

Who never cloak’d intention with deceit,

Or kept revenge for favourable hours.

Then reader listen here, beneath this mound,

A noble dog is stretch’d upon his lair,

Like man he mingles with the common ground,

But where his spirit ?—echo answers—where ?

The lips of beauty n’er again shall press

The head that here lies buried in repose,

Or soft hand sooth with lingering caress

The faithful crest that bristled on her foes.

The antler’d monarch of the waste may browse

Upon the wilds in safety and be still,

The Hound is dead who could so nobly rouse

The bounding red Deer by the mountain rill.

Now, Smoaker was described as a deer greyhound. That means that he was bit larger than the typical hare-coursing greyhound. These dogs had to be quite a bit tougher and more stoutly built than the dogs that merely ran down hares or rabbits.  He was often set upon the deer on his own, which meant that really had to have a great deal of speed and strength to be successful in his pursuits.

The fact that he could do the work of a deer-coursing and retriever work points to the intelligence of this dog. Many dog experts will tell you that any dog that knows how to use its jaws for the kill can never be used to retrieve. The dog will become hardmouthed and will kill those animals it is sent to retrieve.  Some of Raymond Coppinger’s theories on dog behavior require dogs to be motor pattern dependent in their predatory behavior. Retrievers can never learn to kill because their predator motor patterns are distorted away from the killing bite part of the predatory sequence. However, nearly all German HPR breeds retrieve and point birds and small game– and hunt wild boar, foxes, and deer. And Smoaker was a greyhound who was similarly multi-talented.

It is certainly true that Smoaker’s behavior is a little different from a normal retriever, which will start carrying objects of all sorts from an early age. It appears that Smoaker had no time for that foolishness and focused all of his retrieving birds and mammals. Perhaps it was because of his prowess as a deer-courser that made him ignore objects that were thrown for him.

At any rate, Smoaker was truly an interesting animal. In a time when “retriever” was a job description and not a breed,  Smoaker would have been at home with the terriers, terrier crosses, and collie-type dogs that were being used along with more traditional gun dog and retrieving breeds for this task.

If it could retrieve shot game, it was a retriever, and the way to produce more was to breed two retrieving dogs together. Never mind the ancestry.

And for that reason, virtually any kind of dog could be deep within the ancestry of the dogs we now call retrievers.

It was quite an experimental time, and every retriever person had his own recipe to produce the best dogs.

In that respect, they were more like the lurchers of the poaching commoners or the modern day racing sled dogs. Breed for performance, not pedigree, and see what you get.

Of course, I don’t know how many retrieving greyhounds there were. Shark, Smoaker’s son, apparently had his sire’s retrieving talents, but I do not know of any other accounts of a greyhound being used as a retriever.

A retrieving greyhound is not what anyone would have expected. When I first saw the depiction, I thought he was some sort of large terrier cross, but when I found out the particulars of his story, I was amazed.

Those old sporting gentleman were truly open to experimentation– even using a dog that killed his quarry to pick up shot birds.

An amazing story of a truly remarkable dog.






Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: