The Real Jack Russell Terrier: A Complete History
Sawrey Gilpin, A Huntsman with Hounds Foxhunting
I got a call earlier this week from someone trying to assemble (or dissect) the history of how the U.K. Kennel Club (i.e. The Kennel Club) managed to add the "Parson Russell Terrier" to its roles approximately 100 years after the Reverend John Russell himself had died.
Well, first of all, let's ground ourselves in a few basics (and reality) just a little bit.
The first point is that white fox-working terriers predate the Reverend John Russell. Remember that the young Russell bought Trump from a milkman who had her tied to a string tied to his cart. Or so the legend goes.
The picture, at top, is by painter Sawrey Gilpin, who was born in Cumbria in 1722, and died in 1803, some years before the Reverend John Russell ever acquired his famous first terrier, Trump. Gilpin was a painter that specialize in painting animals, particularly horses, cattle and dogs.
I bring this up, not only to show that riding hounds to fox was already being practiced before John Russell arrived on the scene, but to point out the little dog, to the right, that is featured in another Gilpin painting.
The dog in this picture is a terrier by the name of "Pitch," who was owned by Colonel Thornton.
The painting was done in 1790, and you will note that this is the very model of the (undocked) white fox-working terrier we know today as the Jack Russell Terrier, complete with spot above the tail, and split-head markings.
Let us also remember that not only did Russell buy the bitch without ever seeing her work, he seemed to have no trouble finding another suitable white-bodied fox-working terrier to mate her with.
In fact, this rather cavalier pickup of dogs seems to have been Russell's way of doing business his whole life. His financial fortunes were such that he had to sell off his hounds several times, and the notion that he kept a strain of line-bred terriers descended from Trump is nonsense -- he took dogs as offered, kept them if they worked, and moved them along as needed -- and money was certainly a pressing need throughout much of Russell's life.
No doubt Russell tried to breed the best dogs he could find, but in those early days of the mounted hunts, dogs were a practical matter. In the era before dog shows, telephones and the Internet, there was no fame or fortune in to be found in working terriers.
Most of what is said about Russell's dogs is pure nonsense. The famous picture of Trump, for example, was painted more than 40 year after the dog had died, and it was painted by someone that had never seen the original animal at all. Russell said the painting was “a good likeness” but in fact he may have been trying to be polite, as the painting was commissioned by Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) who befriended Russell in his old age, and had the painting done as an homage to the old man (it hangs today at Sandringham).
Russell's real claim to fame is that he had the good fortune of living his entire life during the period in which mounted fox hunting became popularized in the U.K. Though primarily a houndsman, Russell had a fondness for terriers, as did his wife Penelope (a picture of her with a terrier is at right), and his terriers were known to be generally good workers of the right sort.
Russell had been hunting with terriers for about 40 years when the first dog show in Great Britain was held in 1859. That same year, Charles Darwin's book "The Origin of Species" was published.
It should be said that Darwin's famous book and dogs shows themselves have a common root stock -- the agricultural stock shows that began with Robert Bakewell at the very end of the 18th Century.
Prior to Bakewell, animals were free to chose their own mates. Bakewell was the first person to show that by selecting and controlling for sires (through fencing, or enclosure) breeds of farm stock could be rapidly improved or even created.
It was Bakewell's work with sire selection and controlled breeding of farm stock which Erasmus Darwin -- Charles Darwin's father -- pointed out to his son as perhaps being a driving force in the shaping of the natural world.
With publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, Victorian England became besotted by natural history studies. Massive bird egg, butterfly and beetle collections were started, and keeping a small menagerie of exotic birds was far from uncommon.
Dogs, of course, were always the thing to own, and this natural trend was perhaps tweaked by Queen Victoria who herself was an avid dog collector, and whose approval of the Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals transformed it from the SPCA to the RSPCA.
Darwin's work and theories were expanded upon by his cousin, Sir Francis Galton. Galton was the founder of the modern field of statistics, the inventor of fingerprint identification, and the creator of the first silent dog whistle. More importantly to this discussion, he was also the founder of study and experimentation we know as eugenics.
Galton's eugenics theories argued that species and breeds could be created and improved upon ad nauseum by selecting for defined characteristics.
To put it simply, this was Darwin' theory of evolution put into hyper-drive. The notion that overly close or tight breeding might result in a rise in inherited defects or seriously deficient animals was unimagined; evolution was thought to be a one-way street, and by breeding "best to the best," man would simply improve and speed up what Mother Nature had already started.
That was the theory.
It was a theory warmly embraced by The Kennel Club, which was founded in 1873, and which was deeply influenced by Galton's work.
The Kennel Club's thesis was a simple one: Create a visual standard for a breed, accept into a closed registry only those dogs that conformed to that standard, and then encourage the breeding of "the best to the best" of these "pure bred" dogs through a program of prize-awarding conformation shows.
Like most new organizations, The Kennel Club began on somewhat shaky legs, and sought to promote itself by trying to associate itself with "names" and money as quickly as possible. The Reverend John Russell had no money, but at age 78 he was one of the grand old men of mounted fox hunting, and well-loved by all. Who better than Russell to judge the fox terrier class at one of the first dogs shows?
Russell was no doubt flattered by The Kennel Club's solicitous offer, and he warmly agreed to judge the Crystal Palace show. Very old, and quite broken financially, Russell had been forced to give up his hounds two years earlier (1871). Perhaps here was a way to keep a hand in with the dogs? Apparently, however, Russell did not much like what he saw in The Kennel Club ring, for he never agreed to judge a Kennel Club show again, and he refused to let his own dogs be registered.
Later, Russell described the Kennel Club terriers he saw as being a bit like hot house roses: "True terriers [my own dogs] were, but differing from the present show dogs as the wild eglantine differs from a garden rose."
1877 dog show
In 1883, John Russell died at the age of 88. After his funeral, the few remaining dogs he had with him at Black Torrington (four very old terriers by the name of "Rags", "Sly", "Fuss" and "Tinker") were given away.
On the day of his funeral, his old sermons and other papers were found blowing around in the farm yard. Little or no self-authored record of Reverend John Russell survives to the present day.
In 1893, Rawdon Lee, Kennel Editor of "The Field" magazine, published Modern Dogs and noted the absence of Devon terriers on the show ring bench:
"There appears a semblance of strangeness that the wire-haired terriers from Devonshire have not been more used for show bench purposes, and by all accounts some of them were as good in looks as they had on many occasions proved in deeds. Those owned by the Rev. John Russell acquired a world-wide reputation, yet we look in vain for many remnants of the strain in the Stud Books, and the county of broad acres [the north] has once again distanced the southern one in the race for money. But, although the generous clerical sportsman occasionally consented to judge terriers at some of the local shows in the West, he was not much of a believer in such exhibitions. So far as dogs, and horses too, were concerned, with him it was 'handsome is that handsome does,' and so long as it did its work properly, one short leg and three long ones was no eye-sore in any terrier by the late Rev. John Russell."
Lee went on to note that the best working dogs, even in his day, were not found in the Kennel Club:
"As a matter of fact, those [terriers] best adapted for hard work either with foxhounds or otterhounds are cross-bred, hardy dogs, specially trained for the purpose, although many of the 'pedigree' animals will do similar duty to the best of their ability, but their 'pedigree' and no doubt inbreeding to a certain extent, has made them constitutionally and generally weaker than their less blue-blooded cousins."
Finally, to put a cap on it, Lee wrote:
"I have known a man act as a judge of fox terriers who had never bred one in his life, had never seen a fox in front of hounds, had never seen a terrier go to ground ... had not even seen a terrier chase a rabbit."
Only 20 years had passed since the founding of The Kennel Club, but already the death knell was being sounded for the fox terrier.
How was this possible? The short answer is that at the time Rawdon Lee was writing, The Kennel Club was undergoing a "terrier craze."
Why was this? One can only guess, but I would venture to say that terriers then, as now, fit both practical and psychological needs.
On the practical side, they are small, easy-to-keep dogs. On the psychological side, they are active dogs and not too "girly" for a man or active woman to own.
Fox terriers, in particular, have a pretension to field sports about them, and they particularly appealed to those that sought to associate themselves with the money, romance and aristocracy of the mounted hunts.
In fact, the first breed-specific publication was the Fox Terrier Chronicle, which tracked the comings and goings of Kennel Club shows as if they were High Society.
Special dog shows were started just to showcase terriers, and in 1886, a dog food salesman by the name of Charles Cruft took over the Allied Terrier Club Show at the Royal Aquarium at Westminster, with an eye towards making it a cash venture. This terrier show became the first formal Cruft's Show" when it was booked into the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington in 1891.
In 1884, the American Kennel Club was started, and the terrier craze that had begun in the U.K. swept into the United States as well. Some small indication of this strength of this craze suggested by looking at the history of the Westminster Dog Show which awarded its first "best in show" award in 1907. The first winner was a fox terrier. A fox terrier won again in 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1915, 1916, and 1917.
It was into this terrier-besotted world that Arthur Heinemann stepped -- a young man with an interest in badger digging. Heinemann was born in 1871, the year that John Russell gave up his hounds for the last time, and he was only 12 year old when the Reverend John Russell died.
Heinemann became interested in badger digging when he was in his 20s, and in 1894, he create the Devon and Somerset Badger Digging Club -- a small regional club composed of similar like-minded friends.
Where did Heinemann get his dogs? Not from John Russell.
As noted earlier, Russell gave up hunting the year Heinemann was born, and he died when Heinemann was only 12 years old. Heinemann and Russell never met.
Getting a working terrier was not much of a problem in any case. As noted earlier, white-bodied fox-working dogs were far from uncommon even in Russell's youth, and by the 1880s they were a fixture in the Kennel Club and cross-bred types were to be found all over the countryside.
As noted earlier, Russell himself did not keep a pure line of dogs, and was a bit of a dog dealer himself. By the time of Russell's death, almost anyone could have said they owned a dog descended from Russell's stock. Since Russell did not register his own dogs, and no pedigree charts survived his death (if they existed at all), who was to say otherwise? Anyone that wanted to make a claim that they had dogs descended from John Russell was free to do so -- and a few did so.
One of those people was Annie Rawl Harris, who was Kennelmaid to Squire Nicholas Snow of Oare and a relative of Will Rawl, John Russell's kennel man.
Did Annie Harris have direct descendants of John Russell's dogs? Of course. Who didn't?
As Dan Russell (the pen name of Exmoor hunt terrierman Gerald Jones) once observed in an interview with Eddie Chapman,
"John Russell was very much a dog dealer, as well as a breeder. He would buy or scrounge any terrier he thought looked like work, make it and sell it on. He always went each year to Scorrier House in Cornwall for a stay. They had their own strain of Fox Terrier there called the Scorrier terrier, which was reputed to be bred pure for over 200 years, and on leaving he would take on any terriers they didn't want."
And so we come to it: Not only were John Russell's type of dogs not unique to the Parson, he was not shy about selling them off and buying more terrier stock to breed back in. Any small white-bodied dog in the West Country could claim (perhaps legitimately) that it was descended from John Russell's own dogs.
Perhaps here is a good time to point out that Arthur Heinemann's terrier club was called the Devon and Somerset Badger Digging Club. His hound pack (acquired in 1902) was the Cheriton Otterhounds.
The point here is that Heinemann was not chasing fox -- he was digging badger with terriers, and chasing otters with hounds and terriers. This is a point glossed over by some, but it is not insignificant, as chest size is far less of a concern when working badger and otter, than it is with fox.
In any case, in 1914 the Devon and Somerset Badger Digging Club changed its name to "The Parson Russell Terrier Club."
Why the name change? Well, to be blunt, and to use the words of his friend Dan Russell (aka Gerald Jones), Heinemann was a bit of a dog dealer who “sold a hell of a lot of dogs," both in the U.K. and overseas. He and his friend Annie Rawl Harris found that if they branded and sold their dogs as "Jack Russell Terriers" they sold better.
Why did they sell better? Well, to put it simply, no one wanted a Kennel Club Fox Terrier!
As Rawdon Lee had observed, the best working terriers were not Kennel Club dogs -- they were cross-bred dogs or dogs that were found far outside of the show ring. While the Reverend John Russell had called his own dogs fox terriers, and Rawdon Lee was still calling them fox terriers 10 years after Russell's death, by the turn of the Twentieth Century, a new name for working dogs was needed.
And that name was NOT the "Parson Russell" Terrier." It was the "Jack Russell" terrier. That was what Robert Leighton called them in his 1910 book, Dogs and All About Them, and it was the term increasingly being used in the working terrier community as well.
For evidence of this we need only turn to Jocelyn Lucas's Hunt and Working Terriers, written between 1927 and 1930, and published in 1931.
At the back of this book, Lucas lists more than 100 mounted hunts in the U.K. and details the types of terriers they themselves say they used in the field.
This was a period when the name of the dog was in transition. I say transition, because the word "fox terrier" is used in the list about as much as "Jack Russell," and other phrases appear as well, such as "white hunt terriers" and "Devonshire working terrier." In a listing of over 100 mounted hunts, however, not one claims to be working a "Parson Russell Terrier," and most of the time the word "fox terrier" is carefully proceeded by the words "cross," "cross bred," "non-pedigree," or even "mongrel."
In short, whatever a working terrier was been called in Heinemann's era, it was never called a "Parson Russell Terrier." The confusion arises, perhaps because Heinemann's badger digging Club was renamed, in 1912, the Parson Russell Terrier Badger Digging Club. The dog, however, was always called a Jack Russell Terrier. A club is not a dog.
Arthur Heinemann died in 1930 from pneumonia after coursing his lurchers in the rain (and falling through the ice on a pond), but Annie Rawl Harris continued selling Jack Russells and maintained the Parson Russell Terrier Club until it dissolved just before the Second World War.
Again, to quote Dan Russell from his own book Jack Russell and His Terriers:
"[Mrs. Harris] very quickly took the place of Heinemann as the arbiter of the Russell type terriers and she carried on breeding the type of terrier Heinemann had loved. In her heyday, she had some 50 puppies out to walk each year. She sent her stock all over the world. Her method of breeding was to use only dogs and bitches of proven gameness."
After War World War II, England seemed to get along perfectly fine without a Parson Russell Terrier Club. In fact, the 1950s, 60s and 70s were the Golden Age of terrier work in the U.K., as the weekend was invented (a product of the union movement), and it was now easier to get out to the countryside than ever before.
Add into the equation was the rise of distemper vaccines which prevented massive kennel loss, and the advent of antibiotics which helped prevent occassional gashes and wounds from getting infected, and it was truly the best of times.
Though myxomatosis arrived in the 1950s and devastated many ancient rabbit warrens throughout the U.K, the decline in rabbit populations was offset somewhat by a ban on the use of leghold traps (gins).
All through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the fox population rose (see graph at left), and with it the chance of finding a bit of sport with the terriers in the countryside.
In 1974, the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain was founded "to promote and preserve the working terrier known as the Jack Russell".
In 1976, its U.S. analog was created -- the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA).
Both clubs have prospered and stuck to their original mission, and today the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America remains the largest Jack Russell terrier clubs in the world.
With an increase in the popularity of the Jack Russell terrier in Great Britain and the U.S., a push was initiated in 1983 to pull the Jack Russell into The Kennel Club. In 1990 this was finally done with representatives from several smaller Jack Russell Clubs meeting to draw up a conformation "standard" that called for a dog standing 12-15 inches at the withers.
It is claimed that this Kennel Club Standard was adopted from one originally written by Arthur Heinemann, but no evidence to support this claim has ever been presented so far as I know.
Dan Russell, who hunted with Heinemann and knew him well, says Heinemann did not value a large dog.
"As I remember it, and I am going back now sixty years or more, his main Badger dogs were about 12". He always said there was nothing a good fourteen inch terrier could do that a good eleven inch terrier couldn't do better. But it must be remembered he was referring to Badger digging in his own part of the West Country. His smaller terriers could manuever so much better in the large drawn out pipes of a badger set, they depended on their voice to keep the badger cornered for the diggers to hear, not brute force as some people seem to think. They were clever, game baying terriers, nothing more. Some of his best workers were no more than ten inches."
In his own book, "Jack Russell and His Terriers," written in 1979, before The Kennel Club controversty, Dan Russell quotes Heinemann directly:
"We are very much opposed to the modern show terrier and his type. Once you begin to breed it for show type, you lose the working qualities upon which you pride those terriers. I have been, I might say, the protagonist of the terrier bred for sport as against the terrier bred for show. I have no interest in cup hunting."
What Reverand John Russell or Arthur Heinemann wanted for the dogs, or what they actually used in the field, however, mattered not a whit to the Kennel Club.
In 1990 the Kennel Club admitted on to its roles a dog they called the "Parson Jack Russell Terrier," a name just invented for the occassion. In 1999 The Kennel Club changed the name to the "Parson Russell Terrier," another name invented wholecloth by Kennel Club theorists.
The American Kennel Club followed the U.K. Kennel Club in embracing both the 12-15 inch standard and in embracing the various inventeed names and name changes.
In 2005, The Kennel Club added a bit more confusion to the story by changing the standard for the dog they were now calling the Parson Russell Terrier, extending it to encompass dogs ranging from 10 to 15 inches tall at the shoulders.
The American Kennel Club has not followed the U.K Kennel Club in changing the standard, instead chosing to simply create another breed of dog (now in its Foundation Stock Service) called the "Russell Terrier."
The breed description of this dog claims it "originated" in the United Kingdom, but that it was "developed" in Australia -- a country which John Russell never so much as visited, which had no Jack Russells at all until the very late 1960s, and where the dog in question remains a pet and show dog that never sees a moment's work. The AKC "Russell terrier" standard calls for a dog standing 10-12 inches tall at the shoulder.
How to sort it all out then?
I think simplicity is best. In my opinion, there are only two types of terriers in the world: those that work, and those that don't. The white ones that work are called Jack Russell Terriers, and they are called that out of respect for the working standard that the Reverend John Russell himself honored throughout his life. Many of these white-bodied working terriers are not registered, but neither were any of the Reverend's own dogs.
What are we to make of the Kennel Club dogs? Simple: They are not Jack Russell terriers.
They are not Jack Russells in name, nor are they Jack Russell terriers in terms of performing regular honest work.
They are simply another white terrier being combed out, powdered, and fussed over by Kennel Club matrons.
So is there any place where the Parson Russell theorists and the practical working Jack Russell people might find common ground?
Oddly enough there is, though it is an area generally overlooked by the show ring crowd, and one they will no doubt surpress as time goes by.
The issue is chest size.
Barry Jones, a professional terrierman to the Cotswold Foxhounds in Andovers Ford, and a former Chairman and President of the Fell and Moorland Working Terrier Club, and the founding Chairman of the National Working Terrier Federation, was also a founding member of the Parson Russell Terrier Club. He warned the club to keep its eye on chest size, noting that:
"The chest is, without doubt, the determining factor as to whether a terrier may follow its intended quarry underground. Too large and he/she is of little use for underground work, for no matter how determined the terrier may be, this physical setback will not be overcome in the nearly-tight situations it will encounter in working foxes. It may be thought the fox is a large animal - to the casual observer it would appear so. However, the bone structure of the fox is finer than that of a terrier, plus it has a loose-fitting, profuse pelt which lends itself to flexibility.
I have not encountered a fox which could not be spanned at 14 inches circumference - this within a weight range of 10 lbs to 24 lbs, on average 300 foxes spanned a year. You may not wish to work your terrier. However, there is a Standard to be attained, and spannability is a must in the Parson Russell Terrier. "
Eddie Chapman, a working Devon hunt terrierman for more than 30 years, agrees that 14 inches is the maximum chest size for a fox. In The Working Jack Russell Terrier, he writes:
"I am a small man and have reasonably small hands, but in more than 20 years in which I have handled well over 1000 foxes, I have never handled a full grown fox which came anywhere near the span of my hands. The biggest I can remember was a South Hereford fox that was one and a half inches smaller than my hand span, and that without my squeezing him. It therefore follows that if I can pick up a dog and just span him with a squeeze, then the dog cannot get to the fox in a tight place and a dog that cannot get to a fox cannot be considered a Jack Russell. Either you are breeding a terrier suitable to work fox or, if he is too big to get to a fox, you are just breeding for looks. This is, of course, what happened to the pedigree Fox Terrier and look where that has got him!"
What is the future of the Jack Russell Terrier? The same as it has always been: as a working terrier in the hands of owners that will actually take it out to work it. Such people have always been rare. They were rare in John Russell's day, they were rare in Arthur Heinemann's day, and they are just as rare today.
As for the "Parson Russell" terrier and the "Russell" terrier they are completely interchangeable with every other terrier on the Kennel Club's roles. These dogs have no claim to history, and they have no future as honest workers. They stand as a complete rejection of every value ever held by John Russell and Arthur Heinemann, both of whom rejected Kennel Club registration and valued their own dogs based on performance in the field rather than Kennel Club points in the ring.
The good news is that with the name changes, no one will now confuse these Kennel Club dogs with the real Jack Russell Terrier.
- It should be said that Dan Russell (i.e. Gerald Jones) was himself terrierman for the Exmoor, Enfield Chace, and Old Berks hunts, and knew more than a bit about what was needed in a working dog.
- Annie Rawl Harris was, for a time, housekeeper for Henry Williamson who wrote the book "Tarka the Otter."
- The Scorrier terrier is associated with the Williams family and the Four Burrow Hunt.
- The quotes in this piece come from the various books cited (and often pictured). For those that want a visual presentation of the history of working terriers, see A Pictorial History of Terriers; Their Politics & Their Place on the www.terrierman.com web site.