article by Hugh McLernon

For those of you who rather just read the stories and not the history.

Tale # 1   Tale # 2   Tale # 3

The Terrier’s origins are lost in the mists of time. Its known that they started on the island of Skye, and spread from there to almost every part of Scotland breeding with the local dogs and eventually producing different types of the same breed. (Different they may be but they all share the same characteristics. They are loyal, aggressive protective of both life and property and usually like children). No one knows precisely what lucky mix of breeds produced the first Terriers; some believe that the Terrier started from the crossing of a local dog and the survivor of a shipwrecked boat from the Spanish Armada. This does not agree with the evidence from earlier times however. Others believe that the Terrier comes from the mixing of the Viking dog, found in Sweden called the Swedish Vallhund. Or Derver, and again a local dog,

What ever the case may be it was indeed a fortunate day when it occurred.

The first documented evidence comes during the times of Henry the Third (1216-1272) when he gave permission to “raise a pack of EARTH DOGS to work with the Hounds trapping and killing the vermin in the forests around North Umbria to a John Fitz Robert. This was in 1219.

The term EARTH DOGS now becomes the focal point of interest for in the research carried out the phrase “Earth Dogs “ is next written down by the early 15th century historian John Leslie when he described dogs found on the West Coast of Scotland as being Earth Dogs. The word Earth is derived from the Latin word TERRA and thus the name Terrier was born. Although there is no conclusive proof it is generally believed that he was referring to the Skye Terrier.

This was further emphasized when during the time of Elizabeth 1 (1558-1603) two gentlemen at court Dr Caius and Mr Tuberville who while visiting that area wrote of seeing “dogs that were called “Terriers of the North”.” used as vermin hunters, they were described as “ a small breed of Earth dogs used to hunt fox, badger, hares and rabbits, rats, showing great courage and tenacity in the open or underground.”

James IV of Scotland next refers them to when he commanded, “six earth dogs be found from Argyllshire “ and be sent to a good friend in France, and that “they be sent in at least two ships”. It should be noted that the island of Skye lies within the boundaries of Argyllshire.

The Skye Terrier (more commonly called the Cairn Terrier) is the oldest of the Terrier breeds in Britain. It gets it name from the Cairns it was supposed to keep clear of vermin. The cairns were used as repositories of cold cured or frozen meat, placed in there during the winter and allowed to freeze in order to preserve them (there were no fridge’s or freezers then). The meat was placed in amongst a pile of stones and then a pyramid or cairn of stones was built up around it .The foxes badgers and rats would make some inroads into the stored meat but the dogs were bred to protect the food and were excellent vermin hunters.

During the late 16th century one Farquhar of Drumfearn is known to have kept several packs of hounds and he also kept terriers as working dogs. The practice in those days was for the white haired terriers to be drowned at birth, as it was believed that they were of uncertain courage and that they would stand out against the hillsides and thus reveal the hunters to the prey. Fortunately Farquhar did not subscribe to this idea and insisted on having at least one dog in each pack of terriers that was white. From these white haired dogs came the West Highland Terriers.

Two centuries later the oldest accredited breed of Cairn Terriers appeared. Bred by a Captain Macleod of Drynoch they were oldest of three Kennels in Skye, the other two being the Waternish owned by Macdonald's and the Mackinnon's of Kilbride. In earlier times they (the dogs) were known as Drynoch, Monkstadt, and Camusunary terriers but this really refers to the estates on which they were found.

The Drynoch strain were dominated by the silver colouring, the Waternish by the dark greys through to brindles and the Mackinnons of Kilbride by the cream through to nearly black. Many years of feuding, fighting and reiving (stealing of cattle) lead to many a dog being stolen from its rightful master and used for breeding or fighting. At present the purest strain of dog on the island of Skye is the Waternish strain.

There are 25 recognized breeds of terriers in the world, and they all trace their ancestry back to Britain. Mostly bred from a Scottish terrier and a local dog, the terrier genes proved dominant. Some breeds of terrier have become extinct One such was the Clydesdale or Paisley Terrier which played an important part in the development of the Yorkshire Terrier and also played a part in the production of the Black and Tan (or as it is also known, the Manchester Terrier). It is also known that William IV (1830-1837) had a small Yorkshire Terrier.

The first volume of the Kennel Club Stud Book dated 1874 notes that "the Yorkshire Terrier is also known as the Broken Haired Scotch Terrier".

Well, that's a shortened version of the History of the Terriers, (mostly as dry as old sticks). The following short stories I hope will repay you for your patience.

Tale # 1

On the 8th of February 1587, after 19yrs of imprisonment, Mary, Queen of the Scots was finally executed by order of Elizabeth I (her cousin). As was the custom then those of Royal birth were beheaded. Mary (traditionally) bribed the executioner, a Frenchman, in order that he makes the death both swift and painless, (he failed, as it apparently took two blows of the sword to hack off her head).

The body was stripped of the dress and, at that point, a small terrier hiding beneath the dress, crept out and went and sat down beside the severed head.

The dog, being covered in its mistress's blood, was taken away and bathed. It was given food, but no amount of coaxing would make it eat. It died shortly afterwards, apparently of a broken heart.


Tale # 2

This, the second tale about terriers, takes place in Edinburgh. The year is 1855, and a young dog has just been born. Its first year is unknown however the following year it is bought by the Edinburgh Constabulary and given as a watch /patrol dog to one John Gray a Police Constable who's beat covered the notorious "Cattle Market " and the equally notorious "Grass Market ". These were places where the police officers had to patrol in pairs, even if they have a dog!

A film was made up by Walt Disney during the 1960's about his life.

He was called Bobby. He and Constable John Gray had a short working life together as P.C. Gray fell ill with TB (Tuberculosis) and died after only two years with the Constabulary. He was buried at Greyfriars Churchyard in 1858.

Befriended by the family called Traill, who owned a local restaurant. He was kept well fed and was well loved by them, but his first loyalty was to his dead master. For the next 14years he spent his days at the graveside but as he became older and increasingly more infirm he took to sleeping at night in front of the living room fire. He was found dead there in 1870. aged 15

A statue of Greyfriars Bobby was erected by Baroness Burdette-Coults in 1873 at Candlemakers Row, close to the graveyard. There was also a plaque unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester in 1991 just inside the graveyard commemorating the life of Bobby.

The Friend of Bobby Society of America donated a gravestone in 1981.

In passing, for those of you who have seen the film, the dog that played the part of Bobby was bought by the Chief Constable of Edinburgh and presented to a children's home where he spent the rest of his life loved and wanted by all. He died aged 18.



Tale # 3

The Third and shortest tale takes place during the Indian Mutiny. The year is 1857, the place Cawnpore. A large group of British men, women, and children were trapped in the town, by Sepoys (native troops) who had mutinied. They were slaughtered in what became known as the Cawnpore Massacre. After the killings had finished the troops went on a looting spree, and eyewitnesses reported seeing them stealing bags of Rupees, watches and Skye Terriers!!!

If you, the reader, have reached the end of this article then I hope you have found it informative, enlightening and enjoyable. If you haven’t enjoyed it then I apologize unreservedly to you.

Hugh McLernon ;Motherwell Scotland