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Update ?  / Rhodesian Ridgeback Geschichte- A SHORT STORY OF THE BREED AND THE PARENT CLUB




Long before the white man set foot in Southern Africa ridged hunting dogs were there – a trusted and prized possession of African Hottentots. From descriptions found in the writings of early historians, it is known that the Hottentot Hunting Dog was of a Spitz type. One such descriptions found in „The Yellow and Dark-Skinned People of Africa South of the Zambezi“, by George McCall Theal (published in 1910). He wrote that the Hottentot dog was „an ugly creature, his body being shaped like that of a jackal, and the hair on his spine being turned forward: but he was a faithful, serviceable animal of his kind“.

Possibly the only extant illustration of Hottentot dogs showing ridges is to be found in Dr. David Livingstone’s book, „Livingstone’s Missionary Travels in South Africa“, published in 1857. The dog in the foreground of this old engraving resembles a jackal, and clearly shows a ridge of hair on its back.

Earlier this century the late Professor Ludvic von Schulmuth, a noted cynologist, Spent a considerable time in Africa, delving into the history of African dogs. He became convinced that the Hottentot Hunting Dog was a very old breed, and had itself descended from an animal that was not pure dog as we know it today, but was something akin to a jackal, or a hyena. Apart from his investigations among living remnants of the early African breeds, he was fortunate (in 1936) in unearthing the remains of several Hottentot dogs, in a „dig“ near the Orange River. Those skeletal remains helped him to form a clear picture of what the dogs had looked like when alive. In one instance in particular, enough was preserved to show the ridge, the erect ears, broad flat skull and long bushy tail. all tallying with the known description of the Hottentot Hunting Dog.

Some cynologists have suggested that Hottentot Hunting Dogs were not indigenous, but many centuries ago were brought to Africa from an island called Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Siam (Thailand), the only other place on earth where ridged dogs Spitz type are to be found. However, what evidence is available would suggest the contrary to be the case.

A thousand years ago and well into the nineteenth century, there were Arab slave-traders transporting their human cargoes from Africa to the East. Later, Portuguese and Dutch merchants sailed to and from the East, carrying a wealth of African merchandise in the form of ivory, ebony, ostrich feathers, gold, etc. It was not uncommon for monkeys and parrots to be taken on board as pets, so why not dogs? Is it not reasonable to conclude that some Hottentot dogs found new owners aboard ships bound for the East?

In those far off days the island of Phu Quoc may have served as a port to call to replenish water and food supplies. Dogs may have been traded for fresh water and other necessities, or perhaps puppies were left behind on the island. Another suggestion is that ships carrying dogs may have been wrecked off the coast of Phu Quoc. Isolated, the dogs have bred true-type for centuries, so that today there is preserved on Phu Quoc what may well be the perfect example of the original Hottentot Hunting Dog.

Rhodesian Ridgeback enthusiasts are interested in the Hottentot dog, because it is from this old African breed that our modern Ridgeback has derived its ridge. Various Portuguese, Dutch and German sporting breeds, brought to the Cape by early settlers and crossed with Hottentot dogs, produced ridged hunting dogs that were much sought after by big game hunters.

In 1875, two such ridged dogs were brought to Matabeleland (now part of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe), from Swellendam in the Cape, by the pioneer missionary, Charles Helm. It is almost certain that present day Rhodesian Ridgebacks have partly descended from these two dogs.

By crossing his own hunting pack with the ridged dogs belonging to the Rev. Charles Helm, in the 1870’s, the big game hunter Cornelis van Rooyen produced dogs very similar in appearance and type to the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback. It may rightly be said that van Rooyen did more than any of his contemporaries in developing and popularising the Ridgeback for hunting purposes. Visitors to his farm at Mangwe, south of Plumtree were always impressed by his great attachment to his dogs. Throughout his life van Rooyen was seldom without one or more Ridgebacks.

At the turn of this century another man, who was to feature very prominently in the history of both the breed and the Club, appeared on the scene. He was Francis Richard Barnes, the first Secretary and Joint Founder of the Salisbury Kennel Club in 1897, and who also judged at this Club’s first All-Breeds Show.

In 1910 Mr. Barnes left Salisbury to settle in Bulawayo. It was while living in Bulawayo that he became interested in Ridgebacks, and in 1915 bought his first dog, „Dingo“, from a Mr. Graham Stacey. Mr. Stacey in turn had obtained his first Ridgebacks from Cornelis van Rooyen. In those early days, as most Ridgebacks stemmed from van Rooyen’s famous lion hunting pack, they were simply referred to as „van Rooyen’s lion dogs“, and to come onto possession of a dog of this breeding was considered to be a most valuable acquisition.

Later, Eskdale Judy was bought and produced two well-known Eskdale Ridgebacks, Leo and Jock. Another bitch, Eskdale Connie, was purchased from Mr. „Bob“ Dickson. These were Ridgebacks that formed the nucleus of Eskdale Kennel.

The need to formulate a standard for Ridgebacks had become increasingly apparent to Mr. Barnes. There were many ridged dogs about – so there was every need for a standard which would be accepted and adhered to by recognised breeders and owners. Mr. Barnes determined that a Club should be formed, and that it should put into effect the accepted standard.

In 1922 a provisional meeting, more in the nature of a friendly discussion, was held in the home of a Mr. W. H. Peard, at Surburbs, Bulawayo. It was at this original meeting that the Rhodesian Ridgeback (Lion Dog) Club came into being.

Shortly after this, but still in the year 1922, Rhodesian „lion dog“ owners were circularised and invited to attend a meeting to be held in conjunction with the Bulawayo Kennel Club’s Show. Some 25 to 30 persons responded to the invitation and attended, either with or without their dogs. Suggestions for a standard were called for and considered. Mr. Barnes later compiled the accepted standard. Except for minor changes, that original standard still is the accepted standard for Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Years later, „F.R.“ admitted that he had had the Dalmatian standard in mind and had actually „poached“ on it when drawing up the Rhodesian Ridgeback (Lion Dog) standard. A comparison of the two standards reveals a similarity in general appearance, head and skull, eyes, ears, neck, forequarters, hindquarters, body, feet, tail and coat.

Due credit must also be given to Mr. Barnes for his perseverance and great foresight in not only formulating a standard for Rhodesia’s Ridgebacks, and founding the Parent Club, but in his untiring efforts to have both the breed and the Club recognised by the South African Kennel Union. After considerable correspondence had passed between Mr. Barnes and the S.A.K.U. (now the Kennel Union of Southern Africa), official recognition of both the breed and the Club came in 1924. At that time the Rhodesian Ridgeback was placed in the Gun Dog Group, but in 1949 was transferred to the Sporting Hound Group, where it remains to this day.

In the years to follow 1922, many Rhodesian breeders played a part in helping to develop the breed in accordance with the accepted standard. Prominent among these were:

Mrs. M. L. Dickson’s Drumbuck Kennels which produced Drumbuck Bango, sired by Drumbuck Jock, ex Eskdale Gracie. He proved an outstanding sire, possibly the best Mrs. Dickson ever bred, and features in the ancestory of many Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Drumbuck Bango, mated to Miss Mabel Wellings‘ first Ridgeback, Agrippa (purchased by Miss Wellings in the 1920’s) gave us Cleopatra of Leo Kop, the first Ridgeback to be registered under this well-known affix (in 1933). The ancestory of most Leo Kop Ridgebacks may be traced back to this original breeding.

Mr. T. Kedie Law’s Avondale Kennels became prominent through overseas exports, mainly to India, and from a sketch of one of his dogs, Mapandora of Avondale, by Nina Scott Langley, which appeared in Hutchinson’s Dog Encyclopaedia.

„Tractor“ Arthur Smith’s Sipolilo Ridgebacks consisted of a hunting pack, with which he extensively hunted large and small game in the Umvukwes District of Rhodesia, in the late 1920’s. Although „Tractor“ Smith was a prospector, he was often down on his luck, and it was on these frequent occasions that his pack came to his aid, for they hunted to provide an adequate supply of fresh venison for both their master and themselves. The most famous Sipolilo dog was one named Ginger, the progenitor of many present day Ridgebacks.

Captain and Mrs. B. Miles based their Muneni Kennels on Sipolilo stock. That excellent stud dog of the early days, Jock of Ealing, was bred by Captain Miles and sired by his Muneni Temba, ex Muneni Dingwa.

Mr. Vernon H. Brisley’s Viking Kennels also were founded on Sipililo stock. For many ears he bred first class Ridgebacks outstanding among these being Viking Cheeky Boy and Viking Towser. Mr. Brisley was keenly interested in promoting the breed and often exhibited his dogs at Shows. The Vernon Brisley Puppy Cup, originally offered through the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club in 1929 still is a floating trophy, competed for annually in Harare (Salisbury) at a Championship Show held in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural Society’s Show. Sad to relate, numerous setbacks both in breeding and farming caused Mr. Brisley to become discouraged. In the end he gave up breeding Ridgebacks and shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, he switched to one of the terrier breeds.

Mrs. D. E. Strickland’s Loin’s Den Kennels, were based on Viking blood. Her Rhodesian Champion, Starlight of Lion’s Den, was for many years depicted on the cover of the Parent Club’s Handbook, while Mrs. Strickland herself held the office of Secretary.

Major H. G. Mundy „of Shipley“ may not have bred on as large a scale as some of the above breeders, but he always strove to breed quality. He was a noted authority and judge of Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and by radio broadcasts and writing did much to popularise „our dog“. He will long be remembered as one of the stalwarts, whose tremendous drive and enthusiasm kept the Club going during the difficult years of World War Two.

Martin Kingcome, M.R.C.V.S., did not breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks, but it was his interest in the breed that prompted his intensive research on Dermoid Sinus, during the early 1940’s. His findings and recommended treatment, did much to eliminate this skin lesion in Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Both the breed and the Club have come a long way since 1922. Through the years the Rhodesian Ridgeback has been developed and immeasurably improved, thanks to judicious and selective breeding by conscientious breeders. Today it may rightly be said that the country’s own dog is one of the most distinctive and attractive breeds in the world and retains all the qualities of his illustrious forebears.

By: The Late Mylda L. Arsenis