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Bailys Magazine, Sports and Pastimes, Vol LXII 1894
"Precipitate Leap" by J Bateman


Irish Wolfhound Times - Precipitate Leap by J Bateman


The rough deerhound has the reputation of being about the oldest breed of dog we have, and there is possibly some reason for thinking that, long before staghounds were used for the capture of deer, the deerhound found our early monarchs in the amusement which we now call stag-hunting. It is one of these deerhounds that has tackled the stag which is making the "precipitate leap" portrayed in the accompanying illustration, the result of which probably was that both pursuer and pursued came to utter grief. Readers of Mr. Scrope's famous book on deerstalking will remember his description of Buskar, a famous deerhound belonging to Capt. M'Neil, of Colonsay. His height was 28 in., girth round chest 82 in., his running weight was 85 lb. To these external qualifications were added great speed and strength, while Mr. Scrope described him as very sagacious and docile. Buskar was used for coursing deer, but his nose was so good that he could puzzle out even a cold scent. Whether these hounds can now be found of absolutely the old breed we know not; but Mr. Scrope confessed himself unable to discover any, and was in consequence compelled to fall back upon a cross.

The original painting, from which the accompanying engraving was made, was the work of J. Bateman, who was very succsssful in delineating subjects of this kind; the picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1841, and while the criticism to which the painting was exposed was favourable, the head of the deer came in for especial commendation. The scene is laid in the Highlands, and the stag has been wounded by the deerstalker. The deerhound has been slipped, and both he and his prey have rushed on regardless of the great abyss in front of them, the deer bold and the hound staunch; and one can understand the feelings of the deerstalker on looking down into the depths below and seeing his hound dying. The chase in all its forms is productive of such excitement that both men and animals forget to look where they are going. Half of the accidents over barbed wire occur because men, in their zeal, do not see what is in front of them. On Exmoor the hunted stags have been known to leap from the cliff when hotly pursued by the pack, and hounds have frequently gone over precipices when running their game in view; in fact, with every pack of hounds whose country is bounded by the sea coast there have been some narrow escapes, if not actual fatalities, whenever foxes take to the cliffs. Mr. Robert Vyner, the author of "Notitia Venatica," says that during the time he was hunting on the Yorkshire coast he never met with anything like a bad accident, although the hounds on one occasion killed their fox on the top of a bank above the sea, which gave way while they were worrying him, and let them down about thirty feet upon the sands. The wind was so knocked out of some of the hounds that they let go the fox, who forthwith rushed into the sea; but the hounds soon recovered themselves and pulled him down.

In 1888, however, Mr. Hodgson's last season with the Holderness, that gentleman had sad misfortune at the Speeton Cliffs, about four miles from Flamborough Head. The hounds found a fox near Burton Agnes, and ran to the above-named cliffs, over which went the fox, followed by four or five couples of hounds. It is always the best hounds that go to grief. Some of them fell a distance of two hundred feet, and were dashed to pieces, but a few of the hounds escaped instant death by having their fall broken by some projecting rock. "What Mr. Hodgson's feelings at this dreadful moment must have been," writes the chronicler, " can be better imagined than described when he viewed from the summit of this awful precipice his favourites writhing in the agonies of a lingering death, while their piteous howlings were responded to by the greedy and fiend-like scream of the sea bird, or the dismal croaking of the raven as he watched his mangled prey from an adjoining rock." In this instance the whipper-in pluckily volunteered to go down in a basket to the rescue of those who were not already dead, and descend he did, with the result that he had the good fortune to save some of the hounds, his perilous journey being the subject of one of the illustrations in Mr. Vyner's book. On a few days during the season the East Sussex hounds meet at Fairlight, near Hastings, and on more than one occasion the hounds have had a narrow escape from falling over by the Glen. In the mining country, too, hounds have been known to fall down disused shafts. Once upon a time it was a custom to have some annual deer hunts in the vicinity of Killarney, and, if we may trust to records which have come down to us, there were a good many "precipitate leaps" then.

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