Scottish Sports and Pastimes by By Herbert Byng Hall, 1850 Deerhound References
Page 41 - As we have already cursorily mentioned, in front of the house, awaiting our decision as to the arrangements for our first day's sport, stood the trusty head keeper, together with the under keeper, . about as good a specimen of a Highlander as the country could produce; and in addition to these were several bare-legged, kilted "gillies," or beaters, both old and young. In the hands of one of them were firmly held two magnificent rough deer-hounds, which noble animals were then, and still are, our faithful friends—though, alas! we cannot say our companions, the one being cared for by a much esteemed friend in Ireland, whereas the other enjoys his "otium cum dignitate" in Gloucestershire, fed daily by fair hands, and watched over by kind hearts, by whom he is greatly valued, known to all the children in the neighbourhood from his gentleness and sagacity, and deservedly the admiration of all who see him. As, however, we shall have occasion by and bye more fully to enter into the subject and character of these scarce and valuable hounds, we will now merely state that the following are his dimensions, taken on the 6th of May, 1846, viz.:— Height at shoulder, 33 inches; girth at chest, 34 inches; length from the end of the nose to the tip of his tail, 64. This dog is of a pale yellow colour, with black muzzle; and, from the strength and wiryelasticity of his hair, which is considered a great criterion of pure breeding among the Highlanders, to say nothing of his beautiful form and immense power, he may fairly be considered one of the finest, if not the very finest, specimen of this noble race of dogs in the kingdom, which, it is much to be regretted, are becoming each year more rare; in the first place, from the great difficulty of rearing them, but still more so from the extraordinary desire evinced, by those who follow the splendid sport of deer-stalking, to cross them with every species of mastiff, bloodhound, etc by which they not only fail to obtain the object they expect and desire, but thereby lose also many of the qualities which are alone found in the pure breed of deer-hounds.
Two smooth-haired and fine-bred greyhounds were also straining in their slips, ready for the chase. "And wherefore these graceful animals on grousehills?" we hear many of our readers exclaim. Be not too hasty, and you shall know. In the first place, the boundary of the manor Meggernie is so extensive, and yet so well provided with game, that a large party may easily be separated, and appointed to different beats with equal chance of successful. Since writing this, however, we are rejoiced to
hear that Mr. E. Ellis, who possesses an admirable shooting quarter in Scotland, with others, are endeavouring to revive the breed; and as we are in possession of very accurate information as regards these dogs, and have been particularly delighted with many of their feats, we shall, when giving some details, which we propose doing, of Invermoriston, then enter more fully into the subject.
On our arrival at the level summit of the mountain, after a most delightful walk of some two or three miles through heathered valleys, and over hill-tops, the grouse rising every moment on each side of us, though wild in the extreme, our sport, which I shall here describe, commenced; and most exciting, in good truth, it was, though certainly of a novel nature to coursers. The two rough deer-hounds were held by one of the gillies in slips, and the two smoothhaired greyhounds by another gillie, the remaining one being kept as a reserve, in case of accident to either of the dogs already mentioned. And, thus prepared, we quietly walked in the rear of the party to witness the sport.
Once more, however, the sound of the pibroch called the castle inmates together; and having refused the morning's dram, and made a furious attack on the centre of a cold grouse pie, which succumbed to our onslaught—and lighted our cigar, the Laird threw his plaid around him, and kindly proposed a visit to the kennel, being well aware of the great admiration in which we held the noble race of deer-hounds, some of the purest of whose breed have, from time immemorial, been possessed by the ancestors of Glenmoriston. On our arrival at the kennel, the doors being thrown open, three fine rough deerhounds, and a very handsome smooth hound, of the same breed, and of equal size and strength, rushed out on the grassy space before us; indeed, had we not moved on one side, we should, unquestionably have measured our length on the ground. In addition to these—we speak only of deer-hounds—was our friend of the morning, who joined in their gambols and delight of freedom; he, however, on all occasions being allowed to range at large, the faithful friend and companion of his master, by whom he is greatly valued—and the pet and favourite of the children; for, notwithstanding their great courage and ferocity when roused to action, the temper of these dogs is most gentle. This gallant animal has been the subduer, as we were then informed, of no less than eighteen stags, which, single-handed, he has either brought to bay or killed; and was the sire of two of those released from the kennel, as also of our own dog Bran, mentioned in a former part of these pages; who like his parent, is one of the finest specimens of his race that can possibly be conceived. Indeed, without the slightest intention of exalting his character because we have the satisfaction of owning him, but rather in gratitude to the donor by whom he was presented to us as a puppy, we should not fear to produce him against any dog of the same breed now living, as a remarkably fine specimen of his race.
"I am not," said Mr. Grant, "the original founder of the noble breed of animals in this glen; indeed, a long minority on my part caused a serious degeneration in the sporting superiority which here maintained its pre-eminence in the time of my predecessors. In fact, there now remains to me but few relics of their prowess, either in the sports of the field or valour in arms." A long gun, however, which we had the pleasure of handling, still remains as an heirloom in the family. It is of great antiquity and curiosity, and certainly two hundred years old. It is well known in the locality by the name of the "Alandick," and is of Dutch manufacture. The barrel is a very fine one, at least six feet and a half in length, and curved at the breech. It holds a prominent place in the arm-rack, and is still an excellent ball gun, and many a red-deer has fallen to its unerring truth. There is also in the same rack a six-barrelled gun, or short rifle, of curious construction and great antiquity, with which its owner has also been known to bring a hart to bay. Such are the heirlooms of the Highlands.
But let us return to the dogs. The first which entered the kennels of Glenmoriston, subsequent to his majority or accession to the property, was sent to him by Captain M'Donald, of Moray, in the Braes of Lochabar. This gentleman, since dead, was a landholder and farmer of the old Highland class, and a first-rate sportsman. Having heard of a pure and beautiful bitch of the same breed, whose character stood high for her great courage and lasting power in the chase of the deer, then the property of the late Thomas Mackenzie, of Applecross, Glenmoriston suggested that either the one or the other should endeavour to keep up this precious breed of dogs, the pure animal becoming daily more scarce in the Highlands. Mr. Mackenzie, however, having a far greater taste for literature than sporting, declined the task, and the lady forthwith became domiciled at Invermoriston; from which period, now about thirty years ago, the breed has remained uncontaminated, in those parts, at least, of which we had the pleasure of seeing the few remaining specimens. We have since been informed that Glenmoriston has relinquished his dogs, as also the care of their augmentation—in which, at one period, he took great interest—to Mr. E. Ellis, of Glengarrick; at least such is the name of his shooting quarters; and as this gentleman is a first-rate sportsman, has the means, and, like ourselves, is an enthusiast with regard to these rough deer-hounds, we may fain hope he will restore them to their original size and splendour. The trouble and difficulty of rearing them and keeping them pure in breed is, however immense. Cross them but once, and a smooth piled puppy will be introduced among the litter, as has been the case with Mr. Grant's dogs; and ever afterwards one or two of the puppies will be smooth-haired. We must however, state, that the fact of their smoothness does not always detract from their fleetness or courage. The puppies are extremely delicate, and require constant care and attention; but, the casualties of youth and distemper once over, they become extremely hardy; as an instance, we will merely observe that the splendid dog which had welcomed us in the early morning, on our first proceeding from the castle, has been known to lie out night after night on the lawn, when the ground has been knee deep with snow; and this with shelter at hand, had he desired to take advantage of it. If properly trained, their courage and endurance of fatigue can be surpassed by no domesticated animal; but, on the contrary, if mismanaged, and led to a task beyond their strength ere they are full grown and well broken, should they fail or get severely wounded, they will never recover their courage. Glengarry, a name familiar as birch-trees in the Highlands, to history and to most sportsmen, who, at one period, possessed many of these dogs, was in the habit of crossing them, and some other owners continue to do so in the present day. There is no question, however, that they act erroneously, that is to say, if they require a race of animals to hunt, chase, kill, or bring to bay a red-deer. The deer-hound is either a deer-hound, or it is a mongrel; there can be no intermediate race. Neither can there be a question that the animal intended by a higher power for a particular object, is the fit, proper, and superior one over all others. For instance, cross a greyhound with a Newfoundland dog; then he may kill a hare, but how ?—why, by chance; but he will never win a cup at the Altcar. For the same reason, cross a noble deerhound with a mastiff or a bulldog, as many have done; he may, in some trifling degree, increase some particular quality of the latter, but he will lose many of the fine qualities and sagacities of the former, which are alone to be found in the pure-bred deerhound. For instance, Glengarries had large feet and great ugly heads, and other defects of proportion, which made them unable to run on rocky or hard ground, withont soon becoming lame and useless.
But were we to write volumes on the interesting subject of this breed of dogs, we should only add, Get the pure race, and you will have the true one. Treat them and train them properly, and they will prove the best and only dogs which ought to be used in the noble sport of deer-stalking, whether in the open chase, or as the means of running a wounded deer and bringing him to bay. They are a great acquisition to any sporting kennel; and, even when far away from the Highlands, we know of few more magnificent and faithful companions during a morning's ramble, or by a winter's fire-side.
A few years since, Glenmoriston most kindly sent us two puppies of the purest breed; and we were fortunate enough to obtain another, equally pure and handsome, from the same part of Scotland. Ofthe dog we have already spoken; he lives, as fine a specimen as can be of his race. The bitch was as beautiful and graceful an animal as could be imagined; but with the peculiarity which is particularly prominent in these animals, she was not much more than half the size of the dog, but so fleet that we constantly and most unwisely used her to chase the mountain hares; and after a hard day on the hills of Meggernie, when the weather was unusually hot for October—and probably from her youth—she was seized with convulsions, and, much to our regret, her bones lie beneath the sod of her native hills. The third is now in Ireland. She produced nine beautiful puppies by the dog; but, notwithstanding every care, they all died. These dogs were never kept in kennel, save at night; during the day they had, as they do now, their entire freedom, and were our constant companions, whether riding or walking; indeed, they had the entree of every room in the house. Their food was a matter of perfect indifference as to the choice—anything which was to be had from the kitchen; and under this treatment no dogs could possibly thrive better: indeed, when Glenmoriston saw the dog he had kindly sent as a puppy at two years old, he admitted he was one of the finest animals he ever beheld.
Did space permit it, we could tell endless tales of their sagacity; we will, however, only name one, with regard to their being excellent water dogs, and then close the subject. For a season we resided at a house, the garden or lawn of which extended to the banks of a tolerably wide river; on this river we had a small skiff, in which, both summer and winter, we constantly crossed to the opposite bank. On all occasions, whatever the weather, even with snow on the ground, the moment the boat was pushed from the shore, in plunged, not only the deer-hounds, but two smooth grey-hounds; and had we rowed backwards and forwards a dozen times, these animals would have followed. On one occasion, we scarcely recollect why, the deer-hound bitch, then not eighteen months old, was sent to a friend who resided at least a mile on the opposite side of the river. On the first night after her departure, we heard a howling under the bed-room window; and on looking out, not only discovered her ladyship, but also, from the dripping of her shaggy coat, that she hud swum the river at midnight to return home; and this she repeated, in the depth of winter, on two successive nights. And in reference to their gentleness, we will simply add, that these fine animals have often been seen stretched before a blazing fire, with an Angola cat literally resting his head between their fore legs.
Having enjoyed a view of the kennel, the mist of the mountains thickened instead of clearing as the day advanced; and not ourselves being particularly robust on that occasion, the Laird kindly suggested we should take a look around his home domain, and defer a sporting excursion to the hills till the following one.