Thursday 30 January 2014

The Sleepy Mastiff

How to get your dog to wait patiently to have his photograph taken? Perhaps simply wait for him to relax, close his eyes and have a little nap. This is certainly what has happened in the case of the handsome brindle Mastiff in this photograph.

Posed against a simple backdrop, the different shades of colour in the dogs coat can be easily picked out. The piece of dark furniture to the right of the image gives a sense of scale.

In 1887 John Henry Walsh wrote of the ideal colour of a Mastiff in his book The Dog in Health and Disease:

The colour is either stone-fawn with black points or brindled. No white should be permitted as a rule, but a white toe will occur occasionally.

The photograph was taken by Robert Slingsby. Born in 1839 Slingsby began his career in Lincoln in 1859, early in his photographic pratice he was also a stationer and dealer of artist supplies. His most important contribution to the world of photography was his research into the use of flash light for photography. As early as 1869 Slingsby had a photograph reproduced in Illustrated London News that had been created with artificial light. In 1890 Slingsby was granted a patent for a device that synchronized a flash lamp with a camera shutter. He died in Lincoln in 1895.

The pretty design on the reverse of the mount

The Mastiff along with the Greyhound is one of the most ancient of all dog breeds. Like many breeds, its original origins are uncertain. But it is most like to have been developed in the far eastern regions of Assyria. In many museums examples of Mastiff type dogs can be seen depicted on bas-reliefs that date back as far as 2200 B. C.


  • Robert Slingsby in the 1891 England Census
  • Robert Slingsby in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery
  • Royal Photographic Society Exhibitions featuring Robert Slingsby
  • Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, John Hannavy, 2007
  • The Dog in Health and Disease, John Henry Walsh, 1887
  • Dog Painting 1840-1940, William Second, 1992

Thursday 9 January 2014

Terriers of the Royal Artillery

After this website's first School Group & dog photograph, we kick off 2014 with another first - a Military group photograph with three dogs! Click on the image for a larger view.

This group contains Soldiers of the British Royal Garrison Artillery. Dressed in their pillbox hats and 'undress' frock jackets. If you compare these jackets to full dress uniform there are fewer buttons (only five) down the front and the sleeve decoration is trefoil instead of the more fancy Austrian knot.

If we compare one Soldier from the photograph with a 1880 watercolour by Richard Simkin, you can see the bright colours of his uniform, which are not visible in the monochrome photograph.

This Solider also has an additional chevron stripe on his arm above the cuff decoration, compared to the watercolour illustration. A single chevron denotes 2 years service of "good conduct". This chevron also helps to date the photograph, as before 1881 the chevrons were worn on the right sleeve. As this chevron is on the left sleeve we can say the photograph must have been taken after 1881.

Interestingly some of the other men in the photograph (such as the one in the brimmed hat and pale jacket above) are wearing "mufti" or civilian dress. Those I have spoken to in researching this photograph believe this indicates the photograph having been taken at a large Royal Garrison Artillery barracks.

This line of enquity lead to Shoeburyness, in Essex and the site of a large former Artillery Barracks. Disused since 1976, the barracks was sold off in 2000 and converted into Grade II listed housing, retaining many original features. In the photo below you can see one of these houses and what must have been the setting for my antique photograph taken all those years ago.

Artillery volunteers at Shoeburyness
Engraving from The Illustrated London News, 1871 - Click on the image for a larger view

And now we must talk about the dogs, there are three in the photograph. They appear to be Jack Russell type terriers, they would have proved useful at the Barracks, not just for companionship but also to kill rats in the horse stables.

The Jack Russell's that we know today, can be traced back to those bread by a man who gave them his name - the Reverend John Russell. Hunting with dogs in the early 1800's came with a problem -
difficulty in differentiating the dog from the animal it was pursuing, which could prove very dangerous. This brought the need for a mostly white dog. During Russell's final year of university in 1819, he purchased a small white & tan terrier female named Trump from a local milkman.

Painting of Trump

Davies, a friend of Russell's, wrote "Trump was such an animal as Russell had only seen in his dreams." Her colouring was described as "...white, with just a patch of dark tan over each eye and ear; whilst a similar dot, not larger than a penny piece, marks the root of the tail."

The only picture of Trump that exists was painted more than 50 years after the she had died. The painting was commissioned by the Prince of Wales (later King George VII) who came to consider the Reverend Russell a friend. Today the picture still hangs at Sandringham castle.

Trump became the basis for a Russell's breeding program in which he hoped to develop a special terrier with a high stamina for hunting and the courage to chase out foxes.

D. Brian Plumer writes in his book The Complete Jack Russell Terrier:

"Whether or not John Russell kept a strain of rough-coated fox terriers will continue to be debated for years to come. Many accuse the parson of having been simply a dealer, buying and breeding from any terrier that took his fancy, supplementing his meager income by wheeling and dealing in livestock. One thing is fairly certain, however: that he did much to popularize the wire-haired fox terrier - now one of the most popular breeds in Britain, but at that time a Cinderella, a poor relation of the smooth fox terrier. Russell was, in fact, one of the founder members of the Kennel Club."