What follows is a pretty extensive dialogue concerning the Gordon setter going back to the Duke's period and many years following. It can be somewhat dry reading at times, but I feel it important for students of the Gordon to know it's history, or what we know of it...
This series will continue for the entire week, so hang on tight!
The Gordon setter or Scottish setter
A History of the Breed
By Lieutenant-Colonel Corn, Schilbred, Oslo
The Gordon Setter or the Black and Tan Setter is the native dog of Scotland. There was a famous strain of setters at Gordon Castle, which is situated a little north of Fochabers, not far from the river Spey, and some miles from the coast.
From narratives we are able to trace it as far back as before the battle of Waterloo (1815). But probably it is much older.
In the cathedral at Elgin, in St. Mary's Aisle, is the burial place of the Gordon family. A stone erected in 1890, by the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, records the burial here of the fourth Duke, Alexander, who died in 1827 aged 84, and of George, fifth and last Duke of Gordon, who died May 28, 1836. In the death of the fifth Duke of Gordon, in 1836, the title became extinct, but the estates passed to his nephew, the fifth Duke of Richmond. In 1875 the sixth Duke was created "the Duke of Richmond and Gordon."
Gordon Castle became renowned at the time of Alexander for it's famous strain of setters. The story goes that the Duke had heard of a shepherd's bitch which was a wonderful finder of grouse, pointing them stiffly and finding them when the setters were at fault, so that the shepherd and his bitch were frequently in request when the castle party were unable to find game.
Having ascertained these facts, the Duke bred from her, and so originated the black and tan breed.
The Scotch Collie especially of the smooth-coated sort is usually of a black and tan color with a little white and often with hanging or half-hanging ears. The type of this working collie may very often remind one of a coarse Gordon Setter... they are very intelligent. The shepherd's collie both pointed stiffly and was an exceptional finder. This collie cross has often been denied, but it has persevered as a tradition. The late Mr. Isaac Sharpe, Keith, who lived not far from the Gordon Castle, heard the late head keeper confirm the story that the collie bitch was used for breeding purposes. She pointed with the head and tail outstretched exactly as a bird dog. The first litter consisted of six puppies, all black, white and tan.
As to the black and tan colour, this has existed in very remote times with the setter. "Hunger's Prevention or the Whole Art of Fowling by Land and Water," Gervaise Markham, appeared in 1620, and therein he described "the setting dog." Among the colors is mentioned "the black and fallow" and these dogs are esteemed the "hardest to endure labor."
In "A Treatise on Field Diversions" (1776)-- "a Gentleman of Suffolk, a staunch Sportsman" tells us there were, fifty years ago, (that is in 1726), two distinct tribes of setters: the black-tanned and the orange, or lemon and white," and Mr. D.J. Thompson Gray, in his book, The Dogs of Scotland (1891), says there are engravings as far back as 1805 showing black and tan setters. In this book a correspondent, who veils himself under the nom de plume, "Mac," and who was farmiliar with the famous Gordon Castle breed, says that these dogs were of different colors, the majority being black and tan; and black, white and tan. Some were liver and white, and black and white. Lemon and white was sometimes seen. The setters were famed for their working qualities. The black, white and tans were heavily marked black, and the white clearly defined, but not ticked or spotted. The dogs on the whole had a heavy look about them with spaniel-looking ears, but excellent legs and feet with wealth of coat and feather, beautiful heads, and well set sterns. The late head keeper, Mr. Jubb, had a splendid eye for color, and none could break a setter to more perfection. The Gordon Castle setters were as a rule easy to break and naturally backed well. They were not fast dogs, but had good staying powers and could keep on from morning till night. Their noses were first class, and they seldom made a false point.
"Mac" denies a collie cross, as no sportsman would ever think of doing such a thing for it would spoil the dog's ranging qualities, and dogs of this cross would have a tendency to run with their noses too low. A collie finds by the foot scent. A setter that would do this would be a complete failure. As to the white markings, he mentions these have been considered as a result of the two black and white English Setters, presented to His Grace, the Duke of Gordon, by the late Captain Barclay or Ury.
During the sixties the kennel at Gordon Castle contained a prime lot of working dogs. Jubb was still active and had under him such splendid breakers as as Thomson, Brown, and Willie Adams, with Tom Wilson at his best as kennelman. In this period Dash and Mark, broken by Brown, and Sultan and Skye, out of Thomson's lot, were rare good ones.
Among the several that have been said to have sprung from the last Duke of Gordon's original strain were Lord Lovat's and Saltoun's.
In his book, The Setter, Mr. Edward Laverack tells us he visited Gordon Castle about two years after the death of Alexander (that is in 1829), to see this famous strain of setters. He met Mr. Jubb, who showed him three black and tan setters which did not satisfy his taste. Some years later Mr. Laverack hired the shootings of Cabrach, Banffshire, from the Duke of Richmond, and in the neighborhood of Glenfiddich where the Duke had his own shootings. At that time he often met again Mr. Jubb and his setters. "all the setters at Gordon Castle were black, white, and tan in those times as nowadays."
At the death of George, the last Duke of Gordon, the setters were sold at Tattersall's on the 7th of July, 1836.
Look for Part ll