Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

RETRIEVERMAN: A Devon question


This is not strictly zoology or natural history, but I've been researching the origins of the curly-coated retriever. Unlike other British retrievers, its history is very hard to trace.

It turns out that the main kennel for the curly in the early part of the twentieth century was called 'Tiverton', which is said to be in the 'West of England.' I discovered that there is a town in Devon called Tiverton. The owner of the kennel was Mr. Samuel Darbey. Do you know anything about him?

The original dog from which the retrievers descend is the St. John's water dog from Newfoundland. They were first brought over by cod fishermen from Poole (Dorset), where they eventually founded the other breeds of retriever in England and Scotland.

One theory goes that the curly is the ancestral dog from which the St. John's water dog descends (at least in part) and that the black dogs were brought to Newfoundland by cod fishermen from Devon and Dorset. I would like to know if any records exist of black water dogs or water spaniels from Devon or Dorset, because the currently accepted theory of the curly's origins is that it is the result of crossing the St. John's water dog with some strain of the now extinct English water spaniel.

I hate to bother you with a stupid dog question, but because you are based in the area, I thought I might seek your expertise.

I've written a post on the curlies here: http://retrieverman.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/some-curlies-from-early-last-century/

And here's where I got the story about Mr. Darbey: http://chestofbooks.com/animals/dogs/Dog-Shows/Mr-Samuel-Darbey.html

If you or your readers know can answer some of these questions or at least point me in the right direction, I'd greatly appreciate it.



Farplace said...

Have you tried asking the Kennel Club?

Anonymous said...

Tiverton is about half an hour from us, we are in Lapford. There is a local dog trainer/shower who seems quite knowledgeable about dogs in general, I'll pop into the local pub and ask him about this and maybe ask the local boarding kennels to.

Anonymous said...

I've asked a couple of local doggie types but neither knows nowt. Samuel Darbey seems to be a bit of a loss to :(

Maybe you should try looking for relatives? Although I don't hold out much hope for answers there.

On another point, the English Water Spaniel is an extinct breed, so Wikipedia tells me (seemingly confirmed by a Google search), but the Irish Water Spaniel isn't; although it is very rare, and according to the Kennel Club is classed as a vulnerable native breed.

The Welsh Springer Spaniel, as I am sure you are aware from your research, is closely related, and it was taken to America in the 1800's, which may have included some interbreeding, perhaps?

Both seem a distant possibility however.

I can't find any reference to Curly-Coated Retrievers being used by cod fishermen from Devon and Dorset, only as a favourite of gamekeepers, as it was originally bred as a gundog.

I also don't think that Dorset was a player in the cod fishing trade, apart from being used as an import centre for the fish from Newfoundland. Derek Beamish of Poole Historical Trust has written about this trade I believe.

I think therefore perhaps that the information you have been given may be incorrect, regarding the source of English Water Spaniels. I could be wrong, frequently am, but that is how it seems at present I'm afraid.

We are going to Tiverton at the beginning of November so I shall make a detour and pop into the library there and the museum, and make some inquiries regarding Mr. Darbey there, see what I can come up with for you :)