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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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Reverend Jack Russell of Swimbridge
The Reverend "Jack" Russell of Swimbridge


The American TV series "Frasier" featured Dr Crane, his brother Niles and father Martin but it is debatable that there was another star -  Eddie, Martin's dog, played for the first ten years by a dog called Moose and then by Moose's son, his spitting image whose name was Enzo. Ask anyone to tell you the breed of these dogs and it's pretty certain they can tell you  they were Jack Russell terriers. What they may not be able to add is that all Jack Russells in the world today come from stock that was  first bred in the Devon village of Swimbridge. The breed was created by the local parson, the Reverend John ("Jack") Russell who lived in Swimbridge from 1833 to 1883.


The Victorians had very mixed feelings about parsons who took to hunting - even if you considered foxes to be a pest, hunting was a pastime which seemed to clash with Christian values. Besides it was time-consuming and took parsons away from their villages for hours at a time and although many of them hunted on weekdays - it was whispered that some had even been known to hunt on the Sabbath.


Among his contemporaries, John Russell was well-known as a first rate participator in his chosen sport. He was well-known because his hunting exploits took him far and wide across the county. He showed great personal courage on the field and had the stamina to stay in the saddle for hours on end and was still enjoying the sport in his seventies.


Trump Parson Russell dog
Trump, the origin of the Jack Russell breed


His love of the sport began when he was at school at Blundells in Tiverton. His love affair with dog breeding began when he was desperately trying to make up for lost time while studying at University.One day, he was reading in a field when a man passed him,  walking a dog. Russell watched the dog, a fox terrier bitch, and saw many characteristics which would be useful to a huntsman. There and then, he negotiated to buy the dog from the stranger, called his purchase "Trump" and started to breed from her. Her first litter were the progenitors of all the Jack Russells of today and he kept the breeding programme going throughout most of his adult life.


John Russell's fame as a huntsman reached the ears of the Prince of Wales and he soon became a favoured companion of Prince Edward and many other members of the royal family, even being invited to Sandringham and being asked to preach in the church there.


The death of his wife Penelope after 49 years of marriage was a bitter blow from which her never really recovered. A sinecure living was found for him at Black Torrington and reluctantly, he moved away from Swimbridge. The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould records hearing a man talking about his on a coach journey. He is reported to have summed him up as follows: "He be very fond of dogs, I allow; he likes his bottle of port, I grant you that but he's a proper gentleman and a Christian."


Unsurprisingly when Francis Barraud painted the picture below ( which he called  Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph) in 1898, he chose a Jack Russell as his model. The picture later became known as "His Master's Voice" forever to be associated with the record company of that name - an image which spread throughout the world. Parson Russell was dead by then but his lively and slightly comical little dogs lived on.


His Mster's Voice by Francis Barraud 1898.

His Mster's Voice by Francis Barraud 1898.

Unlike Trump, this Jack Russell has a smooth coat




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