In a Class by Themselves

by Brian McKinney

A Spirited Battle

In 1909 and 1910, a spirited battle was fought in Britain, pitting a pair of determined Scots, Mrs. Alastair Campbell and A.R. Macdonald, against the formidable Skye Terrier clubs and the even more formidable Kennel Club.  Fortunately for us, the battle was fought in the Kennel Club Gazette as well as in the Skye Terrier show ring, so we have a partial record of those lively events.

It all began in 1909 when Mrs. Alistair Campbell marched into the ring at Crufts with four dogs.  The judge, the eminent Robert Leighton, was perplexed, saying

“Mrs. Alastair Campbell’s exhibits were shown in a class by themselves under the name of Short-haired Skye Terrier, but I question very much whether they should have been admitted at all among Skye Terriers.  But for their colour, which varies from light fawn to brindled tan, they must just as suitably have been classed with West Highland White Terriers or with Scottish Terriers.  I could and did only judge them as terriers . . . from Scotland.

“Apart from consideration of their proper place in the list of recognized breeds, they are admirable little earth-dogs, evidently game and well fitted for their work among the fox cairns of Argyleshire.  Unquestionably, the best of them was Doran Bhan, an alert and shapely little chap, who was followed in order by Roy Mohr, Cuilean Bhan, and Sporgan.”

Leighton’s on-the-spot decision was questioned at the next meeting of the Kennel Club.  E. R. Sandwich grumbled about Mrs. Campbell’s choice of name, “Short-haired Skyes,” pointing out that short hair was a defect in a Skye, and moved a resolution that any classes organised around a defect should be canceled.

A Mr. Astley agreed with the “main point” of the resolution, but took exception to Mrs. Campbell’s dogs not being allowed to be shown as Skye Terriers, saying,

“But as to the Skye Terrier, I do not think whatever is passed or whatever the Kennel Club do can apply to them, because the Skye Terriers that were shown at Cruft’s were the genuine article.  Twenty years ago I judged classes of them in the north of Scotland, and there is a breed now kept by the factor of one of the landowners in the Island of Skye which represents the true terrier, which is not a long-coated animal at all.  The Skye we have now is descended from this, and I have not the slightest doubt that the Scotch Terrier is also descended from those dogs.  Those dogs have been kept for twenty years and their pedigree was then twenty or thirty years old, and they have been in that family from their origination.”

Sir Claud Alexander, clearly a wit and equally clearly not wanting to have Mrs. Campbell’s dogs exhibited as Skyes, responded to Astley:

“If we are going into the origin of things, may we not follow the suggestion one step further and go to the primeval wolf?  I shall have great pleasure in entering one in every class.”

After some discussion of just what Mrs. Campbell and the other breeders of this curious variety terrier should call their dogs or how they should exhibit them, including “Short-haired Skye” and “the original Skye,” the committee voted not to allow anyone to exhibit a dog in a class which represented a defect for that breed.

In response, Mrs. Alastair Campbell (always referred to by her husband’s name to distinguish her from the numerous other Mrs. Campbells in Scotland), burst into print, guns blazing, flags flying, in the Kennel Gazette in July:

“I have noticed in The Kennel Gazette the objections made to my exhibiting these Cairn Terriers of Skye as Short-Haired Skyes and the Clubs of the Long Haired Skye say their sole distinguishing tribute was a specific defect of breed.  Now the breeders of the real article consider the long coat a defect of breed.  A dog with a long coat in Skye is considered a mongrel.  I myself think “Short Haired Skye” is a stupid name for a sporting terrier.  The people in Skye have no distinctive name; they call them “Skyes.”  But the name having been chosen by breeders of the fancy article and been established for some while, we now must have a distinguishing prefix.  I myself consider “Original Sporting Skye” a better name, or “Isle of Skye Skyes.”

Mrs. Campbell continued, pointing out that her sort of dog had been exhibited for some time, with some success:

“These terriers have been exhibited on more than one occasion by others besides me.  Mrs. Young tells me her Skye won a 1st prize in the Sixties in Skye Class at Crystal Palace.  It was very like one I exhibit.  The Skye Terriers of the show bench may be very handsome dogs, but are not the true type.

“I have heard some breeders of the same also say this.  I see Mr. Astley says he judged a class of these 20 years ago.  There was also at Cruft’s some years ago a Class much the same called Rosneath Terriers.  The winner of these was from a kennel of Skyes in Yorkshire kept by the Misses Hawkes.  They came about 20 years ago from Skye.  These terriers were at one time to be found in the West Highlands, but seem to have died out.  When the long-haired first appeared on the show bench there was a controversy on the subject.  I have a letter written by the late Major Macdonald in 1876, in which the writer is very indignant that the show Skye should have been traced to Macleod of Macleod’s terriers.  The present Macleod of Macleod denies that the family ever kept the long-haired breed.  Evidently, even then, they tried to stop a made-up breed being exhibited as a working Skye.

“Macleod of Macleod gives a description of a real working Skye as small and wiry-coated.  He is anxious, as he says, ‘to place the true bred Skye Terrier on the show bench in England and Scotland where his mongrel namesake has too long reigned supreme.’

“This is exactly what all we owners of these terriers wish, but I fancy the late owners of these terriers have been more keen on sport than on the rewards of show ring, and so let the matter drop.  I also wish to point out that many judges know this breed, that when I first exhibited them in Edinburgh, the judge refused to allow them to compete with the long-haired Skyes but admitted they were Skyes and allowed them a first prize in Brace Skye Class.

“Mention has been made of hunting with these in the 16th century, and most of us can trace our terriers back 80 years, and these have been kept to the same type, which is more than can be said of the show Skye.”

The secretary of one of the Scottish Skye clubs, Mr. Porrit, was not convinced:

“Again, I have all through not objected to these dogs being exhibited, or allowed to be shown, but I have simply objected to their being called Skye Terriers.  Let the New Club of the ‘Old Breed’ find a fresh name for them, and the trouble will be at an end.

“I can only add that so long as they are exhibited as ‘Skye Terriers,’ this Club, and also the other Skye Terrier clubs, will refuse to support or help in any way Shows which provide classes for them.”

Mr. Porrit soon found himself under fire from another direction, that direction being the outspoken A. R. Macdonald from Skye, whose letter is so wonderful that it deserves to be quoted at length here:

“I was extremely surprised to see by your letter in the Illustrated Kennel News that you were ignorant of the existence of the short-haired breed of Skye Terriers prior to seeing Mrs. J. Alastair Campbell’s terriers at Crufts.  I should have thought anyone acting as Secretary to a Skye Terrier Club would have made himself perfectly acquainted with the different breeds of Skye Terriers in the island before rushing into print and making absurd statements.

“The tone of your letter is most offensive to me as a breeder of the Original Short Haired Skye Terriers, which breed has been in my family for upwards of eighty years to my own knowledge and kept entirely for sporting purposes.  These terriers were bred for their sporting instincts and gameness regardless of looks.

“My late uncle, Captain Macdonald, of Waternish, who was born in Skye in 1823, took more interest in, and knew more about, the terriers of his native island than anyone living.  He maintained that the short-haired breed was the purest and real Skye Terrier, and that the long-haired breed was descended from a Maltese Terrier and French Poodle landed on the west coast of Skye from a shipwreck, that ladies fancied them much as lap dogs, and thus made them fashionable.

“The first of this breed I ever saw was at a neighbour’s 29 years ago.  It belonged to the lady of the house, and it was difficult to distinguish which was the head or tail of the animal.  I have seen two or three other specimens since then, but of a mongrel type with crofters.  That is all I have ever seen of the breed in Skye.  The fact is that the present-day long-haired terriers which you call Skyes are quite unknown in the Island of Skye, and the natives laugh at the idea of their being termed Skye Terriers.

“Either in the sixties or early seventies my uncle was asked to exhibit some of his terriers at a dog show in Inverness.  He did so, but was so disgusted at the judges awarding the prize to a Long-Haired Terrier (which he described as a whitewash brush) that he ever afterwards refused to exhibit his terriers.  One of the Waternish terriers shown at Inverness was one of the best of the working Skye Terriers.  This dog was upwards of 20 years of age, if not more, when he died.  He was stuffed and all that remains to be seen of him now is the head, legs, and tail, rats having destroyed the rest.  He had the pluck of a bulldog.  On one occasion, in a fight with an otter, he had his nose, lips, some of his teeth torn away, a leg broken, and one of his sides badly cut in two places, and was for three days in the cairn before he came out.  After recovering from his wounds, he was keener than ever for otters.”

Sir Claud, as you might have predicted, was soon back in the fight:

“As the arguments about the merits and demerits of the so-called Short-haired Skyes have, after dragging their weary length through the weekly canine press, reached your August columns, I hope you will give me space to reply to Mrs. Alistair Campbell’s attack on the secretaries of the Skye Clubs, of whom (for my sins) I happen to be one.

“In all that has been said and written on the subject, two quite distinct issues have been confused, the first being whether the Kennel Club should allow Mrs. Alistair Campbell to register and show her dogs as Skyes, and the second whether hers or the show dogs of the present day have the better claim to be considered the original Terriers of Skye.

“As regards the first question it is quite clear that, irrespective of the merits of the dogs, the time for the owners of the so-called short-haired Skyes to have asserted themselves was when the Kennel Club first put the long-haired dogs on the register in the seventies.  Having failed to do so, it is only reasonable that they should forever hold their tongues, as far as the name ‘Skye Terrier’ is concerned.  Even Mrs. Alistair Campbell must see that we cannot be expected to give up our registered title after all these years, and it will not tend to the improvement of her breed any more than of ours, that two distinct varieties should be advertised for sale, and at stud under the same heading, to say nothing of their appearing under the same name at such a show as Cruft’s.

“It would be interesting to know why, when the matter was brought to their notice, the Committee of the Kennel Club declined to take action, seeing that it is their custom not to allow breeds which do not figure on their register to be classified at shows held under their rules.  They will not, I am sure, deny that they objected (too late) to the inclusion of Shetland Collies in the classification of the LKA show, and surely what is sauce for the Shetland Collie goose should be sufficient to dish the short-haired Skye gander.

“As to the origin of the Skyes, there is no doubt that in pre-dog-show days there were all over the Highlands (including the Isle of Skye) innumerable small terriers, long in back and short in leg, but varying immensely in type, in length of coat and in colour, as do all breeds of domestic animals, which have not come under the hand of the show breeder, and in this respect Mrs. Alistair Campbell’s dogs appear to be worthy descendants of them, for they are of various types, with ears all over the place.

“It is probable that among these terriers were the ancestors not only of the present Skyes, Scottish, and West Highland Terriers, but also of the Dandies and Clydesdales, but I fail to see that mere antiquity of parentage is any claim to merit on the show bench, else would all our efforts in breeding be in vain, and, to carry the matter to its logical conclusion (as I pointed out at the Council Meeting) were a wolf to be entered in every breed at a show, the judges would have no alternative but to award it the first prizes down the line.

“It is interesting to know that in the sixties, Mr. MacDonald, or one of his ancestors, showed his dogs unsuccessfully against the long coated ones, which he gracefully described as ‘whitewashed brushes’ while resolving to show no more, but surely this only proves that the latter were in those days, as now, considered the right type and, incidentally, that the disappointed exhibitor of that period differed very little from his successors of today.

“The fact that two or three people kept dogs or other animals of any particular type in a given place is no proof that that type was the indigenous one.  I have a painting of a very modern looking show Skye, which has been in the possession of my family at Ballochmyle for at least 150 years, and I have kept such dogs for about 30 years, but that does not prove that they were the original terriers of Ayrshire.  “In conclusion, I would suggest to Mrs. Alistair Campbell that she should now give up words in favour of deeds, and ask the Kennel Club to put her breed, for which I would suggest the name of ‘Campbell dogs,’ on the register, and provided she avoids all imitation of the name ‘Skye Terrier,’ I think I can promise that she will meet with no opposition from any of the clubs, which devote so much time, trouble, and expense to the improvement of the recognised animals.

Was that blast from Sir Claud enough to stifle Mr. Macdonald and Mrs. Campbell?  Not for a second.

Mr. Macdonald:

“It is quite clear to Skyemen that the writer has never visited the kennels of breeders of Skyes in the island where he would see the pure breed, that is the original old-fashioned short-haired strain, not the long coated mongrel breed invented some time in the earlier half of last century, and which has been recognised by the Kennel Club on what grounds it is difficult to understand.”

Mrs. Campbell:

“Sir Claud Alexander forgets that there were two breeds of Terriers in Skye - the long-haired pet and the wiry-haired working Terrier of shorter coat, therefore, why should not there be two in the show-ring?  If they were judged on their sporting merits only, there would be no doubt which would be the most suitable for the work required of them.

“Judging by letters many of us have received, there seems to be a general wish to see the small cairn Terrier in the show ring again.

“For 20 years I have known that these show Skyes, as they are, were not to be found in Skye.  The first native dog I had was a Mackinnon, brought from the island by my late father, Sir David Monro, of Allen, to me as a true specimen of Skye Terrier.  He took a great interest in the breed, which, judging by old letters, seldom weighed more than 17 pounds, and in difference of appearance does not seem to vary more than the show Skye, which seems all sizes, also as varied in colour as these, and is also drop and prick-eared.”

Mr. Macdonald:

“In 1875 my uncle sent two Waternish Terriers to a Dog Show at Inverness as pure Skye Terriers.  Much to his surprise and amazement the first prize was awarded to a Long-Haired Terrier owned by a lady.  This, he said, was wrong, as he knew the long-haired strain to be of mongrel origin, having been told by others who remembered when the breed was first produced by crossing the pure Short-Haired Skye with the Maltese Terrier and French Poodle.

“Nevertheless, at that time, the Short-Haired Skyes were recognized as the true type; Mr. James Pratt’s Gillie and Dunnegan were among the best of the early dogs.  He was so esteemed as a breeder, exhibitor, and judge of Skyes that he was known to friends as “Skyehigh Pratt.”  Mr. Pratt kept always faithful to the old working Terrier, and he had a particular aversion to the long coats down to the ground.”

Another broadside from Sir Claud, which manages to be anti-Cairn and sexist at the same time:

“It may surprise Mr. Macdonald to hear that all the drop-eared Skyes of today, and many prick-eared ones, are descendants of Mr. Pratt’s dogs.

“I obtained my first show dogs from him.  All these dogs grew heavy coats of the present type, blue, grey, or fawn, not brindled like Mrs. Campbell’s dogs.

“It is true that in later years some complaints were heard from Mr. Pratt as to the attention paid to length of coat in the breed, but the real truth was that, while no strain of dogs grew heavier or longer coats than his, he, being a bachelor, was unable to do full justice to them.

“The invasion of the Skye ring by ladies, such as the late Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. W. J. Hughes, Miss McCheane, and others, caused a complete revolution in the way the dogs were turned out, and gave them the appearance of increased coats, and thus mere men, such as Mr. Pratt and I, found themselves entirely out of it.

“Matrimony solved the difficulty in my case, but though Mr. Pratt is able to turn his hand successfully to anything else under the sun, this one thing he could not make up his mind to face, so he gave me all the old documents relating to Skyes, which he had collected through ages of newspaper controversy, and retired from the show world.

“Perhaps he was a wise man.”

We suspect that neither Mrs. Campbell nor Mr. Macdonald were convinced by this amiable digression.  Meanwhile, Robert Leighton leapt back into the fray:

“Surely it is too late in the day to question the genuineness of the long-haired Skye Terrier.  The breed has been established for many generations.  It was the first of all the terriers of Scotland to receive technical recognition.  To argue that it is a variety manufactured by crossing the Cairn Terrier with the Poodle, the Maltese, or any other long-coated breed, is as ridiculous as the assertion that the show Skye of today is a mere ‘pet,’ destitute of terrier character, and incapable of performing the work of a sporting earth-dog.

“With all deference to Mrs. Alistair Campbell, I venture to submit that even if it be proved that her own short-haired terriers are indigenous to the Isle of Skye, and to no other locality, this would not disprove the assumption that the breed recognised as the Skye Terrier is also a genuine native of the Hebrides and the West of Scotland...

“I had the interesting duty of judging Mrs. Campbell’s terriers at Cruft’s when they were entered as ‘Short-haired Skyes,’ and I write with an intimate knowledge of them.  I recognize them as typical and unspoiled representatives of the early terriers of the West of Scotlandand much more like Scottish Terriers than they are like Skyes.”

“I have had the opportunity to examine the mounted head and neck of Sir Paynton Pigott’s Granite, the first Scottish Terrier to gain a prize at a Kennel Club Show.  His resemblance to Mrs. Campbell’s terriers is too close to be mistaken.  He has the same prick ears and small, deep set eyes, the same length and consistency of coat, the same sharp-pointed muzzle, and he is similar to them in the size and conformation of his fox-like head.  Granite came from the Western Highlands, but he had no known association with the Isle of Skye.  He was a typical Scottish Terrier, and no one pretended that he was a short-haired Skye.”

Mrs. Campbell’s response:

“I see in the October number of the Kennel Gazette that Mr. Leighton draws attention to the likeness between my terriers and Sir Paynton Piggott’s Granite, which he now possesses stuffed.  There is no doubt that the resemblance is marked, nor is there doubt that these terriers have been shown as Skyes in the sixties, and I think earlier seventies, then as earlier Scottish Terriers, and now as West Highland White Terriers.

“I think I have proved that there is no other class in which I would have so much right to show these terriers, especially as the name West Highland White was decided upon for the white alone, and the name Scottish having left the class open to the larger East Coast breed.  I cannot see that the other Skye has been proved to be indigenous to either Skye or the West Highlands, so I think that the working terriers I exhibit may fairly claim to be West Highland Skye Terriers.”

In December, Charles Cruft, not eager to have a repetition of the previous year’s Skye-Short-haired Skye brouhaha at his show, wrote the Kennel Club, saying he had heard from some exhibitors who planned to enter some dogs as “Cairn Skye Terriers,” and would the Skye Terrier clubs object if they did so?  More importantly, was the Kennel Club prepared to recognize Cairn Skye Terriers?

Answer from the KC: “That Mr. Cruft be informed that the Kennel Club offer no objection to him giving a class for Short-haired Skye Terriers as last year, but they do not recognise them as a variety.”

Mrs. Campbell entered her dogs, anyway; the judge, Miss A.K. Clifton, described her response in the Kennel Gazette:

“By an unfortunate mistake a breed now pretty generally known as Cairn Terriers were entered in these classes, and as I was judging by the Skye and Clydesdale Terrier Club standard, and failing to find one point in these dogs that in any way approached the club’s description of the Skye Terrier, I could take no other course than to mark them “wrong class.”

In April, 1910, the Kennel Gazette, the Kennel Club decided that the variety which had been hitherto exhibited as “Short-Haired Skye Terriers” and registered as Skye Terriers, must in future be registered as Cairn Terriers.  Executives of shows could provide classes for Cairn Terriers in their schedules.  Robert Leighton, by staggering coincidence, judged the first Cairn entry called by that name at the Scottish Kennel Club show in Edinburgh in October, and wrote

“Whether the Cairn Terrier is, or is not, destined to win popular favour outside of the kennels of the old Highland families in which for generations its kind have been kept may be a matter of doubt; but no one who has handled these alert and game little earthdogs, and discerned their capabilities and their courage, can remain ignorant of their worthiness to become a favourite variety of the sporting terriers of Scotland.  Regarded historically, they are, of course, the oldest of all the indigenous terriers of the north, representing the original source from which the modern Scottie, the Skye, and even perhaps the Dandie Dinmont, have evolved.  They are certainly a genuine and not in any sense a manufactured breed.  From their far-back ancestors they have inherited a keen sporting instinct, and they have been carefully kept to the small size and compact build of body which enable them easily to follow a fox into its lair among the mountain boulders and the otter into its holt.

“Hitherto, the Cairn Terrier has not been studiously bred to a uniformity of type, and apart from a certain generic affinity, the different local strains still reveal an embarrassing diversity of form and appearance.  Even the breeders and owners of the variety are still somewhat perplexed concerning the exact kind of dog which the ideal Cairn Terrier is, or ought to be, and in these circumstances the judge who undertakes to classify and select the best in a group brought before him in the show ring is not in an enviable position.”

And that, it must have seemed at the time, was that.  Decision made, mustn’t grumble.  Not until the next show, anyway, when S. Tilman judged LKA, and said:

“It is pretty generally admitted that the Cairns have a better right to the prefix of Skye than the beautiful long-haired breed known as Skye Terriers, which has been evolved from their introduction to the island of a Spanish poodle saved from the wreck of the Armada off the coast of Skye.”

One final note: A petition for the affix, “Brocaire,” was granted Mrs. Alastair Campbell, Tigh-an-rudha, Ardrishaig, Argyll, in May, 1911.

Thank you Brian

Cairn fancier Brian McKinney wrote this report sometime around 2002.  We’ve linked to it at several different addresses since then as Brian moved his website, but recently it disappeared and we just can’t find it.  It is a valuable historical account of the naming of Skye Terriers and Cairn Terriers, and we have taken it upon ourselves to preserve it here. 

A few years ago we got Brian’s permission to print it in its entirety in Long and Low, the Skye Canada newsletter. We hope that Brian will understand our decision to keep his work in the public eye by reprinting it here.  If you know Brian, tell him we will quickly comply if he wants it removed.  Until then, we give you Brian’s excellent research on how Skyes and Cairns got their names.