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The dog: its origin, natural history and varieties
By H D. Richardson 1851
Mastiff Breeds

IWT Editor preamble - Readers might be puzzled as to why I have included an article on Mastiffs on this Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound website. Well, the explanation is that one of the several breeds of dogs in the bloodlines of Irish Wolfhounds is that of the Mastiff. Richardson used Mastiff breeds in his early endeavours to revive the Irish Woldog but in his writings about the Irish Wolfdog origins he seemed less than enthusiastic about such breeds. Further, he has denied the existance of smooth coated Wolfdogs (having previously argued that the Wolfdog was smooth, then he changed his mind and stated that he was in error because, perhaps, a smooth coated Wolfdog did not suit his agenda? His agenda requires a coated breed in order to support his contention (for which there is no evidence) that the the coated Scottish Deerhound is a degenerated descendent of the Irish Wolfdog. Clearly, if the Deerhound was a descendent of a smooth coated Wolfdog (as depicted by the Reinagle illustration) then a Wolfdog being described as smooth coated would be inconvenient to his Deerhound descendancy opinion. We should be aware also that the Richardsonians hold up as their model for the Irish Wolfhound the Reinagle illustration, ie, a smooth coated Wolfdog. The Richardsons have a track record of inconsistency in their contentions regarding smooth/rough Wolfdogs..)

Like many 19th century canine writers, Richardson wrote about breeds of dogs that he had not personally ever encountered. I don't know if he was familiar with all the varieties he lists under the title of Mastiffs. As well as opining that the Irish Wolfdog was never a smooth coated variety, he also opines that the St Bernard did not have a smooth coated variety, in spite of other canine writers stating this was so and supporting their writings with illustrations (see below for illustration). I don't know if Richardson's denial about smooth or coated breeds was a genuine belief, or merely part of his Wolfdog/Deerhound theory and opinions. What I do know is that the Irish Wolfdog (a crossbreed variety, not a specific breed) was crossbred with smooth coated breeds which included the Great Dane, and such smooth coated crossbreeding is documented in Captain Grahams published pedigrees. We know from Richardson himself that the Irish Wolfdog was also crossed with mastiff breeds such as the Alpine Dog (St Bernard), the Cuban Hound (Cuban Mastiff?), the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, The English Mastiff, The Borzoi etc. The majority of these breeds were coated breeds but some were smooth coated, ie The Great Dane. We must always remember that 150 years ago the notion of a "purebred or pedigree" dog was non existant. Dogs were bred and crossed with other breeds for a function such as Hunting, or Guard Dog duties. So even if the Irish Wolfdog was crossbred with (say) a Coated Alpine dog, the "pedigree' of the Alpine dog also likely involved crossbreeding, about which Richardson may have had little knowledge of?. It's unfortunate that many of the 19th century canine writers "took a position" (just made an assumption, based on phenotype) and then documented the likely (their guess) origins of a breeds. A 150 years later we are trying to undo this error of misinformation and establish the true origin of our breeds.

Another reason for including this particular article on Mastiffs is because Richardson's description of the Mastiff breed contains a major ommission, which perhaps supports our contention about his personal lack of knowledge of specific breeds?. In his day there existed a particular strain of Mastiffs, the "Lyme Hall" strain, which other informed canine writers of his time were aware of. The signifigance of Lyme Hall is that this line of Mastiffs was renowned for a) Being the purist line (whatever "pure" meant 150 years ago), Lyme Hall was apparently pretty much a closed stud by all accounts, using only Lyme Hall stock, not going outside for bloodlines, and, the type was of a lighter, finer build with a tapered snout, compared to the heavier build and blunter muzzle of other lines of Mastiffs. As a self proclaimed expert on all breeds of dogs, as a writer on the origins of all breeds of dogs, it is striking that Richardson does not mention the Lyme Hall Mastiffs and the fact of their difference in type to mainstream Mastiffs in his chapter on the Mastiff, which we re-produce below.

Richardson lived in Dublin, Ireland which is a bit out of the way for keeping in touch with dog breeding in England and Scotland. Dog shows existed in Ireland and English and Scottish exhibitors would travel to these shows, probably a lot less so than they do today because of the logistics of travelling across the Irish Channel in those olden days. It may therefore be that Richardson only had a limited exposure to what was happening in the broader world of dog breeding. Undoubtedly Richardson would have travelled to attend Crufts Dog Show at which he would have seen all breeds, and he also attended English dog shows as an exhibitor, but with what regularity or frequency is unknown. This IWT author holds the view, that in the absence of any further information, Richardson's knowledge of breeds was probably limited, and that he would have had to rely upon third parties to tell him about certain breeds and their development. In fact he does precisely this - rely upon a third party for a description of Mastiffs, and that third party description also failed to include the Lyme Hall Mastiffs. Another all breeds writer was Hugh Dalziel, who, to his credit, when writing about a mastiff type breed (Boarhound) was honest enough to admit that he had a limited familiarity and knowledge of the breed. You can see Dalziels article at the bottom of the page here

We should always remember that this was all happening 150 years ago when many many breeds of dogs were introduced to England and most of these breeds underwent significant change and development. Pedigree registration did not come into being until the third quarter of the 1800's and prior to this (and for several years into the early 20th century) crossbred dogs, or dogs with "parents unknown" could be registered under the name of a specific breed. All of these facts of history conspire to convince this IWT Author that the supposedly authoratative writings by 19th century canine writers need to be examined very closely for factual accuracy, which is often absent. Accuracy often being displaced by the opinions of legacy authors, based on third party descriptions of breeds unknown to such authors.

In other articles in the library we will refer to Richardson many times as regards the origins of the Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound, hence our preparing this page as a reference point on HDR Richardson.

Herebelow is Richardsons 1851 writings on the Mastiff varieties of dogs...

The dog: its origin, natural history and varieties
By H D. Richardson 1851
Mastiff Breeds


The Dog of Thibet. The Bulldog.

The Dog of St. Bernard, or Alpine The Pugdog.

Mastiff. The British Mastiff.

The Spanish, or Cuban Mastiff.


The mastiff of Thibet is a dog of vast size, standing from thirty to thirty-three inches in height at the shoulder, and being bulky in proportion. His head is large and broad, and the divergence of the parietal bones is very strongly marked. His lips are very full and pendulous, and the skin from the eyebrows forms a fold towards the outer edge of the eyes, ending in the jowl; the neck is remarkably full, and the chest is furnished with a dewlap. The usual colour of this dog is black and tan; the coat is large and rugged; the tail very bushy, and carried up over the back.

Mastiff of Thibet  By H D. Richardson 1851 Mastiff Breeds

In disposition, the Thibet dog is said to be very fierce, but much attached to his master. They were originally noticed by Marco Polo, who described them as being "as large as asses," a description contradicted by some subsequent travellers, but since amply confirmed. The probable cause of these discrepant accounts is, that the Thibet mastiff degenerates rapidly if removed to a milder climate, and several inferior, though similar breeds, exist in different portions of the Himalaya chain of mountains.

The mastiff of Thibet is well figured in that interesting work, "Gardens and Menagerie of the Zoological Society." Colonel Smith most justly refers to this dog as the typical mastiff—the Canis Urcanus described of old by Oppian.


So many conflicting accounts of this dog have appeared from time to time, that it is impossible to trust to the accuracy of any of them; accordingly, I have rejected all, and turned to nature itself—to the existing dogs, and the verbal accounts of such faithworthy persons as have actually seen them.

Colonel Smith classes the St. Bernard dog with the wolf-dog group; but he, at the same time informs us, that more than one description of dog is trained by the monks of the Great St. Bernard, for their pious and charitable purposes. One sort he describes as being long-coated, and resembling the Newfoundland, and the other as being short-coated, and resembling the great Dane in colour and hair.

The animal figured by Colonel Smith — a dog belonging to Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, and stated by that gentleman to have been brought direct from the Great St. Bernard, by Sir Henry Dalrymple, of North Berwick—displays in his appearance all the characteristics we might expect to arise from a cross between the short-coated, mighty mastiff of the Alps, and the slighter and more hairy wolf-dog of the Pyrenees; and such I believe to have been the cross whence that fine animal sprang.

The dog originally trained to this service was a large and powerful mastiff, short-coated, deep-jowled, of a yellow colour, with a long, fine tail. L'Ami, who was brought, in 1829, from the convent on the Great St. Bernard, was of this description. He was exhibited in both London and Liverpool to many thousand people, at the charge of one shilling admission. I was favoured by Mr. Clarke of Holborn, with a full account of the true dogs of St. Bernard, obtained by him from the very best authorities. A good many years ago a pestilence made its appearance amongst the dogs of the convent, and all were destroyed save one single specimen. Under these circumstances, the monks had no alternative but to cross the breed, which they did with the Spanish or Pyrenean wolf-dog—the most likely cross to which they could have resorted; hence arose the race of dogs ordinarily known as St. Bernard's. Some of the true race have now been restored; but they are very scarce, and are not to be possessed under enormous prices; in fact, not to be had from the convent at all; Mr. Clarke being acquainted with a nobleman who offered one hundred guineas for a brace of puppies, without success. Hence the mistakes arising from spurious dogs, supposed to be original, merely because they came from the mountain. Perhaps the finest of this breed in existence is the dog recently kept at Chatsworth. It was a dog of amazing stature, of a yellow colour, with a black muzzle. There is also one at Elvaston Castle, in Derbyshire, for which Lord Harrington gave fifty guineas. In Dublin, these dogs used to be common. They were introduced by a Frenchman, named Casseranc, in Onnond Market; he had a male and female, and their whelps were eagerly purchased at five guineas each, as soon as weaned. W. Flood, Esq., of Stillorgan, possesses a noble specimen, of which we give a figure;

St Bernard  By H D. Richardson 1851 St Bernard Dog

and there was also, until lately, a beautiful specimen, named "Donna," in possession of John Richardson, Esq., of Newington Terrace, Rathmines. Donna was one of the best water-dogs I ever saw. She was gentle; but very wild and playful, and her tremendous size rendered her romping caresses anything but agreeable. Mr. Richardson went on one occasion to bathe, accompanied by Donna, who watched the progress of unrobing with much apparent curiosity. No sooner had her master plunged into the water, however, than Donna sprang after him, and, doubtless uneasy for his safety, seized him by the shoulder, and dragged him, in spite of all his resistance—and he is both a powerful man and a capital swimmer—with more zeal than gentleness, to land; nor could he ever enter the water in Donna's presence. Mr. Otley, of Rathmines, possesses a noble dog of this breed, of remarkably large size and striking appearance; and Mr. Bryan has a fine dog, which was brought some years ago from the Alps direct.

St Bernard Smooth and Rough Coated
(Source; National Geographic Society - 1919)

IWT Editor note. The photograph above is not from HDR's article. It was taken from National Geographic Magazine, 1919 with the following text re rough and smooth coated varieties - "The perfect St. Bernard is a very large, very strong, straight-backed, strong-legged, and heavily organized dog, the colors, as shown, being those most eagerly sought. They may be either rough or smooth in coat."

Noting my comments at the top of this page about Richardsons denial of coated varieties of the Irish Wolfdog and the St Bernard, and of my suspicious over Richardsons personal knowledge, or otherwise of certain breeds of dogs, it is ironic and coincidental that in this article Richardson challenges the integrity of legacy writers, and I quote HDR "So many conflicting accounts of this dog have appeared from time to time, that it is impossible to trust to the accuracy of any of them". Noting Richardson's view about coated St Bernards, it is also interesting to note that the illustration (shown above) that he included in his book, appears to be of a barely coated/smooth variety which bears little resemblence as regards coat to the modern heavily coated St Bernard.....Further Richardson reveals, as I suggested, that his "knowledge" of certain breeds is via information and descriptions provided by third parties, rather than a personal exposure to the breed. Again I quote HDR "I have rejected all (other writers accounts of the breed), and turned to nature itself—to the existing dogs, and the verbal accounts of such faithworthy persons as have actually seen them.". It is hardly surprising to this IWT Editor that Richardson would similarly be so dismissive of any views on the origins of the Irish Wolfdog and Scottish Deerhound that disagreed with his own... Which is precisely why, this site takes other peoples views into consideration when authoring articles on our breeds.


Is not to be confounded—which he, however, has been—with the Spanish or Cuban bloodhound. This is a totally different dog.

The Spanish or Cuban mastiff is a very powerfully-built dog, of from twenty-six to twenty-eight inches in height, with extraordinary development of bone and muscle. His head is of prodigious size, even apparently too large in proportion to his body; his eyes are placed very far apart; his upper lip pendulous, but not so much so as in the preceding dog; the ear is small, and not perfectly pendulous, being erect at the root, but the tip falling over; colour usually tawny or light rufus; the under jaw is also undershot, and I do not think I can give my readers a better idea of the dog, than by describing him as a gigantic bulldog, occupying precisely the same position with regard to the prodigious mastiff of the Alps, which our own British bulldog does in reference to the English mastiff. The Spanish or Cuban mastiff is a dog of great courage; in Spain he is used in the combats of the amphitheatre, and is commonly known on the continent as the "Spanish bulldog."

The Spanish or Cuban Mastiff

The dogs procured from Spain or Portugal will be found to answer my present description more fully than such as we may now procure from Cuba; the latter breed having, in many instances, undergone much alteration and deterioration by crossing with the Cuban bloodhound. J. Aylmer, Esq., of 5, Bachelor's Walk, Dublin, has the finest of the breed, perhaps, in Britain. He is frequently importing new and perfect specimens from Cadiz. Colonel H. Smith conceives this race to have been identical with the broad-mouthed dogs for which Britain was celebrated during the Roman era; and certainly as this race answers to ancient description far better than our common bulldog, I am disposed fully to concur with him.

Some years ago, I saw a remarkably fine specimen of this breed at the Portobello Gardens, which fell since into the possession of Dr. Gilgeous, of Demerara. There was also a good specimen recently presented to our Zoological Society, by Sir George Preston, which is, I believe, still in the society's gardens.


The British bulldog is, when a good dog, perhaps one of the most courageous animals in existence. I am obliged to qualify my meed of praise, however, as I have myself seen bulldogs, not merely of very doubtful courage, but absolutely cowards. I attribute this moral degeneracy to the practice of too close, or "in and in" breeding—a practice certain to prejudice the mental qualifications, even though external or physical conformation remain apparently the same.

The bulldog needs little description: he usually stands twenty inches in height—if smaller, he is so much the more highly esteemed; his head is large and round; his eyes small and far apart; ears small and partly erect; muzzle short, truncated, and turned upwards; under jaw projecting beyond the upper, displaying the lower incisor teeth; colour usually brindled, but white is the fancy colour; party colours, as black and white, &c, are to be condemned; his tail must be fine as a rush.

The bulldog is remarkable for the obstinacy with which he keeps his hold, suffering himself to be dismembered—and the merciless experiment has, to the disgrace of human nature, been tried more than once—rather than quit it. He is an excellent water-dog, very faithful to his master; but, unfortunately, has become too notorious, from the inhuman and blackguard sports for which he has been generally used, to be suffered to follow the heel of any man who does not desire to be set down as a patron of ruffianism and infamy.

The bulldog is not wholly destitute of good qualities, as some writers have represented him to be. Besides his courage, he possesses strong attachment to his master. Mr. Jesse relates an anecdote of a bulldog, who having been accustomed to be his master's travelling companion in his carriage, for several years, on his place being allotted to a new favourite, refused to eat, sickened, pined, and died. A bulldog saved a shipwrecked crew by towing a rope from the vessel to the shore, after two fine Newfoundland dogs had perished in the attempt. I should attribute his success to his indomitable courage, which prevented him from giving up his exertions while life remained.


This dog appears to owe his origin to a mixture of the bulldog of ancient Britain with the old talbot hound. He is usually of a brindled colour, or buff, with dark ears and muzzle. "Chicken," a dog belonging to the 43rd regiment, stood twenty-nine inches and a half in height at the shoulder. He was very gentle to human beings, but was not to be trifled with by his own kind, for on one occasion he killed his brother in combat. Chicken was once passing up Union Street, at Plymouth, when he was beset by a troop of curs, who at length actually impeded him in his walk, and excited his anger, on which he paused, raised one of his hind legs, and astonished them all.

The disposition of the mastiff is characterized by courage, generosity, and forbearance: even the midnight marauder will be held by him uninjured until human aid arrives, provided he refrain from struggle or resistance. The attacks of puny antagonists are despised; but if they become intolerable, the noble mastiff is satisfied with showing his contempt, or inflicting chastisement of rather a humiliating than a painful nature. The story of the mastiff who, when greatly annoyed by the incessant barking of a little cur, took him by the back of the neck, and dropped him over a quay wall into the river, is well known; but I recollect an instance of this nature when the mastiff, standing for a moment contemplating the struggles of his late tormentor, and perceiving that the current was likely to carry him away, actually sprang into the water, and rescued him from his dangerous position.

Henry VII. ordered a mastiff to be hanged, because he had singly coped with and overcome a lion! And in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when Lord Buckhurst was ambassador at the court of Charles IX., a mastiff is said to have, alone and unassisted, successively engaged a bear, a leopard, and a lion, and pulled them all down. Stow relates an engagement which took place, in the reign of James I., between. three mastiffs and a lion. One of the dogs being put into the den, was soon disabled by the lion, who took him by the head and neck, and dragged him about. Another dog was next let loose, which shared the same fate; but the third, on being put in, immediately seized the lion by the lip, and held him for a considerable time, till, being severely torn by his claws, the dog was obliged to quit his hold; and the lion, greatly exhausted by the conflict, refused to renew the engagement, but taking a sudden leap over the dogs, fled. into the interior part of his den. Two of the dogs soon died of their wounds; but the third recovered, and was taken care of by the king's son, who said, "He that had fought with the king of beasts should never after fight with any inferior creature "—a far nobler determination than that arrived at by the usurper, Henry VII., as already detailed.

The English mastiff is now very rare, even more so than that of the Alps. He was in high esteem formerly as a watch-dog, but is now generally superseded in that duty by the Newfoundland, who is more than competent to supply his place.

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