Greyhound History in the 18th and 19th Centuries



Eighteenth Century

The English Earl of Orford created the first coursing club open to the public in 1776 at Swaffham in Norfolk. At this same time, horse racing went public as well, and both sports became very popular with the public. Orford crossbred greyhounds with several other breeds, including the bulldog, in pursuit of greyhounds with greater stamina. Despite legends to the contrary, his efforts were unsuccessful and there is no evidence that the bloodlines of these crosses survived. Later attempts to cross greyhounds with Afghans also proved ineffective. One of the most famous greyhounds of this century is Snowball, who won four cups and over thirty matches in his coursing career. In the eighteenth century breeders began to keep proper pedigrees of their dogs.


Nineteenth Century

Greyhounds remained a familiar sight among the royalty and nobility of England in the nineteenth century. The husband of Queen Victoria had a pet black and white greyhound, Eos. Eos appears in many court portraits.

This century saw the beginning of the advertising of dogs available to stud for a fee. This was a dramatic change from the past, when breeders would never allow one of their champions to sire a dog that might compete against them one day. King Cob was the first successful public stud dog.

Image: Coursing The popularity of greyhound coursing in Britian increased greatly in the nineteenth century, as the Industrial Revolution gave the manufacturing classes the wealth and time to enjoy such activities, and the expansion of rail made it easier to get to coursing events. Formal coursing meets reached their peak of popularity in the late 1800s. Some of these meets, such as the Waterloo Cup, are still held today. The image to the left depicts coursing in the nineteenth century. At huge coursing grounds like Ashdown and Amesbury, spectators followed the dogs on horseback. In live-hare coursing, two greyhounds are slipped (released) together. The winner is judged by a code of points: 1-3 for speed, 2-3 for the go-bye, 1 point for the turn (bringing the hare around at not less than a right angle), 1/2 point for the wrench (bringing the hare around at less than a right angle), 1-2 points for the kill, and 1 point for the trip (where the hare is thrown off its legs).

The Waterloo Cup was considered for over a century to be the ultimate test of the coursing Greyhound. The first Waterloo Cup was held in 1837 on the Altcar estate of Earl Sefton and was won by Mr. Stanton's dog, Fly. The competition was held during the week of the Grand National horse racing meet and soon attracted sporting men in considerable numbers. By the second half of the century, it had become a premier attraction by itself. Modern Greyhound enthusiasts, whether of track or coursing sport, have little idea of how important this meet was. In fact, simply to be nominated for entry was a matter of prestige, and early advertisements for stud service or puppies would have a line reading "Waterloo Cup nominator" referring to the sire/stud. To actually win the Cup was to be the top dog of the year. To win it more than once was nearly unheard of. The great Greyhound, Master M'Grath won in 1868, 1869, and 1871! It was thought that the black dog's feat would never be bettered, but in 1889, Fullerton, a brindle, won his first Waterloo Cup. He would win it again in 1890, 1891, and unbelievably, for a fourth time in 1892.

Dogs were raised and trained in remote hill area where they could roam freely, and chase anything that caught their attention. The constant exercise and hard climate built a level of endurance into the dogs that some think has been lost with modern rearing methods. In their second spring, the puppies were either sold or began their training for coursing competition. Around the turn of the twentieth century the breeder Henry Thompson suspended on ropes near the kitchen range wooden boxes packed with straw, into which the puppies could climb to escape the cold draft on the floor.

Spaniards brought greyhounds with them to the new world. One greyhound accompanied the conquistador Coronado all the way to present-day New Mexico.

A few greyhounds existed in North America from colonial times. A greyhound kept the German-born colonial military leader, Baron von Steuben, company through a long winter at Valley Forge. Greyhounds were imported to North America in large numbers from Ireland and England in the mid-1800s not to course or race, but to rid midwest farms of a virtual epidemic of jackrabbits that was ruining their farms. Greyhounds also were used to hunt down coyotes who were killing livestock. They became familiar sights on farms and ranches in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. Americans soon discovered that greyhounds could be a source of sport. One of the first national coursing meets was held in Kansas in 1886. American coursing has been most popular in the western states.

The US cavalry used greyhounds as scouts to help spot Native Americans, since the greyhounds were fast enough to keep up with the horses. General George Custer reportedly always took his 22 coursing greyhounds with him when he travelled. Custer loved to nap on the parlor floor, surrounded by a sea of greyhounds. He normally coursed his hounds the day before a battle, including the day before the Battle of Little Big Horn.

With the formation of the National Coursing Club of England in 1858, coursing was turned into more of a business. It began requiring the registration of dogs for its events in 1882. This led to the creation of The Greyhound Stud Book in Britian and, later, sister publications in the US, Ireland and Australia.

Image: Mechanical Lure

The evolution from coursing to track racing began in 1876, when the first enclosed or "park" course meet was held. These courses were only 800 yards long instead of the 3-mile traditional courses. Because of this, enclosed courses put a premium on speed. Enclosed courses have stayed very popular in Ireland. Their popularity in England was short-lived, but they helped convince open coursing leaders to shrink the size of their courses. Also in 1876, greyhound racing began at the Welsh Harp, Hendon, England, when six dogs raced down a straight track after a mechanical lure. The image at right depicts this race. This attempt to provide a humane alternative to coursing failed, however, and the experiment would not be tried again until 1921.

From these coursing meets track racing would eventually develop. It came about partly due to the necessity of controlling the enormous crowds of people who came to observe the coursing. In an effort to keep them from trampling land, dogs, and other people, enclosed coursing parks were developed. These were huge fields which were fenced with an assortment of escapes (holes) built into the fences. Hares were captured and trained to the escapes so that they would have a fair chance. Then, during a coursing meet, dogs would be slipped in pairs to pursue the hare. They were judged on speed on the "run up" to the hare, on the number and kind of turns they forced the hare to make (a sharp turn earned more points than a slight deviation), and on whether or not they made the kill. The "run up" earned a significant number of points so speed became very important. After an artificial lure was developed which could be run by a motor, it was an obvious step to turn to racing rather than coursing the hounds. The first artificial lure was used in England in 1876 [Mechanical Lure] and was a stuffed rabbit set up on a long rail that ran straight for a long distance, then went into a brushy blind. This did not, however, prove popular and was dropped in favor of enclosed coursing. It was not until the early 1900s, when an American, Owen Patrick Smith, developed a lure that could be run in a circle on a track such as horses used that racing began to be considered as a sport.


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