"The Large Rough Water-Dog is web-footed, swims with great ease, and is used in hunting ducks and other aquatic birds. From its aptitude to fetch and carry, it is frequently kept on board of ships, for the purpose of recovering any thing that has fallen overboard; and is likewise useful in taking up birds that are shot, and drop into the sea. There is a variety much smaller. They are both remarkable for their long and shaggy coat, which frequently incommodes them by growing over their eyes." Thomas Bewick (et al), Quadrupeds (1792), p. 328, also the illustration above; for full bibliographic information, see "...Visuals".
Bewick continues (pp. 329-30) with the following observations which we'll present here in order to keep his text in one chunk: "The Large Water Spaniel....is valuable for its great docility and attachment to its master. It receives instructions with readiness, and obeys with uncommon alacrity. Its form is elegant, its hair beautifully curled or crisped, its ears long, and its aspect mild and sagacious. It is fond of the water, and swims well. It is chiefly used in discovering the haunts of wild-ducks and other water fowl; and also in finding birds that have been shot or disabled. It is probably the Finder, described by Caius [see Finders... ]. The Small Water-Spaniel is similar to the other in form, habits, and disposition; and its capacity for receiving instruction is equally good. With looks of extreme attention and sensibility, it observes the motion of its master, and catches the well-known signal with amazing promptitude. The various tricks which these Dogs are sometimes taught to perform, seem more like the effect of reasoning powers, than of undiscerning instinct [see Circus...]."
"Newfoundland was discovered by John Cabot in 1497," Jeff Griffen reminds us in The Hunting Dogs of America (NY: Doubleday, 1964), "and St. John's, because of its spendid horseshoe harbour that could accommodate the largest of ships, was settled as a British colony in 1583. Within seventy-five years, fishermen from France, Spain and Portugal were regular visitors.... In time...the St. John's Newfoundland [arose], a ... water dog about the size of a Pointer with a heavy, oily coat that shed water like a greased balloon .... a most practical dog. During the fall and spring when great masses of migrating ducks and geese clogged the island, he worked tirelessly with gunners as a retriever. By and large, though, he was a fisherman's dog, working around the nets, on the boats, recovering anything that fell overboard, fetching a cod that slid back into the water as the fish were being transferred to the pier, swimming from ship to shore with a hawser line. In those days a ship dog was a handy asset, not only for companionship but for practical use. From 1750 on, these Newfoundlands from St. John's rode the ships to England and the Continent. They were a captain's pride and joy, friend of the crew and general handyman." (Griffen, p. 119.)
Of these dogs, Aaron Thomas wrote in 1794: "A Fisherman who works in a Banker on the Grand Bank has a most laborous life.... He is exposed to Wind and Rain, to Foggs and Frost, to life on Fish and to be always wett....A Banker is not a little proud of his Dog at Sea. This Creature exhibited his dexterity and usefullness to a surprizing degree. In addition to what I have stated before in the History of Newfoundland Dogs I shall mention the following trait as a good quality in their composition. The Fishermen, when they hooked a Fish, in drawing the line up [find] the Fish sometimes disentangled themselves. The Fish may sometimes float on the Water. The Dog, observing this, dasheth into the Sea and brings the Fish alongside. They then throw a Rope out and the Dog, with the fish in his mouth, puts Head into the Noose of the Rope and Fish and dog are hauled into the Vessel together. At Sea those Dogs often pursue and kill Water Fowl. I have heard of a Dog who was absent from a Ship on the Grand Bank for Two Days, on the Third he return'd with a Hegdown in his mouth. These Dogs have also been seen to dive after Porpoises but without success." The Newfoundland Journal of Aaron Thomas, Able Seaman in H.M.S. Boston: a journal written during a voyage from England to Newfoundland and from Newfoundland to England in the years 1794 and 1795..., edited by Jean M. Murray (London: Longmans, 1968), p. 174.
Griffin observes that English sportsmen discovered that the dog was outstanding, "better than a spaniel in water because he had power, better around marshes because he could bull through the heavy cover, .... an English brig foundered off the coast of Maryland in 1807 and aboard were two St. John's pups which were saved and went on to establish the famous Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
"We know that Lewis on his expedition with Clark in 1802 had a Newfoundland, probably the St. John's type because it retrieved game, chased buffaloes out of camp and kept watch for grizzly bears. Scannon was his name and when the Indians stole him at one point, Lewis and Clark's camp went on the warpath until he was recovered... [Canadian readers will recollect that Simcoe made similar use of such a Newfoundland, "Jack Snap", in the 1790s; please also note that Admiral Collingwood's "Bounce", present on Royal Sovereign at Trafalgar, was almost certainly a St. John's type (G. Newman Collingwood, Correspondence of Lord Collingwood, Estelle Ross, The Book of Noble Dogs (NY: Century, 1922, p. 289).]
"By 1800 the St. John's dogs had established such a reputation as water retrievers in England that duck hunters regularly visited the seaport of Poole in southeastern England to buy them off the Newfoundland ships. As a brisk trade in dogs developed around the English port of Poole, so did the confusion between the Newfoundland from St. John's and the much larger, almost ponderous Newfoundland cart dog.... Colonel Peter Hawker tried to clear up the matter by calling the smaller dog the St. John's dog or Labrador, because it had spread up the coast of Labrador.
To get an idea of how very similar the St. John's Newfoundlands, Jack Snap and Scannon, may have been to the Poodle/water dog of the period, see "...Visuals", Morland. For more about Jack, the Simcoe family's "very fine Newfoundland dog" who came to them at Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario) at the time of their arrival: The Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe, wife of the first Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6, with notes and a biography by John Ross Robertson (Toronto: Coles Canadiana Collection, 1973; originally published: Toronto: William Briggs, 1911), entry for Friday, 25 October 1793, p. 199. Jack was not handy in a canoe, but was "a great favorite".
It seems odd to look for the essence of the Poodle in 18th and 19th century Newfoundland, but, in fact, an isolated population serves to concentrate behaviours as well as physical characteristics. For your entertainment, and in case we require this reference at a later date: Reminiscences of James P. Howley: Selected Years (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1997), p. 50-1: "Mr. Carroll...was a very queer genius of a man, and afforded us much amusement by his quaint yarns and sayings. He had four or five magnificent Newfoundland dogs with him, about the finest specimens I ever saw. They were coal-black, sleek, and well-fed. He had on the beach several puncheons of seal scraps and flippers to feed them with.... Carroll often entertained us with a series of comic exhibitions greatly to our amusement. He would call the dogs to him and give them certain orders. They would sit around on their haunches, while Carroll stood on one side. Throwing a piece of bread or meat on the ground in the centre of the circle, he would then strike an attitude, fold his arms and with head in air commence to whistle a medley of airs while the dogs with eyes intently fixed on the food listened motionlessly, not daring to budge until he glided of into some familiar air previously announced by him as the sign of release. The moment he uttered the first bar of this particular tune, the dogs would make a headlong rush for the morsel of food. He sometimes varied this performance by pointing to some individual in the group and saying, 'When I take off his hat you can have the bread.' He would then walk around from one to another, the dogs watching him intently but not daring to budge till he approached the individual in question and removed his hat, then again the dogs would make their dive."
Further to ships' dogs, here's an intriguing scrap of information caught on the fly from a loyal PWD owner: water dogs are said to have been used to carry messages between Spanish ships under the command of Admiral Gravina at the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) off Cadiz. Query: were these water dogs the Portugese variety (Cão de Agua) or the Spanish (Perro de Aguas)? The enormous ocean swell which unpracticed Spanish gunners found so problematical would seem to preclude use of ships' dogs as messengers. See: David Howarth, Trafalgar: the Nelson Touch (NY: Athenaum, 1969)--and, by the way, there's a Poodle in the contemporary drawing, a crowd scene, on p. 17. The Poodle History Project would very much like to receive further information about use of water-dogs in the Spanish navy during the Napeoleonic period. For related material, see Army dogs.
Go back to Ships' dogs...