This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
In Johnson's tour to the Hebrides in 1773, Boswell makes several allusions to the dogs and hounds. He says : "In the Isle of Sky is a race of brindled greyhounds larger and stronger than those with which we course hares, and these are the only dogs used by them (the islanders) for the chase.....
The deer are not driven with horns and hounds.
A sportsman with a gun in his hand watches the animal, and when he has wounded him traces him by the blood."The same quaint volume says that on one occasion the young laird of Coll "was sporting in the mountains of Sky, and when weary with following his game repaired to Talisker. At night he missed one of his dogs, and when he went to seek for him in the morning found two eagles feeding on his carcase." Scottish hounds were by no means uncommon then in the Hebrides and on the western coast, where considerable pains were taken to preserve the strain in its purity and strength, and no doubt, in a great measure, we are indebted to these smaller farmers for preserving a fine variety of the canine race when it was within quite an easy distance of almost entire extinction. It is possible that, had the Irish wolfhound been favoured in a similar manner, and obtained equally warm admirers, there would have been no occasion for the resuscitation of the breed by the introduction of the deerhound and German boarhound cross.
One or two authors have assumed that the modern deerhound is a cross between the foxhound and the greyhound, or between the bloodhound and the greyhound, but this I consider quite incorrect, nor in my researches have I been able to come across anything likely to sustain such a statement. If the deerhound is to be found in greater numbers now than previously, it is only because more attention is paid to his breeding, and because the many strains that a hundred years and more ago were in the out of the way places of the Highlands have, by better communication, been brought within the radius of canine admirers. Scrope, in his "Deer Stalking," published in 1838, has naturally much to write about the deerhound. He it is recommends the foxhound and greyhound cross, and says that the celebrated sportsman Glengarry crossed occasionally with bloodhounds, still Macneill of Colonsay, who wrote the article in "Days of Deerstalking," that deals mostly with those hounds, confesses that there were still pure deerhounds to be found when he states them to be very scarce at the time he wrote. Maybe they were scarce, but not sufficiently so as to induce people to attempt to reproduce them by such an unhallowed alliance, and perhaps, as stated above, they were not quite so scarce as he imagined. In addition to the hounds kept by the farmers and shepherds, Lord Seaforth had a large kennel, and the strains of the MacDonnels of Invergary House, of Cluny Macpherson, of Colonel Mitchell Strath-maspie, of the Lochiels in Lochaber, one of whose hounds was said to have killed the last wolf in Scotland; of the Dukes of Gordon, of the McKenzies, Macraes, and Macleods, were all of considerable reputation. The pedigrees were carefully guarded, and it is said that Dr. Ross, parish priest at Kilmonivaig, was prouder of the blood of some of his hounds, which were said to be of a pure and rare strain originally possessed by the Duke of Gordon, than he was of his own ancestry, traceable to the Earls of Ross.
A favourite sporting author from my earliest boyhood days has been Charles St. John, who, in his "Highland Sports," writes so charmingly and naturally of all he saw and shot and caught during his excursions. He wrote but eight years after Scrope, still he says that the breed of deerhounds which "had nearly become extinct, or, at any rate was very rare a few years ago, has now become comparatively plentiful in all the Highland districts, owing to the increased extent of the preserved forests and the trouble taken by different proprietors and masters of mountain shootings, who have collected and bred this noble race of dogs regardless of expense and difficulty." Not a word about Macneuill's crosses or of those of Glengarry; and I am happy in the belief that our present race of deerhounds does not contain the slightest taint of bloodhound or foxhound blood. If it did, surely the black and tan colour and the greyhound markings would continually be appearing.
I have yet to see a black and tan deerhound, or one similar to a foxhound in hue.
What a striking and life-like picture St. John draws of Malcolm: "as fine a looking lad, of thirty-five, as ever stepped on heather," and of his two hounds, Bran and Oscar, whose descriptions tally with what I shall later on give to be those of a deer-hound. There was no bloodhound or foxhound stain in Bran and Oscar, and well might such handsome, useful, faithful creatures, or similar ones, be worth the £50 a-piece they would have brought even forty-five years ago.
Since St. John wrote, many deer forests have been broken up into smaller holdings, and to this, perhaps, may be attributed the fact that "coursing deer" is not followed so much as in his time. There are still a few forests in which a deerhound may be taken out to assist at the termination of a stalk; but as the red deer is now mostly killed in "drives," a sort of battue in which the shooter can sit at ease until the deer come along, to be shot in a somewhat ignominious manner, the deerhound as such is little used. A stalker will find one useful at times, but even he is supplied with such a perfect rifle, so admirably sighted, and he is such a good shot that the stag seldom requires more than the hard bullet to kill him almost dead upon the spot.
Some few years ago the Earl of Tankerville, in a series of articles he wrote for the Field, made allusion to the deerhound. He said many that he saw "were beautiful, swift, and powerful. Some are able to pull down a stag single handed, but the bravest always gets killed in the end. The pure breed have keen noses as well as speed, and will follow the slot of a wounded deer perseveringly if they find blood. The most valued are not necessarily the most savage, for the latter (the reckless ones) go in and get killed, whilst the more wary, who have taken the hint after a pug or two, are equally enduring, and will hold their bay for any indefinite time, which is a merit of the first importance."