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.
Well, we hunted our otter up and down that pool for two hours. He was. given no rest; he came quietly to a corner where the water was shallow; Rally and her big puppy were there. They saw the round, brown head and bead-like eyes, and furiously rushed on to their game. What a row! What a fight! The terriers were there; all of us were there. Torn jackets and torn coats. It was a wonder that during the melee our otter did not escape and we ourselves be the bitten ones. How it all came about none of us well knew, but a quarter of an hour later, three lads, a man, and a fisherman, were sitting in a green meadow, where wild hyacinths made the hedgerows blue and the clover was imparting fragrance to the air. They were sitting there with their hounds and their terriers, and whilst the scratch pack rolled and dried themselves amongst the earlier summer flowers, we were gazing in astonishment at an otter weighing 25Żlb. - one that we had killed ourselves with the aid of our two hounds and terriers. We had walked three miles to perform this feat, and, need I say, that in less than two years from that time that locality had as good a pack of otter hounds as man need desire. Our Mentor of the day was our huntsman.
Notwithstanding this experience of my own, almost all old hunters say that many years careful work are required to perfect a pack of otter hounds. Squire Lomax, of Clitheroe, over a quarter of a century ago, had the misfortune to lose his entire pack through an attack of dumb madness. Now his were perhaps the most accomplished lot of otter hounds any man ever possessed. Each hound was perfect in itself, and the pack might have found and killed an otter without the slightest assistance from their esteemed master, who had taken years to bring them to their state of perfection. "You will soon get another pack together, Mr. Lomax," said a friend. "No," was the reply, " my old hounds took me the best part of a lifetime to obtain, and should I recommence again, I should be an old man and past hunting, before I got another lot to my liking." Mr. Lomax for years hunted the Ribble, Lune, and other rivers in the north.
Mr. Gallon, of Bishop Auckland, who met his death whilst otter hunting in Scotland, was another great authority on this hound, and his opinion was pretty much the same as that of Mr. Lomax. But good sport can be had without having hounds quite so perfect as those mentioned.
I am, however, getting a little in advance of my text, and something must be said of the earlier days of the otter hound. King John is said to have had a pack, of which he was very fond. Although thus early otter hunting was considered royal sport, the otter was only placed in the third class of the beasts of the chase, ranking with the badger and the wild cat - even the timid hare and the hard-biting marten taking precedence. However, that he was highly valued, even in those days, for the amusement afforded, may be inferred from the fact that Edward II. (time 1307), had, as part of his household, a huntsman and subordinates to look after his otter hounds. Sometimes the King's otter hunter resided in the hall, and was served there; on other occasions he had his own residence, and lived as he liked. Anyhow, he had "twelve otter dogges" in his care, and in addition a couple of greyhounds. Then there were "two boys" to look after the hounds and feed them. The master of the otter hounds was, as the times went, fairly well rewarded for his duties, he receiving in addition to "a robe in cloth yearly, or a mark in money" - the latter 13s. 4d. - and an extra allowance of four shillings and eightpence for shoes, twopence per day wages. Each of the so-called "boys" was remunerated at the rate of three halfpence per day. The latter did not appear to have any perquisites (tips are a more modern institution), but they would doubtless reside in the house or at the kennels.
It would have been interesting to know as a certainty the class of hounds the above were, but there is little doubt they were hard in coat and rough in hair, much as they are at the present day. Some time later the otter hound appeared to become less fashionable. He was kept by the "tinkers," and similar class of roving individuals, on the northern borders. There were a few in Wales. Early in the present century they were not uncommon in the south of Scotland, in Devonshire and the west, and in the north of England. Since, the otter hound has become a greater favourite, and at the present time, during the season, which may be said to last from the middle of April to the end of September, some eighteen to twenty well regulated packs hunt the otter in various parts of the kingdom.
In a few cases, usually in Devonshire, foxhounds are almost entirely used; elsewhere the packs are composed of the rough-haired otter hound, with occasionally a couple or so of foxhounds to assist them. Still, each variety of the hound should stick to that game for which nature intended him, the foxhound to the fox, the harrier to the hare, the otter hound to the otter. The latter is mostly followed on foot, and the foxhound is too quick and fast, though many like him because of his dash. In the staidness and care of the otter hound lie his character, and he will give better sport in most cases at his own game than any other hound.
Some of the most noted packs of the present day are those of the Hawkstone, which originally belonged to the late Hon. Geoffrey Hill, who died in 1891. They ultimately passed into the hands of Mr. R. Carnaby Forster, who hunted them until 1895, when Mr. H. P. Wardell took the mastership, and who continues to show excellent sport. Mr. Hill, who hunted from Maesllwch Castle, in Radnorshire, had the pack from his brother, Lord Hill, in 1869, and from that time to the day of his death had improved it immensely. There were twenty-five couples in the kennels, all good-looking, handsome, rough hounds, perhaps not so perfect in this work as those of Mr. Lomax, but in "sorriness" they have never been equalled. They were well cared for; the members of the hunt had a handsome costume, and hounds were taken to and fro in a van made for the purpose. From 1870 to 1890 these hounds killed 704 otters, no fewer than sixty-two being accounted for in one season, the best on record that of 1881. In 1893 they killed forty-one otters in forty-eight hunting days, but if a pack kills, from a dozen to two dozen otters during the four or five months they hunt, a bad record is not made, for sometimes when the waters are in flood, or the hay crop remains uncut, hounds may not he out for a week, or even a longer interval may intervene between one meet and another.