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.
It may be interesting to note that the "old pack," which had been bred on Exmoor, was sold to go to Germany in 1811, and what has been produced from it, with no doubt suitable crosses, is hunting there still. Although the staghunting in the West is carried out on modern lines, its ancient history is not forgotten. The houses of the country families, of the Aclands, Fortescues, Fellowes, Bassets, and many others are hung with "heads" dating from the last century; the silver buttons with the hunt device on them are handed down from generation to generation, and those worn by the late master, Mr. C. H. Basset, who resigned at the close of 1893-4, and whose grandfather hunted the hounds from 1780 to 1786, are over one hundred and twenty years old. Mr. R. A. Sanders is the present master.
In 1896, Sir John Heathcote Amery, who had hunted with great success about Tiverton, established his pack as staghounds, and without interfering with his neighbour the Devon and Somerset, who are giving him every support, will no doubt be able to afford many good runs in the future after the wild red deer.
In some other parts of the country, stags and hinds are hunted indiscriminately (the Queen's prefer haviers, cut at four years old), the former being deprived of their antlers in order that they cannot injure themselves or each other when in confinement, and both are specially fed and prepared for the chase. They are seldom hurt, either when being hunted or when taken, and the same animal will afford a run time after time.
I have always had an impression that our ordinary modern staghounds seldom go with the fire and dash other hounds do that are continually blooded, but this may be fancy or prejudice on my part. Every now and then some, perhaps well-meaning, persons, who are totally ignorant of sport, its usages and value, make uncalled for attacks upon stag hunting as usually conducted, and where the animal, at the end of the run, is saved. Their case always fails miserably, and what proof of cruelty they seek to force upon the public is unreliable and the product of a fertile imagination.
As already stated, the staghound, or buckhound, and the foxhound are identical, though the former is often enough confounded with the Scotch deer-hound, a dissimilar animal in every way. The change of quarry does not appear to have made any difference in the character and disposition of the animal. The staghound is just as kindly as the foxhound, he can gallop as fast, and is said to possess as good a nose; in coat, colour, and formation they are identical - and hard, thick feet, good legs, with strong loins, are a sine qua non in both.
The staghound does not undergo the operation of having his ears rounded. He can boast of having taken part in extraordinary runs, one in Essex, continuing for seventy miles before the deer was killed. But this must have been nothing to one that is said to have occurred in Scotland and Cumberland, some time in the year 1333 or 1334, when Edward Baliol, King of Scotland, went to hunt with Robert de Clifford, in his domains at Appleby and Brougham. It is said that a single hound chased a "hart of grease" (an eight year old stag) from near Penrith to Red Kirk, in Scotland, and back again, a distance that could not be less than eighty miles, even by the straightest road. The stag, in attempting to regain Whinfell Park, from whence it started, just managed to leap the wall, when it fell dead, the noble hound also falling lifeless, on the other side of the fence.
This may be true or not, possibly not. Some early writers said the dog was a greyhound that took part in this wonderful run. Others have said it was a deerhound, but it is more likely to have been an ordinary hound of the country, answering to our present staghound, than anything else. The antlers of the stag were, it is said, placed in a large oak tree in Whinfell Park, and in the course of time became engrafted there.
Thus spoke the king : "For equal praise This hand this monument shall raise ! These antlers from this oak shall spread; And evermore shall here be said ' That Hercules killed Hart of Grease, And Hart of Grease killed Hercules.'"
Here they remained until 1648, when one of the branches was broken off, it was said, by certain soldiers in the Scottish Army, at that time on the "war path." Ten years later the remainder was taken down by some mischievous persons at night (Lady Ann Clifford's diary). The ancient trunk of this tree was removed from where it stood, on the high road between Penrith and Appleby, during the present century.
A pretty story is told in connection with Her Majesty's buckhound Rummager. Some years ago, Frank Goodall, the then huntsman, met with a severe accident in the hunting field, and when assistance was to be rendered as he lay insensible on the ground, Rummager was by his master's side, and for a long time would allow no one to approach him. On the story being related to Her Majesty, it was ordered that poor old Rummager should become a pensioner, have extra quarters and comfort bestowed on him, and so live out his natural life. His progeny remain in the kennels at Ascot, among the pillars of the present pack, which now has J. Comins as Royal huntsman, and the Earl of Coventry as "Master of the Royal Buckhounds." It seems rather strange that the mastership of the Royal Hounds, once hereditary, is now a "political" appointment, a Liberal holding the office when that party is in power, and vice versa It is said that in their early days the Brocas family held the position for 270 years, when Thomas Brocas, the thirteenth in succession, sold the appointment to the Watsons, of Rockingham Castle. The emolument connected therewith is £1500 per annum for the master, whilst the salary of the huntsman is only one-sixth of that sum.
In the above I have dealt more particularly with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds and Her Majesty's Buckhounds, they being considered the leading packs of the kind in this country. However, in Ireland we have the celebrated Ward Union, within easy distance of Dublin, the kennels being at Ashbourne, Co. Meath. These hunt three days a week. The Co. Down, South West Meath, Longford, Templemore, and the Roscommon likewise provide sport for the stag hunter in Ireland, and with the general surroundings of all these hounds no fault can be found.
In England Lord de Rothschild's may be mentioned as a strong pack, numbering about thirty couples of hounds, and they are kennelled at Ascott, near Leighton, in Bedfordshire. The Enfield Chase likewise have twenty-three and a half couples of entered hounds, and the Surrey twenty-five couples, and whose country being round about Redhill, and pretty handy for the Londoner, usually produces larger meets of riding men than some of the neighbouring farmers like.
There is a pack of twenty-five and a half couples, and a very old one, that still hunts the New Forest; and a capital centre for the visitor to work from is Lyndhurst or Brockenhurst. Captain Lovell, on his retirement in 1893, had hunted these hounds for upwards of forty years, when they were but known as the New Forest Deerhounds. It need scarcely be said here that the deerhound is a different animal altogether. Captain Lovell's last meet as master was about a record one, for a "royal" was killed after running some sixteen miles in about an hour and a half. The New Forest Hounds hunt both the wild fallow and red deer, the former annually until the first week in May. As there are comparatively few red deer in the forest, this fine beast is only hunted as occasion requires, three or four times during the season. Mr. E. F. Kelley is the present master, and he has got an excellent pack of hounds round about him.