This section is from the book "The Terriers. A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland", by Rawdon B. Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: The Terriers.
Our modern bull terrier is a very different creature from what he was half a century ago, and I know there are some old "dog fanciers" who prefer the brindled and white and fawn or fallow smut dogs, that were so often kept in our grandfathers' days, to the "milk-white" animals now seen on our show benches.
There is little or no doubt that the original bull terrier was a cross between an ordinary kind of terrier and the bull dog, and some of the largest specimens had a touch of the mastiff thrown in. He had been bred for fighting or for killing rats, and, long before the era of canine exhibitions, some of the rougher so-called sporting men in London and in the Midlands, of which Birmingham may be taken as the metropolis, had strains of more or less celebrity. The dogs that fought with WombwelFs lions at Warwick in 1825 were large bull terriers, and not bull dogs, as stated in the journals of that day, and the fighting dogs of that time and now (for this brutal sport is still followed in many places) were and are bull terriers.
The old-fashioned dog was a much more cumbrous brute than finds favour at the present time, and his colour varied. For instance, James Ward painted one in 1808 that was evidently black and tan, with white on him, a favourite dog of his own, and of a strain highly valued for its courage. This dog had its ears closely cropped, in order, of course, that they might not be in the way of an opponent's teeth when fighting. A little later Marshall painted another bull terrier, black, white, and tan, a dog which the great foxhound authority, Squire Meynell, pronounced to be from one of the best strains he ever knew.
The back numbers of the Sporting Magazine contain many representations of the bull terrier, and it is stated that Lord Camelford paid 84 guineas for such a dog, which he later on presented to Jem Belcher, "the Sullivan of those days," for it was but meet that the champion fighting biped should own the champion fighting quadruped. This dog was a fawn or fallow specimen, with legs more or less bowed or crooked, and he was no doubt about equally bred between a bull dog and a coarse terrier.
About this time a dog between 30lb. and 401b. was most in favour, few or none of them were altogether white, and brindled or fallow markings of different degrees of darkness on a white ground were commonest.. At the same time there were smaller bull terriers, and these latter were usually used in the rat pit, where their owner's pride lay in an ability to kill a certain number of big rats (we never. hear of little rats) within a stipulated time. I think I am quite correct in calling Jemmy Shaw's (London) extraordinary little rat-killer Jacko, a bull terrier, perhaps one fourth bull. This historical creature died in 1869, and amongst other deeds he succeeded in killing sixty rats in 2min. 4osec.; 100 rats in 5mm. 28sec.; and 1000 rats in less than 100min.! winning altogether some 200 matches in different parts of the country. These extraordinary feats were performed in 1862-63, and are supposed to be the best on record. Jacko was black and tan in colour, with a little white on his chest, and he weighed 131b. Again there were even smaller dogs than he, which were kept more for fancy and as pets - still bull terriers, but, for the most part, white in colour.
The popularity of the bull terrier was established fairly enough, and before the era of the fashionable and comely fox terrier, he was no doubt the dog of his day. He could be obtained of any weight ranging between 41b. and 551b., and, although in some places he had a reputation for pugnacity, this was more due to his surroundings than otherwise, though those dogs trained to fight in the ring were as savage as savage could be. The typical dog of Bill Sykes, the typical burglar-ruffian, was a bull terrier, a thick heavy-headed creature, with bandy legs, a patch on his eye, and one or two on his body. "William" did not like him all white; a pure dog in colour and reputation would be out of place in such company, and, perhaps for this reason, the more respectable and peaceable member of society, with a fondness for a "game terrier" preferred the entirely white dog; hence its popularity, and possibly the reason why only such came to be looked upon as the genuine article. Still there were others which obtained a better education than the pugilist could give, and they were useful as companions and as watch dogs.
I fancy that most of us at one time or another have owned a bull terrier. The undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge were fond of him, and at one time it formed as much a part of their equipment as a "top hat" does at the present day. One of the first dogs I ever possessed was a bull terrier, a fawn dog with a black muzzle, and about 3olb. in weight. He was a really good-looking dog, though he cost but half a crown when a month old, purchased from a sporting barber in a country town, whose reputation for dogs was as high as that he possessed as a shaver.
The puppy was christened "Sam," for a long time he was my constant companion, and became an adept at hunting rats by the riverside, a capital rabbiter, and as good a retriever as most dogs. He would perform sundry tricks, find money hidden away, and could be sent back a mile for anything - a glove, a stick - that had been left behind. He would take part in a game at cricket, and fielded the ball so expeditiously that on more than one occasion Sam and I played single wicket matches against a couple of opponents, and as a rule came out successfully. Altogether this was a kind of dog that could not be obtained now, but on his father's side he came of a fighting stock, and as he grew older he developed a love for a "turn-up" with any passing canines, which caused me to part with him. He was the death of about a couple of dogs, but otherwise he was the gentlest of the gentle; our cat kittened in his kennel, and with one little shaggy dog belonging to a friend he struck up a great friendship. Prince, this cross-bred creature's name, was one day turned over and worried by a bully of a sheepdog. In canine language he came and told the story of his woe to Sam. The two set out together, and on our cricket field came across the bully; Prince and Sam went up to him, the latter, with his tail held stiff and looking savage, seized the sheepdog by the throat, threw him over by a fair buttock in the Cumberland and Westmoreland style of wrestling, then, turning his back on his fallen foe, raised one of his hind legs, and, after treating him in the most disdainful manner possible, trotted off with his little friend.