The Little Ratters We Know Little About: The A Brief History of the Yorkshire Terrier

The Little Ratters We Know Little About: The A Brief History of the Yorkshire Terrier

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Gale is committed to helping students discover research insights to advance learning and research. Gale Ambassadors are students who work within their own university to increase awareness of the Gale primary source collections available to their fellow students. Our Ambassadors study a variety of different disciplines, and all are open to receiving thoughts or questions from other students at their university about Gale Primary Sources.

By Anna Sikora, Gale Ambassador at NUI Galway
Anna Sikora is a tutor, part-time teacher, and final year PhD student in the Discipline of English, National University of Galway, Ireland. She is examining the works of John Wyndham, author of over 60 short stories and 12 novels, including the famous The Day of The Triffids (1951) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). Anna is interested to see when and why science fiction authors began to show an awareness of environmental issues, and how this was demonstrated in their work. She is adopting some of the concepts of environmental criticism (ecocriticism) to ask how environmental concerns are articulated in fiction, and whether literature can, and should, influence our daily environmental choices or the ways in which we interact with the environment.

I hate it when parents do homework for their kids, but the last one tempted me enough to get involved! To deter my 15-year-old from using the plethora of lazily compiled websites cluttered with poorly researched material, I got her onto Gale Primary Sources. Her presentation, according to her history teacher, was beyond impressive. Plus, he could not believe how easily one can now access such primary source materials, and how uniquely valuable they are. The topic was simple: to research the family pet. We have a little Yorkie, so here goes the shortened version of my child’s homework… Today, Yorkies are tiny posh dogs which celebrities like to parade in their bags, grannies hold on their laps, and small kids pet in the park (to the horror of the owners), all forgetting that a terrier is the ultimate working dog: a snappy little ratter originally bred to catch rodents.

The article “Fancy Pets” published in 1851 in The Illustrated London News, describes an establishment, a club of sorts, where the entertainment consists of cheering while a dog kills rats. All visitors to the club are welcomed by a stuffed dog, Billy, “that extraordinary animal of rat-killing notoriety” who like no dog before and since him could kill 20 rats in a minute. The article describes the various rules of the “rat-matches”: a dog, or two dogs, is placed in the cage with tens of rats and the countdown begins.

“Fancy Pets.” Illustrated London News, 8 Feb. 1851, p. 99+. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHgc5. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

The same article also describes dog shows featuring dogs considered (at the time) more distinguished, such as the King Charles, featured with their gentlemen owners in the illustration below.

“Fancy Pets.” Illustrated London News, 8 Feb. 1851, p. 99+. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, “Fancy Pets.” Illustrated London News, 8 Feb. 1851, p. 99+. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHgc5. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017

While still making money for their owners in rat-killing matches, some breeds of terriers followed their fancy cousins depicted above, and gradually began gracing the couches of actresses and celebrities. The short entry titled “THE DOGS OF ACTRESSES”, published in 1899 in The Era (found in British Library Newspapers), announces the entries to the Midsummer Fête of the Ladies’ Kennel Association; prominent actresses of the day, including Miss Ellen Terry and the opera singer Isabel Jay, are both proud Yorkshire Terrier owners.

“THE DOGS OF ACTRESSES.” Era, 24 June 1899. British Library Newspapers, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHJi3. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

A 1916 article “Science and Natural History” published in the Illustrated London New Historical Archive takes us from posh dog shows to the French trenches invaded by rats during World War I. The rats not only ate the little food available to the soldiers, but also gnawed on shoes and even sleeping men, spreading flees and worms, and causing illnesses and death. The rats – also in a way a casualty of the war – were displaced from their original habitat, and moved to the trenches where they multiplied by the hundreds. In addition to rat poison, the army employed rat catchers – and, of course, their terriers – who received a penny for every rat’s tail! The picture below shows a proud owner and his terrier; yes, those are all dead rats.

Pycraft, W. P. “Science and Natural History.” Illustrated London News, 8 Apr. 1916, p. 468. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHe71. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

Another article “After Rats with the Bayonet! a Novel form of Small-Game Hunting in the Trenches” describes how hunting rats in trenches became a curious form of a sport, which could not, of course, exist without terriers – one of which is prominently featured in the illustration below.

“After Rats with the Bayonet! a Novel from of Small-Game Hunting in the Trenches.” Illustrated London News, 1 Apr. 1916, p. 432-433. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHcw3. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017

In a more recent article titled “The Making of an Aristocrat” and published in 1969 in The Illustrated London News, the authors describe a modern dog show and the spike in the different breeds of dogs.

“The Making of an Aristocrat.” Illustrated London News, 15 Feb. 1969, p. 14-15. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHKM3. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

The author once again reminds us of the rather less glorious origins of our beloved lap dogs. Tiny the Manchester Terrier, we learn from the snippet below, could kill 100 rats in thirty minutes, three seconds, for a wager in 1849. We humans, only took over rat-catching from dogs and cats “the sole rodent officers” in the 14th century (“The Making of an Aristocrat”).

“The Making of an Aristocrat.” Illustrated London News, 15 Feb. 1969, p. 14-15. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHKM3. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

Perhaps the examples above appear prosaic, but they also illustrate a great deal for us, from the Victorians’ questionable taste in entertainment to the gruesome conditions in the trenches, and, taken together, they demonstrate the different stages in our relationship with dogs.

Bibliography

“After Rats with the Bayonet! a Novel from of Small-Game Hunting in the Trenches.” Illustrated London News, 1 Apr. 1916, p. 432-433. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHcw3. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017

“Fancy Pets.” Illustrated London News, 8 Feb. 1851, p. 99+. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHgc5. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.
Pycraft, W. P. “Science and Natural History.” Illustrated London News, 8 Apr. 1916, p. 468. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHe71. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

“The Making of an Aristocrat.” Illustrated London News, 15 Feb. 1969, p. 14-15. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive, 1842-2003, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHKM3. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

“THE DOGS OF ACTRESSES.” Era, 24 June 1899. British Library Newspapers, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5XHJi3. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.

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