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Early Bullmastiff Osmaston Turk
A splendid specimen. Osmaston Turk. Weight 120 lbs. Dam, Old Nell, half Bloodhound, half Mastiff. Owned by Mr. Biggs.

A Plea for the Bullmastiff

Originally appeared in the March 1911 issue of “The Field” magazine

About two months ago I wrote an article which I sent round to one or two papers, and which, to be candid, was refused. The Editors were kind enough to commend warmly the article, but unfortunately I was out of fashion. I had pleaded for the revival of a British dog, and not only the biggest British dog in existence, but undoubtedly one of the oldest and best. This was the Mastiff.  

I now wish to make a plea for a mongrel, or rather a cross-bred dog. Perhaps it is hardly fair to designate the Bull-Mastiff by the word “mongrel,” as at the term mongrel, or cross-bred now-a-days, aristocratic dog lovers shiver. I would, however, respectfully point out that one of the pluckiest, most faithful and trusted dog of the day (I refer to the Bull-Terrier) is also a manufactured dog, while the Airedale is another, both these dogs having hosts of admirers, and deservedly so, for their sterling qualities. I believe I am right in saying it is not so many years ago that the Airedale had no status as a show dog; not that this to my mind makes very much difference. One sees animals not worthy of the name of dog by the score at shows, and personally I cannot consider anything worthy of the name of dog that cannot tackle small vermin such as rats. Many of the pampered show dogs of the present day would be killed by a rat in a very short time. If I have wandered from the point it is because I wish to emphasize what fashion is responsible for in these days. I am afraid a good many people are snobs, and because the Duchess of So-and-so or the Duke of So-and-so starts a kennel the breed immediately becomes fashionable, irrespective of the dog’s qualities or usefulness, and if I write rather warmly on the subject it is that Britishers have let their grandest dogs die out, which were coveted by the Romans, and undoubtedly held prior antiquity to all breeds, and have allowed any amount of foreign varieties to take the place of British dogs. This is all the more shameful because foreign dogs have not won their place through merit but through fashion.  


Mr. W. Burton’s Thorneywood Terror, a Bull-Mastiff, who took part in the man and dog fight at the old Westminster Aquarium. He also gave an exhibition before a representative of the War Office. Said to be one of the cleverest and most highly trained dogs in the country.


I could quote every dog authority in Europe, and their description of the Mastiff’s character surpasses that of any other breed in existence. It seems, therefore, rather a hopeless task to plead the cause of a dog like the Bull-Mastiff, when the bigger and absolutely pure-blooded animal is allowed to die out for want of support. The public knows very little of the qualities of the Bull-Mastiff, and what is more, that it has been in existence for some considerable time; and if it is useless to make an appeal for this dog from the sentimental point of view, I do so quite conscientiously, knowing that this dog is the bravest, most perfect guard and protector in the world. Major Richardson had advocated the use of Airedales for police time after time. I have nothing against the Airedale except that it is neither big enough nor strong enough to tackle desperate aliens or armed criminals, and in advocating the use of the Bull-Mastiff either for police work, gamekeepers’ dogs, guards in the country or as personal protectors anywhere, I can prove beyond doubt that their qualities for all these things are unsurpassed. I have seen, proved and tested nearly every dog of any breed worthy of the name of dog, and I am not prejudiced enough to advocate some breeds by being successful with one particular dog or condemn a breed through failure of another. I have also taken the opinion of those fully qualified to speak on the subject.  

A contributor to this excellent magazine whom I do not know (I refer to Dr. Morell Mackenzie) wrote in support of a letter I had written under a nom de plume, advocating the use of the Bull-Mastiff. This gentleman is very fond of Great Danes, and, although I have not the pleasure of knowing him, his experience is well worth having, and to me, such liberal-mindedness is indeed a pleasure at a time when everybody thinks the breed they are interested in the best in the world. My favourite breed is the Bull-Terrier, so at least I am writing with an open mind, with undeniable proof and conviction on all sides staring me in the face, showing the wonderful usefulness of the Bull-Mastiff.


Mr. Biggs’ Osmaston Grip, a winner at night dog trials. Weight 100 lbs.Mr. Biggs’ Osmaston Grip, a winner at night dog trials. Weight 100 lbs.


Mr. Biggs’ Osmaston Daisy. Weight 95 lbs.Mr. Biggs’ Osmaston Daisy. Weight 95 lbs.


Mr. Burton, of Thorneywood Kennels, is reputed to be one of the oldest breeders of Bull-Mastiffs, and certainly is an excellent judge of the dog. He is owner of the famous Thorneywood Terror, whose photograph is here reproduced, and who fought on the stage at the Crystal Palace many years ago. Mr. Biggs, of Osmaston Hall, Derby, owns some wonderful specimens, and is very interested and keen. On more than one occasion he has owed his life to his dogs, and Osmaston Diasy and Osmaston Grip, whose photographs are printed, have taken more poachers between them than any other dogs living. I owe, however, my introduction to the breed to Mr. J.H. Bennett, of 99 Bromspring Lane, Sheffield, and I reproduce the photograph of my 7½ months bitch which I bought of him.  


Count Vivian Hollander’s Bull-Mastiff pup, Nada the Fearless.The author’s Bull-Mastiff pup, Nada the Fearless.


Before recounting any reminiscences or tales of this breed I have just set forth a few plain facts reproduced from papers. I am condensing the plain, unvarnished truth, and not giving the whole of the extracts which were pubished. Some people may run away with the idea that these dogs are savages, but they are trained to obey a command, and, curious as it may be to relate, in every instance the dogs who have captured poachers, thieves and desperadoes, have always been muzzled. No Airedale could chase and down men armed with sticks or gun barrels and hold them down until assistance arrived. Bull-Mastiffs know no fear and are never beaten. Naturally all this requires a course of training, which is dealt with in The Training of Dogs as Guards and Defenders – at least I think that is the title of the book.  

The dog is started at about ten months old on a dummy and is gradually taught to face a man with anything in his hand. Were the police armed with these dogs in dangerous districts there would be very few murders. Criminals will face anything rather than a savage dog, and if they frightened at Airedales they would be absolutely panic stricken if they had to face a Bull-Mastiff, which is not pretty at the best of times. Moreover, it is very difficult to fire at a dog and hit it, although some of these poor animals have lost their lives saving people. They are highly intelligent and seem to be possessed of wonderful quickness and scenting power, and for a long time I confess I was baffled to find out whence they got their speed and wonderful noses, as neither the bull-dog nor the mastiff could be looked upon as very fast dogs or possessing a wonderful scent. Personally I think at times the strain of bloodhound has been introduced, and that the old-fashioned bulldog was used and not the modern dog.  

I think it says something for the sagacity of these dogs that when Mr. Bennett was a little boy out with his sister they were frightened by a tramp. “Watch him, Dick,” said Mr. Bennett to the dog. The dog in his hurry to get at the tramp knocked over Mr. Bennett’s little sister into a shallow running stream; he came back and pulled her out first, and then held up the tramp until the children got back to their house, and was holding him up when Mr. Bennett Senior arrived. On another occasion, when their father and mother were out, a man tried to force an entrance into the front door, saying he would wait for their parents’ return. They had been playing in the hall with a rocking-horse, and the man had to push somewhat to get in at the front door. Meanwhile, the servant let loose one of the Bull-Mastiffs. The dog held the man up in the hall from 9 o’clock that night until 3 o’clock the next morning, when the parents came back from the party which they had attended. The children sat up in blankets too frightened to go to bed; no one could call the dog off, food and everything was tried, and the man promised and cried to be allowed to go, the front door was still open and the cold and snow were blowing in; no one dare shut the door, and all the children’s coaxing could not move the dog. When Mr. Bennett Senior arrived one half of the man was numbed through cold, and still the dog “stood it all,” holding up the intruder. The police were sent for, and the “gentleman” in question was found to be a notorious house-breaker and scoundrel and was relieved of his jemmy and revolver, and as Mr. Bennett tersely puts it “revolvers are not much good if a dog won’t let you draw them.”  


A splendid specimen. Osmaston Turk. Weight 120 lbs. Dam, Old Nell, half Bloodhound, half Mastiff. Owned by Mr. Biggs.A splendid specimen. Osmaston Turk. Weight 120 lbs. Dam, Old Nell, half Bloodhound, half Mastiff. Owned by Mr. Biggs.    
Mr. Biggs, who is an old man, was set upon by poachers one night and desperately attacked. It was a melee, and a struggle for life on the ground, and his bitch, though terribly knocked about, “outed” the three poachers in the end, and during the whole of the struggle she stepped over and about her master’s body like a lamb. I have many other instances to relate about these dogs and their masters, and proofs shown as puppies of the extraordinary character they develop in their affections. This I shall do at a later period, and I hope in the meanwhile I shall have interested many who will look into the claims of a dog that is not only all British but combines wonderful pluck and endurance with the gentleness of a lamb, and whose only aim and request is if necessary to be allowed to take its death serving its master or mistress. One cannot buy devotion, the next best thing to it is to buy a Bull-Mastiff.  
It is only right to chronicle that curiously enough the biggest authorities on the Bull-Mastiff, and chiefly the gentlemen mentioned in this article, all seem to disagree about the exact origin of the breed. I am inclined to think that the bloodhound has occasionally played its part and in a few instances Great Dane. Mr. Burton considers the Bull-Mastiff rather dangerous to go about in the ordinary way, but then he is speaking of the trained dog. My contention, and that of the majority of authorities, is that the dog has the pluck, power and endurance to take punishment that is necessary, and this can be developed or not according to in whose hands the dog may be. A savage dog does not mean a plucky dog, and any savage animal not under control should be shot irrespective of the breed. Naturally the Bull-Mastiff might have a tendency to be more savage, and certainly more determined in its attack. The majority of breeders from my own personal experience tell me that they are one of the safest dogs in the world to be trusted with children or ladies. It is true they might be more alert than most watch-dogs, and a little keener to tackle anybody while they are guarding, but that is the beauty of the breed.