How S.E. Moseley created the modern Bullmastiff -- or took credit for it, at least
If there is one name credited with willing the modern Bullmastiff into existence, it is S.E. Moseley.
“How the bull mastiff came to be registered as a pure breed I can best explain by the following extract from the English Kennel Gazette and the booklet entitled The Bull Mastiff by S. E. Moseley, the pioneer of the breed as it is today,” wrote the author of a 1934 article in the American Kennel Club’s Gazette, looking back at the breed on the 10-year anniversary of its recognition by Britain’s Kennel Club.
The author then quoted Moseley, who didn’t mince words on this point: “There is no use tracing them farther back than 1924 because one will only find the crossbred.”
S.E. Moseley in 1924.
Moseley, a dog dealer from Stoke-on-Trent in England’s pottery-producing Staffordshire county who also conveniently bred Mastiffs, was unequivocal, and he had street cred. “It was Mr. Moseley who founded the National Bull Mastiff Police Dog Club,” the article waxed. “… he built up his Farcroft strain with great energy and forethought and it was greatly due to his efforts the breed was recognized by the Kennel Club as purebred.”
Though there were other Bullmastiff breeders of the period whose breeding stock contributed to the early foundation of the breed – including J.H. Biggs of Osmaston Hall and William Burton of Burtwood – it is nonetheless Moseley's name that echoes persistently throughout breed history.
By the time that fawning American article was written, Moseley was riding the crest of his success. The breed was recognized in both Britain and the United States and steadily gaining international attention thanks to celebrity owners like Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Harry Warner, John D. Rockefeller and General Elliot Roosevelt, and an avalanche of recent publicity as the breed was selected to guard the DeBeers diamond mines in South Africa.
“Farcrofts are what Bull-Mastiffs should be – Faithful and Fearless but not Ferocious,” Moseley crowed on his kennel stationery. “Big enough to be powerful – but not too big to be active.” It’s a description that neatly describes the breed as we know it even today.
His almost compulsive salesmanship is reflected in a 1933 letter (below) written to an American lawyer, and presumably buyer, named Meller. "It would pay you to popularise the Bullmastiff in the States," wrote Moseley, who was charging 21 pounds for a pair of puppies (approximately $27, which in today's currency would be worth about $520). "They are becoming very numerous here and have ousted the Old English Mastiff in popularity."
How had Moseley managed in only a few sort years to transform this genetic hodgepodge into a stable, competitive purebred? His response to the million-dollar question was a formula that some critics have dismissed as being mathematically untenable: “Taking a mastiff bitch and a bulldog I produce a 50/50. A bitch of these I mate to a mastiff dog and gave me a 75% mastiff 25% bullbitch, which I mate to a 50/50 dog. A bitch from this litter is 62 1/2% mastiff 37 1/2% bulldog. I mate this to a 50/50 dog, and a bitch from this litter I put to a 62 1/2% mastiff 37 1/2% bulldog which gives me approximately my ideal 60% mastiff 40% bulldog.”
Why did it take so long to figure this out? It didn’t. Bullmastiff mixing directions were as old as the breed. Even Stonehenge, who generally had an opinion about everything, weighed in on this one in the first 1867 edition of Dogs of the British Isles, saying “the proportion of bull ought to be small, not exceeding one-eighth ... a much worst strain in the pedigree of the mastiff is the cross with the bloodhound, which has been tried in order to give majesty to the expression ... the temperament is sadly interfered with …” True to form, Moseley’s perfect Bull-Mastiff recipe was a bit sketchy in terms of practical details, but definitely compensated with plenty of drama. After all, it is still being quoted even today.
In any case, Moseley had his work cut out for him, and however he did it, he got some impressive results.
His Farcroft Fidelity made history as the breed’s first CC winner in Britain, with a morphology that still permitted him to do a night’s work on patrol: Robert Leighton described him as being “active as a terrier, with hindquarters that would not disgrace an Alsatian, then the formal name of the German Shepherd Dog. Moseley’s Farcroft Silvo became the breed’s first bitch champion, ultimately earning 16 tickets. As noted in the Gazette feature, “There are now many good strains – too many to mention here – but many have been founded with the Farcroft strain, and there are few, if any of the big winners on the show benches today that have not got Farcroft blood in them from one of the parents.” By then, Ch. Farcroft Felon Frayeur had notched up another milestone as the first English champion to earn an AKC title.
“To produce the dog I had in mind I set out with a well defined plan,” Moseley wrote. “Having planned my work, I worked my plan.” He certainly did.
Cynics might argue that Moseley’s touted formula amounted to just another more way of rearranging that ancient Bulldog/Mastiff furniture. In theory, of course, that’s basically what breed reconstruction is supposed to accomplish. And by the 1920s, more than a few breeds had weathered the controversy of revivals that often bordered on complete remakes, including both Mastiffs and Bulldogs. Then again, it was never quite clear whether the main objective of this Bullmastiff project was refining, revising or completely rebuilding a modern version of an ancient breed.
That crucial unresolved issue about the Bullmastiff’s heritage made it difficult to objectively evaluate the validity of Moseley’s formula. By 1924 both Bulldogs and Mastiffs had changed drastically. The modern Mastiff carried no trace of its longstanding romance with hounds. Likewise, the Bulldog’s intense and complicated relationship with Terriers had been obliterated. It was not only impossible to prove that the breed had originated from crossbreeding – these were fundamentally different genetic packages at the basis of Moseley’s bloodline, which by then had been cultivated into an impressive number of distinct strains. All in all, his insistence on the legitimacy of his breeding strategy was understandable. He had a lot riding on it. But that was only part of his battle plan.
Moseley orchestrated a brilliant publicity campaign for the breed. His well-timed publication of his breed booklet and the formation of the National Bull Mastiff Police Dog Club leveraged the breed’s traditional guard-dog image right into the mainstream obsession with canine heroics.
Moseley could have taken a page from the playbook of Captain H. E. Richardson of Irish Wolfhound fame. Richardson wrote a well-received article that basically reiterated information he had gleaned from a lecture on Celtic art. That led to a book presenting his theory of Wolfhound evolution, which subsequently inspired his mission to revive the breed. Undaunted by his lack of actual background or experience, Richardson assembled a foundation bloodline based on his personal vision of Wolfhound type. Equally undaunted by the lack of documentation establishing the actual lineage of these dogs, he promoted them as the last remnants of pure Wolfhound blood. Despite the surprisingly scanty and often conflicting recordkeeping that accompanied his project, it inspired two decades of breeding. By the time Richardson’s dodgy claims came under scrutiny, the Irish Wolfhound had been recognized for many years, thus proving that at least in this case, the end did indeed justify the means.
Even though the Bullmastiff’s revival took place within the construct of a formalized registry, the level of accuracy hadn’t improved much by the 1920s. Registrations were submitted and accepted on the basis of the honor system. Human error abounded, along with the ever-present temptation of creative bookkeeping.
Above: Among the breed's early admirers was Hollywood actor Douglas Fairbanks, pictured in an undated photo with his Bullmastiff "Paulo," who went back to Farcroft breeding; to the right is playwright Robert Sherwood. Below: Fairbanks' namesake son, also a Hollywood heartthrob, presumably with one of the family's Bullmastiffs, circa 1940.
A December 24, 1924, announcement from the Kennel Club Gazette implied that the Bullmastiff’s recognition was contingent on a stringent screening process: “With reference to bull-mastiffs the committee at its meeting of the 2nd decided that it is prepared to open a section among Any Other Variety registrations for bull-mastiffs, if purebred as such, and when sufficient be registered under this heading according to the scale mentioned above the breed would be eligible for a place in the Register of Breeds. It is most important to observe the distinction between a bull-mastiff purebred and a bull-mastiff crossbred; the former being a dog bred with both parents and the preceding three generations all bull-mastiffs without the introduction of mastiff or bulldog.”
This policy appeared to be ironclad, but plenty of dogs flew under the radar. For one thing, the kennel club explained, “a dog can be registered in a breed register if in each of the first four generation of its pedigree one of the parents making the cross breeding is eligible for entry in that register.” This little loophole was primarily meant to accommodate the breeding practices of hound and gundog kennels of that era. And overall this alternate route into the studbook was a negligible source of problems.
The following paragraph was the major source of questionable Bullmastiff pedigrees: “If the parents are not registered then the dog must be examined by an expert on the breed. If he declares the dog is purebred in most cases the statement is accepted by the Kennel Club and the dog can then be registered in the breed register.” Needless to say, those breed experts green-lighting the admission of undocumented specimens included S.E. Moseley.
By then, genetic research was also starting to yield some insights into the mechanics of canine inheritance patterns. Leon Whitney had started to publish results of his massive crossbreeding experiments that would span decades and investigate specific traits in numerous breeds. There was a long way to go, but Batson’s earlier research had already revealed the complexity of inheritance patterns, proving conclusively that dog breeding did not work like baking a cake. Closer to home, other breeders – usually working with Moseley’s stock – weren’t getting the same results from his famous formula. Something was amiss.
As it turned out, Moseley did much better working outside the system as an independent operator. By the time Bullmastiffs were recognized, the Kennel Club was investigating him for pedigree fraud. His reputation got a bit banged up, along with his prominent role in breed history.
Ch. Farcroft Finality, 1930.
In fairness, Moseley’s contributions were significant and lasting, primarily as a skillful promoter. As a breeder, it’s also generally acknowledged that he did manage to weed out two of the most prepotent admixtures wonking up Bullmastiff type, the Great Dane and St. Bernard. Even so, it’s doubtful that his precise hybridization method can be thanked for that. Most likely, he employed another time-honored breeding strategy, which he confessed in a backhanded way in the Gazette.
“Thus I established my Farcroft strain, and the bull-mastiff as a standard breed of set type, which breeds true – like produces like.”
The like-to-like methodology doesn’t work for everything, but quite a few important traits can be stabilized through this approach. But exactly how Moseley achieved that level of uniformity in his breeding program remains a mystery.
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Wed, 09/05/2018 - 8:52am