Jack Russell – The man and the dog

Amongst Dartmouth’s many famous historical figures is one Reverend John Russell, who ‘created’ the Jack Russell hunting dog.

John, also known as Jack, Russell was born on 21 December 1795 in Dartmouth, the eldest son of John Russell and wife Nora Jewell. He lived at Sandhill House.

He was educated at Plympton Grammar School, Blundell’s School in Tiverton and Exeter College, Oxford. Following his university days in Oxford, he returned to the county to work as a Reverend in North Devon.

John came from a hunting family and wanted to find a hard working breed of terrier which could flush out a fox. He was adamant his terriers should not maim or kill the fox. Instead, he wanted them to nip and worry a fox to the point that it would bolt from its den and take its chances above ground.

In 1819, while studying at Oxford, legend has it he spotted a little white terrier with dark tan spots over her eyes, ears and at the tip of her tail, owned by a local milkman. Russell bought the dog on the spot and ‘Trump’ became the first of a line of fox hunting terriers that became known as Jack Russell Terriers.

Russell crossed Trump with a Devon hunt terrier to create the famous Jack Russell breed. She formed the basis for his breeding programme and by the 1850s the dogs were recognised as a distinct type of Fox Terrier. The dogs were well suited for digging out foxes with the shortness and strength of their legs.

The Reverend was a founding member of The Kennel Club. He helped to write the breed standard for the Fox Terrier (smooth) and became a respected judge.

Reverend Russell was vicar of St James Church, Swimbridge, near Barnstaple, for 40 years from 1832. It’s said his sermons were very brief by Victorian standards because his hunting horse was usually saddled up and waiting for him in the churchyard.

In 1836 he married Penelope Incledon-Bury, daughter and co-heiress of Vice Admiral Richard Incledon-Bury, of the Royal Navy and Lord of the Manor of Colleton, Chulmleigh. Russell is said to have had expensive sporting habits, both on and off the hunting field which drained the substantial resources of his heiress wife and left the estate of Colleton in poor condition.

Russell died in 1883 and his body is buried in the churchyard at Swimbridge. The village pub was renamed the ‘Jack Russell Inn’ in his honour. The pub sign is a reproduction of a painting of Trump, which was commissioned by the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. The original still hangs at Sandringham.

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain was established in 1974 as the parent club for the Jack Russell Terrier. The Parson Jack Russell Terrier was recognised in 1990 as a variant of the Fox Terrier. Though these different builds are basically variants of the same breed, with the same temperament and behaviour, most of the world now recognises them as separate breeds. And whether just Jack or Parson Jack they’re both named after Dartmouth’s Reverend John Russell for sure.

Written by Kate Cotton and published in The Dart Magazine October 2017.

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