Saturday, 26 December 2015


Meet The Reverend John Russell.

by  , 2 Days Ago at 08:53 AM (27 Views)
I have a confession to make, knowing the content, I couldn't resist opening a Christmas present early, "Jack Russell and his terriers" by Dan Russell ( alias for Gerald Jones).
I've been interested in Reverend Russell for a long time, mainly of course because he gave his name to the famous terrier and not because I share any personal interest in the hunting of animals for sport. I've only read the first section of the book so far, which deals with Russell's life and there are some fascinating insights. I've read his friend EWL Davies' biography "A memoir of the Reverend John Russell and his out of door life" ( ) which is an interesting if florid account in the style of the time.
Note the use of the name "John" in the title. Gerald Jones suggests, I think correctly, that people didn't call the Reverend "Jack" within his earshot and the term started to be used in referring to "old Jack Russell's terriers" which he probably wouldn't have welcomed and maybe to show the appropriate respect, we should name them "John Russell Terriers", but I doubt that will happen. 
Jones also suggests that Davies' account was a bit of a whitewash job, not because Russell was a bad man, but like all of us he was not perfect and it seems he was quite keen to preserve his reputation as the country's most renowned huntsman and actively made efforts to maintain that into his old age. It is difficult to believe that an elderly man could still hunt and ride great distances but it appears he did, so we shouldn't assume I think that his fame in life was based entirely on his terriers.
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John Russell at 80

The book contains some fascinating insights into Russell's life. Here are a couple of snippets :-
Nearing the end of his life - "Mary Cocking, his faithful housekeeper, did her best for the old man, but he was lonely and pined for Exmoor. Mary had been with Russell since, as a child, he had taken out of a charity school, and she remained in his service until his death. He did not forget her in his will and she inherited a large share of the little money that remained."
and another of his friendship with the local gypsies - "Russell had secured the goodwill of the local gypsies when a blacksmith told him that a gipsy man wished to buy the blacksmith's mare, but he had no money with him and wanted the smith to trust him. Russell looked at the gipsy and noted that he had an honest face and said If I pass my word for the money, will you pay it? "
The gipsy said he would and Russell told the blacksmith that he would pay for the horse if the gipsy didn't. The gipsy paid the debt "and ever after Russell was regarded as a benefactor".
One thing that I'm curious about is that Russell seemed to have an exceptional way with training both dogs and horses, but so far I've found no clue as to how he did this. There is one of his own accounts of separating two fighting terriers in a stable by biting one of the dog's paws, but I'm sure there must have been more to it than that. Although they were harsher times, it seems generally agreed that he was an excellent judge and trainer of horses and dogs and was generally a kindly man. As a boy he was frequently beaten at school, which was common practice, so it's probably little wonder things were done differently then.
I've only just started reading the section of the book on terriers, but it seems fairly evident that that there is no clear answer to the oft-disputed question of what exactly is a Jack Russell Terrier? Jones mentions both sides of the argument, with contemporary quotes to support both sides of the case. Some say Russell was quite indiscriminate in his acquisition of terriers and bred from any which did the job well. Others say he bred a specific type/blood line and kept stud records, if so, these have yet come to light.
Personally it is my feeling that such was his reputation as a huntsman and character and such was the reputation of his terriers, based on how they worked, that it is enough that his name serves as a tribute to both.
I would certainly recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn more about the life of the Reverend John Russell.

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