History of the Breed

That Dog on the Postage Stamp:
Courage, Docility, and Faithfulness are Characteristics of the Newfoundland

A significant portion of this article originally appeared in AKC Gazette of January 31, 1925. It was written by Edwin H. Morris, an admirer of the Newfoundland, researched its origins in the early 1900s and published the following article, "That Dog on the Postage Stamp: Courage, Docility, and Faithfulness are Characteristics of the Newfoundland," in Pure Bred Dogs, It was edited by Mary Jane Spackman, the NCA Historian for publication in Newf Tide


It is a peculiar thing that technical dog writers have discovered very little about the ancestry of the Newfoundland. Naturally, those interested in the breed have always been curious about the forebears of this noble animal. Also they are always desirous of knowing what blood lines are calculated to produce specimens up to standard requirements, maintaining at the same time the brains, courage, docility, fondness for water and retrieving, devotion to children, and implicit faithfulness that have made the traditional Newfoundland

The neglect of this handsome and noble animal is so unjustified that I have undertaken to gather data.

The Newfoundland and also the Labrador dog, sometimes called the smooth coated retriever, were both derived from a cross between the Pyrenees sheepdogs, brought to Newfoundland from France by Biscaly fishermen between 1506 and 1662 and also later, and black retrievers accompanying the English colonists.

In 1506, Jean Denys of Harfleur, France, visited the island, establishing a base, and leaving boats and barks in the haven called Rougnoust. Other expeditions followed, but not until 1662 did the French winter on the island. They settled at Rougnoust, near St. Jean de Luz and in Placentia Bay.

Jean Denys probably reported that the waters were not only abundantly stocked with fish, but that on land were a goodly number of wolves and other animals. Hence, not as mascots alone, but for protection were the creamy white sheepdogs of the Pyrenees brought over from France.

These dogs were moderately large, active and faithful, with a cautious, dignified deportment, and flat coats, coarse with woolly undercoats, capable of resisting the rigorous climate of the Pyrenees. They had deep flews, affording plenty of space for olfactory nerves which gave them good noses. And they had eyes of almost human pathos, deep, small, and searching.

When the English colonists went to Newfoundland to stay, they brought such sporting dogs as were in vogue in their native land. Probably these were curly_coated retrievers, black dogs of medium size. The dogs had long muzzles, were inclined to be hard_headed and hard_mouthed, made good dogs for water or land retrieving, and were alert and intelligent.

The French fisherman’s favorite became crossed with the English sportsman’s companion, and from this was evolved the greater Newfoundland Landseer, the Labrador or smooth_coated retriever, probably the Chesapeake Bay dog, and later on the greater was crossed with Alpine dogs, producing the modern St. Bernard.In spite of all that has been said to the contrary, that branch of the greater, called Landseers, was strictly of this origin. When Sir Edwin Landseer painted his picture, representing a black and white dog on a raft with a child it had saved from drowning, and called it "A Member of the Humane Society,"1 he accurately depicted the type of dog that came from Newfoundland.

Sir Edwin faithfully portrayed animal life in the early Victorian era, about 1837, and his brother made the engraving from which Sir Edwin’s popularity came. To distinguish the black and white dogs from the blacks, which afterwards developed, the former were called Landseers. It is asserted that in order to produce Landseers a cross with the St. Bernards or dogs from the hospice at the Alpine pass was resorted to, although this might have been done to supply the demand for dogs of such colorThere is a Landseer painting of "Twa Dogs" a black and white Newfoundland and another like a collie, which was exhibited at the South Kensington Museum, London, in 1858.

Robert Burns, too, when he wrote "Twa Dogs," must have had an idea of something superior in the breed, for his words are:
"His lockit, letter’d, brawbrass collar
Show’d him the gentlemenand scholar."
And it must be remembered that the comparison was with a Scottish dog.

In order to make the point quite clear, it is well to state that, about 40 years ago, white dogs, as well as black and white, and some almost black were sent from Newfoundland to the North American continent. It is difficult to get evidence, yet one instance may be cited because it can be confirmed by pictures and by descendants of the owner.

About 36 years ago, Augustus McClain bought a creamy white dog with a pedigree as a Newfoundland whelped on the island. Mr. McClain’s son married a daughter of W. H. Harmon who kept the dog while the young folks went on a trip abroad.On the death of this dog, another white dog with a yellow spot on one side was procured. This can be confirmed by Samuel J. Harmon of the United States Trust Company. Such evidence should be conclusive that the importations into the United States and England from Newfoundland were the white and black dogs now known as Landseers.

Later on blacks were landed in England from the codfish vessels, and with the English breeder’s eye for type, the best were mated. Their progeny favored the Pyrenees sheepdog and had the characteristics and instincts of such dogs. Finally, this type was adopted for exhibitions, and although many showed much white on the chest, tail, and sometimes on the paws, yet by selection and careful breeding this was greatly overcome. Some also came curly in coat, indicating an undue proportion of retriever blood. But this, too, disappeared, and none but those with dense, woolly undercoats, were favored.The English mastiff was popular at that time, Alpine dogs were making a display, and Leonbergs_Alpines crossed with Newfoundlands were being pushed. The Newfoundland retained an amazing hold on public appreciation, and it was contended that it was the only dog capable of magnanimity.

The Rev. F.O. Morris was responsible for a story of a mastiff and Newfoundland that frequently fought, until one day a duel was in progress on a pier and both dogs fell into the water. The Newfoundland soon reached shore, shook the water from his coat, and looked for his antagonist. Seeing the mastiff hardly able to keep afloat, the Newfoundland again plunged into the water and helped his enemy to land. After which the dogs became friendly and the battles ceased.

Then came the Illustrated London News offer, in 1914, of a prize for a dog that had displayed the greatest valor. This prize was won by Miss Mabel Hewitt’s Landseer Newfoundland, Donovan Dorova, "for having saved from drowning in a river Willie Frampton and for other meritorious feats." Numerous other well authenticated instances could be mentioned where sagacity, instinct, and other traits have been displayed by Newfoundlands.One remarkable case in December, 1919 will suffice. The steamship "Ethie," with 92 passengers and crew, one being a baby of 18 months, was stranded on the coast of Newfoundland at Martin’s Point, Bonny Bay. The sea was too rough for lifeboats, and attempts to shoot a line through the air having failed, one of the fishermen’s dogs was called upon. With a rope in his mouth, he braved the breakers and rocks, and brought the line ashore. The dog’s master, with his hardy comrades, all seafaring men, contrived, with a boatswain’s chair for a carrier and block and tackle for drawing in the line, to rescue, one by one, the passengers and crew. The baby had the special protection of a mail bag, into which the child was dropped.What other dog has the brains, courage, instinct, vigor and water_ resisting coat to enable him to perform such a heroic act?

Tradition and print for many decades have abounded with records of the deeds of Newfoundlands. Their instinct for water and retrieving gives the breed an immense advantage over all other canines. It is this that makes them logically the dog for the long waterfront of sea, river, and lake of North America.

When the best of the breed in England were poisoned by a crank during the World’s War, when it was recognized that few of the true type exist in Newfoundland, and when it was found that the New York show of 1922 had but one entry of Newfoundlands in the miscellaneous class, a few lovers of the breed, who knew its sterling merit, decided on an effort to make the most of the remnants remaining and to revivify interest in them.These lovers of the breed formed the North American Newfoundland Club. And from this modest strata there has arisen an organization for the welfare of the breed, the like of which has never before existed in England or North America.

The new club adopted a standard of perfection and a scale of points, with cuts for defects. Also at the 1924 Westminster show, it gave the largest special prize in gold offered for any breed, besides nearly $250 in cash, and other specials, in five classes were secured.

England had some concerned action through a club, but during the war, when most of the superior specimens were in the kennel of Miss Elanor Goodall, a crank poisoned the lot, supposedly because he thought they were eating food needed for soldiers. This crank, presumably, was also the cause of the death of their owner, for she died soon afterwards, and, it was said, from grief. Miss Goodall used the "Gypsy" prefix. Ch. Gypsy Baron was one of her best. The Gypsy strain being practically wiped out by the poisoner, and as few large dogs were raised in England during the war, those in the British Isles were mostly inbred to the limit.

Therefore, the ones kept true to type by a few devotees in North America must be relied on to revive the breed. Among these are Ch. Chieftain, imported by the president of the club, Dr. M.J. Fenton, one given by Earl Grey to Dr. Grenfall of Newfoundland a few years ago; another from England presented to Mr. Bowring, also of Newfoundland, about six years since, whose blood was used by H. Macpherson, the club’s vice_president for the colony; and others of Shelton Viking stock that I brought over just prior to the war, particularly Sir Arthur, of Ch. Fearless Foundation, Ch. Prince of Norfolk, and Humber Snowflake stock.The latter was transferred to J. Mathieson Rankine, and when bred to Lady Hilda with such noted dogs as Omega, Alpha, Shelton Viking, Shelton Madge, and Fearless Emblem in her pedigree, produced Lady Beckey, dam of Ch. Rolfe. Another was the dam of Tip, owned by J. H. Clark, the club’s treasurer, who used his imported dog, Captain.The pair, Sir Arthur and Lady Hilda, were imported when young, not only for the blood line combination, but also because their direct ancestors were subject to desirable association with humans. Raising them under similar conditions on Mr. Rankine’s place, had the desired effect. A little girl visitor, who made companions of them, went across fields and getting tired, went to sleep. When missed, she was found with Lady Hilda as a pillow and Sir Arthur on guard, and not until awakened and on her feet, did Mr. Rankine dare approach.Newfoundlands want to be loved by everyone, particularly by those they know. They respond to approbation, take disapproval intelligently, are quick to learn and remember, and will readily obey. They are not dour or taciturn, but coercion is not liked. While with their friends, a stranger may manifest his individual taste, but a rough word or the slightest act of aggression brings a warning growl, then a show of teeth and on command, they will attack with a ruthless daring. It is fortunate, especially during such lawless periods as present, that these qualities have not been blotted out.

They are comrades of their owners in full sense, or of those they know well, and friendly to strangers when not on guard. They can distinguish between an intruder and a visitor by deportment as well as dress: also, they love children.

In one respect, the Newfoundland is positively preeminent. He is the only dog that has his picture on a postage stamp. Today, (as of this writing in 1925) this stamp is exceptionally rare.

Newf Tide Editor’s note: This artwork was actually entitled, "Saved," not "A Member of the Humane Society."


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