The Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever by R Ward Binks

Golden Retriever by R Ward Binks

Although the Golden Retriever is one of the most recently developed retrievers it was not until 1960 that the true origin of the breed became known.

Prior to Mrs Elma Stonex's book. The Golden Retriever, published in 1952, the most commonly accepted origin of the breed was that it had been developed from a troupe of Russian circus dogs bought by Lord Tweedmouth during a visit to Brighton. The Russian circus dog story of origin became the accepted version of the beginnings of the breed and appeared in the Crufts catalogue until 1960. One of the greatest proponents of this theory was Colonel Le Poer Trench who had his St. Hubert's strain registered with the Kennel Club as retrievers (Russian Yellow).

Certainly Caucasian sheepdogs of the time did appear to bear a resemblance to the early goldens and Atwood Clark in his book Gundogs and their Training (1938), reports seeing a Russian Retriever at one of the earliest dog shows which he attended. Many authoritative canine writers of the day also upheld this theory including Croxton Smith, Robert Leighton and Mrs Charlesworth. However the most romantically written version of this story must certainly be the account of Patrick Chalmers in his book Gundogs (1931).

Chalmers states that the golden owes to the collie or sheepdog his "lion sable and the comb and waving feather of his stern". He subscribes to the circus dog origin primarily because as he states "and the extra ordinary thing is that he just occurred like a mushroom, and no man knows, for certain, the how or the why of his coming." He then goes on to quote from Sir Hilary Saxmundham's Diary of a Sportsman in reporting that "my Lord Panmure owned a wavy coated straw coloured retrieving dog at his castle near Carnoustie in 1865". Writing in 1877 Sir Hilary apparently refers back to the dog Tarf and says how comparatively common the type is becoming. Chalmers completes his section on the golden by repeating a charming story on the genesis of the golden from Charles Gunter's book Gun-Room Brevities (1882) including the poem The Midas Touch' included below.

(The Golden Retriever)

The Golden Retriever, I'd say for a start,
Is as gold as a guinea in every part -
Oh, he's golden of jacket and golden of heart!

In deportment he's golden - the Chesterfield strain -
How he sits on sofas again and again!
How he steps down like the golden hidalgo's of Spain!

Yet he'll wink and, at once to a waggery stoop
For his grand-dads were dogs who could jump through a hoop
And bring down the house in a hippodrome troupe.

And, out on the manor, he's very renowned,
He will work like a beaver, and hunt like the hound
That is golden and lop-eared, his nose to the ground.

The nose that's been his since in Midas mode, Harry
Imagined gold dogs that could fetch and could carry,
And then thought of Ruby for Voddy to marry.

And here is their grandpup, who's gold as can be,
To pick up my partridge, or come home to tea
And, golden as Silence, share firesides with me.'

From "Gundogs" by Patrick Chalmer.

Goldens from the Ruadth Kennels

Goldens from the Ruadth Kennels

However the true history of the breed was first published by Lord Ilchester in 1952 in an article in the Country Life entitled "The Origin of the Yellow Retriever". This was based on over ten years of research by Mrs Stonex and in 1959 she and Lord Ilchester put their findings to the Kennel Club.

In 1960 the Crufts catalogue carried the true origins of the breed as approved by the Kennel Club:

"Description of the Golden Retriever
'The origin of the Golden Retriever is less obscure than most of the Retriever varieties, as the breed was definitely started by the first Lord Tweedmouth last century, as shown in his carefully kept private stud book and notes, first brought to light by his great-nephew, the Earl of Ilchester, in 1952.

In 1868 Lord Tweedmouth mated a yellow Wavy-Coated retriever (Nous) he had bought from a cobbler in Brighton (bred by Lord Chichester) to a Tweed Water Spaniel (Belle) from Ladykirk on the Tweed. These Tweed Water-Spaniels, rare except in the Border Country, are described by authorities of the time as like a small Retriever, liver-coloured and curly-coated. Lord Tweedmouth methodically line-bred down from this mating between 1868 and 1890, using another Tweed Water-Spaniel, and outcrosses of two black Retrievers, an Irish Setter and a sandy coloured Bloodhound. (It is now known that one of the most influential Kennels in the first part of the century which lies behind all present day Golden Retrievers was founded on stock bred by Lord Tweedmouth.)"

From this description it can be seen that all Golden Retrievers go back to the yellow retriever Nous who himself was obviously the produce of Flat - coated Retrievers. Many canine authorities of the day including Rawdon Lee in his Modern Dogs (1893) referred to brown retrievers including pale chocolate coloured dogs being bred from black parents.

In the pedigree of Prim and Rose, the last two yellow retrievers recorded in Lord Tweedsmouth's records, one can see the influence of both the Flat-coated Retriever and the Tweed Water Spaniel in the development of the Golden Retriever.

The Tweed Water Spaniel is now extinct but writers of the time including Stonehenge in The Dog (1859), Vero Shaw The Book of the Dog (1890), give detailed descriptions of the Tweed Water Spaniel as a small type of retriever used by fishermen in the borders between Scotland and England. The type of flatcoats used in the breeding programme to produce Prim and Rose were very much of the old golden type in head and conformation rather than having the construction and head of the modern flatcoat.

Zelstone, Think and Tracer were all from the breeding of S.E. Shirley and photographs of Ch Moonstone (Brother to Tracer) published in Nancy Laughton's "A review of the Flat-coated Retriever" (1968) and Thoughtful (sister of Tracer) published in Sir Henry Smith's, "Retrievers and how to break them" (1898) show dogs very much of the early golden type.

One other throw back to the flat coat ancestry is the presence of a few black hairs on some of even the lightest goldens. More uniquely one of our more experienced breeders has told me that in one of her very early litters she had an almost totally black puppy. Unfortunately she put this puppy down at birth. The link between Prim and Rose to Culham Viscount Harcourt's Cluham Brass (the dog behind most of today's pedigrees) is via a bitch called Lady who was thought to be a daughter of Prim or Rose. Other Guisachan bred dogs that can be traced through early pedigrees are Conan and Rock.

To summarise the origins of the breed, I think it fitting to quote from Mrs Stonex's book:

"The influential recorded links of Guisachan bred Lady, Conon and Rock, prove the descent of today's Goldens from the first Lord Tweedmouth's thoughtfully planned matings on a foundation of a yellow retriever of unknown antecedents (Nous) and two Tweed water spaniels (Belle and Tweed). The roots of the breed lie in Scotland and the Border Country."


The last two yellow Retrievers recorded by Lord Tweedmouth

Yellow Retrievers
Breed by Owner:
1st Lord Tweedmouth Guisachan, Beauly, Inverness-shire
Date of Birth:

NOUS (1884)Yellow. One of four yellow puppies Jack(1875)Hon E.Marjoribanks 2nd Lord Tweedmouth

SAMPSON, Red Setter, Hon E. Marjoribanks and Lord Tweedmouth

yellow, one of four yellow puppies

NOUS, yellow Retriever, bought 1864, died 1872
BELLE, Tweed water Spaniel, given 1867, from Ladvkirk
ZOE (1877)
SAMBO (Sir Henry Meux's presumed black flat or wavycoated Retriever)


TWEED, Tweed Water Spaniel, given 1872, from Ladykirk 
COWSLIP (1868)
NOUS, Yellow Retrieverl864-1872
BELLE. Tweed Water Spaniel
QUEENIE(1887)Black. One of ten black puppies TRACER,black flatcoat or wavy coated Retriever, full brother to Ch.Moonstone

ZELSTONE(1880),black, said to be half-bred Labrador

BEN (1877)

SHOT,half-brother to Old FagBENA, litter sister to Ben (Labrador)
Think, black
DUSK (1877)

THORN (late Bob), 1873, by Victor (1869) X Young Bounce
LADY IN BLACK by Paris, (1870) x Ladv Bonnie
Ch. WISDOM (late Jenny), black (1875) MOLIERE (1896)
GILL (1884), yellow
JACK (1875) COWSLIP (1868) NOUS, Yellow Retriever, 1864-1872
BELLE, Tweed Water Spaniel
ZOE (1877) SAMBO (presumed black) 
  TOPSY(1877) TWEED,Tweed Water Spaniel
COWSLIP(1868) by Nous X Belle

Books On The Golden Retriever include:
The Golden Retriever in Ireland by Albert Titterington and Michael Gaffney available from
The Golden Retriever By Michael Twist

For further information on the golden retriever contact :
The Golden Retriever Breed Council -
The All Ireland Golden Retriever Club -