First Clumber Spaniels in North America

Clumber Spaniels:  October 2022


Update: First Clumber Spaniels in North America


Until now we had learned nothing new since 1890-1891 concerning the first arrival of Clumber Spaniels in North America.  Armed with the Internet, we now know much more due somewhat incredibly to an 1848 official dispatch from Malta concerning venereal disease, and troop movements thanks to official British military history.


Our only previous information was according to a German-born Canadian, Francis Hubert Frederick Mercer (1867-1900).  He states in his 1890 book The Spaniel and its Training: “To the best of my knowledge, the first Clumber Spaniels imported to America were those brought to Halifax, Nova Scotia, by Lieutenant Venables, of Her Majesty’s Ninety-seventh Regiment when stationed there in 1844.  His dogs were purchased from Marwood Yeatman, Esq., the Stock House, Dorset, England, a very old and well-established strain.”


The following year Mercer contributed the 16-page chapter on Clumbers (recently marketed as a book) in the 734-pageAmerican Book of the Dog, edited by George Oliver Shields, in which he states: “After much research and inquiry, the writer has arrived at the conclusion that the first specimens brought to America were imported by Lieutenant (afterward Major) Venables…”  He goes on to correct himself by claiming the date of arrival as 1842, not 1844, and adds that Yeatman’s Clumbers were of “excellent” quality and were “especially mentioned by Idstone in his book.”  (Idstone was the pseud. of Rev. Thomas Pearce [1820-1885], a judge at England’s first field trial, widely termed “the ultimate sporting dog expert” of his time, and “his book” was The Dog, published in 1872.)


Mercer adds that he himself owns “three direct descendants of these dogs,” and “This initial importation into Nova Scotia was supplemented by many others, the breed having at once risen to the pinnacle of high favor.  Halifax undoubtedly now numbers more Clumbers than any other city on the continent.”      


In 1890-91 Mercer was removed by some half- century from the 1840’s event described, and his home near Ottawa, Ontario, was about 600 miles from Halifax, Nova Scotia.  In an era when canine registrations and libraries yet existed barely if at all, with both communication and travel difficult, just what could have been his possible source(s)?  He presents absolutely none but except for dates, the other basic details presented are now verified.


Now we know that Thomas Venables was born 18 October 1824, in the small village of Buckland Newton, county of Dorset, on the southern coast of England, son of the Reverend James Venables.  At age 20 in 1844 he enlisted as an Ensign in Her Majesty’s 97th Regiment, also called the Earl of Ulster’s Regiment, which consisted mainly of Irish as enlisted men with English as officers.  The Regiment had been stationed since 1841 on the Greek island of Corfu, then under British rule.  After two years Venables was promoted Lieutenant 8 December 1846.  In 1847 the Regiment was transferred to Malta.


In 1848 a military dispatch from Malta read: “Lieutenant Venables was invalided to England due to impairment of his health from syphilis.”  At the time there were 66 cases of venereal disease among the Regiment’s 482 enlisted men and three of its 16 officers, but only Venables was evacuated to England, either because of the severity of his condition or he alone had the means to do so.


With Nova Scotia alone in the British Empire having declared self-government beginning January 1848, together with much local criticism accusing the Regiment of bringing syphilis to Malta, it was transferred to Halifax, Nova Scotia.


The 97th Regiment was in garrison in Halifax from July 1848 to May 1853, and thus Mercer is mistaken in claiming first 1844 and then 1842 as the date of the Clumbers’ arrival.  We have as yet no way of knowing when Venables would have again been fit for active duty and able to return from England to rejoin his Regiment, perhaps 1849 or 1850.   It was presumably then that he brought with him an unknown number of Clumber Spaniels in order to hunt Nova Scotia’s still sparsely inhabited fields and streams.


It is not surprising that these first Clumbers brought to America were known to this 25-year-old Lieutenant.  Their breeder, Marwood Yeatman (1826-1891), was born and raised in the same county of Dorset as was Venables, was almost the same age, also son of a clergyman.  Yeatman’s mother, Sarah Woolcott, was an extremely wealthy heiress, which may somewhat explain why there was a Clumber kennel so far removed from Clumber Park and the “Dukeries” in the English Midlands, well before the first organized dog show in 1859 when Clumbers were first made known outside of a closed, highly aristocratic set.


Mercer gives us the misleading impression that Yeatman’s Clumber kennel was “very old and well-established.”  Yeatman, two years younger than Mercer, was only about 23 when he sold Clumbers to Venables.


In May 1853 the Regiment was sent back to England for a year. There was obviously no question of returning the Clumbers to England, especially on a crowded troop ship.  And since Mercer much later claimed ownership of “direct descendants” of Venables’ Clumbers, they were obviously acquired and bred by locals.


With Venables promoted Captain 18 August 1854, the Regiment fought from November 1854 to July 1856 in the bloody Crimean War under notoriously horrific conditions.


In 1857 the Regiment was deployed to India.  Venables was severely wounded in heavy fighting overcoming an armed revolt against British rule, and a second time in his life evacuated back to England.  Promoted Major, he was formally retired 20 July 1861.  At only 36 his military career was ended.


He married 10 July 1862, living near London where his only daughter was born in 1864.  His wife died the following year.  Never remarried, he died July 1891 at age 66.  We have no way of knowing if he was ever physically able to again hunt with Clumbers during these remaining 30 years.


Bryant Freeman, Ph.D.

Breed Historian

Clumber Spaniel Club of America, Inc.

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