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Hunting Bassets - The Early History of the Basset Hound in England, 1874-1921

The Early History of the
Basset Hound in England, 1874-1921

Written by Eva S. Balogh

Breeders of basset hounds are often asked the question: "Do you breed English or French bassets?" The answer the puppy buyer often receives is: "There is no such thing as a French basset." Of course, this is not quite true. In fact, there are many different kinds of French bassets, but they are not officially recognized by The American Kennel Club and therefore are very rare in this country.

Among the many French bassets (the word basset in French simply means low-slung) there are two which concern us here most: the Basset Artésien Normand, the direct ancestor of our own basset hound, and the Basset Bleu de Gascogne, which was most likely interbred with the Basset Artésien Normand before its arrival in England in 1866.

Today's Basset Artésien Normand superficially looks like a basset hound. But only superficially. First of all, there is the size difference. While a basset hound's weight--depending on the sex and bloodlines--is between 45 and 70 pounds, the Basset Artésien Normand's is around 30-35. While the basset hound has lots of extra skin and massive bones, the Basset Artésien Normand lacks both. While the basset hound's head has a pronounced occiput, the Basset Artésien Normand's skull is quite flat. While the basset hound's earset is supposed to be low--below eye level--the Basset Artésien Normand's earset, at least in comparison to our basset hound, is quite high. While our basset's eyes are supposed to be slightly sunken, showing a prominent haw, the Basset Artésien Normand's eyes are round and lack the necessary haw that gives the basset hound such a doleful appearance. While the basset's lips are pendulous and the dewlap pronounced, the Artésien Normand has a long muzzle, lacks a dewlap, and its head, as opposed to the basset hound, is quite refined. Although the basset hound was developed from the Basset Artésien Normand, today--due to inter- and selective breeding--they are two distinctive breeds. However, because of the vagaries of genetics, the ancestor's looks will crop up here and there, especially in poorly bred specimens, like pet-shop bassets, who often bear a suspicious resemblance to the Basset Artésien Normand. The problem is that they are supposed to be basset hounds, a different breed.

How did the Basset Artésien Normand get into England and what happened to it in subsequent years? This is the topic of this piece.

English interest in the Basset Artésien Normand began in the 1870s, when two sportsmen, Lord Onslow and Mr. Everett Millais, began importing specimens of the breed from France. At that time there were two famous kennels of Bassets Artésien Normand in France: the kennel of the Count le Couteulx de Canteleu and the kennel of M. Louis Lane of Château de Frangueville near Rouen. Although both kennels specialized in Bassets Artésien Normand, over the years each developed a distinct type of the Artesian Basset. The "Lane type" hounds were in greater demand in France because they were considered to be the result of more consistent and purer breeding. The Lane dogs were predominantly lemon and white or gray and white. They were very heavy, with much bone and low to the ground. Their front legs were fully crooked ("jambes torses"). The Le Couteulx kennel, on the other hand, had at least two distinct types of hounds. One was an animal of larger build, heavier boned, low to the ground, with harsher coat that was either red and white or heavily marked tri-color. The other type, which most likely had an infusion of beagle in it, was much lighter in build, with coat short and fine of less well marked colors, either tri-color or very pale red and white. Their front legs were either full torse or demi-torse, and it could easily happen that one could find both types of front within the same litter. The Lane dogs, in spite of their purer quality, did not gain acceptance in England, and although a few were imported, they were simply cross-bred with the more popular Le Couteulx types.

As for the earliest history of the basset hound in England our records are spotty. These early dogs were not registered and their owners did not keep very good records. Often the new owners were not themselves sure of the exact pedigrees of the animals they purchased. The French basset breeders had the annoying habit of naming their dogs the same name--Fino de Paris (Fino for short) being the most favored. Our only sources are a handful of articles written by the breeders outlining the story of their involvement in the breed, and these descriptions often contradict each other or have critical gaps. With this in mind here is an outline of the first few years of the basset hound in England.

The story begins with a visit of Mr. Everett Millais to France in 1874. Although he was not the first Englishman to import a Basset Artésien Normand, it is he who is considered to be the father of our modern basset hound. While in France Millais decided to attend a dog show at the Jardin d'Acclimatation in order to see some French dachshunds and compare them to his own. The show was benched--as dog shows until fairly recently all were--and next to the dachshunds he noticed a few Bassets Artésien Normand who caught his attention. These dogs were much bigger than dachshunds "with black and white bodies and rich tan heads, more beautiful than Dachs, with soft, dreamy eyes," wrote Everett Millais ten years later in an article in the April 1884 Kennel Review. He immediately decided that he had to have one. The two dogs that especially impressed Everett Millais were Fino de Paris and Model, litter brothers from the kennel of Count le Couteulx de Canteleu. He chose Model and was lucky enough to be able to purchase him. Fino de Paris was later obtained by another Englishman, Mr. George Krehl, about whom we will hear more later. Both Model and Fino de Paris figure extensively in the development of our modern basset hound. Practically all bassets today are descendants of these two animals.

What did these dogs look like? We have drawings of both dogs, and even a photo of Model. According to his owner, Model was "rather flat in skull and having badly hung ears, but otherwise as perfect a specimen as I ever hope to see." His picture, with today's eyes, tells a different story. He seems to be knuckled over--which is a disqualifying fault in a basset--and his muzzle is very long by oday's standards. On his photo he seems slight and we know from his owner's description that he weighed only 46 pounds. However, by all accounts, Fino and Model were excellent bassets by the standards of the day.

Everett Millais, who originally wasn't interested in dog shows, decided to introduce Model to the general public and exhibited him at the Wolverhampton Dog Show in 1875. Shortly after that Model also made an appearance at the Crystal Palace show. More and more people had the opportunity to see this "exquisitely pretty little hound," as the Live Stock Journal called Model. Among Model's admirers was another man who played an important role in the development of today's basset hound, Lord Onslow. Onslow was not entirely new to bassets since he had imported a bitch and a dog ten years earlier, but this time he wanted to make a more serious effort at establishing the breed in England. In 1877 Onslow imported three bassets from the kennel of Count le Couteulx de Canteleu: Fino, Finette (littermates and Fino not the same Fino as Fino de Paris, but surely related to him), and Nestor. Onslow's decision to import a bitch gave Millais the opportunity to use his dog, Model. A breeding of Finette to Model produced Proctor and Garenne. Garenne was a small (28 pounds) tri-color bitch who in turn was bred to her own father, Model. Garenne and Model produced Isabel, Model II, and Vesta. Isabel was a red and white, as was Vesta, while Model II was tri-colored. According to one source (Mercedes Braun, The New Complete Basset Hound, p. 29) Model was himself the product of a sister-brother breeding and thus the reader will get a fair idea about the amount of nbreeding that was going on. Millais decided not to breed Isabel back to her father and chose instead Lord Onslow's Fino. But as Millais himself admits, it would be "wrong to say that this was not inbreeding at all, as Fino was own brother to her grand-dam, Finette." The result of this breeding (Isabel whelped in August 1879) was Ulfius, Bratias, Niniche, Kathleen and Marie. New inbreedings followed: sister-brother breedings between Ulfius and Kathleen and Bratias and Niniche. Ulfius and Kathleen produced Finette II, who will figure later on in our story.

Millais's first breeding career was coming to an end in 1880. For health reasons he left for Australia and about the same time Lord Onslow decided to break up his pack. Their dogs were dispersed among several basset fanciers. Millais's Kathleen went to George Krehl of Hanover Square, London, who had already imported several new basset hounds from France, among them, Jupiter (1878), Pallas, and Fino de Paris. A drawing of these three hounds is also available. Their owner, George Krehl, described them as follows in The Book of the Dog by Vero Shaw (1881): "Of the dogs chosen for the coloured plate, Jupiter shows most of the Bloodhound type head; the bitch Pallas is but little short of perfection, and it was the eulogistic description of her qualities in the 'Field,' when she won at Brussels, that induced the writer to find her out in France, and buy her and her mate, Jupiter. Fino de Paris, the third dog in the picture, is a demi-torse; he is own brother to Mr. Millais's Model, which is full-torse. He was, until I chased him from the Jardin d'Acclimatation, Paris, the stud-dog of Europe; and Count Couteulx considers him a 'particularly good and pure stud-dog, well-knit loins, and head typical of the breed, long and thin.'" Krehl, by acquiring some of Onslow's and Millais's dogs and by purchasing new stock from France, continued where Millais and Onslow left off. Thanks to his new imports from France, breeding of basset hounds in England could begin on a somewhat larger scale. Not all the names of his French imports are known, but, in addition to Jupiter, Pallas, and Fino de Paris, he also acquired Guinevere, Théo and Vivien, all of whom were descended from Fino de Paris several times over. Yet they did not resemble Fino but rather another ancestor, Termino, a dog of unknown origins and unknown heritage. While Fino de Paris and the dogs that resembled him were large and heavy boned, low to the ground with fully crooked legs, the bassets that resembled Termino were lighter and their front legs were only half crooked (demi-torses). Millais was not sure that Termino was a Basset Artésien Normand. To quote him: "What Termino was, or how he was bred, remains an unfathomable mystery, notwithstanding the fact that I have made every inquiry." His guess was that Termino was some other, bigger kind of French basset. George Johnson, the eminent English breeder and author of an excellent book on the basset hound, assumes that Le Couteulx used Termino as an outcross to counteract the inbreeding on Fino de Paris. In any case, early bassets in England were far from uniform, which was not a surprising development given Count le Couteulx's experimentations to develop a new strain. However, with careful breeding George Krehl managed to perpetuate the type of Fino de Paris, whose influence on the English bassets was so obvious that French visitors often stated that if they had known his full potential Fino de Paris would have never left France.

All the basset bitches in England at the time were bred either to Fino de Paris (Juno, Guinevere, and Pallas, all French imports) or to Jupiter (Vesta [Model x Garenne] and Vivienne (a French import). At the same time Louis Clement, a new addition to the growing number of basset breeders in England, imported a few more dogs from France: Ramée, Pasqueret, Hebe. Ramée (a male "whose origin is obscure") was bred to Pasqueret, Hebe, and Finette II. Yet the numbers were still very small and the resulting inbreeding began to take its toll: the stock began to lose size and bone. There were signs of infertility. It was obvious that new blood was needed. George Krehl decided to import two new bitches from France but not from the kennel of Count le Couteulx, from where practically every animal was a descendent of Fino de Paris but from the kennel of Louis Lane, whose bassets were not directly related to Fino. In 1882, that is less than ten years after the first imports, Krehl imported two Lane-type basset bitches: Blanchette and Oriflamme. According to Everett Millais, the crossing of the le Couteulx with the Lane type of bassets gave the "perfect touch" to the establishment of the breed and the work of the early breeders.

In 1884 Everett Millais returned from Australia and to his astonishment found his old dog Model not only alive but fertile. The only bitch he managed to get for a mating with Model was Finette II (Ulfius x Kathleen, sister-brother breeding), Model's great granddaughter. As Millais wrote: "This was in and in breeding with a vengeance." However, he found the result "perfectly satisfactory. He had "three beautiful pups from this intercourse--namely, Kini, Lady Dollie, and Lady Daisy, all true Bassets and tricolors."

By 1884 the English breeders felt confident enough to establish the Basset Hound Club. The charter members were Count le Couteulx de Canteleu, the man who was so instrumental in preserving the breed in France, Lords Onslow and Galway, two early importers and breeders of bassets in England, Everett Millais, and George Krehl. Soon they were joined by many others, among whom two are especially worthy of mention: H.R.H. Princess Alexandra (wife of Edward, Prince of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII) and Mrs. Ellis of Brettenham Park, Billesden. Princess Alexandra was a great fan of bassets, both the smooth- and rough-coated variety. She maintained a rather large kennel, breeding not only bassets but also clumber spaniels. Her kennel name was Sandringham--the family's favorite summer home--where the dogs were actually kept. Practically all of our bassets are related in one way or the other to Princess Alexandra's dogs, some of whom were also depicted beautifully by the famous animal painter, Arthur Wardle. From the head studies they look like quality animals. The other woman among the predominantly male members of the Basset Hound Club was Mrs. Ellis of Brettenham Park. Her famous bitch was Ch. Psyche II, who bred to Ch. Forester twice (line-breeding on Fino de Paris), produced several champions (Bowman, Paris, Xena) and other noteworthy early bassets. Both Psyche II and Forester were considered to be excellent specimens. Psyche II had a distinguished show career and was an excellent brood bitch. Forester, a tri-color dog, was a most prepotent sire. These two dogs produced a score of early English champions.

By 1886, that is twelve years after the importation of Model to England, there were 120 basset hounds entered at the Dachshund and Basset Show held at the Aquarium in London. The judge was Everett Millais. Such large entries speak eloquently about the success of the basset hound in England but at the same time inbreeding on Fino de Paris, even with the infusion of the Lane-type of basset in 1882, began to show. Not only there was a loss of bone, difficult whelpings, and infertility but "mental instability," as George Johnson called it. Apparently Millais himself bred a dog who was described as a "canine idiot" by its owner, Dr. Clifford Allbutt (The Basset Hound, p. 40). Thus Millais began an unchartered journey of crossbreeding the basset with another breed in the hope of rejuvenating the English basset hound.

In 1892 Millais decided to cross his only basset hound, Nicholas (a heavily linebred dog on Fino de Paris) with a bloodhound. Crossbreeding was not new to Millais who much earlier had experimented with crossing the basset with the beagle. Shortly after he purchased Model he bred him to a beagle bitch and bred back the resulting beagle-basset bitches to Model. He did not particularly like the results and abandoned the experiment when he discovered Lord Onslow's Finette. In his opinion, what the heavily inbred English bassets needed almost twenty years after the breed's introduction to England was greater size, something the beagles could not give. Here is Millais's own description: "employed the Bloodhound as the vehicle for importing fresh blood to counteract the commencing degeneration on the part of the Basset, considering that this cross would be of infinitely greater value to us breeders than the importation would be of a number of French Bassets of the same variety, but of inferior type and size. . . . I may state at once that when we imported our Bassets from France, we imported the best that France possessed and notwithstanding degeneration, what we have in England is better than France can now offer us." Whether Millais was simply partial to the bassets in England and unjust in judging them superior to their French relatives, I cannot say. What Millais most likely did not realize that he did not just improve the Basset Artésien Normand, he created a new breed: today's basset hound.

Millais knew from his earlier experiments with beagle-basset crosses that a heavily inbred animal like his own Nicholas bred to another breed would be prepotent, especially if the dam of the subsequent litter was not tightly bred. Millais picked a bloodhound bitch called Inoculation. Given the physical differences between the bloodhound and the basset, the mating was achieved through artificial insemination, a fairly novel idea at the time. Inoculation had twelve puppies by caesarian section, also a fairly new procedure. Unfortunately, the dam and five of her offspring died, but we know the names of three of the remaining seven: Ada, Rickey, and Cromwell. Then came the second stage of the experiment: Rickey was bred to Ch. Forester, a prepotent basset hound, while her brother Cromwell was bred to Juno IV, also a pure basset. These matings produced low-slung bassets, some of whom retained the black and tan coloring of their bloodhound ancestors. The third phase of the program was the mating of Dulcie (Rickey x Forester) to Ch. Bowman (Ch. Psyche II x Forester). Six puppies were born from this breeding: four were tri-color, one was red and white, and one was black and tan. All puppies had lots of bone and were comparable to their famous ancestors, Fino de Paris, Model, Paris, and Forester.

Although Mr. Millais had a very low opinion of the French bassets, quite a few French imports reached England in the 1890s. George Musson of Liverpool, a prominent member of the Basset Hound Club, imported dogs of bone and substance. A French breeder, M. Puissant of Cambrai, sent eleven and a half couple over to England for sale, and the best of these stayed in the country. By the turn of the century, it became obvious that the introduction of new blood from France and the bloodhound cross benefited the breed.The popularity of the basset was firmly established by that time. Among the exhibitors beside Princess Alexandra were several other important breeders, among them Arthur Croxton-Smith and Mrs. Tottie. Mrs. Tottie was the owner and breeder of many outstanding basset hounds, some of whom appear in our own bassets' pedigrees: Ch. Louis le Beau, Ch. Loo Loo Loo, Napoleon II, and Gravity. Arthur Croxton-Smith's foundation bitch was Witch (Nicholas x Juno IV) bred by Everett Millais. Witch was mated to Ch. Louis le Beau of Mrs. Tottie, and produced a fantastic litter containing Ch. Welbeck, Wantage and Wensum. (Note the beginnings of the English custom of giving littermates names starting with the same letter of the alphabet as the name of the dam.)

Until the 1890s most of the imports were undertaken for the purpose of showing the dogs and their progeny at dog shows. However, the basset was also slowly discovered as an excellent hunting companion. By the end of the century there were three English packs that hunted on a regular basis. The most famous and influential of them was the Walhampton pack maintained by Godfrey and Geoffrey Heseltine. It was from this pack that the first American imports came in the early 1920s. The Heseltines bought their first basset in 1890 from Captain Peacock, and this nucleus was later augmented by the purchase of a whole disbanded pack maintained by T. Cannon, Jr. of Dansbury. In 1891 the Heseltines began to hunt with their bassets, first badger, then hare. In 1896 more bassets were added to the pack from two sources: a disbanded basset pack from England upon the death of its master and a present to the Heseltines of ten couple from Prince Henry of Pless's pack in Germany. The pack was kenneled at Lutterworth in Leicestershire. Although the Walhampton pack over the years consisted of hundreds of basset hounds, we are familiar with relatively few. The early history is especially murky. For example, we know nothing of the bassets who arrived from Germany. But we do know that among the Heseltines' first basset hounds were Belladonna (Napoleon II x Bella (a half-cross), born in 1895) and Mimi (Ch. Loo Loo Loo x Mirette). We don't know much about Belladonna, but Mimi was certainly an important contribution to the Walhampton pack: bred to Sandringham Zero she produced Walhampton Merryman (1911), an important sire, behind practically every American basset today.

The early 1920s belonged to the Walhampton pack, both in the show ring and in the field. Walhampton Andrew, born in 1922 (Walhampton Ferryman x Walhampton Actress [unregistered]), became the first of many Walhampton champions in England. The Walhampton pack also provided the foundation stock for early American basset breeders. For instance, Gerald Livingston of Long Island began purchasing Walhampton dogs to import to the United States. Just to mention a few: English Champion Walhampton Andrew, Walhampton Alice, and Walhampton Linguist. But this part of the story belongs to another chapter of the history of the basset hound: the story of the basset hound in the United States.


Shaw, Vero. The Classic Encyclopedia of the Dog. London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin, 1881.

American Kennel Register (New York). July 1884.

Acton, C. R. Hounds: An Account of the Kennels of Great Britain. London: Heath Cranton, 1939.

Appleton, Douglas H. The Basset Hound Handbook. London: Nicholson & Watson, 1960.

Johnston, George. The Basset Hound. London: Popular Dogs, 1968.

Braun, Mercedes. The Complete Basset Hound. New York: Howell Book House, Inc., 1969.


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