An introduction to the Parson Russell Terrier

The Reverend John Russell (1795-1883)

Reverend PussellJohn Russell was born in Dartmouth, the son of a clergyman of the same name. His father, like many contemporaries in the Church, owned a pack of hounds and the younger John grew up with a love of the hunting field. He began school in Plymouth and later went to Blundell’s school in Tiverton. In 1814 he was admitted to Exeter College, Oxford. He was ordained in 1819, married in 1826 and in 1832 became rector of the North Devon Parish of Swymbridge where he remained, much loved, for nearly fifty years, continuing to hunt until the year before his death.

While studying in Oxford he came upon the terrier Trump who belonged to a milkman. According to the memoirs of Reverend Russell, written by Reverend Davies during the lifetime of his friend, “Trump was such an animal as Russell had only seen in his dreams”. He persuaded the milkman to sell him this beautiful bitch and took her back to Devonshire where she “became the foundation bitch of that famous race of terriers.” The famous race, of course, is the Parson Russell Terrier.

Reverend Davies described a portrait of Trump at the time as follows:-
“In the first place, the colour is white with a patch of dark tan over each eye and ear while a similar dot, not larger than a penny piece, marks the root of the tail. The coat, which is thick. close and a trifle wiry, is well-calculated to protect the body from wet and cold but has no affinity with the long rough jacket of the Scotch Terrier. The legs are straight as arrows, the feet perfect, the loins and whole frame are indicative of hardiness and endurance, while the size and height of the animal may be compared to that of a full grown vixen fox.”

 

Development of The Fox Terrier and The Parson Russell Terrier

The Fox Terriers and Parson Russell Terriers of today are descended from the foxing terriers of the early part of the 18th century. Although it has been impossible to find documented pedigrees earlier than 1862 we do know that John Russell acquired Trump around 1818.

In 1862 the Reverend Handly owned a bitch called ‘Sting’ who became first in the line of Family III of Smooth Fox Terrriers. ‘Sting’ was mated to a dog called ‘Tartar’ and they produced a bitch called ‘Grove Nettle’.

In 1868 it was recorded that the Reverend John Russell bred a bitch named ‘Juddy’ who was by ‘Grove Willie’ out of John Russell’s bitch ‘Vic’. ‘Juddy’ was the first ancestress of Family I of Smooth Fox Terriers.

Trump parson russell terrier - This picture is in the Queen's collection at Sandringham‘Juddy’ was mated to ‘Old Hornet’ (who was out of ‘Grove Nettle’) and produced ‘Moss I’ in 1869. She was mated to Mr Gibson’s ‘Bitters’ and ‘Moss II’ was the result. Moss II was mated to the Russell-bred ‘Tip II’ and from this came ‘Wasp’ who went to Mr Thomas Wooten of Nottingham. In 1883 ‘Wasp’ produced ‘Lill Foiler’ by a dog called ‘Young Foiler’ (who was also descended from ‘Juddy’). From ‘Lill Foiler’ came ‘Carlisle Tack’ and then his son ‘Carlisle Tyro’.

The Fox Terrier Club was formed in 1875 and the Rev John Russell was one of its founder members. The Club drew up a breed standard in 1876 not of the Fox Terrier as it then was but of an animal the Club would like it to be. By the turn of the century the Fox Terrier was altering towards the type we know today. While it was evolving, the old type of foxing terrier remained, mostly in the more remote areas of the country. It is from this old type, so beloved of John Russell, that the Parson Russell Terrier is descended.

 

The original Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club

Following the death of John Russell the club was originated by the journalist and hunting man Arthur Heinemann in 1894 and was originally known as the Devon and Somerset Badger Club.  The name was later changed to the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club and was registered at the Kennel Club as one of the twenty eight clubs affiliated to the Fox Terrier Club. Heinemann’s standard for the breed stated “the terrier must present a gay, lively appearance. Bone and strength in  small compass are essential, but not cloddy or course. Speed and endurance must be apparent. Not too short or long in the leg. Fourteen inches at the withers ideal for a dog, thirteen for a bitch. Weight when in working condition about fourteen pounds but a pound more or less entirely acceptable. Conformation that of an adult vixen.”

Following the death in 1930 of Arthur Heinemann the Club continued under the leadership of Mrs Harris who had been his kennelmaid but it folded just before the Second World War. After the war there was a dramatic rise in the popularity of the small, mainly white hunt terriers and other little cross-bred terriers who were known loosely as Jack Russells.

 

Revival of the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club

In the autumn of 1983 PRT enthusiasts learned of a scheme to promote the so called Jack Russell and of a plan to apply to the Kennel Club for recognition. Deeply concerned that the type of terrier associated with the Reverend John Russell would become extinct or just be an unrecognised mongrel, these enthusiasts hastily re-formed The Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club (PJRTC) and adopted the breed standard which had been drawn up by Heinemann. Soon afterwards the Club made an application to the Kennel Club asking for recognition of the Reverend John Russell’s type of terrier but  were turned down.

parson russell terrier painting

Over the next few years several applications were made to the Kennel Club by the PJRTC requesting recognition of the Parson Jack Russell Terrier and eventually the Kennel Club agreed to consider the matter. The format of the breed standard was altered to fall in line with the Kennel Club’s requirements and it was necessary to produce substantiated pedigrees of 21/2 generations for each terrier on the Foundation Register. The General Committee of the Kennel Club finally agreed to recognise the Parson Jack Russell Terrier on January 9, 1990.

The Kennel Club recognised the Parson Jack Russell Terrier as a “variant of the Fox Terrier” and the terriers of today should continue to be similar in size and appearance to the strain of foxing terriers bred by Reverend John Russell. In its rules the PRT Club states that the object of the club is “to promote the breeding of the correct type of Parson Russell terrier”.

On August 1st 1999, following several requests made by the PJRT Club on behalf of the membership, the Kennel Club finally agreed to change the name of the breed to Parson Russell Terrier and the Club followed suit. This preferred title is the traditional West Country name for this terrier. It is still in everyday use and highlights the difference between the 19th century foxing terriers and the so-called Jack Russell.