History of the Breed

It was in 1922 that an obscure veterinarian by the name of Francis Richard Barnes was successful in gaining recognition of the Rhodesian Ridgeback as a breed. Let's follow the words of Mr. B.W. Durham, witness of those days, as he recounted the affair certain years later in an article for the South African Kennel Union Gazette (Dec. 1950):

“The chief, if not the sole, credit of getting the breed standardized and recognized by the S. A. Kennel Union, is due to Mr. F. R. Barnes of Figtree - then resident in Bulawayo. I think it was in 1922 that Mr. Barnes circularized the many owners of "Ridgeback" or 'Lion Dog", as they were beginning to be known, and asked owners to bring their dogs to the meeting to be held on the second day of the Bulawayo Kennel Club Show to endeavor to formulate a standard with the object of later recognition by the S. A. Kennel Union.

The response must have been gratifying to the convener. A large number of owners attended and well over 20 dogs were paraded. I attended by invitation. These dogs were of all types and size, from what would be regarded as an undersized Great Dane to a small Bull Terrier; all colors were represented - Reds and Brindles predominating -. The convenor addressed the gathering and there was general agreement that a club to further the interests of the breed be formed. Mr. Barnes then asked for suggestions as to the standard to be adopted. Owners were reluctant to come forward, each naturally thinking his the correct type. Finally a spectator with some knowledge of the breed took a dog and suggested that size and configuration be adopted, then chose another specimen for its head and neck, a third for legs and feet, and, making use of some five different dogs, built up what he considered to be aimed at. A few days later Mr. Barnes compiled the standard, a club was formed, Mr. Barnes' standard adopted and this, with some later amendments and alterations is the standard in use today.”

B.W. Burnam, the author of the expose, was stated to have "some knowledge of the breed", which might be expected, seeing as he was the only all breed judge in South Africa in in that period. The expression "a spectator with some knowledge of the breed..." was referring to none other than the author himself, B.W. Burnam who was the sole all breed judge in the whole of South Africa during that time. Beyond Barnes, Durham and Mr. C. H. Edmonds took part in the drawing up of the standard, the latter a senior Vet Surgeon for Southern Rhodesia at the time.

Rhodesia is introduced to crested dogs

But let's go 50 years back, to rev. Charles Helm who lived in Matabeleland at the end of last century, the southern region of today's Zimbabwe, Rhodesia until about 1980. Helm ran the mission of Hope Fountain, not far from the kraal of the matabele king Lobengula, where years later the city of Bulawayo was to be founded. During the later part of the 1800s he introduced two ridged dogs to the area, "Lorna" and "Powder" that he had acquired from the Swellendam district. The mission was located at a crossroad and was a stopping place for the many travelers crossing the region, among whom were a number of "white hunters" that were after big African preys, elephants and lions.

The great Hunter, Cornelius Van Rooyen

The many visitors received by Rev Helm included men of renowned hunting abilities, such as Cornelius Van Rooyen, resident of Mangwe which lie about 85-90 kilometers south. Van Rooyen recognized that the breed could bring an added dimension to his own group, asking to cross some of Helms dogs with his own. The crossing of his own dogs with those of the Rev Helm produced an animal more favorable to the hunting needs of Van Rooyen.. The dogs became better bred for hunting needs and people started labeling them "Van Rooyen Dogs". Many had a ridge.

We are often given the impression by the movies that the "White Hunters" were middle aged men, seasoned with experience and wisdom. The contrast is striking once we know that "Nellis" Van Rooyen, 19, was married to "Maria", who herself was barely 14 yrs, the wedding being ministered by the Rev Helm.

In 1910 Mr Graham Stacey of Figtree who had acquired ridged dogs from Van Rooyen, negotiated an agreement to place a ridged dog in the care of Mr Francis Barnes of nearby Bulwayo. This completes the lineage of ridged dogs by way of Helm, Van Rooyen and Stacey, finally ending up with Francis Barnes. Hence the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the result of the efforts of hunters, breeders and dedicated individuals who managed to cross dogs and get the best out of some European varieties. Notably, the Irish terrier, grand Danes, pointer, greyhounds and the bulldog-not the same of today's, but taller and more agile at the end of 1800, with the breeds already existing there when the Europeans arrived.

From whence does the "ridge" derive?

The Hottentot dog.

Almost certainly the ridge derives from a dog of the Hottentots - or "Khoikhoi", as they called themselves. The Khoikhoi were the population the first Europeans found when they landed in the Good Hope Cape region. The Khoikhoi had come from the Great Lakes Region some centuries before. The Khoi Khoi peoples were practical people, bringing those things that benefited their survival, big horned oxen, fat tailed sheep, and a dog with an undesirable temperament, pricked ears, and a ridge. It was this particular dog that was ubiquitously spread throughout the area and is the dog that was interbred with other European dogs thereby supplying the distinction we now appreciate as the ridge.

The foundation of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club (of Rhodesia) - The Parent Club

Bulwayo was the location of the final formulation of the Rhodesian Ridgeback club - also called the "LIon Dog" club, which came together shortly after writing the standard. The floundering new Rhodesian Ridgeback club made the first attempt to become recognized at the South African Kennel Club on the 24th of October 1924, but their request was denied. Finally, on February 4, 1926 the South African Kennel Union accepted the Lion Dog club and the breed was officially recognized.. Mr Barnes had always hope for inclusion of the country of origin as well as the ridge be included as part of the identity of the new breed, and so it was. Many others would have liked the name "Lion Dog", in South Africa in particular.

Early stages of the breed

Six were registered by Francis Barnes on March 16th, 1926 , Included in the registration were Lion, Como, and Eskdale Dingo. Barnes settled on the name for both his kennel and his farm, calling them "Eskdale". The foundation of the breed was laid in these years, and the characteristics and the qualities of the breed we admire today in the Rhodesian Ridgeback come to us from those first breeders.

Pedigrees will contain some of these kennels from the early years

• Avondale of Mr. T. Kedie-Law from Rhodesia

• Drumbuck of Mrs. L. M. Dickson who was among the founders of the club

• Eskdale of Mr. Barnes

• Khami of Mr. G. Stacey

• Kumalo of Miss M.J.S. Vigne

• Munemi of Captain B.L. Miles, who collaborated with the Club for many years

• Revelston of Mr. D. R. Keith from Swaziland

• Rhodian of Mr. A. J. Walker, famous for his hunting pack

• Sandvelt of Captain R. R. Dendy-Rawlins

• Sipolilo of Arthur "Tractor" Smith, great hunter

• Umvukwe of Miss Ainslie

• Viking of Mr. Vernon H. Brisley, probably the greatest among the breeders of the time and the one who influenced the most the breed in those years.

The breed begins to spread across Africa

The 1930's and 1940's saw a proliferation of the breed across much of South Africa. Life was easy during this period under the British Crown: there are no borders, there is a widespread enthusiasm, the perception of being privileged citizens and a general welfare in which the white population participates. The rumors and news of war on African soil was really not a concern of the south African people. The growth and establishment of the breed found a fertile environment during these years. It was during this period that breeders of renown having experience and passion for the breed became involved.

Among the most instrumental kennels were:

• Drumbuck of Mrs. A.M. Smithwick

• Leo Kop of Miss Mabel Wellings, one of the most imperative of the time which much contributed to today's lineage

• Lions Den of Mrs. D. E. Strickland who worked for numerous years in the committee of the RR Club of Rhodesia, till she traveled back to England in 1950

• De Holi of Major T. C. Hawley. He was a legendary breeder and additionally a historian of the breed with his book "The Rhodesian Ridgeback"

• Gazeley of J. B. Bocock, who started breeding in 1947

• Inkabusi of Mrs. I. Kingcome fom Salisbury in Rhodesia, her husband, Dr. Martin Kingcome, carried out studies on the dermoid sinus and recommended ways to the parent club of South Africa in order to overcome it

• Meyendell of Mrs. M. Mooiman from Sandown in Transvaal (RSA).

The breed gains a stronger foothold

 From here onward, crucial developments would further serve to establish the breed. Its hard to stress the impact that certain kennels would have on the lineage of future dogs. Thornbury was one such kennel that is felt to have had a significant impact on the breed.

But other kennels greatly contributed:

• Isimangamanga of Mrs. J. B. S. Yeates who started breeding in the 50s

• Mindemoya of Mrs. F. H. A. Pritchard in Bulawayo

• Rockridge of Mrs. Howard in Johannesburg

• Thornbury of the Greens in Johannesburg

• Maxwood of Mr. S. Cawood in Honeydew, Transvaal

• Mpani of Mrs. Mylda Arsenis in Salisbury, Rhodesia.

Mrs. Mylda Arsenis had a passion for the breed and was actively involved, both as a breeder and as a member of The Parent Club where she participated in a variety of ways. It was in 1964 that she tried her hand, successfully whelping her first litter of Ridgeback puppies. In 1979 she moved to South Africa.

These were difficult times in Rhodesia, and breeders focused on other issues. Fortuitous events were to occur which would have a dramatic and permanent change on the small Comm on wealth when a unilateral declaration of independence from Britain would initiate a long and bloody civil war.. This had a the effect of some kennels coming to an end while other took up residence in South Africa.The war finished in 1980 with the declaration of independence of the Republic of Zimbabwe. Civil strife severely curtailed advancement of the breed, and it was feared that it might come to a halt; Resurgence would not occur for a few years.

It was partly due to the assistance of Margaret and Sammy Wallace that the breed started flourishing again. Their contributions have been very helpful, with the exportation of specimens that have acquired championships in many other countries. Beyond their activity as breeders the Wallaces have also acted as the guardian of the tradition and "culture" of the breed with their action within The Parent Club of which they are respectively Secretary and President. As further involvement, Sammy Wallace also is a certified international judge for the breed.

Another kennel also making helpful contributions was Shangara, owned by the Megginsons. They arrived in South Africa in the mid-70s for a short holiday. Today they still live in Verwoerdburg in Transvaal, where they breed RR. Their contribution of fine animals cannot be underplayed, but they are most known for Shangara's Checheni, winner of over 105 best of breed competitions, and felt to be one of the most complete representations of the breed ever known.

The breed becomes popular in other countries

With the exception of Great Britain, the Breed was rarely heard of in other parts of the world. From here on out, the breed will start to gain recognition in other parts of the world.

The US and North America

Soldiers always bring back souvenirs from war campaigns: objects, weapons, sometimes wives. Some G.I. Men took back home some Rhodesian Ridgebacks from South Africa. The first people in the U.S. to breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks were William and Sada O'brien under the kennel name "Redhouse". They acquired their first dogs from the renowned historian/Judge Major T.C. Hawley.

Col and Mrs Morrie DePass, Margaret Lowthian and Gene Freeland probably played a much more significant role in founding the breed in the United States. Morrie DePass was the 1st President of Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the AKC parent club and his dog, Ch Swahili Jeff Davis was the first US Champion. The DePass' brought several Rhodesian Ridgebacks with them from South Africa.

In the same period in California Margaret Lowthian and Gene Freeland founded the Lamarde Perro Kennel, an important name for the breed in America. Margaret traveled to South Africa and met with Major T.C. Hawley and visited various kennels throughout the country. In collaboration with Major Hawley, she would acquire several specimens for breeding in the United States. Lamarde Perro has had a profound and lasting effect on the success of the breed in the United States. It is easy to appreciate the support and influence that Lamarde Perro has had on the breed when one casually looks through the recorded lineage of nearly any pedigree.

Thanks to the perseverance and work of these and other breeders, the breed became officially recognized in November 1955 by the American Kennel Club as the 112th breed. Since then in the US the breed has developed into a popular dog thanks to the action of the RRCUS: every year about 2000 Rhodesian Ridgebacks are registered. Although the start was rocky in the United States, American perseverance and determination also made its way into the psyche of Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders who have developed a specimen that in many ways, has become the world standard for the breed.

Among the American breeders it should be mentioned:

• Lamarde Perro of Gene Freeland and Margaret Lowthian, California

• Calico Ridge of Diane Jacobsen, California

• Kimani of Alicia Mohr, New Jersey

• River Roads of Judith Hupperts

• Kwetu of Barbara Sawyer Brown, Illinois

• Lionpride of the Coopers

• Oakhurst of the Ruperts, California

• Raintree of Beachley and Kathy Main

• Rawhide of Louise Lertora

• Shadyridge of Ulla Britt Ekengren

• Tawnyridge of Kay Fanning

• Rolling's of D. Jay Hyman, Maryland

• Blanbeeridge of Blanche Brophy and Bee Elliot

• Walgroh of Martin and Betty Walsh, Illinois