History and Origin of the Labrador: From Newfoundland to England

The Labrador retriever is a class of sporting dogs that are considered a ‘flushing’ dog which is able to retrieve game for its owner and are used for hunting upland game birds as well as waterfowls. Some Labradors can even learn to point and are thought to have originated when Newfoundland was settled by English fishermen in the early 1500s and may have developed from the St. John’s dogs that were found there. They were used by English fishermen to retrieve fish that fell from their fishing hooks and they were also used to haul in fishing nets back to shore.

Brief History go the Labrador - Descendents of the St. John’s Dog of Newfoundland, Canada

When learning about the history and origin of the Labrador, we find that the early St. John’s dogs were workaholics and loved their retrieving work. They were a breed that aimed to please and because of their outstanding retrieving abilities became ideal companions for hunters as well as sportsmen. The Labrador of today can break ice to retrieve a bird and then can even wait to retrieve another. Their chocolate and yellow color may be derived from the early St. John’s dogs and in 1807, a ship named Brig Canton ferried some St. John’s dogs to Poole, England and these were likely breeding stock that were meant for the Duke of Malmesbury’s Labrador Kennel.

However, this ship shipwrecked and two dogs, colored black and chocolate, were recovered and are thought to be a part of the breeding program that were used to create the Chesapeake retriever. The Labrador has also become extinct a number of times and the St. John’s dogs from whom the Labrador has been bred are no longer in existence in Newfoundland. Certain events as well as a lot of effort by key people have made possible the Labrador of today.

The history of the Labrador dates to the early 1800s when they were first imported to England to a small number of British aristocrats. The Earl of Malmesbury at Heron Court had used St. John’s dogs even as early as 1803 but it was the second Earl of Malmesbury that was instrumental in keeping the Labrador breed alive and started the first Labrador kennel that he kept well stocked until his death in 1841. Later, the fifth Duke of Buccleuch started his own kennel in Scotland around 1835 and was independent of that at Malmesbury.

The first historic documentation regarding the origin of the Labrador can be traced to 1839 when the brother to the Duke, Lord John Scott began to import St. John’s dogs from Newfoundland and a few of these imported dogs were named Jock, Nell and Brandy. The last one earned its name when being brought from across the Atlantic Ocean fell into the rough seas and was only rescued two hours later and was so exhausted that to revive it they had to give it Brandy. The earliest photographed Labrador retriever was the Duke’s dog name Nell which was a female of twelve years of age and the photograph was taken in 1856.

The wonderful qualities of the Labrador led it to be bred into other ‘Retrievers’ in the late 18th and 19th centuries and by the 1880s all the true Labradors such as the St. John’s dogs had ceased to exist in England and it was only a fortunate meeting of the third Earl of Malmesbury with the sixth Duke of Buccleuch and twelfth Duke of Home that has preserved the Labrador line. However, historic accounts of the origin of the Labrador relate that the St. John’s dog became extinct in Newfoundland but the Labrador lived on and was recognized by the Kennel Club of England in 1903. If one finds the history and origin of the Labrador interesting, then reading about Labrador temperament may be intriguing too.

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