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Golden Retrievers: Origins and Background

One of the most well-known dogs in America is the Golden Retriever. With a reputation as being lovable, loyal, and happy it is no surprise that almost everyone knows of Goldens and in most places can be seen everywhere now. 


In the following sections, I will go over a brief history of the Golden Retriever breed which has been carefully preserved by the Kennel Club of England.


The sections are as follows:


Overview

Known as one of the most popular dog breeds in America, the Golden Retriever has a widespread reputation. One question that does commonly pop up is where do goldens come from? 


Historians believe that dogs, one of the most popular domesticated pets, descended from gray wolves 130,000 years ago. While nothing is confirmed about the early domestication of dogs or the first dog breeds, we have a pretty good understanding of the history of Golden Retrievers thanks to the Kennel Club.


Golden Retrievers originated due to an affluent man who enjoyed breeding dogs. His breeding resulted in the creation of one of America’s and the world's most popular dogs, the playful and lovable Golden Retriever.


Origin

The Man Behind It All

To properly tell the story of the first Golden Retrievers I must introduce one man: Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks.


Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks
Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks

Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced "Marchbanks"), the second son of a famous Scottish banker, was born into a socially stratified setting in 1820. As a teenager, Marjoribanks was interested in dog breeding (once thought to be an admirable hobby for the wealthy and well-known). He kept a leather-bound diary that logged all of his breedings throughout a half-century. This book is still in existence today and safely stored at the Kennel Club of England (the formal name of Britain's canine registry).


Although his father's banking business was intended for his older brother, Marjoribanks acquired a sizable fortune through his inheritance. With it, he purchased a portion of the Meux Brewery. The distillery, once known as the Horse Shoe Brewery, was the location of the London Beer Flood of 1814. He became wealthy as a partner in Meux & Co's brewery and later became director of the East India Company. He used some of his riches to build Brook House, a house on London's prestigious Park Lane. Finally, Dudley Marjoribanks became a member of the London Parliament.


In 1854 Marjoribanks purchased Guisachan, the home where the first Golden Retrievers were born. The Guisachan Estate included 20,000 acres of hunting and fishing land. When purchasing land in Scotland, the homeowner receives the title of "Lord" or "Lady". As a result, Dudley Marjoribanks then became the first “Lord Tweedmouth of Guisachan”.


Marjoribanks then used his money to transform the Guischan house into a mansion. He made numerous improvements to the site, including a church, dairy farm, and stables. The estate's most famous feature, however, was a dog-breeding kennel.


The Creation of Golden Retrievers

For many years, the widely accepted origin tale of the Golden Retriever was that Marjoribanks bought a set of Russian circus dogs and began breeding his famed yellow-coated pups from there. However, the truth turns out to be much simpler.


The grandfather to all Goldens - Nous
Nous

In 1865, Marjoribanks was walking with his young son in Brighton when he came upon a wavy-coated dog named "Nous." He belonged to a cobbler, who obtained him from an employee of a local lord to repay a debt. Nous was born to black parents but had a golden complexion. During the nineteenth century, black sports dogs were fashionable and thought to be better hunters; any other colors in well-bred litters were typically discarded.


During the nineteenth century, black sports dogs were fashionable and thought to be better hunters; any other colors in well-bred litters were typically discarded. If Nous had not been given to a merchant, he most likely would not have survived at all.


Nous was bred to Belle, a Tweed Water Spaniel given to Marjoribanks by a cousin, three years after Marjoribanks purchased him. Tweed spaniels, now extinct, were liver-colored kissing cousins of Irish Water Spaniels and were connected with fishermen in the River Tweed Valley on the Scottish-English border. Through this Marjoribanks built a strong hunter by crossing a retriever with a water spaniel, allowing him to hunt grouse, partridge, and even red deer on land and water. Marjoribanks' famed 1868 litter included the florally named puppies who are regarded as the world's first Golden Retrievers: "Cowslip," "Crocus," “Ada”, and "Primrose."

Marjoribank's nephew - Earl of Ilchester and Ada
Marjoribank's nephew - Earl of Ilchester and Ada

Historians have various versions concerning the initial pups; some believe Belle only gave birth to Cowslip, Crocus, and Primrose, while Ada arrived later. However, based on the Earl of Ilchester's essay we can confirm that Ada was one of Nous and Belle's children from their first litter.


These gold-colored Marjoribanks retrievers were not sold or given away. Instead, they were only gifted with great delicacy to family and friends who saw them as the perfect gentleman's hunting companion. Edward, Marjoribanks' son, received Crocus. The fact that he also owned a red setter named "Sampson" may further explain the deep red that remains a part of the Golden Retriever's color spectrum today. Marjoribanks' nephew, the Earl of Ilchester, was gifted the female "Ada". His subsequent Golden Retriever line at Melbury Hall in Dorset quickly became well-known.


Goldens in America

Archie and Lady

Long before the Golden Retriever became one of the most popular breeds, Marjoribanks' youngest son, Archie, brought two goldens to North America. In 1882, Archie transported a male named "Sol" to Texas. His Rocking Chair Ranch produced some of his family's finest Angus Aberdeen cattle. Archie also brought a girl named "Lady" to Canada shortly after being appointed aide-de-camp to his brother-in-law, Canadian Governor-General Lord Aberdeen. Sol died in Texas, but Lady and Archie returned to Britain in 1895. She went on to have more puppies there.



Downfall of the Guisachan Estate

Marjoribanks recorded his last breeding in his leather-bound record book in 1890. While he died several years later, the breed lived on. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Guisachan Estate. 


Unfortunately, the birthplace of Golden Retrievers' has eroded during the last 150 years. When Dudley Marjoribanks died, the Guisachan Estate was left to his eldest son, Edward Marjoribanks. Edward and his family resided there till their wife died. Edward, devastated by his wife's death, couldn't stand to live in the house and sold the Guisachan property.


The property changed hands several times, and parcels of land were divided up to numerous buyers over the years. The once beautiful palace with 20,000 acres of land was eventually reduced to a decaying manor with only 150 acres. Lady Islington, who bought the estate in the late 1930s, only added to the devastation. She removed all of Guisachan's furnishings and roof, reportedly to discourage surrounding peasants from visiting the home.


Despite the devastation of Guisachan, Golden Retriever enthusiasts see this estate as the birthplace of their beloved breed. In 2014, a memorial commemorating the first Golden Retrievers was erected by Friends of Guisachan, a non-profit, near the Guisachan property. That same year, the group paid to have the trees removed from the ruins. They also launched a campaign to stabilize what remained of the structure.


Four years later, in 2018, 361 Golden Retrievers and their owners came together from all over the world to commemorate the breed's 150th anniversary. This week-long celebration in the Scottish Highlands included an emotional visit to the renowned Guisachan ruins, where the Golden Retriever's heritage began.


A Golden meeting at 150th Breed Anniversary
150th Golden Breed Anniversary

Guisachan, with its crumbling stonework and open window frames, serves as a reminder that the monuments we humans erect to commemorate our periods do not always remain. However, dogs are more robust. They, like the wildflowers named for the original trio of Golden Retrievers, can settle and thrive in the most improbable of settings. And as their popularity grows, they illuminate their new surroundings, always carrying a little of the people and places that gave them life.


Rise in Popularity

The Golden Gets Named

Golden Retrievers made their appearance at dog shows in 1906 under the name "Retriever- Wavy or Flat Coated" in classes for those "of any other color". 


Col. The Hon. W. le Poer Trench (right) with his brother and his St. Hubert’s kennel in 1906.
Col. The Hon. W. le Poer Trench (right) with his brother (left) and his kennel in 1906.

In 1908 a man named Lord Harcourt registered his dog as a “Golden Retriever” at the Crufts Dog Show in England. Lord Harcourt's name stuck, and the dog breed became known as Golden Retrievers.


According to the Golden Retriever Club, ten Golden Retrievers were registered in 1910 to compete at dog exhibitions. The world fell in love with these well-behaved puppies, and individuals from all over the world desired one for themselves. 


The Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1911 as "Retriever- Yellow or Golden," followed by "Retriever- Golden" in 1920. In 1925, the Canadian Kennel Club formally recognized the Golden Retriever as a distinct breed from Flat Coats. Kennel clubs from other countries quickly followed suit, including the American Kennel Club (1925).


The Golden Boom

Goldens were officially introduced to North America in the 1920s and quickly became popular, but their numbers reduced significantly due to World War II. Following the war, the breed regained popularity. By the 1970s, there were sufficiently influential breeding programs in the United States that "American" Goldens began to look different from "European" or "British" Goldens, who are lighter in color, heavier, and have a wavier coat. However, they are still regarded as the same breed, with nearly identical requirements.


Today, the Golden Retriever is one of the world's most beloved dogs. They are remarkably adaptable dogs who can excel in hunting and in almost any activity to which they are exposed. Golden retrievers are also increasingly being used by service dog organizations looking for canines that are well-mannered but easily trained.


Golden retrievers are now regarded as excellent family pets. The American Kennel Club ranks them the third most popular breed in the United States (per 2023 statistics).


Today’s Golden Retrievers

The story of one of the world's most popular breeds began with a wealthy Englishman who purchased a Scottish estate with the goal of breeding hunting dogs. While the breed's originator had many other businesses, he is best remembered for introducing the world to the amiable, loyal, and clever Golden Retriever.


The miraculous union of Nous and Belle at Guisachan has resulted in nearly 150 years of unconditional affection from our fluffy, golden friends. While Tweed Water Spaniels like Belle are no longer in existence, their history is seen in today’s Golden Retrievers.


At Clearvu we aim to improve our Golden line and the breed as a whole. We are dedicated to this cause by ensuring all genetic testing is done and clearances must be passed before any type of breeding is planned or even considered. By ensuring these things we take pride in knowing that all our Goldens are physically and genetically healthy.


Mother and Daughter Goldens cuddling.
Clearvu's very own Sandy and Peyton - Great Grandmother and Grandmother to all Clearvu Goldens.

If you want to learn more we highly recommend visiting GRCA’s website to view a historical timeline of the Golden breed!

Sources


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