Bullmastiff Breed History

The Bullmastiff was intentionally and specifically bred for a purpose. He fulfilled a need of the times — as a guard dog for the Gamekeeper on the Estates in the English countryside in the 19th century. During the early 19th century the common man in England, mostly poverty stricken and desperate to survive often turned to poaching on the Estates of the wealthy landed gentry in order to feed a hungry family.

For the Gamekeeper in the employ of the gentry, life was difficult and dangerous. Desperate men used desperate means to achieve their aims, and if the night-time murder of a Gamekeeper in the forest insured against arrest (with the possibility of a death sentence or deportation), then so be it.

The Gamekeeper needed, as his companion and protector, a large, powerful, brave, loyal and obedient dog to locate, seize and detain the poacher. To this end, various and strange combinations of breeds of dogs were tried, but none proved as effective for the task as the Mastiff and Bulldog cross, later to be known as the Bullmastiff.

In his historical research into the breed, Colonel David Hancock, in “The Bullmastiff A Breeder’s Guide”, points to the fact that “Dogs of Bullmastiff conformation and employment were commonplace in 19th century Britain but had no distinctive breed title and therefore no recognition”. He cites several references to this dog in writings as early as 1804 and 1820, so the breed has deeper origins than is sometimes supposed. He also quotes “Count V. Hollander, who wrote in ‘The Kennel’ of March 1911: “The public know very little of the qualities of the Bull-Mastiff and, what is more, that it has been in existence for some considerable time.”

One of the pioneer breeders of the 20th century was a Mr Moseley. It was he who is widely attributed as the person who, having recognized the superb qualities of the Bullmastiff, “set the type” which was to remain as the standard for the breed.

Mr Moseley’s breeding formula for the Bullmastiff, of 60% Mastiff and 40% Bulldog, produced a dog with the physical and mental characteristics which were highly prized by the Gamekeepers: a combination of the tenacity, toughness and courage of the Bulldog, and the massively powerful, impressive, reliable and even-tempered Mastiff; with an inherent instinct to pin and hold the quarry rather than to maul and bite. It was through the efforts of Mr Moseley and those of other breeders of his time that, in 1924, the General Committee of the Kennel Club (England) gave official recognition to the breed for registration.

It must be remembered that the Mastiff and the Bulldog from which the Bullmastiff descended were somewhat different in appearance from the specimens of those breeds which we see in the show-rings today. It was from the Mastiffs and Bulldogs of about one hundred years and more ago that the Bullmastiff took his origins. The diagram on previous page, reproduced by permission of Bill Walkey: “The Bullmastiff Fancier’s Manual”, and the accompanying illustrations, reproduced by permission of Col. David Hancock (op. cit.), give an impression of that difference.

Of significance here is the following statement by Bill Walkey (op.cit.): “The dog we see today of any breed is the most current form known to us. What must not be overlooked in our tunnel vision of purebred pedigrees is that all of our accepted breeds had some form of medieval or older ancestor that has been honed through time.” We see that process has taken place in these breeds.

The Gamekeepers of the early years showed a preference for the brindle Bullmastiff, as this colour blended in with the darkness of the forest at night. With his black masked face and dark eyes the brindle Bullmastiff was extremely difficult to detect, and quite formidable to behold when confronting the unsuspecting felon. Later, the red dog and the fawn dog gained popularity.

The Bullmastiff of today must of necessity remain true-to-type. That is, he must be of the size, stature and temperament to enable him to do the job for which he was bred — to be the companionable, trustworthy friend and protector of his master and family. Correct type, balance and soundness, both physical and mental are imperatives in considering the qualities of the Bullmastiff.

Generally speaking, Bullmastiffs are not a “flashy” or “showy” breed. However, the impressive and powerful physical and mental attributes of the true-to-type Bullmastiff stamp him as an exceptional representative of what is known as the Utility Group in our country.



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