A Historical Collection of Setters

Painting by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.
Source: Fuertes, L. A. and Baynes, E. H. (1919, March). Our common dogs. The National Geographic Magazine, pp. 201-253

In the 1874 text below, the English, Irish and Gordon setters are introduced, the latter being referred to as the Scotch setter:

Source: Richardson, H. D. (1874). Dogs: their origin and varieties; directions as to their general management, and simple instructions as to their treatment under disease. New York, NY: O. Judd & Company

Little more need be said about these three, which I’m sure most readers are already familiar with, so let’s look at some lesser known setters from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list but more an interesting overview.

First up are the liver and white setters of the Naworth Castle and the Featherstone Castle in Cumberland, England. Edward Laverack, influential English setter authority, wrote about this strain in 1872, stating they had existed for more than half a century:

If there is any fault to find with them it is their size; they are a little too big and heavy.

There is a great profusion of coat, of a light, soft, silky texture.

The distinguishing characteristic is a tuft of long, soft, silky hair on the crest of the head, which is rather larger and heavier than the generality of setters.

They are particularly strong and powerful in their forequarters, beautifully feathered on the fore-legs, tail, and breeches; easily broken, very lofty in their carriage, staunch, excellent dogs, and good finders.

Laverack, E. (1872). The setter. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Another setter noted by Laverack was the strain kept at Edmond Castle near Carlisle, Cumberland:

This likewise is liver and white, without the tuft. These dogs are much lighter, and more speedy looking than the tufted ones.

They are very deep, wide, and powerful in the fore-quarters; well bent in the stifles, so much so as to give them a cat-like crouching attitude.

Laverack notes two strains of black, white and tan setters, one kept by Lord Lovat exclusively for work and never shown, the other bred by the Earl of Southesk. A third strain which included both black, white and tans and lemon or orange and whites, is described as follows:

This is one of the most beautiful strains I have ever seen; there are few better than that of the Earl of Seafield, of Balmacaan, Urquhart Castle, Invernesshire.

Perhaps there is no breed of setters possessed of a greater profusion of coat, I should say, save ‘Russians;’ they had more coat, of a floss silky texture, and more feather than any other strain of setters I have ever seen.


I had many opportunities of seeing this pure and beautiful breed when I rented the Dunmaglass shootings and Boleskine Cottage, on the banks of Loch Ness, Invernesshire.

The formation of these dogs is as follows: Head rather short and light, full hazel eyes, ears well set on, of a soft silky texture. They are very similar to toy spaniels on a large scale, and covered with long floss-like silky hair on body, fore-legs, flag, and breech; medium sized; good hunters; good dispositions, and easily broken. The objectionable points are their peculiarly upright shoulders, straight hind- quarters and spareness of body, which makes them go rather short and stilty.

How I wish there was an illustration of these setter-sized toy spaniel types!

Laverack next describes a setter, apparently extinct at the time of writing, which sounds like it could have been related to the breed now called the flatcoated retriever:

Another breed of rare excellence, and greatly appreciated by practical sportsmen, was that of Lord Ossulston, Chillingham Castle, Wooler, Northumberland. These were jet black, with beautiful bright, soft, glossy coats — a colour that our fastidious judges of the present day would probably ignore, and not even notice, however good and handsome they might be, as not being fashionable. It was certainly one of the best, most useful, and beautiful strains I ever saw; and for downright hard work could not be surpassed. I have, too, seen an excellent and beautiful breed of light fawns, also a self-liver coloured one. Both these strains were first-rate.

Lord Hume, of Tweedside, Wilson Patten, Lancashire, and the late Harry Rothwell (that celebrated old sportsman of foxhunting notoriety, who resided near Kendal, Westmoreland), had also a similar breed of blacks, well known, and eagerly sought after in those days by all the leading sportsmen in that country.


The colour of Lord Hume’s and the other named gentlemen’s breeds was a most beautiful jet black, as bright and brilliant as the blackest satin.

Long, low dogs, with light heads; very strong and powerful in the fore-hand; well-bent, ragged, cat-like hind-quarters; capital feet; hare-footed, but not too much arched at the toe.

They had not a great profusion of coat, but what there was, was of a first-rate quality and particularly silky.

Referring to the “last” of this strain, a dog Laverack had observed extensively while hunting, he notes the dog was “as good a retriever as I ever saw.”

The setters kept by show judge Mr. Lort, near Birmingham, were black and white and lemon and white. The Welsh setter, originally solid white but later black and white, was “dying out” at the time of Laverack’s book. Another Welsh strain was solid black. The coats on the Welsh dogs were not as soft and silky as other setters. The Russian setter however, had an abundance of coat, so much that even the eyes were covered. Laverack notes they were extremely stubborn and difficult to train.

Richard Purcell Llewellyn, to whom Laverack dedicated his book, had a strain of setters named after him which were often described as field trial setters.

Edward Laverack of course kept his own strain of setters, of colors he describes as “black greys or flints, blue, or lemon and white Beltons.”

Dash, a ten year old blue belton dog of Laverack’s breeding, pictured in his book

While it is beyond the scope of this post to examine the controversies surrounding the Laverack and Llewellyn setters, suffice to say they existed (Laverack had numerous issues with his pedigrees and Llewellyn, in the view of some, did not have his own strain but rather bought dogs from others, including Laverack, and crossed them, creating an array of types) and caused the end of numerous friendships within the breed. There are breeders to this day who claim the dog they breed is the Llewellyn setter.

Most or all of these strains, or “breeds” as Laverack calls them, could fall under the general English setter category but I find the differences significant enough to mention them separately. After all, if a breeder consistently produces large, liver and white setters with long tufts of hair on their heads for over 50 years, that seems more than a type.

One last tidbit of interest from Laverack on color in the Irish setter: solid red, red and white, and red tinged with black were all acceptable colors in his view though he acknowledged many breeders did not desire any black in the coat. The reds produced both reds and red and whites and vice versa. He further believed that all Irish setters of his era occasionally produced black puppies or red tinged with black.

A French setter, rather handsome and capable looking.

The next three in this collection are the French setter, a variety of which was known as the setter of Picardie, and the setter of Pont. Audemer which interestingly had a topknot.

Next are the German setter and the wachtelhund, the latter described as being “somewhat like the German setter in miniature.”

Then there is the Swiss setter with one of the acceptable colors being trout!

Source: Mason, W. E. (1915). Dogs of all nations. [S.l., s.n.]

Stonehenge has an illustration of a Russian setter (“slightly crossed with English blood”) that shows the aforementioned covering of the eyes:

He describes the breed as follows:

The actual form of the Russian setter is almost entirely concealed by a long woolly coat, which is matted together in the most extraordinary manner, and which would lead to the supposition that he would be unable to stand heat even as well as our curly setters; but, on the contrary, he bears it almost like a pointer. He has the bearded muzzle of the deerhound and Scotch terrier, but the hair is of a more woolly nature, and appears to be between that of the poodle and the water spaniel, or perhaps the ordinary setter, but far thinner than either, which may account for the sustenance of heat. The legs are straight and strong, and the form of the body well adapted for the pace which the setter has to keep up; but this dog is not very fast, though quite sufficiently so for all sporting purposes. The feet are generally rather flat, but the soles are stout, and stand work well, while the quantity of hair on them fits them to bear the friction of heather or other rough work.

Stonehenge. (1872). The dog in health and disease. London : Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer
An illustration in Hutchinson’s book where he describes Russian setters as easily trained, contrary to Laverack’s opinion.
Source: Hutchinson, W. N. (1865). Dog breaking. London: John Murray

Vero Shaw, in his 1879 book, has a short chapter on the Russian setter, though without an illustration. He regards the rare breed as useful in improving the English setter’s working abilities while claiming the physical appearance would at first suffer due to the outcross. This is probably attributable to a description of the Russian setter as resembling a big Bedlington terrier.

Source: Shaw, V. K. (1879). The illustrated book of the dog. London, England: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.

Although not purebred, I include these setter mixes out of interest. They worked as sledge dogs in Alaska in 1909:

Source: Mixter, G. (1909, April). Hunting the great brown bear of Alaska. The National Geographic Magazine, pp. 313-332

It is curious to note that one 1845 book mentions that the best and “least painful, in the long run” remedy for spaniel and setter ear problems is “the excision of almost the whole of the ears.” (1) I can not recall a single instance of ever seeing a setter depicted with cropped ears, including in the previously mentioned book, and I wonder whether cropping was regularly practiced at any time. If anyone has any information on this, or anything else related to setter history, please leave a comment.

1: Scott, J. (1845). The sportsman’s repository. London, England: Henry G. Bohn

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