History of Rhodesian Ridgeback
Although a relatively new breed, the history of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is as complex as it is interesting and varied.The beginnings of a new breed of dog, interwoven with the taming of a wild land, making a new tapestry on the continent of Africa.In 1652, when the South African cape was first settled by white newcomers, they found the local Hottentot tribes had their own semi-domesticated camp dog – small, prick-eared, curled tail and a ridge of opposite-growing hair on its back. Although for the next several hundred years this breed interbred with the settler’s dogs, the ridge managed to persist through the generations. Today, we credit three men we credit three men as being mainly responsible for bringing the Rhodesian Ridgeback to where it is today. They were Charles Helm, Cornelius van Rooyen and Francis Barnes. The Reverend Charles Helm, along with his wife and daughter, made the “trek” from Swellendam, in the Cape, to Hope Fountain in 1875 and took over the mission there. Along with his family, he brought two ridged bitches, Powder and Lorna. All travelers to the area stopped to rest at the mission, as there was no other place, and it was here that Reverend Helm became friends with van Rooyen, the famous lion hunter and game procurer. Helm’s two bitches interbred with van Rooyen’s hunting pack, the pups joining his pack and thus spreading the ridge factor. Unlike van Rooyen and Barnes, the Rev. Helm’s part in establishing the breed was purely accidental, but a fortunate first step for the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
Cornelius Johannes van Rooyen’s pack of hunting dogs originally were mixes of various breeds, including Pointers,Irish Terriers,Collies, Bulldog/Greyhound mixes, Deerhound (Greyhound) and Danes. [These breeds are a quote from research material] We cannot say for sure whether van Rooyen cared if the dogs had ridges or not, but he did develope a prized strain of hunting dog that became known as “van Rooyen’s lion dogs”. We do know that the ridged dogs from his pack excelled at hunting, particularly at baying lions, so as to survive in sufficient numbers to fix the ridge factor and hunting prowness in his pack and still seen in the breed today.
Francis R. Barnes occupies the most prominent place in RR history as the founder of the Parent Club in Rhodesia and was instrumental in the writing of the first breed standard in 1922-24. Barnes’ first ridged dogs were obtained from Graham Stacey’s Dewsbury pack. Stacey, in turn, had obtained his dogs from van Rooyen. Barnes was an experienced breeder as was his wife, having imported, bred and shown Pointers, Fox Terriers and Bulldogs. Barnes was also the co-founder of the Salisbury Kennel Club and a member of the Bulawayo Agriculture Society.He bred his Ridgebacks under the Eskdale prefix, named for the farm where they lived. Francis Barnes took the lead in establishing what was basically just a ridged hunting dog to the breed now recognized as the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
For that, we are eternally grateful. Where did the ridge originate? No one knows for sure, but a plausible theory is that tribes living along the west coast had a lively trade with Asian sea-faring people. They had cattle, goats and sheep of Asian stock and it’s conceivable that their dogs and the trader’s dogs interbred. It is thought that the RR and the Thai Ridgeback are both related through an ancestor from the island of Phu Quoc, as both breeds share two genetic traits – ridges and the dermoid sinus. Ridgebacks were general purpose farm dogs that became reknown because they were especially good at worrying a lion/keeping the lion’s attention so that the hunter could get in close enough to shoot the lion. The rifles, in those early days, were not the powerful guns of today and a hunter had to get quite close to make a kill. This called for an agile, athletic dog, not a big, heavy, bulky one.
Ridgebacks DO NOT KILL LIONS!!! That is NOT THE PURPOSE of the Rhodesian Ridgeback! Obviously, these people had not been to the zoo or watched “Nature” in a long time. If they had, they would know that a lioness weighs 300 lbs or better and a male is considerably larger than that. No dog of any breed could kill nor knock down an adult lion.