Much has been written about Queen Victoria’s Collies, one can hardly read a history of the breed without some mention of how she made them popular or how she bred Borzoi into them. In my research I have so far found no information to indicate that she made any significant contribution to the popularity of the Collie or that she bred Borzoi with Collies, I am beginning to suspect that both assertions are complete fiction.
There is however some good information online about Queen Victoria’s Collies, see the links below for a rather comprehensive discussion of the subject.
Looking at the images on these two sites you will see a dog much different from the Scotch Collie as we know it, some have pointed to this as proof of what the breed looked like before show breeders started changing it. But even in those times, some saw the Queen’s Collies as somewhat different from the norm.
“A few years ago Queen Victoria had a number of pure black and tan Collies, which I saw at Balmoral. They were pretty, but I am of the opinion that they had been crossed with the black and tan Setter dog. This may not have been the case, but it seemed to me the only plausible explanation for the absence of that foxy look which is characteristic of all pure Collies. In the north of England and borders of Scotland the Gordon Setter has been used as a cross and at our shows these invariably take the prize against our pure Collies.”
excerpted from: How the farm pays: the experiences of forty years of successful farming and gardening by William Crozier – 1897
Christopher of Borderwars speculates, these are the early forerunners of the Border Collie based on looks and the label on the picture “A Collie of the Cheviot Breed.”. William Crozier quoted above indicates that dogs of this look were common in the border region at that time. The research below connects the Queen’s Collies even more firmly to todays Border Collie.
Monthly bulletin – 1900
Queen Victoria was once informed by the manager of her Shaw Farm that a Mr. Elliott, a Scottish farmer, was a breeder of superior collie dogs; and she thereupon expressed a wish to possess one of them. Accordingly, Mr. Elliott forwarded two beautiful dogs; and her Majesty was so enraptured with them that she gave orders the next time he came to the farm he should immediately be taken up to the castle.
Mr. Elliott was somewhat uneasy as to how he should comport himself in the presence of royalty, and the manager spent a considerable time in putting him through his facings. At last the fateful day arrived, and he was ushered into the presence of the queen. Her Majesty shook hands with him, and said,— “Oh Mr. Elliott, I have to thank you for the two beautiful collies you sent me!
And to this gracious remark Mr. Elliott replied: — “Touts, touts, wumman! haud yer tongue! What’s the maitter o’ a pair o’ dowgs between you and me?”
It is this Mr Elliot that is our connection between the Queen’s dogs and the yet to be christened Border Collie breed. You see, the Elliots were rather well known sheep farmers in the border region as the following excerpt illustrates.
In the Land of the Cheviots, Prof. C. S. Plumb – 1901
The border land between England and Scotland has a bloody record in early centuries, for here long waged the border warfare between Scotch and English. Smooth, grassy or heather capped mountains, reaching a height of nearly 4,000 feet, among which ripple beautiful streams of crystal water, straggle over considerable territory, through which passes the imaginary line dividing England and Scotland. These are the Cheviot hills…
On a day in late June, when Scotch mists made themselves occasionally manifest, the writer and two friends took conveyance back into the real heart of the Cheviots, to see the country and visit some of the great breeders… Here and there a neat cottage or attractive farm home would be seen located on a hillside. But as a whole, there is a great open range country, most sparsely settled.
Back in these hills are famous breeders, and I was ambitious to see John Elliott, of Lower Hindhope; George Douglas, of Upper Hindhope. and J. R. C. Smith, of Mowhaugh, all extensive breeders and leaders in Scotch Cheviot ranks. Perhaps no one in Britain has had such success as a showman of Cheviots as John Elliott, and his father before him had great fame in the same field. But these men were breeders as well as showmen…
The sheep range the mountains under the supervision of the shepherds, who use Collie dogs extensively. Never have I seen the dog put to such intelligent work as in these Cheviot hills. There are many large flocks, and the dog is of inestimable service. In driving through the mountains, here and there across country would be seen a shepherd and a dog or two driving or rounding up sheep. It was no uncommon sight. These were not the fancy Collies that one sees in the dog shows, but were intelligent looking, rough coated, plain appearing dogs of perhaps sable or black, or white or a mixture.
John Elliott keeps some 5,000 sheep, on five farms…
This same John Elliot goes on to make significant contributions to the future Border Collie, yet it was not this John Elliot that gave the two Collies to the Queen, it was his father Thomas Elliot as the following makes clear.
The name of Elliot is probably the most notable among Cheviot sheep breeders as it is certainly the oldest. The Elliots of Hindhope have for generations achieved fame by their sheep and the present head of the family Mr John Elliot has worthily maintained the family traditions.
The subject of these notes is the eldest son of the late Mr Thomas Elliot. He was born on June 4th 1858, educated a Jedburgh Academy and New College Edinburgh and subsequently joined his father in farming… Mr Elliot has five farms under three Dukes of Northumberland and Roxburgh and devotes his energies entirely to Cheviots. In this class he has like his father, won all the championships, and has got both the King’s Medals of the Highland Society… Mr Elliot himself is well known for his breed of collies. His father supplied Noble to the late Queen Victoria and it was from our subject that the McLeod got Hindhope Jed, now the champion of New Zealand and Australia.
This Hindhope Jed is considered the first Border Collie imported to Australia and a foundation dog of the breed there. So it seems that Queen Victoria’s Collies were in fact Border Collies, even thought that name was not used at the time, but definitely of the same stock from which todays Border Collie came, the Elliots of Cheviot.
The following offers a different version of Noble’s origin from the first story above, it says that he was given to the Queen by the Duke of Roxburgh.
Our devoted friend: the dog By Mrs. Sarah Knowles Bolton – 1902
Queen Victoria was very fond of dogs. “The dog houses of Windsor afford excellent examples of miniature architecture. They are on a beautiful slope by the home of the keeper. When the Queen drives up, and the favorites have the freedom of the ‘smooth shaven lawn,’ gambols, races and barking beggar description.
“One pet collie rejoiced in the name of Sharp. He had all his meals with his mistress, being seldom away from her. Though such a favorite, says a writer in Lloyd’s Weekly, the popularity of the quadruped had limits. The households used to retreat before him, for Sharp not only barked with vigor, but could bite with spite. Even the Queen mentions that the pet was fond of fighting. Referring to him after a ramble, she mentions that the collie varied the monotony of the walk by numerous ‘collie shangies;’ it is the Highland phrase for a set-to between dogs of Sharp’s breed. One of them, pure white, Lily, always travels with Her Majesty.
“One dog, the elder Noble, given nearly twenty years ago to the Queen by the Duke of Roxburgh, has been commemorated by the recipient. It is in the autobiographical ‘Leaves.’ The writer speaks of him as the ‘good, dear Noble,’ and continues: ‘He is the most biddable dog I ever saw—so affectionate and kind. If he thinks you are not pleased with him he puts out his paws and begs in such an affectionate way.’ He had a special privilege once upon a time of guarding the Queen’s gloves. The record of the dog has a touch of pathos. Not only has Noble’s once rich brown muzzle grown white with years, but the dog’s eyesight has gone. Tied to a string he follows a keeper. Yet the veteran now and again snatches an exceeding joy. The Queen’s affection for the dog has increased with his infirmities. And when the royal hand caresses him as of yore Noble is as happy as when he rejoiced in the breezes and sunshine of Deeside.”
The following source makes sense of the previous two stories and explains how the dogs were a gift from the Duke of Roxburgh and Thomas Elliott.
Scottish life and character in anecdote and story, William Harvey – 1899
Many years ago, when visiting the late Duchess of Roxburghe at Floors Castle, Her Majesty expressed a desire to become possessed of a collie dog. Her Grace intimated the royal desire to an old friend, the late Mr. Thomas Elliot of Hindhope, a famous breeder of sheep and collies, who at once sent a couple of young beauties to Floors Castle, labelled, ” To Her Majesty the Queen.” The gift was greatly appreciated and the donor duly thanked. Some time after Mr. Elliot was in London, and received a cordial invitation to Windsor Castle, the Queen wishing to thank him in person for the collies. He went without intimating that he was going. On arrival he thought the best way would be to ” speir” for John Brown, Her Majesty’s faithful attendant. Accordingly, he thus accosted the sentry at the entrance gate, “I say, my man, can ye tell whaur I’ll find Mr. Broon ? ” Fortunately, the soldier was a ” brither Scot,” and at once guessed who ” Mr. Broon ” was. By-and-bye the farmer was sitting at his ease in John’s private apartment receiving a lesson in etiquette, necessary for his approaching interview with Royalty; one particular item— ” When the Queen enters the reception room bow gracefully, but say nothing until you are spoken to.” After the lesson Mr. Elliot was taken to see the Duchess of Uoxburghe, and by the time appointed to meet the Queen, who had been apprised of his arrival, the instructions were all forgotten. On Her Majesty and party entering at the other end of the room, he familiarly greeted her with “Guid mornin’, your Majesty!” This most unconventional salutation fluttered some of the prim folks present, but the Queen smilingly approached her unsophisticated subject, saying, ” Oh, Mr. Elliot, I wanted very much to see you, that I might thank you personally for the two beautiful collie dogs you kindly sent me when at Floors Castle.” ” Tuts, wumman, what’s twa collie dougs ‘tween you and me ? ” was the blunt rejoinder to Her Majesty’s gracious words. Instantly his ruddy countenance grew ruddier, betraying the vexation he felt at being so unwittingly rude. The Queen, however, soon put him at his ease, and he had then a pleasant chat with her and the Duchess, which he never forgot.
One final thought on the Elliotts of Hindhope, the Elliott family is still there raising sheep in the Chevoit Hills as they have been for generations. I would like to think they still have the same line of collie dogs too. http://www.jennifermackenzie.co.uk/2010/10/01_elliot.html