Queen Victoria’s Collies

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.

British Hunts and Huntsmen, year unknown

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

Related Images:


  1. Bravo! What a way to take the ball and run with it. You have found the missing link that I had yet to uncover, specifically the origin of Noble (other than as a gift) and the significance of the Elliot family in both breeding sheep and dogs.

    The link with Hindhope Jed is an exciting new avenue for me to research, and this begins to tidy up the history quite nicely.

    If future DNA analysis can confirm the Setter crosses, perhaps a repeated outcross would become more palatable to the BC community in the future.

  2. It seems the two accounts mesh when you consider “Mr Elliot has five farms under three Dukes of Northumberland and Roxburgh” and “Noble, given nearly twenty years ago to the Queen by the Duke of Roxburgh.”

    Perhaps it is as simple as the Duke acquiring Noble from Elliot as a gift. When the Queen became enamored with the dog, of course she invited the true origin of the dog to the castle.

  3. Thanks Christopher

    I am becoming more and more interested in the Gordon Setter crosses, the more I research historical sources, the more references I collect from the late 1800s and turn of the century that mention it.

  4. Queen Victoria most definitely had Rough and Smooth Collies (then called Scotch Collies, English Sheepdogs — not to be confused with Old English Sheepdogs, Colleys, Collies, and so on). She registered them in the USA, and had them exhibited there as Collies (see early AKC Studbooks and show records). Early on, some dogs such as Sharp and Noble hardly looked like either Collie or Border Collie, but could have been representatives of either with a dash of Flat-coat or Gordon since there since the Collie was used to help develop BOTH OF THOSE TWO BREEDS. Some interbreeding went on in the early years with poor records management, and I would imagine some of the dogs may have found their way back into the Collie family. As an all-breed historian, over the years the more I research the more I am convinced that the Collie started to diverge in the mid-1800s into what is now the Collie (Rough and Smooth), and the Border Collie. Many articles of the very very late 1800s and early to mid-1900s spoke of the many changes (both good and bad) that came over the Collie with a lot of criticism by those who wanted the breed to remain the famously splendid working dog and farm and family helpmate of the more moderate type of conformation. Some lines are getting better… But, now I find it interesting to see that the Border Collie is NOW going through the same “growing oains” as the Collie did a century ago!! With the show Border Collie being bred and exhibited in Australia and New Zealand since the early- to mid-1900s, and in England since the 1970s we see the breed quickly transforming into quite a beautiful dog with a calmer even laidback temperament/disposition!! They hardly look like what we used to recognize as Border Collies. Several grand dames of Border Collies several years ago noted that infusions of Rough Collies (crossback) were made off of the record. Makes since as how could there be such a major, startling transformation!

  5. Meant to also mention that a numbwer of paintings were commissioned by the Queen and the Royals depictuing the royal pets to include COLLIES, my friend. So, while Noble and Sharp had the sporting dog look, there were a number of other COLLIES maintained at Sandringham.

  6. Cindy,

    Please provide *primary sources* for any of the outlandish claims you are making.

    * Find me a photo of the Queen with a “Rough” or “Smooth” Collie. Heck, find me one of a Scotch Collie.

    * Then, find me her personal writing where she says how much she is in love with said dog.

    I’ve already done this with her Border Collie types.

    * The dogs she wrote about as personal favorites are not of the Rough/Smooth Collie type at all.

    * All the dogs I listed are perfectly identifiable as Border Collies in type. We can also source them to the very region and to an established breeder of what became known as the Border Collie.

    * Find me her writings where she talks lovingly about a dog that you can identify as one of your flavor of collies.

    * SHE registered them in the USA then? Now why would she do this? Can you even find her personal dogs registered in the UK? Unverifiable claims by other breeders don’t count. Certainly not breeders in the USA.

    * If this was official, there must be documentation. Please find it and show it to us.

    * Please provide kennel records of Sharp or Noble being shown in Conformation contemporaneously with the Queen.

    * Please find me pedigrees with names and dates that match the dogs the Queen writes about.

    * Besides looking perfecly like Border Collies, Sharp and Noble CLEARLY don’t resemble the Scotch Collies of their day, which already had a pointy face long before Czar Nicholas II sent Queen Victoria a single Borzoi.

    * Flat-Coat, Gordon Setter WHAT? Again, provide a shred of evidence.

    * You claim you’ve done extensive research, you should have primary sources at your finger tips. Kennel Club breed histories aren’t primary sources.

    * Several Grand Dames, Several years ago… again, please be specific and provide documentation. There isn’t any genetic evidence of this, let alone the physical appearance of it. Show BCs are polar opposites in type to Show Collies.

    * The great number of paintings? Again, please provide one that is Victorian and not Edwardian. I’ve seen EDWARDIAN paintings of Edward’s family with sable collies.

    * That the Royal Kennels eventually had Scotch Collies isn’t in question. What is in question is their relationship with Victoria.

    * King Edward VII is not Queen Victoria. Sandringham is not Victoria’s kennel, it was established by Edward.

    * Show Collie folks have been distorting the record, using Queen Victoria’s name to pump up their flavor. The facts don’t support this.

    Again, please illuminate the record with some primary sources.


    Christopher Landauer
    BorderWars blog

  7. Cindy

    Look at the research I have done on this site related to the origins of the English Shepherd, the Scotch Collie didn’t have to diverge into RC and BC as the English Shepherd was always different from the Scotch and it stands to reason that the shepherd dogs of the border region were a natural blend of these 2 types. I have to agree with Christopher, in my research I have not seen any evidence of this mid-nineteenth century divergence so often talked about in Collie history.

    It is my opinion that the RC lovers cling tenaciously to the Queen Victoria myth because it gives their dogs prestige, while the RC haters cling to this myth because it supports the story that she bred in Borzoi and thereby ruined the breed. As breed historians we ought to discard all preconceived notions and look at the facts with an open mind.


  8. Iris Coombe, in her book, Herding Dogs, page 176′ says she spoke to the kennelman at Balmoral. He told her that collies were used ti improve Borzois, not the other way round. But that the collie/borzoi mixes that were left in the UK were an improvement on the working collies that had been used for the mix.

  9. In my book, Origins of the Australian Kelpie, I touch on the true history of amongst others, the Border Collie and Smithfield strains. Alex McLeod from Australia was first to name the first Border Collie and I included his reason for calling them Border collies. Today, his definition of a Border collie would certainly eliminate many collies that use the name.
    For those people not familiar my name (Bill Robertson) Along with my wife Kerry, we spent over 12 years researching the collie types that contributed to the Australian Kelpie. We started our research in north of Scotland and visited most of the sites and properties where the collies that contributed to Kelpie came from in the 1870s. Naturally, these locations included the property, “Hindhope” where the first true Border collie (Hindhope Jed) originated from. I can confirm the collies at Hindhope have no relationship to the original collies used by Thomas Elliot way back in 1872. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria had a snarly so-called collie named “Sharp”, he looked more like a Labrador than a collie. The two collies she received from Thomas Elliot were indeed of good collie type, particularly her favorite collie Noble. His image and details are included in my book on the Origins of the Australian Kelpie. Currently, I am completing the History of the Collies which should be complete in the next few months. My I hope this enlightens your readers as to how the wonderful Border collie began. The Elliot family are included in the bibliography at the back of my book.

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