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Cairn Terrier History - Historic Letters from the Cairn Terrier Club


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Hello, I don't come on here often but thought I would do so in this case as I have some things to share with you about the Cairn Terrier and his history. I have already shared this with the UK Cairn Talk Forums & groups and it seems it should be here too.

I'm not entirely sure where to place this post & topic, it would be nice if there was a section of the forum dedicated purely to History of the Breed. But here you go. The Admins can move it if it's in the wrong place.

Some time back I procured some fascinating letters from a veteran member of the Cairn Terrier Club ( Scotland) which is the original and oldest Cairn club in the world, set up by Mrs Aleister Campbell and Alan Macdonald (of Skye) who was a working sportsman on Skye for most of his life, and carried on this tradition from his forebears, especially his uncle. Hunting with a pack of "Short Haired Skye" terries was done by the Macdonalds on Skye since at least the early 1800s, probably more. Macdonald primarily used his pack to hunt and kill otters which were considered a pest that destroyed salmon stock. Macdonald probably killed more otters in the UK than anyone else in his time.

No matter what you think of the otters today, his actions and use of the "short haired Skyes" made the dog famous and eventually they came into the show and pet world via Mrs Campbell.

It sometimes irks me slightly when I read various erroneous reports on websites etc that the present day Skye Terrier that we know is clamied as the original terrier on Skye. This is not the case.

Let me present these documents that I procured from the Cairn Terrier Club. These exist as originals in their archives or in the archives of the Kennel Club in UK. They are absolute gems, as they show us so much information about our breed, some of which later wound up in early 20th Century publications like the one by Beynon Fisher and Florence Ross, but some which did not get published.

All sorts of information is in these documents including data about size, colours, temperament, where the dogs came from, who was breeding them in "the old days" in the Highlands, - and what type of dog the original working terrier on Skye really was!

It's also a fly on the wall direct look at how our breed name evolved, straight from the horse's mouth.

I must say when I first read the original letter from the Secretary of the Skye Terrier Club Mr Porrit, I was annoyed, but when I read the letter sent back to him by Mr Macdonald I almost punched the air

"Yes! that will show you!" LOL

I have spoken to my source at the Cairn Terrier club and these are not copyrighted and the viewpoint is they should be shared. So here we go. I have tried to list them in date order so there is a sequence to them.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

The letters start shortly after Mrs Campbell first showed a set of "Short Haired Skye Terriers" at a show, beginning with a letter of complaint from Mr John Porrit, Secretary of the Skye Terrier Club.

Letter of complaint from Mr John Porrit:

1) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/1.pdf

Various letters of defense back to him, and to the Kennel Club in defense of Short Haired Skye Terriers:

2) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/2.pdf

3) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/3.pdf

4) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/4.pdf

5) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/5.pdf

6) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/6.pdf

7) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/6A.pdf

8) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/7.pdf

Macdonald back to Porrit ( a classic repost from a Highlander! :)) )

9) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/8.pdf

10) https://dl.dropbox.c...rs%20PDFs/9.pdf

11) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/10.pdf

Macdonald to Hawke (I am missing page 1 and trying to get it. Some of the information in the next sets of letters is quite grizzly, be warned, but fascinating for the history of our breed):

12) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/11.pdf

13) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/12.pdf

14) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/13.pdf

Debating the solution:

15) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/14.pdf

16) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/15.pdf

17) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/16.pdf

18) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/17.pdf

More about Cairn Terriers of Skye (Short Haired Skyes)

19) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/18.pdf

20) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/19.pdf

21) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/20.pdf

22) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/22.pdf

23) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/23.pdf

24) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/24.pdf

25) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/25.pdf

26) https://dl.dropbox.c...s%20PDFs/26.pdf



Edited by Stargemmer
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Someone answered my post from yesterday on another forum and kindly sent me an email with these PDF files all condensed into one file, which may be easier for folk to read here.

Here it is for you:


This whole topic did take quite a long time to organise, as I originally received all these documents as singular Jpeg files, had to resize the and then convert to PDFs. Putting them in one document does assist people to read it, so thanks to that person who combined them.

I am still waiting for one or two missing documents so will post those when I have them

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Thanks for sharing these letters in the aggregate. :thumbsup:

It may indeed be time to create a sub-forum for historical topics or explicitly identify a target forum such as best of breed. There are a wealth of older topics that have long been buried that could be resurfaced. I'll ponder this for a bit and probably shuffle some posts around later. Thanks for the push :)

Update: done -- History and Literature, under Best of Breed.

Edited by bradl
add new subforum

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CRCTC: Columbia River Cairn Terrier Club 



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Stargemmer & Josie&Holly,

This is truly fascinating stuff and it proves that Cairns have been inspiring passion and feistiness in their owners for a long. long time. I can just picture those folks in the 1800's, all red-faced and stirred into a froth over the "short-haired Skye terrier",

You just can't keep a good breed down!

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Thanks Josie. Yes, this article on the website is constructed both from these papers I have posted up, and issues of the Kennel Club Gazette at the time (lots of such letters being published at that time, and a right furore ongoing between the Highland terriermen on Skye with Mrs Campbell and the Skye Terrier Club. The article augments the letters nicely.

Brad, I think it could be done so you have a section "About the Cairn Terrier" - all sorts of information about him, and include a section within re: History. OR a subforum About The Cairn and His HIstory or something like that - so knowledge about the breed itself can go in there. Just a suggestion.

There is a lot of material about the history of the Cairn and how he came about that is available, books about it, history of the clubs, previous famous Cairn champs, old photographs section etc. For example, I remember putting up some pics of Skye and Scotland that could go on there, in a different thread poted around the time I joined. You could cull any relevant threads from the forum and place them there, - would make it a nice reference tool and make it easy to find them again for those interested.

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For what it's worth, there is a photo gallery (Archive - Historical) dedicated to historical images. I recently relaxed its permissions so that registered Cairn Talk members can post images there. (Previously uploads were limited to members of the "CTCA Member" group.)

I had previously solicited within the CTCA for a photo editor for exactly this purpose, but my one volunteer disappeared after I explained the job. :confused: The current contents are therefore just the few images I carried over from the previous iteration of the public web site so many years ago.

I do evaluate the structure of the forums from time to time and make adjustments based primarily on the evolving body of content. My strong preference is to let topic domains evolve organically over time until one or more begins to dominate a more general area, and then split them off as makes sense to me.

My successor may have a different approach, when that time comes :)

CAIRNTALK: Vote! |  Questions? Need help? → Support Forum Please do not use PMs for tech support
CRCTC: Columbia River Cairn Terrier Club 



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I just wanted to express my thanks for finding, scanning, aggregating and posting these letters. It has been very interesting and exciting to learn more about the origins of this breed I love so much.

If anyone has any suggestions for this Cairn newbie as to where I can find more information about the original Cairns, I would love to learn more.

"as far as i am concerned cairns are the original spirit from which all terriers spring, and all terriers are cairns very deep down inside." pkcrossley

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Thank you Bradl, that sounds like a good method you have re: seeing which forums develop then splitting them off, letting it be organic. Will take a look at those pics, may be able to contribute some too.

-whits- - you are very welcome! It took some time, but I felt it was worth it. My idea is not to have this information lost - those letters are vulnerable pieces of paper and who knows what could happen to them, so better to get them on the net where they will be "immortal" and can be copied or shared for all to see.

The best two books you can get which tell you about the history of the Cairn Terrier are one by Beynon Fisher called The Cairn Terrier (previously called The Popular Cairn Terrier) and another called The Cairn Terrier by Florence Ross. I would strongly recommend you get both of those. Previously, the Florence Ross book was extremely expensive and only rarely available as it was out of print, but it has recently been reprinted in soft paper back and can be bought on Amazon quite cheaply, I'd recommend anyone get that before that soft edition runs out! Here it is: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cairn-Terrier-Vintage-Books-Classic/dp/1846640385/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1343305302&sr=8-2

The other is also available but is also out of print, you will be able to get it on Amazon second hand - it is also invaluable and is considered by many the "bible" of Cairn lore, here is one example http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cairn-Terrier-Popular-Dogs-breed/dp/0090614526/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1343305218&sr=8-3

Hope that helps!

Edited by Stargemmer
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Interesting letters...

We visited Dunvegan Castle when we were on the Isle of Skye last September. Sadly, I didn't notice any mention or photos of Cairns while there, and only saw 1 Cairn while we were on Skye, a puppy in Portree.

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stargemmer, thank you so much for providing the link to these invaluable letters! - i've saved them to my hard drive and will savor reading them

brad, does ctca have an archives? an archivist?

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brad, does ctca have an archives? an archivist?

There is a history committee which has (and does) a number of nice projects. There are excellent kennel retrospective displays at Montgomery each year, and there are scrapbooks. I believe all yearbooks have been scanned, but they have not been put online (yet). So far as I am aware there are no official online archives at this point, to my disappointment.

I once floated a newsletter archive idea at archive.ctca.us but that wasn't official, just some goofing around.

CAIRNTALK: Vote! |  Questions? Need help? → Support Forum Please do not use PMs for tech support
CRCTC: Columbia River Cairn Terrier Club 



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