Meet the Basset Breeds

The Basset Hound

The Arrival of Bassets in England

It is enshrined in British Bassetlore that, in 1866 when staying at Royat, Puy de Dôme, France, Lord Galway of Serlby Hall in Nottinghamshire met the Marquis de Tournon of Montelmas and his son.

The Marquis gave a dog and a bitch to Lord Galway. In 1867 a litter of five resulted from a mating between Basset and Belle, the two imports - but, by 1872, Galway had lost interest in the breed and passed his small pack of three and a half couple to Lord Onslow.
As Lord of the Manor, Onslow owned Chobham Common, the great Bagshot Heath and commonland spreading over half of north-west Surrey. This vast heathland housed a large rabbit and hare population.

With more Bassets arriving from Tournon's son and from Comte le Couteulx de Canteleu, a well-respected sportsman who was keen on preserving all the old French hound breeds, Onslow formed a useful hare-hunting pack that he kept until 1882.

Serlby Hall

During this time, Everett Millais, son of the prominent artist Sir John Everett Millais, became interested in the breed and, with George Krehl, their hard work helped to establish Bassets firmly in England.

Millais came from an outstandingly gifted family. His father was an infant prodigy and following successive generations possessed uncanny talents, in particular a close interest in wild nature, animals, plants and field sports.

Millais was not the first to import a Basset but he became known as "the father of the breed". His first hound came from the Jardin d'Acclimitation (zoological gardens) in Paris, which he visited in 1874 to see the Dachshunds at a show.  However, the Bassets caught his eye and he decided to have one. Those that impressed him were two from Comte le Couteulx de Canteleu's kennels - and he bought one, the famous Model.

George Krehl later bought Model's litter brother Fino de Paris. Both hounds were to become prominent in the development of the modern Basset Hound.

Sir Everett Millais

Although Millais had little interest in dog shows, he wanted the public to see Model so exhibited him at Wolverhampton in 1875. Model was loudly acclaimed though far from an ideal specimen, with a flat skull and poor ear placement, but a win inspired Millais to breed from him.
 
About that time Dachshund breeders thought that the Basset was the result of a Dachshund-Beagle cross and there was much debate about this in sporting papers. Millais had yet to meet Lord Galways so, despite the furore, he resorted to using a Beagle bitch. Bred to Model, she produced two bitch puppies, which he mated back to Model.

Millais' Model

Between 1873 and 1875 Onslow imported more Bassets. This fresh blood allowed Millais to produce pure Bassets. After a breeding between Model and Onslow's Finette, further matings took place between the gentlemen's stock. However, a hiatus occurred when, in 1880, ill health forced Millais to go to Australia to recuperate. While he was away George Krehl, who had Millais and Onslow hounds and bought new stock from France, carried on where Millais had left off. By careful breeding, he managed to perpetuate the Fino de Paris type, whose influence on English Bassets became obvious.

Jupiter, Fino de Paris and Pallas

The Breed in France

At least two types of Basset, a smooth variety and a rough-coated variety, were known in France by the mid-nineteenth centry.  Whereas the rough-coated ones were known as "Basset Griffon", the smooth went under the collective heading of "Basset Français".  When Onslow and Millais became interested in the breed, two noted Basset Français breeders in France were Louis Lane of Château de Franqueville near Rouen and Comte le Couteulx de Canteleu of Saint-Martin.  These two pre-eminent breeders were producing Bassets of the Artois type (artésien and normand) but each bred a subtly different type.
 
The Lane hounds were heavy, had fine, low-set, well-turned leathers and  front legs à jambes torses (fully crooked).  Although they were popular in France, it was the Couteulx type that found favour elsewhere.  These stood at around 30cms, were fairly long-backed, not too heavy, long tail and a head characterised by a fairly pointed muzzle.  Ears were flat and high set and eyes protruding.

Other breeders in France, such as the Duc de Plaisance, based their packs on a combination of Lane and Couteulx - but it was the Couteulx type that found favour in England.
 
 
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Lane Bassets à jambes torses (fully crooked) c1879

Bassets with a strong Couteulx influence 1888

Progress in England

When Millais returned from Australia in 1884, he mated Model, now very old, to a great-granddaughter, Finette II. That year, Millais' return heralded the formation of the Basset Hound Club. Among the early members were Millais, George Krehl, le Couteulx, the Lords Onslow and Galway and another keen huntsman, the Marquis Conyngham.

By 1886, twelve years after the importation of Model, there were 120 Bassets for Millais to judge at the Dachshund and Basset Show in London. Although a wonderfully large entry, it pointed to much inbreeding. With this becoming a problem, Millais attempted to restore certain features that the breed had lost. His previous experience of out-crossing with the Beagle served him in good stead when using the Bloodhound to increase the Basset size, substance and head properties.
His works Bassets: Their Use and Breeding, The Theory and Practice of Rational Breeding and Two Problems of Reproduction displayed an early appreciation of genetics.

In his 1895 lecture at St Thomas' Hospital, London, Millais explained that, with the impossibility of a mating between breeds of such different size, he had injected a large female Bloodhound with semen from the smaller male Basset. The bitch gave birth to eight pure Bloodhounds and three half-bred Bassets.
 
In 1892 he repeated the same experiment on the same hounds, also on another Bloodhound bitch. As he wanted to once more bring in fresh blood and to breed on the individual characteristics of Ch Forester, Millais then artificially inseminated a Bloodhound bitch with semen from Forester's son Nicholas.
 
 

Bloodhound bitch and Basset dog used by Millais

 Millais admitted that the Bloodhound bitch he used was almost as inbred as the sire. The resulting puppies were equally half-bred.

Ch Forester

Nicholas

Cromwell, the half-bred male

Various breeding and cross-breeding experiments followed, including artificially breeding the half-breds, and results such as anatomical structure and coat colour were carefully documented. 
 
He concluded that the upshort of these breeding experiments was that not only had he gained the desired result of a Basset with greater substance and improved head properties but he had also added a new variation to the English Bassets - a black and tan hound.

Black and tans

In the meantime, George Krehl was careful to correct excessive inbreeding and imported Lane hounds with the resulting litters excelling in bone and general quality. A few years after Millais died, he divulged that Millais had admitted it was ironic that he had the first chance of buying Fino de Paris but that he had taken Model instead. Krehl wrote "There was no comparison between them on the bench or at stud" adding "The Bloodhound experiments of Sir Everett filled his most earnest friends with regret and despair. France is full of Basset outcrosses, so there was no need to create canine nightmares". 

The Show - Hunt Divide

By about 1890 Basset owners had split into two groups. Although the breed had first been introduced as a hunting animal, it had mainly found its way into the show-ring.
Exhibitors had done nothing to help performance in the field as breeders of show dogs had exaggerated certain points, such as shorter legs with a completely crooked front and longer ears. They had lost the practical aspects desirable in the hunting hound.
 
Meanwhile Masters of packs practised selective breeding, if necessary by introducing Beagle blood, to retain the essential Basset characteristics. This ensured the survival of a type that would be capable of a good day's hunting.
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Judging the Bassets at Ranelagh 1895

Mirette 1903