Sunday, March 1, 2009

1841 -- Thomas Penlington's Snap-dog

Below is an excerpt commenting upon a letter dated April 22, 1841 from the poacher Thomas Penlinton to the Rector of Barthomley. In his comments following the letter, Barthomley discusses Penlington's dogs, a Spaniel and a Snap-dog. The "snap-dog" clearly refers to a whippet type dog. It also definitely lends credence to whippets being used by poachers in hunting.

Two beautiful dogs were with him; one, a well-bred spaniel; the other, what he called 'a snap-dog,' a diminutive but well-formed greyhound, with part of its tail taken off, in order to evade the greyhound tax. The contents of his bag were hauled out, and strewed over the floor: a large partridge net, made of silk, 40 yards long, several gate nets, many meuse and rabbit nets, an abundance of snares, and one net, which astonished me not a little, for catching deer! the cord of which was of great strength, and the meshes large, and significantly marked with blood! I enquired, were you in the habit of 'killing deer?' 'Yes !' 'And where?' ' Chiefly, though not altogether, in Doddington Park. Here I used to come at dusk, carrying my air-gun in my hand like a walking stick, and accompanied by one or two of my gang, and my snap-dog; if a deer was near the road, I fired at him there, and if I chanced to kill him, I leapt into the park, cut the animal into pieces, placed them in a bag, and carried them away. If the herd was grazing at a distance, I waited till it was dark, and then planted my net in one of their runs, and set my snap-dog at them, and drove them into it." "Did you often do this?" " O no, Sir; I was too wise for that: one buck in a year from a park was enough for me; if I had taken more, there would have been the devil's own row, and danger!" This daring feat was, in his apinion, only poaching, and deer were placed by him in the game category with game. In several conversations after this, he told me that expert poachers will not go out on bright moonlight-nights, but in the darkest, and especially when it rains; that many respectable men, so-called, are their constant customers throughout the year; that in the Potteries, among that class, he had a regular market for any quantity of game; that more game was taken, habitually, by farmers and farmer's servants, than by any regular gang of poachers; that with servants he had habitual dealings, and, not unfrequently, with their masters; that the best way to preserve game was by bushing fields, and barring gates, and stopping meuses round the covers, and watching the farmers and their men.

Barthomley in Letters from a Former Rector to His Eldest Son. Edward Hinchliffe, M. &. N. Hanhart. Illustrated by Edward Hinchliffe, G L Halliday, Howard Vyse. Contributor M. &. N. Hanhart. Published by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1856. pp. 162-163.


  1. Very interesting. I still don't know exactly what a "snap dog" is, but this gave me a good image of their surroundings and daily jobs.

  2. "Snap dog" is an early reference to whippets before they were recognized as a breed. "Snap Dog Competitions" in the early to mid 1800s was to drop a whippet in an enclosed area and the one that kills the most rabbits or rats wins(terriers were also used in "snap dog competitions" with rats).