The Master of Hounds

Photo Caption: The Marquis of Zetland, KC, PC – otherwise known as Lawrence Dundas
Son of: John Charles Dundas and: Margaret Matilda Talbot
born: Friday 16 August 1844
died: Monday 11 March 1929 at Aske Hall
Occupation: M.P. for Richmond Viceroy of Ireland
Vice Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire
Lord – in – Waiting to Queen Victoria
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland



The great masters of antiquity, if we may so style them—Meynell, Beckford, Corbet, Lee Anthone, John Warde, Ralph Lambton, Musters—have been described as paragons of politeness as well as models of keenness. George Osbaldeston hardly possessed the former quality in so marked a degree. Coming to present times, I cite as examples the late Lord Penrhyn, Lords Portman, Lonsdale,  and Harrington, and Mr. R. Watson of Carlow, Mr. J. Watson (Meath), Captain Burns- Hartopp, and Captain Forester, eminently successful masters. Last but not least the eighth and present Dukes of Beaufort.

     Money ! money ! money ! is perhaps the most important attribute after keenness and temper. A real keen’un will generally get a country. Happy is the country possessing a master with these qualifications, and they are by no means easy to acquire—the boldness of a lion, the cunning of a fox, the shrewdness of an exciseman, the calculation of a general, the decision of a judge, the purse of Squire Plutus, the regularity of a railway, liberality of a philanthropist, the politeness of a lord, the strength of a Hercules, the thirst of a Bacchus, the appetite of a Dando, a slight touch of Cicero’s eloquence ; even more so when the field overrides badly, and a temper as even as the lines of a copybook. So says “The Analysis of the Hunting Field.”

     Lor’ bless us, what a combination of qualities! An M.P. is generally supposed to have a ticklish, uphill game to play. The M.F.H. has just as difficult a one. He has to keep his soft-sawder pot boiling all the year round, healing real or imaginary wounds, both of his field and the farmer’s as to poultry and damage. Possessing, as our model M.F.H. is supposed to, the patience of Job, and the tact of an M.P., he can only be written down as ” the best fellow under the sun.” They must have these same qualities, and may have very different ways of showing them. About the keenness there must be ” no mistake,” as the great Duke of Wellington would have said. A qualified liking would not do for a “best fellow under the sun.” He must be a real out and outer. Keenness covers a multitude of sins. City people, perhaps, would put money first, but that shows they know nothing of fox hunting. Wealth, birth, keenness, all combined, won’t do unless he has the sincere desire to please, and the desire not to hurt any one’s feelings unnecessarily. Making too much of a business of hunting makes nervous and irritable masters. ” Better luck next time ” is a fine consoling axiom, cheering alike to fox-hunter, gunner, and fisherman. Fox-hunting, being a sport, whether a fox is killed, or a fox is lost, or a fox is mobbed, or a fox is earthed, makes no difference in the balance at the bankers.

     On the principle that a new broom sweeps clean, gentlemen taking the onus upon them of M.F.H. are apt to slave and toil like servants. The fox-hunter goes out to “fresh fields and pastures new,” hears all the news, the fun, the nonsense, the gossip of the world ; his mind enlarged, his spirits raised, his body refreshed, and he comes back full of life and animation.

     Dining out is almost indispensable for an M.F.H. , for friendship can only be riveted over a mahogany. It is convenient, too, in some cases, such as hunting a distant part of the country. An agreeable change this, if the party have not been hobnobbing at the county club for weeks together. One of the mistakes non-hunting people used to make : ” None but fox-hunters will do to meet fox-hunters.” We have changed all that now. In a few hunts at any rate hunt dinners are still in vogue. These reunions among members of hunts have somewhat lapsed ; not so the balls in January and February.

     To discuss further the duties of the would-be successful master, I quote from Beckford : ” A gentleman might make the best huntsman. I have no doubt that he would, if he chose the trouble of it.” It is just the ” trouble ” that chokes people off half the projects and enterprises of life. Gentlemen who hunt their own hounds should remember they are huntsmen. He is a public character, and as such is liable to be criticised by the field adversely, or not, in accordance with the day’s sport. The generalship of a master consists in making the most of a country, and the greatest use of his friends—that is, exhort the members to put their shoulder to the wheel in the cause of fox-hunting. Diplomacy (a genteel term for “humbugging”) is another requisite for an M.F.H.

     I regret that this chapter must be somewhat curtailed. I quote, however, the words of a Lord Petre to Mr. Delme Ratcliffe, who was then taking over the Hertfordshire : ” Remember, however,” added his lordship, after going through a recapitulation of the hundreds, ” you will never have your hand out of your pocket, and must always have a guinea in it.” Most readers of these pages know what a master can reasonably expect from his field, and what the field expects from the master. ” A country should be hunted, the good and the bad alternately, to give general satisfaction, and in the long run better sport will be enjoyed.” Beckford makes some distinction be tween managing a pack of hounds and hunting them.

     Various are the opinions as to the best man to fill the position of M.F.H. The great question hinges on the style of man himself. We all know the ease and readiness with which people find fault. It may be of interest to quote “Gentleman” Smith’s—a former M.F.H. of the Pytchley and Craven Hunts—ideas of a perfect huntsman. ” He should possess health, memory, decision, temper, and patience, voice and sight, courage and spirits, perseverance, activity ; and with these he will soon make a bad pack a good one. If quick, he will make a slow pack quick ; if slow, he will make a quick pack slow.” Mr. Smith continues, ” But first, to become a good one he must have a fair chance, and should not be interfered with by any one after leaving the meet. Granted he is in the master’s confidence. … He should be able to think for himself when hounds check.” Beckford’s qualifications are to be summed up in the single word ” youth.” Doubtless perpetual evergreenness is a most desirable attribute. The old head on young shoulders is probably the one attribute referred to.

     A man may certainly be born to become a huntsman. We have heard Mr. C. M’Neill spoken of as a ” born huntsman.” There are very many families of huntsmen indeed. The following is Beckford’s ideal : ” He should be young, strong, bold, and enterprising ; fond of the diversion, and indefatigable in the pursuit of it ; he should be sensible and good-tempered, and sober ; exact, civil ; naturally a good horseman, his voice should be strong and clear, have an eye so quick as to perceive which of the hounds carries the scent, when all are running ; and should distinguish the foremost hounds when he does not see them. He should be quiet, patient, and without conceit he should not be too fond of displaying these attributes, till necessity calls them forth. He should let his hounds alone, whilst they can hunt, and he should have the genius to assist them when they cannot.” Many professional huntsmen, however, have combated with age and weight. I quote these qualifications as many masters hunt their own hounds.

     The idea of this work is not one of laying down the law, but has been compiled as a work of useful reference merely. The scope of this work does not admit of the M.F.H.’s deportment at the meet, the roles of huntsmen, whippers-in, and second horsemen to be discussed therein.

     The following rules were found in the Diary of W. Summers, huntsman to Mr. Napper in the forties. He was kennel huntsman to the late Mr. W. C. Standish during that gentleman’s master ship of the Hursley and the New Forest fox hounds. I quote them here in the interest of all concerned.

     ” No man should attempt to hunt a pack of fox hounds who has not a cool head, and particularly a good temper. An excitable temperament is not an acquisition ; its possessor may ride as hard as he likes ; he will never make a good huntsman—but that never catches foxes. Most huntsmen, to our idea [Summers says], ride too hard ; nineteen out of twenty override their own hounds, and drive them hundreds of yards over the scent, leading the field after them ; for very few of the sportsmen who attend the meets ever look at the hounds : they ride at the huntsman, not to the hounds. A huntsman will tell you that it is not his fault that he overrides his hounds, but ‘ the gentlemen do press on me so.’

     “A cool-headed huntsman with nerve will not allow himself to be hurried, and will see when his leading hounds have the scent and when they have not. He will take no notice of any man, and hunt hounds as though he, and he alone, were present, and consequently give satisfaction to the few that know anything about it (hunting) and catch his fox. He need take no heed of holloas or ask advice when hunting his hounds, but should have his own opinion, and stick to it. He will let his hounds alone as much as possible : they will know more than he does about making their own cast first ; and should they fail to recover the scent, then let him try what he can do ; he should remember foxes seldom wait, and he should make up his mind quickly what he means to do. The worse the scent, the quieter he will be with his hounds ; full well he knows that if he once gets their heads up, it will take him all his time to get them down again. He must have his eyes everywhere, and so he will quickly detect what has probably headed the fox—a man ploughing, a flock of sheep, or a herd of bullocks.”

     Hounds are often overridden by an impatient or unsportsman-like field of horsemen, or galloped to holloas by an ignorant huntsman.

     ” How often have we seen a fox, who, to all appearance, was as good as killed, unaccountably lost owing to impatience. Either the huntsman has viewed the fox away, or the shepherd has who is holloaing him ; thus he begins to blow his horn and cheers on his hounds at best pace. Unluckily their heads go up, and the fox is lost. He can’t make out why, neither can half the field, who don’t care much, and ride home satisfied they have had a gallop and a jump, and think the fox a good one ; in fact, they are glad he is spared for another day. But the sporting M.F.H. knows why that fox was lost, and wishes there had been a potato in his huntsman’s mouth when he viewed him. Had the hounds been left alone, he knows that fox’s hours were numbered, whereas the hounds are rather disgusted at the day’s toil. A general, however brave a man he may be, if he has no head, is useless in command of an army ; and the brainless huntsman, gallant rider though he may be, can never command hounds. Riding propensities of hunt servants are over estimated, and knowledge of hunting science is not taken into account by the field. Those who hunt to ride merely estimate the huntsman by the number of his falls and useless jumping of fences. Then an ignorance of fox-hunting is displayed.”

     Summers pertinently goes on to say, ” Servants are sent out hunting to assist the hounds, and not ride to the gentlemen, but follow the pack the nearest and quickest way, and not jump fences because Captain ‘ Bellairs ‘ does so ; that gallant man of war may stop his horse and break his neck, too, but the huntsman and whips are required for the day ; they should nurse their horses for the afternoon run. They are no use lying in bed with broken limbs ; but in the field is their place, where they ought to be of use, and are paid to be so, and assist in promoting the most liberal and noblest of sports.”

     Captain W. C. Standish, M.F.H., contributed
Summers’ Diary to Baily’s Magazine.

          ” To take a lesson from his book,
And at his system fairly look,
Would Quorndon’s hero only deign,
He would not hunt his fox in vain.
But no ; with him it’s all the pace :
The hounds will look him in the face,
And seem to say, ‘ Our noble master,
You would not have us go much faster ;
For we, on flying so intent,
A mile behind have left the scent.’
Indeed, good sir, you’ll shortly find,
And ever after bear in mind,
That if you wish your hounds to shine,
Keep only those who hold the line.”
Ode to Assheton Smith, 1813.

From: Fox-Hunting Past & Present by R.H. Carlisle(“Hawk Eye”, Late 14th P.W.O. Regiment)


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