/ 26 January 2001

‘Jock was a bull terrier’

Since Sir Percy Fitzpatrick wrote Jock of the Bushveld, the Staffordshire bull terrier, or simply the Staffie, has been a common household companion in South Africa.

In two films, and on thousands of book covers, Jock has been depicted as a Staffie a dog that, while closely related to its cousin the American pit bull terrier, is noted for being a gentle, loyal and lovable friend. Originally bred as fighting dogs, Staffies became family pets after dog fighting was banned in England in the 1850s. Tough, loyal and remarkably intelligent, the breed went abroad with English settlers most famously to South Africa.

One South African Staffie became arguably the most famous dog in the world. His name was simply Jock. Now a new book, Bull Terriers of South Africa, 1860-1999 by Colin Bohler, looks set to shock thousands of Staffie owners. Bohler claims that Jock who even has a camp in the Kruger National Park named after him was not a Staffie at all. Jock, he says, was almost certainly a bull terrier, a dog often mocked by Staffie owners as a “Chinese racing pig”.

Bohler quotes from Jock of the Bushveld — “Jock was a bull terrier” to back his argument. He insists that Fitzpatrick, the son of a Cape high court judge, always told aspirant writers to write only the truth and the whole truth. Were Jock a Staffie, he would have written: “Jock was a Staffordshire bull terrier.” To strengthen the argument, Bohler says Fitzpatrick would certainly never lie to children, and dedicated Jock of the Bushveld to “the little people”.

However, Durban Staffie owner Mike Rich is but one of many quick to insist that Jock was a Staffie. He points out that throughout the publishing history of Jock of the Bushveld, Jock has always been drawn as a Staffie never as a bull terrier. “Fitzpatrick was around when the books were printed. Being a stickler for detail he would never have allowed Jock to be drawn as a breed that he was not.”

It is Rich’s view that Fitzpatrick’s well-known reaction to an inaccurate drawing of a dung beetle may be the key to proving Jock was a Staffie and not a bull terrier. “In the earliest editions of Jock of the Bushveld there was a drawing of a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung with its front feet. Fitzpatrick blew a fuse when he saw that and had it corrected immediately. The dung beetle had to be redrawn to be shown pushing the ball with its back feet as it does in real life. “With an eye for that sort of detail, Fitzpatrick would never have let the wrong breed of dog be drawn in the book. Never. Jock was a Staffie.”

The debate about Jock’s breed rages on because both breeds have firm fans. Among the most famous lovers — and breeders — of bull terriers are the multibillionaire Oppenheimer family. The book features several of their dogs.