History of the Breed




Mr. F. R. Barnes


The breed today known as Rhodesian Ridgeback was established in 1922, thanks to the passion, constance and drive of Mr. Francis Richard Barnes. Let's follow the words of Mr. B.W. Durham witness of those days, as he told about them some years later in an article for the South Africa Kennel Union Gazette (Dec. 1950).


The chief, if not the sole, credit of getting the breed standardised and recognised by the S. A. Kennel Union, is due to Mr. F. R. Barnes of Figtree - then resident in Bulawayo. I think it was in 1922 that Mr. Barnes circularized the many owners of "Ridgeback" or 'Lion Dog", as they were beginning to be known, and asked owners to bring their dogs to the meeting to be held on the second day of the Bulawayo Kennel Club Show to endeavour to formulate a standard with the object of leter recognition by the S. A. Kennel Union. The response must have been gratifying to the convenor. A large number of owners attended and well over 20 dogs were paraded. I attended by invitation. These dogs were of all types and size, from what would be regarded as an undersized Great Dane ta a small Bull Terrier; all colours were rapresented - Reds and Brindles predominating -. The convenor addressed the gathering and there was general agreement that a club to further the interests of the breed be formed. Mr. Barnes then asked for suggestions as to the standard to be adopted. Owners were reluctant to come forward, each naturally thinking his the correct type. Finally a spectator with some knowledge of the breed took a dog and suggested that that size and configuration be adopted, then chose another specimen for its head and neck, a third for legs and feet, and, making use of some five different dogs, built up what he considered to be aimed at. A few days later Mr. Barnes compiled the standard, a club was formed, Mr. Barnes' standard adopted and this, with some later amendments and alterations is the standard in use today.

It must be noticed that the witness " with some knowledge of the breed " was Durham himself, at the time the only "all breeds" judge in Rhodesia. Beyond Barnes, Durham and Mr. C. H. Edmonds took part in the drawing up of the standar, the latter senior Vet Surgreon for South Rhodesia at the time.


Crested dogs arrive in Rhodesia


But let's go 50 years back, to rev. Charles Helm who lived in Matabeleland at the end of last century, the southern region of today's Zimbabwe, Rhodesia up to 1980. Helm ran the mission of Hope Fountain, not far from the kraal of the matabele king Lobengula, where years later the city of Bulawayo was to be founded. In 1879 he brought two ridged dogs from the Swellendam district, to his new house. The dogs were Lorna and Powder. The mission was located at a crossroad and stop place for the many travellers crossing the region, among whom a number of "white hunters" after big african preys,elephants and lions.


Cornelius van Rooyen


Among the people visiting Helm's house there was Cornelius van Rooyen who lived in Mangwe, only 90Km. south of Hope Fountain, and one of the most famed hunters at the time. He was hit by Helm's dogs and asked him for crossing them with the dogs of his own pack. This breeding resulted in more ridged dogs closer to the hunting needs of van Rooyen. He continued to breed and improve his dogs which started to be known as "van Rooyen dogs". Many of them had a ridge.


Today we are used to figure out the "White Hunters" (thanks to the movies) as middle aged people, just like Michael Douglas or Stewart Granger, full of wisdom and experiences. The contrast cannot be bigger: In 1879 Rev Helm married "Nellis" van Rooyen, when he was already a renowned hunter, with Miss Maria Margareta Vermaak: Nellis was 19 years old and Maria 14!

In 1910 Mr. Graham Stacey of Figtree who had acquired ridged dogs from Van Rooyen, negotiated an agreement to place a ridged dog in the care of Mr. Francis Barnes nearby Bulwayo. This completes the lineage of ridged dogs. By way of Helm, Van Rooyen and Stacey they finally end up with Francis Barnes. Nowadays the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the result of the efforts of hunters, breeders and dedicated individuals who managed to cross dogs and get the best out of some European varieties. 


Khoikhoi dog


From whence does the "ridge" derive?

Almost certainly from the Hottentot dog or Khoikhoi dog, as Khoikhoi called themselves.

The Khoikhoi was the population found by the first Europeans landed in Good Hope Cape region. The Khoikhoi had come from the Great Lakes Region some centuries before. Along with the big horned oxen, fat tailed sheep and a small-medium sized dog with pricked ears, a ridge on the back and a undesirable temperament.


This dog was widespread in the region and is the dog that was interbred with other European dogs thereby supplying the distinction we now appreciate as the ridge.


The Parent Club

The foundation of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Rhodesia.


A couple of days after writing the standard Barnes and some friends founded the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club also called The Lion Dog Club. The location was in Bulawayo. On 29 December 1924 the club tried to have the breed recognized by the South Africa Kennel Union (SAKU, now known as Kennel Union of Southern Africa, KUSA), but unsuccessfully. Finally on February 4, 1926 the SAKU accepted the request and the breed were officially recognized as Rhodesian Ridgeback. This had been a point in Barnes his wishes: that the new breed had a name which would acknowledge the country of origin and its distinctive mark at the same time, and so it happened. Many others would have liked the name "Lion Dog", in South Africa in particular.



First steps of the new breed


March 16, 1926 Francis Barnes registered his six dogs’ under the kennel name “Eskdale”. Barnes adopted the Eskdale name for both his kennel and his farm near Figtree.

Included in the registration were Lion, Como and Dingo from that day called Eskdale Lion, Eskdale Como and Eskdale Dingo.


The foundation of the breed was laid in these years. The characteristics and the qualities of the breed we admire today come to us from those first Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders.


The kennels we find in today's pedigree belong to those years: 

  • Avondale, Mr. T. Kedie-Law from Rhodesia
  • Drumbuck, Mrs. L. M. Dickson who was among the founders of the Club
  • Eskdale, Mr. Barnes
  • Khami, Mr. G. Stacey
  • Kumalo, Miss M.J.S. Vigne
  • Munemi, Captain B.L. Miles, who collaborated with the Club for many years
  • Revelston, Mr. D. R. Keith from Swaziland
  • Rhodian, Mr. A. J. Walker, famous for his hunting pack
  • Sandvelt, Captain R. R. Dendy-Rawlins
  • Sipolilo, Arthur "Tractor" Smith, great hunter
  • Umvukwe, Miss Ainslie
  • Viking, Mr. Vernon H. Brisley, probably the greatest among the breeders of the time and the one who influenced the most the breed in those years.


Khami kennel

Mr. T. Kedie-Law, Avondale kennel

Mr. Vernon H. Brisley, Viking Kennel

Eskdale Dingo

Eskdale Connie

Eskdale Leo

The breed spreads out


From 1930 to 1949 Rhodesia Ridgeback spread all over Southern Africa. Life was easy during this period under the British Crown: there are no borders, there is a widespread enthusiasm, the perception of being privileged citizens and a general welfare in which the white population participates.

When the war arrives it is anyway far. It is in this context that the breed establishes and consolidates. In this period first quality kennels establish, run by dedicated and experienced breeders and passionate people.


Among the most important kennels:

  • Drumbuck, Mrs. A.M. Smithwick
  • Leo Kop, Miss Mabel Wellings, one of the most important of the time which much contributed to today's bloodlines
  • Lions Den, Mrs. D. E. Strickland who worked for many years in the committee of the RR Club of Rhodesia, till she went back to England in 1950
  • De Holi, the affix with an Esperanto name of Major T. C. Hawley. He was a famous breeder and also a historian of the breed with his book "The Rhodesian Ridgeback"
  • Gazeley, J. B. Bocock, who started breeding in 1947
  • Inkabusi, Mrs. I. Kingcome fom Salisbury in Rhodesia, her husband, dr. Martin Kingcome, carried out studies on the Dermoids Sinus and recommended ways to the Parent Club of South Africa in order to overcome it
  • Meyendell, Mrs. M. Mooiman from Sandown in Transvaal (RSA).


The breed establishes


These years are of fundamental importance for the definitive affirmation of the breed. The most authoritative perhaps was the kennel Glenaholm of Mrs. Phyllis McCarthy, Pitermaritzburg, Natal, founded in 1951. This kennel is still active today, after 46 years, run by Loraine Venter, Honeydew Transvaal, Mrs. McCarthy's daughter.


But other kennels greatly contributed:

  • Isimangamanga, Mrs. J. B. S. Yeates who started breeding in the 50s
  • Mindemoya, Mrs. F. H. A. Pritchard in Bulawayo
  • Rockridge, Mrs. Howard in Johannesburg
  • Thornbury, The Greens in Johannesburg
  • Maxwood, Mr. S. Cawood in Honeydew, Transvaal
  • Mpani, Mrs. Mylda Arsenis in Salisbury, Rhodesia

Mrs. Mylda Arsenis was an active supporter of the breed, both as a breeder and as a member of The Parent Club where she held various offices. She had her first litter in1964. In 1979 she moved to South Africa.


These years were quite difficult for Rhodesia, and breeders focused on other issues.

In fact momentous events were to occur when the white population claimed on 18 November 1965, with unilateral declaration, the independence from the British Commonwealth, and a long and difficult time of civil war started. The war caused several kennels to disappear and others to move to South Africa. The war finished in 1980 with the declaration of independence of the Republic of Zimbabwe. This period was a serious blow for the Rhodesian Ridgeback in Rhodesia, and only after several years since the end of the war the canine heritage of the country could be rebuilt.

In this respect a fundamental contribution is certainly due to Margaret and Sammy Wallace from Harare (formerly Salisbury) with their kennel Mushana. They had started breeding in 1968 and up to today they have produced outstanding RRs exported all over the world and present in the lineage of the best champions in many countries.

Beyond their activity as breeders the Wallaces have also acted as the guardian of the tradition and "culture" of the breed with their action within The Parent Club of which they are respectively Secretary and President. Sammy Wallace also is international judge of the breed.


Finally among the important kennels it must be mentioned Shangara of Mrs. and Mr. Megginson. They arrived in South Africa in the mid-70s for a short holiday. Today they still live in Verwoerdburg in Transvaal, where they breed RR. Among the many outstanding RRs they bred there is "Paco", Shangara Checheni, RR of the year 1980, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, winner of 105 BOB, and perhaps one of the most complete RR ever seen. 

"Paco" Shangara Checheni


From South Africa to all over the world


At the end of World War Two the Rhodesian Ridgeback is almost unknown in other parts of the world, except in Great Britain. It is in these years that the breed starts to become more widely known outside Africa.


North America

Soldiers always bring back souvenirs from war campains: objects, weapons, sometimes wives. Some G.I. men took back home Rhodesian Ridgebacks from South Africa. The first RR kennel in the U.S.A. was Redhouse of Bill and Sada O'Brien in Boston. Bill and Sada bought three dogs from Major T.C. Hawley.


Col and Mrs Morrie DePass, along with Gene Freeland and Margaret Lowthian were also instrumental in "founding" the Ridgeback in the US. The DePass' brought several RRs with them from South Africa. Morrie DePass was the 1st President of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the USA, RRCUS, and his dog Ch. Swahili Jeff Davis was the first US Champion. 


In the same period in California Margaret Lowthian and Gene Freeland founded the Lamarde Perro, an important name for the breed in America.


The work of these and other breeders led to the recognition of the RR by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as the 112th breed in November 1955. Since then in the US the breed has developed into a popular dog thanks to the action of the RRCUS: every year about 2000 RRs are registered. American breeders have done and still do a remarkable selective breeding with outstanding results, though developing their own standard, this detracts nothing.


Among the American breeders it should be mentioned:

  • Calico Ridge, Diane Jacobsen, California
  • Kimani, Alicia Mohr, New Jersey
  • Kwetu, Barbara Sawyer Brown, Chicago, IL
  • Lionpride, the Coopers
  • Oakhurst, the Ruperts
  • Raintree, Beachley and Kathy Main
  • Rawhide, Louise Lertora
  • Shadyridge, Ulla Britt Ekengren
  • Tawnyridge, Kay Fanning
  • Rolling's, D. Jay Hyman, Maryland (MD)
  • Blanbeeridge, Blanche Brophy and Bee Elliot
  • Walgroh, Martin and Betty Walsh, Palatine, IL
  • Lamarde Perro, Gene Freeland and Margaret Lowthian


1914, the first Rhodesian Ridgeback arrived in Great Britain. A dog named Cuff who was shown at the Cristal Palace exhibition as "exotic dog". Thirteen years later a second RR, imported by Mrs. John Player, arrived. In 1932 Mrs. Player herself presented two dogs at the Cristal Palace Club Show: Labenguela and Juno. Since then RR breeding started to develop firmly interwoven with breeding of South Africa, notwithstanding the difficulties due to the British quarantine. The breed will definitely establish in the 50s, with some kennels and dogs which will also deeply influence the continental European breeding.


Among them it is worth citing:

  • Mancross, the Mackenzies
  • Owlsmoor, Mrs. Hick
  • Footpath, Mrs. R. Baily
  • Aldonnels, the Jacksons

Closer to our days and in many cases still active:

  • Eilack of the Selbys
  • Janak of Mrs. Elisabeth Webster
  • Matabele of Mrs. Simper
  • Mirengo of Mrs. Woodrow, who bred the most prize awarded RR of the UK, Mirengo Mandambo
  • Umtali of Mrs. G. Adsett Dixon
  • Caldas of the Grimwoods 



Actually there is no conclusion: for the History of a breed, its breeders and lovers never end. This short history aims at sketching out the effort of women and men who devoted part -sometimes all their lives, to a wonderful breed and wonderful friends. This history does not arrive to today: the very recent years are too close, but it is always important to remember that at present there are people in the world who, following Francis R. Barnes' lesson:


Breed, protect and love Rhodesian Ridgebacks.