The Poltalloch Terrier

The existence of the insanely cute West Highland White Terrier, a close kin to the Cairn Terrier, is credited to the beat of a different drummer. While cream and white colored Cairns were being killed at birth (mostly because of superstition, according to Clifford Hubbard, in Dogs in Britain), the Malcolm family was doing just the opposite: They were breeding for the white terriers. They believed it was easier to see the white dog against the rocky crags and cairns of the Highlands while they hunted vermin than it was to spot dogs much the same color as the rocks.  By the time the rest of the world caught up to the marvels of the breed at dog shows, the Malcolms had been breeding Westies for a hundred years. In those days, the dogs were known as the Poltalloch Terrier, after Edward Donald Malcolm, the 16th Laird of Poltalloch, but Malcolm didn’t want to be known as the man who created the breed, and insisted that his white terriers be renamed.  As far as we know, “West Highland White Terrier” as a breed name first appeared in L.C.R. Cameron’s  Otters and Otter Hunting published in 1908.

“Drip Paint” by Mary Sparrow HangingtheMoonShelby 

4 thoughts on “The Poltalloch Terrier”

  1. Lord Poltalloch/Scotties/Westies… understanding of the origin of the Westie is…lord Poltalloch, an avid hunter used the Black Scottie on his hunts. He shot his favourite dog by mistake because of its colour, he mistook it for game. Up untill that time occasionally a white dog would show up in a litter. The dog was destroyed to keep the lineage of black Scotties strong. After shooting his own dog he decided to breed only the white dogs so it would never happen again. Hence the West Highland White Terrior appeared. Am I correct??

  2. Jack Wills was head keeper at Poltalloch Estate and bred the dogs originally for hunting badgers. The idea was that the breed should be more robust and better able to handle badgers in the sett. (Cairn Terriers had often fallen victim to the badger’s savage defences).

    The dogs were bred at The Kennels, next to Mheall Cottage at the edge of Mhoine Mhor (Crinan Moss). As far as I can remember they all originated from a dog called Bodach.

    Mary Malcolm, daughter of Colonel Malcolm the estate’s owner, was a debutante and wore a dress made from spun combings of the dogs’ hair to her ‘coming out’ ball. The hair was spun and the dress made by Mrs, Barbara Wills, wife of the head keeper. Mary Malcolm later went on to become a BBC newsreader in the early days of television.

    I was 0nce shown a sepia-tinted photograph of a lady (possibly Mary Malcolm) surrounded by thirteen Poltalloch Terriers, each one perfectly posed on rocks and heather almost like a Landseer engraving. Quite how the photographer succeeded in getting the dogs to stay still enough to allow him to capture what was a very sharp image is a mystery. After all, photography was then in its infancy. The photograph was entitled ‘A Baker’s Dozen’.

    All the above (pers comm.) from the late Dave Wills, son of the head keeper.

    • A marvelous comment, Mark, thank you so much for sharing it! Where did you come across the info?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *