Richard Salt Piggin 1845-1931


Richard Salt Piggin was a farmer and dog trainer, who acquired a pup in the early 1890s that was to become one of the most famous collies in the world before the advent of the film dog Lassie. This male animal, Ormskirk Charlie, was outstanding for its rare combination of both beauty and brains. It not only had the appearance to win prizes as a show dog, but Piggin managed to train it to excel at sheep-dog trials.

The dog-breeding author Rawdon Briggs Lee (1845-1908) described Ormskirk Charlie thus:

We occasionally see, at the various trials with sheep held in different parts of the country, a handsome dog that is a fairly good worker, but such is an exception, and I am sorry to write that, so far as the shepherd's work is concerned, the handsomest dogs are usually the worst workers — at any rate in public. It was however gratifying to find at the Llangollen Trials in 1893, one descended from bench winners proving successful. This dog, Mr. R.S. Piggin's Ormskirk Charlie, won the all-aged stake there in excellent style, beating pretty well all the cracks in the country, and afterwards was awarded the Special as the handsomest dog on the ground. Ormskirk Charlie was bred by Mr. Richard Thornton, of Winmarleigh, Lancashire, and is by Christopher from Prim of Winmarleigh. The dam of Charlie was a good working bitch, and her pedigree goes back to the Trefoil blood on one side. Her owner considered Prim of Nateby, her grand-dam, as all round one of the best working bitches in Lancashire, being equally good with sheep and cattle. With the latter her intelligence was such that, when sent to bring in the cows to milk, she always separated the young from the old stock without assistance. Evidently Charlie has inherited some of her cleverness.

A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (London ...., 1894)

In New Zealand the following year, a columnist using the pseudonym Terror and writing about dogs observed:

I have often heard remarks made by sheep-farmers and sheepmen generally to the effect that sable, particularly the light or golden sable, are too soft for working, but I think the following record of facts clipped from The Stock-keeper will tend to dissipate the notion:-

"The first class dogs commenced to run about noon, and much interest was taken in this part of the trials, as several noted dogs were entered to take part in the trials. The third to be called out was the famous champion Ormskirk Charlie whose winning career has never been beaten and while some still stand by the low-bred cur sheep dog, none who have had the opportunity of seeing this grand dog work will deny him the honour of being the best or one of the best sheep dogs of his day. At the close of the trials the judges had no hesitation in awarding first prize to Mr Piggin's Ormskirk Charlie, who is a large, well-made golden sable - just now in full coat. He got freely away in his trial, widening as he went, never looked back until he got hold of his sheep, and steadying them, cleverly passed them through his gap, and the sheep racing down, Charlie was ordered out wide to the left, then in sharp to the head; he turned through the second flag, then drove in a circle round the third flag through two more, and finally penned amidst great cheering."

- page 125 Otago Witness, Issue 2143, 21 March 1895, Page 35

Piggin lavished a great deal of money on this hobby: Lee mentions elsewhere in his book that top dogs and bitches in this period often fetched £200 apiece. Charlie's sire, Christopher, a sable dog, was purchased by Mitchell Harrison of the United States for the equivalent (in other dogs and cash) of £1,000, according to Lee.

© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2009
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