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)

Image: Mr F. R. Barnes
(Courtesy The Parent Club)

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 rigdged 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 had a ridge.
Today we are used to figure out the “White Hunters” (thanks also to the movies) as middle aged people, just like Michael Douglas or Stewart Granger, full of wisdom and experiences. 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!

Francis R. Barnes, then living in Bulawayo, obtained his first ridged dog in 1910 from Mr. Graham Stacey, owner of a farm nearby Figtree, who had his dogs from van Rooyen. So the circle was closed between Helms and Barnes, through van Rooyen. Hence the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the result of the efforts of hunters, breeders and dedicated people who have managed to cross dogs and get the best out of some European breeds like the irish terrier, grand danes, pointer, grayhound and the bulldog-not the same of today’s, but taller and more agile at the end of 1800-, with the breeds already existing there when the Europeans arrived.
At this point it is time for the question: where does the “ridge”, the distinctive mark of the breed, come from?

Khoikhoi dog

Almost certainly from the Hottentots – o Khoikhoi, as they called themselves. The Khoikhoi was the population the first Europeans found when they landed in Good Hope Cape region. The Khoikhoi had come from the Great Lakes Region some centuries before and, along with the big horned oxes and fat tailed sheep, they took with them in their migration a small-medium sized dog, 45 cm., pricked ears, a ridge on the back and a terrible temperament. Guardian and hunter.

This dog was widespread in the region, so it is likely to have mixed with European dogs, thus passing the ridge, that unique characteristic, to their offsprings

Image: Dr. D. Livingstone
“Missionary Travels in South Africa”

The foundation of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club (of Rhodesia) – The Parent Club

A few days after writing the standard Barnes and some friends founded the Rhodesian Ridgeback (Lion Dog) Club sited in Bulawayo. On 29 december 1924 the club tried to have the breed recognised by the South Africa Kennel Union (SAKU, today KUSA, Kennel Union of Southern Africa ), but unsuccessfully. It was only in 1926, February 4, that the affiliation was accepted by SAKU and the breed recognised as Rhodesian Ridgeback. This had been a point in Barnes’ wishes: that the new breed had a name which would acknowledge the country of origin and its distinctive mark at the same time. Many others would have liked the name “Lion Dog”, in South Africa in particular.

Image: Mr F. R. Barnes
(Courtesy Mrs R. Brook-Risse)

First steps of the new breed

Barnes registered his dogs (6) on 16 march 1926, among them there was EskdaleDingo, born on 15 May 1915 from Lion and Como. Barnes adopted the Eskdale name for both his kennel and his farm near Figtree. The foundation of the breed was laid in these years, and the characteristics and the qualities of the breed we admire today in the Rhodesian Ridgeback come to us from those first breeders.

Image: Mrs I. Barnes con Eskdale Leo (Courtesy The Parent Club)

The kennels we find in today’s pedigree belong to those years:
  • Avondale    of Mr. T. Kedie-Law from Rhodesia
  • Drumbuck  of Mrs. L. M. Dickson who was among the founders of the Club
  • Eskdale      of Mr. Barnes
  • Khami    of Mr. G. Stacey
  • Kumalo    of Miss M.J.S. Vigne
  • Munemi    of Captain B.L. Miles, who collaborated with the Club for many years
  • Revelston    of Mr. D. R. Keith from Swaziland
  • Rhodian    of Mr. A. J. Walker, famous for his hunting pack
  • Sandvelt     of Captain R. R. Dendy-Rawlins
  • Sipolilo    of Arthur “Tractor” Smith, great hunter
  • Umvukwe    of Miss Ainslie
  • Viking    of Mr. Vernon H. Brisley, probabily the greatest among the breeders of the time and the one who influenced the most the breed in those years

The breed spreads out

From 1930 to 1949 Rhodesia Ridgeback spread all over Southern Africa. Under the British Crown ruling the region life is easy: there are no borders, there is a widespread enthusiasm, the perception of being privileged citiziens and a general welfare in which the white population partecipates. 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  of Mrs. A.M. Smithwick
  • Leo Kop   of Miss Mabel Wellings, one of the most important of the time which much contributed to today’s bloodlines
  • Lions Den,    of Mrs. D. E. Strickland who worked for many years in the committe 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   of J. B. Bocock, who started breeding in 1947
  • Inkabusi   of Mrs. I. Kingcome fom Salisbury in Rhodesia, her husband, dr. Martin Kingcome, carried out studies on the Dermoids Sinus and suggested recommendations to the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club in order to defeat it
  • Meyendell   of Mrs. M. Mooiman from Sandown in Transvaal (RSA).

The breed establishes

These years are of fundamental importance for the definitive affirmation of the breed. Some kennels will in fact produce subjects that left their mark in the pedigrees of next generations. 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  Of Mrs. J. B. S. Yeates who started breeding in the 50s
  • Mindemoya   of Mrs. F. H. A. Pritchard in Bulawayo
  • Rockridge   of Mrs. Howard in Johannesburg
  • Thornbury   of the Greens in Johannesburg
  • Maxwood   of Mr. S. Cawood in Honeydew, Transvaal
  • Mpani   of 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 are quite difficult for Rhodesia and as a consequence for the breeders in the country. In fact momentous events were to occur when the white population claimed on 18 November 1965, with unilateral declaration, the indipendence 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.

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 which we will touch soon. 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 some Rhodesian Ridgebacks from South Africa. The first RR kennel was Redhouse of Bill and Sada O’Brien in Boston, who bought three dogs from Major Hawley.
Col and Mrs Morrie DePass , along with Gene Freeland and Margaret Lowthian were also instrumental in “founding” the Ridgeback in the US. Morrie DePass was the 1st President of Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of USA -RRCUS and his dog, Ch Swahili Jeff Davis was the first US Champion. The DePass’ brought several RRs with them from South Africa.

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

Great Britain

The first Rhodesian Ridgeback arrived in GB in 1914, 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 GB. 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 that 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    of the Mackenzies
  • Owlsmoor    of Mrs. Hick
  • Footpath    of Mrs. R. Baily
  • Aldonnels    of 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 – where in 1984 we saw our first RR from life, the superb Carla.

Scandinavia and Finland

Up to a few years ago in these countries there was the quarantine, therefore they owe a lot to Great Britain for the bloodlines they imported, as this was the only country, along with far Australia, from which to import freely. The effort made in order to overcome their isolation, led the Swedish to deal with artificial insemination with frozen semen in a scientific and sistematic way. Their approach resulted in a fair diffusion of the breed – especially if compared to the local population, and in the quality of the subjects bred. This action was supported by the efforts of breeders like Pettersson of Loustigens Kennels and Stig Carlson who still today breeds with success.

In Finland the first RR was imported from Svezia in 1965 by Carl-Henrik Lucander. Today with the abolition of the quarantine the situation is much more dynamic, with direct imports from Africa and other European countries.
In these years a great contributor to the breed has been Marianne Aaltonen and the Club founded at the end of the 80s, of which she is the President.

Fin. Ch. Fin. Oh. Ch. “Kimba” Mbya Jike Shinda Moya (Courtesy di Ms. M. Aaltonea)


In this country the fortune of the breed starts with the foundation of the Club from Mr. Hans Muller, international judge and President of the Federation Cinologique International (FCI), and a group of thirtynine RR enthusiastic people. At present the breed is well represented at an international level.


The first Rhodesian Ridgeback in Germany was Rhodus of Leo Kop, bred by Ms. Mabel Wellings. Today the country is very active in breeding, with outstanding subjects and well known kennels.


In the 60s there were two imported RRs: Mwala Mpani of Mrs R. Ricci and Rosette of Mpani of Mr. P. Mario; in the early 70s there was the couple Caldrees Mambo and Caldrees Neredzi of Mr. S. Ricceri and Rockridges’s Thaba Zimbi of Mr.V. Castellino. Since early 80s, of great importance is the kennel Delle Cime Bianche of Ms. Giovanna Bacchini Carr. This kennel was the only one affiliated to FCI-Enci in Italy up to 1995 when Murenga kennels was recognised by FCI-Enci. In Italy the situation has been somehow difficult because of the lack of a club for the protection and improvement of the breed. Recently, on 16 May 1997 in Tuscany a group of fans and breeders founded the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Italy. Every year about 30-50 puppies are registered in Italy.

Australia and New Zeland

As a proof of the long standing existance of RRs in Australia there is a curiouos photo of early 1900 showing three nurses of the Australian Army Nursing from the Boer war, with a RR with quite a lot of white on the chest, legs and muzzle and posing very proud of himself. Later, in the 30s, there was an unusual arrive in the country: Mr. Koster, life member of the Parent Club, took with him two RRs on a journey around the world on a yacht. Once he landed in Australia, he gave the RRs in exchange for an Australian Cattle Dog.
This is undertandable considering the risk for the storeroom!
But it is in the 60s that breeding starts to develop in Australia, notwithstanding a quarantine even more strict than the British one. The first kennel was Serengeti of the Adams in Western Australia.
More followed in those years to cover all the countries’ states:

  • Glenrowan   of the Morris in New South Wales
  • Zambesi   in Northern territory
  • Chilolo   in Qeensland
  • Maleema   in South Australia
  • Ulundi   in Victoria

The history of Ulundi Kennels and her owner is quite particular. The kennel was founded in 1968 by Miss J.N. Murray in the State of Victoria. Ms. Murray is from South Africa, where as a child she came in touch with RR. Once she moved and settled in Australia she decided to breed the breed she had so much loved as a child. But she had to face a great difficulty: there were no RRs in Australia!
Only in 1968 did she manage to obtain a RR from the young Serengeti Kennels. Since then she has had a long period of success in Australia and South Africa where she went back again in 1971 and where she continued breeding and showing. In 1984 Ms. Murray moved back to Australia where she still lives in Yea, north of Melbourne. J. Murray is to be remembered for her adventurous life across two continents, but even more as the historical memory of the breed.

Her three books – The Rhodesian Ridgeback 1924-1974, The Rhodesian Ridgeback Indaba and An Omnibus of Rhodesian Ridgebacks – cover the history of RR from the birth of the breed up to nowdays. Her books are fundamental texts for all the people who want to gain a thourough insight in the efforts and the work which were necessary from many breeders for the breed to develop and establish in a complex international canine context.

The first couple of RR arrived in New Zeland, Christchurch, in 1970, imported from Australia by Mr. Fears: two dogs from Ulundi Kennels. Both became chmpions. In 1973 with Kirrimba of Exmoor there will be the first champion bred in New Zeland. In the country there is a very active Club founded in 1983, with dedicated people capable of producing high quality subjects.


Actually there is no conclusion: for the History of a breed, its breeders and lovers never ends. 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.

© (Copyright) 1999 by Sandra Piscedda
Text and photos may be reproduced with acknowledgment of the source.