Archibald Hamilton.

The red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 online

. (page 19 of 22)
Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 19 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and far between, and, with one or two exceptions,
not much blessed with this world's goods. The
class of residents not owning land, professional men
and those engaged in business, which contributes so
large a part of the income of most packs of hounds,
was absolutely non-existent round Exmoor. In a
Avord, the country could not afford the funds necessary
to support the hounds on theiooting essential to the
maintenance of sport on a sound basis.

But at this crisis a friend was arriving whose
advent contributed largely to the solving of the
diflficulty, that friend being the railway.

The excellent sport shown by Mr. Bisset's hounds
had been told far and wide among hunting men, and
a few good sportsmen like Major Whyte Melville,
Mr. Granville Somerset, and others had come down to
enjoy the sport, but the country was singularly
inaccessible, and it was not till the railway made
access more easy that visitors came down in any
numbers. The effect was twofold : they subscribed,
or some of them did, to the hunt fund, and they
brought money into the country and spent it there,
with the result that many who had been indifferent
to, and even averse from, staghunting began to
realise that the hounds might become a source of
prosperity to the district, and many a purse, hitherto
fast closed, yielded to the entreaties of the hunt

During these long years of trouble Mr. Bisset had
been fortunate in having the help in the field of three

•'• >
















of the best servants the hunt has ever liad. Jem
Blackmore, who Hved at Haddon and in whom the
knowledge of his art was practically hereditary, was
harbourer till his death in 1861 ; Jack Babbage, an
Anstey man, who had hunted hare and also stag for
one season, 1848, under Sir Arthur Chichester, was
huntsman till 1868, when he retired through old age;
and Arthur Heal, a native of Washfield, near
Tiverton, who had begun life as a " buttons " in the
service of Mr. Baillie Collyns, and had subsequently
been entered to harehunting, was whipper-in ; an
able trio of whom the latter proved himself, after he
succeeded Babbage in 1868, to be the ablest. He
is — for though close on ninety he is still strong
enough to ride to the nearest meets — one of those
men in whom the hunting instinct is born, and he
would probably have shown himself as great an
adept at killing rats or big game as he was at killing
deer. He was admittedly a very fine shot, and had
a skilful hand on a ily-rod.

The hunt sustained a severe loss in i868 by the
death of Mr. Nicholas Snow, of Oare, in his eightieth
year. To his zealous care of the deer, and in
pajrticular to his action in enclosing the best bit of
heather on the moor (now known as the Deer Park)
with a fence which let deer readily in and out, but
excluded sheep and ponies, and in planting the little
'combes adjoining with larch, is largely to be attri-
buted the preservation of the deer on that side from
destruction in the troublous times, and the increase


of the herd afterwards. Followers of the hounds
owe a deep debt of gratitude to his memory.

Mr. Bisset had, like all other Masters of hounds,
to endure a large amount of obloquy, particularly
owing: to his strict adherence to all the old laws of
staghunting, written and unwritten laws which had
been almost completely disregarded for many years,
but by 1870 he had conclusively proved how right
he had been throughout, and no less than four
hundred and thirty grateful supporters contributed
to present him with his portrait.

As the herd increased and as the popularity of the
sport increased — and the history of Mr. Bisset's
Mastership is a story of continual upward progress —
the number of hunting days had to be increased.
Mr. Bisset began by hunting twenty-five days in a
season — the whole season, not staghunting only —
but by 1 87 1 this had risen to fifty, and continued
steadily to be added to, for now we come across the
first traces of a difficulty, which subsequently grew
and grew until it almost threatened the existence of
the hunt — namely, the superabundance of deer.

The crowds of hinds in Horner was then, as now,
one of the chief sources of trouble, and to meet it
Mr. Bisset determined to hunt many consecutive
days together in Horner, and to hunt with relays of

In 1875 Mr. Bisset generously bought a small
property at Exford, and thereon built at his own
expense the present kennels and stables. Everything


was prosperous, the deer were spreading far and
wide, and in 1878 it was found necessary to hunt
three days a week ; but a bad set-back was to come,
for the pack, which had been worked up to a high
state of efficiency, developed rabies, and had to be
destroyed, after many efforts to stamp out the

In 1879 a seal was set on the popularity of the
hunt and of the Master by the visit in August of
H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.

In the winter another case of rabies occurred, and
the hounds were kept separated in ordinary dog
kennels for three months during the time they
should have been killing hinds, thus enabling the
herd still further to increase. In 1880 Mr. Bisset
found it necessary to hunt on ninety-four days, and
he killed seventy-five deer, a number absolutely

No man ever made a deeper study of staghunting
than did Mr. Bisset, and during the last years of his
Mastership there undoubtedly was no man who knew
so much as he did, not even Mr. Froude Bellew or
Arthur Heal. His knowledo-e of the moor and the
probable run of a deer was extraordinary, and in his
latter years, when failing health forbade his riding as
hard as in former days, his knowledge invariably
enabled him to be up at the kill long before many of
those who had been riding their utmost during the
run. This great capacity impressed visitors mightily,
and great would have been his following had he


allowed it, but he would not let anyone use him as a

In this way people came to forget that in his
earlier days he had gone as hard as, or harder than,
anyone over the moor. His weight, which at one
time was said to have been twenty-two stone,
necessitated his riding big horses, but none the less
he insisted on quality, and did not mind paying the
necessary price, even to very large sums, provided
he got what he w^anted.

He was not an easy man to sell a horse to ; he had
them, of course, carefully tried and vetted ; he then
tried them himself. Ten minutes' trotting and
cantering round the dealer's field would tell him all
he wanted to know about the " feel " of the horse,
he would then ride up to the delighted dealer who
felt sure of his sale and say, pulling out his watch,
" Nice horse, Mr. So-and-So. It's just ten ; I'll tell
you at four o'clock if I will buy him. I shan't go
out of the field ; you need not stop." He would then
walk the horse patiently round and round the field for
six hours without intermission ; at the end of the
time he would pull up, take out his watch, and throw
the reins on the horse's neck. If he would after that
stand still for five minutes with twenty-tw^o stone on
his back without shuffling his feet and easing a leg,
Mr. Bisset would pay practically whatever he was
asked for him. He always declared that test told
him more than any vet. could do. Needless to say,
very few horses could pass it, but those that did were


invaluable. Mr. Bisset always had his second horse-
man close up to him, and continually changed from
one horse to the other ; he invariably stood down
when there was no absolute necessity for him to be
on a horse, but, even up to the last, when he really
wanted to go he could drive a horse along as hard
and as fast as the lightest weight in the field.

Mr. Bisset was elected in 1880 to represent West
Somerset in Parliament, beating Mr., now Sir,
Thomas Dyke Acland, and his twenty-six years'
Mastership of the staghounds came to an end. But
the life in the House of Commons was uncongenial
to him, and the confinement and long hours
undoubtedly tended to shorten his days. Though
able to hunt a few days in 1881 and 1882 he suffered
much in health in 1883, and on July 7th, 1884,,
died at Bagborough, to the great grief of two
counties, where his name is still held dear as a
sportsman and a kindly gentleman, who by his
courage and generosity conferred lasting benefits
upon the country of his adoption.




Waken, lords and ladies gay,
To the green -wood haste away ;
We can show you where he lies.
Fleet of foot, and tall of size ;
We can show the marks he made,
When 'gainst the oak his antlers frayed ;
You shall see him brought to bay,
Waken, lords and ladies gay.

Sir Walter Scott (Hunting Song).

On the resignation of Mr. Bisset, the choice of the
hunt committee fell on Viscount Ebrington, to the
great satisfaction, not only of Mr. Bisset, but of the
whole hunt. A Fortescue thus, after a lapse of
over sixty years, once more was Master of the

Mr. Bisset' s good will and generosity towards the
hunt knew no bounds ; he not only presented the
pack to the new Master, but he granted him a
lease of the kennels and stables at an almost nominal
rent, and after his death he left the Oxford property
to trustees for a term of years, on trust to let it to
the then Master of the staghounds, so long as the
hunt should be properly carried on in the manner
it had been by himself and Lord Ebrington.

For six seasons Lord Ebrington retained the
Mastership and continued to show sport of a very


high order, though he was not exempt from trials
and difficuUies. The herd was too numerous, and
complaints of "deer damage" became more and
more frequent and insistent. A small fund, collected
at the various inns principally from visitors, had been
in existence for some years, from which exceptionally
severe cases of damage had been partially com-
pensated, but the fund rarely exceeded a hundred
pounds, and it was quite inadequate to meet the
new demands.

The Master, the committee, and a few who hunted
all the year round had grasped the situation, and
realised what the consequences of an undue extension
of the herd would entail ; but the average man knew
next to nothing about it, though he liked to feel that
there were " plenty of deer." The consequence was
that a most bitter outcry was raised against the
Master when, in his first season, he killed a hundred
and one deer. But Lord Ebrington held on his
way with the full approval of Mr. Bisset and of the
hunt committee, and as in subsequent years the
strength of the herd was obviously maintained, the
outcry quieted down for a time, only, however, to
break out afresh in years to come.

In 1883 the experiment was made of hunting four
days a week in the staghunting season, but the
number of deer killed was not thereby much
increased, and the work was found to put an undue
strain on the veteran Arthur Heal.

At the end of the season of 1886 Lord Ebrington

X 2


found his Parliamentary and other duties made such
heavy calls upon his time that he was obliged to
ask the committee to accept his resignation, which
with great reluctance they did.

Lord Ebrington's reign was marked by many
first-class runs, particularly over unusual lines of
country. Amongst these the most memorable was
that from the plantation by Oare Post, by Yeanworthy
Common, Brendon Common, Longstone, Moles
Chamber, Hole Water, and right away down to near
Brayley Bridge. Few were at the finish, and many
did not get home that night.

In 1884 tufters, with only the Master and about
three more, ran from Ashleigh Combe on Quantock
across the vale to the Parret at Combwich Passage,
and the deer was taken close to Burnham. On
February iith, 1885, a hind led hounds a very fast
pace from Burridge Wood, close to Dulverton, by
way of Withypool, Simonsbath, and Challacombe to
the Bray by Kipscombe Wood. The hind was last
seen near Friendship Inn. On November 13th, 1885,
hounds ran a hind from Haddon over Lype Common
and Dunkery to Chettisford Water and lost, scent
having failed. In 1886 a young deer gave the gallop
of the season from Haddon to Tarr Steps, and by
Humber's Hall and W^ithypool Common to Sherdon
Hutch and Emmet's Grange. The pace was
tremendous all the way. Onlv seven horses reached
the finish, and four were left lying dead on the way.
A most unusual line, but seventeen years afterwards


Mr. Sanders had a brilliant gallop over almost the
same line, killing at the same place.

These are only a very few of the good runs
recorded. All those who were fortunate enough to
hunt during these years still carry pleasant memories
of very many merry gallops, particularly from Yard
Down. It was during Lord Ebrington's Mastership
that the deer began to resort in any numbers to the
Bray Coverts, which had been practically abandoned
for many years. There they found quiet lying, and
thence we have year after year enjoyed some of
those flying gallops which make the field indeed
resemble the tail of a comet.

In 1884, owing to the recent death of Mr. Bisset,
the opening- meet was at Holmbush Gate, Porlock
Hill, this being for the first time since 1865 when
Mr. Bisset inaugurated the practice of meeting at
Cloutsham, the only other deviation from which was
in 1898, after the death of the late Sir Thomas Dyke
Acland, when the hounds met at Haddon. Year by
year, attracted by the sport, increasing crowds of
visitors came down, and the numbers of the field
were quite unprecedented.

Lord Ebrington was succeeded by Mr. C. H. Basset,
of Watermouth Castle and Pilton, near Barnstaple,
and once more the hounds came into the hands of
one of the old county families the head of which had
held office a century before.

Mr. Basset, who like his predecessor held office foi
six seasons, continued to show sport and to do his


utmost to grapple with the superabundance of deer,
but he also had to submit to severe criticisms with
regard to the supposed extermination of the herd,
which was, in fact, steadily though slowly increasing,
as afterwards was apparent to all men. Mr. Basset,
who had been a " hound man " as distinguished from
a "hunting man" from his earliest youth, paid
unceasing attention to the pack, and brought them
to a very high standard, both as to work and appear-
ance. He was a consummate judge of a horse, and
a good man to get to hounds in spite of the loss of
a hand, and the curiously short stirrups in which he
rode. He had a wonderful knack of making horses
go quietly, and all his own horses and most of those
ridden by the men went in plain snaflfle bridles. He
liked little horses, but they were strong and full of
quality. A big London dealer, watching him
changing from "Bounding Ben" to " Bideford,"
exclaimed, " Where on earth does he buy them ? If
someone would only send that class up to me I
could sell them all day long."

Mr. Basset started with " Arthur " still carrying the
horn, but the gallant old man was getting up in
years, and the long wet days hindhunting told
heavily upon him. For years Mrs. Heal had
always had a cup of soup ready for him on his
return, after swallowing which he did up his hounds
for the night and went straight to bed, having his
supper brought to him in bed. In 1889 Arthur gave
up the horn to his whipper-in, Anthony Huxtable, and


Sidney Tucker was promoted from second horseman,
at which difficuh task he was a genius, to be whip
It was at this time that Mr. Basset began the
practice, ever since continued, of mounting the hunts-
man on a pony for the tufting, and letting him
change to his first horse when the pack is laid on.
This was a great success ; with a light weight, a
good pony can go as fast in the coverts as a bigger
horse, and is handier in scrambling about, doing his
work as well and with far less risk to himself.

Sport was, as a rule, good during Mr. Basset's
time, but was in some years a good deal interfered
with by weather, particularly by fog and snow which
interfered with the hindhunting, a serious matter
when deer were multiplying rapidly.

Many brilliant days were recorded, the most brilliant
of which, without a doubt, was the run in 1888 from
Tithecombe Wood, by Bratton Fleming, to Luc-
combe Church, right from one end of the moor to
the other, a distance of about twenty-three miles
in two hours and five minutes, from the road by
Friendship Inn. It was a race from start to finish,
and but for a big bend by Nutscale, which enabled
sc^me of us to turn by Luccott Farm and Lee Hill
and get to hounds again by Horner Green, very few
would have seen the finish at all.

Three very fast gallops took place from Yard
Down to Horner across the same line which hounds
had run several times before and have often run


When Mr. Basset retired from office Colonel
Hornby, of Clewer Lodge, who had acted as Deputy
Master of the Royal Buckhounds, was chosen to
succeed him, but only retained the command for
two years. His tenure of office was marked bv
several very fine runs, and so far as staghunting
was concerned must be accounted as having been
extraordinarily lucky ; but his luck did not hold out
in hindhunting, the number of breeding hinds
brought to hand was disappointing, and the herd
gained a further advantage, one of which it took
many years' hard work to deprive it.

The best runs in Colonel Hornby's time were one
from Arlington to Horner; from Cloutsham to
Chapman's Barrows and back to Nutscale ; and a
long slow hunt from Brayford by West Buckland,
Filleigh.and Chittlehampton to the Taw at Brightleigh
Weir above Umberleigh. Another long hunt over
an awkward country w^as from Haddon by Morebath,
Bampton Down, Huntsham, and Uplowman to
Halberton, near Tiverton Junction. The deer broke
his leg, and had he not done so would probably have
established a record for distance in that direction,
for he had not been bustled and seemed to be going
quite comfortably.

The number of big stags in the Quantock coverts
was at this time very great, and Colonel Hornby
found it necessary to devote much time to them,
securing some very remarkable heads.

Mr. R A. Sanders, who took command in


succession to Colonel Hornby, had been huntinor
with the staghounds as a visitor for a good many
seasons, was thoroughly keen on the sport, and had
also the great advantage of having married one of the
most popular ladies, and one of the best riders in the
hunt, Miss Lucy Halliday, of Glenthorne. Mr.
Sanders brought to the difficult task youth, strength,
and determination, coupled with a natural aptitude for
hunting, and a whole-hearted love for -the sport.
With these advantages it is little to be wondered at
that his reign has been remarkable for the con-
tinued high level of sport shown, and that on quitting
office he leaves staghunting in a more prosperous
condition and more firmly established than it has
been for many generations.

Anthony Huxtable still carried the horn, with
Sidney Tucker to whip in to him, and with Fred Goss,
who had succeeded on the death of Andrew Miles,
as harbourer. Mr. Sanders killed his first stag on a
bye day in July, 1895, from Ringcombe, below
Molland Common, a very favourite summer haunt for
fat old deer. He proved a noble trophy, having all
his rights and four on top on both sides. Mr. Sanders
quickly realised the urgency of reducing the herd,
■which during the few previous years had increased
with alarming rapidity, and he was ably seconded in
all he did by Lord Ebrington, the chairman, and the
rest of the hunt committee.

The arduous duties of honorary secretary had now
devolved on Mr. Phillip Everard, a name associated


with staghunting on Exmoor for upwards of five
centuries. Under his able management effective
steps were taken to ensure that casual visitors to the
moor, who come down to enjoy the pleasure of stag-
hunting, should contribute adequately to its support,
and particularly to the Deer Damage Fund.

The depredations of the deer were so extensive,
and upon some farms the loss was so heavy, that no
farmer, however well disposed to the hunt, could
afford the loss. Compensation, as adequate as
circumstances would permit of, was the only remedy.
The outcry did not come only from the farmers, for
some of the most zealous of the deer-preserving
landowners impressed upon the committee the
absolute necessity of effecting a considerable reduc-
tion in the herd.

Mr. Sanders' first season was highly successful,
both from the point of view of the deer killed and of
the excellent runs obtained, and everyone was
delighted. An important step towards the solution
of the great problem of dealing with the herd was
taken when, with the approbation of the Hunt
Committee, Mr. Sanders arranged to lend the
country south of the Taunton and Barnstaple railway
to Sir John Heathcote Amory, of Knightshayes
Court, Tiverton, who undertook to keep up a pack
of hounds and hunt the district, including the
coverts near Barnstaple. Mr. Ian Amory carried
the horn, with Messrs. Albert and Clement de Las
Casas to whip in to him, and very excellent sport


they have shown for many seasons over a wild, rough
country. This reheved the Exford pack from having
to deal with the deer in the big Stoodley woodlands,
and in the Eggesford district, both situated so far
from the kennels as to necessitate hounds lying out

The herd on the Quantocks also received particular
attention, and Mr. Amory was asked occasionally to
assist there also, for the number of deer was so
utterly out of proportion to the extent of wild country
available for them as to render their immediate
reduction imperatively necessary. For several
seasons both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Amory devoted
all the time they could spare to the Quantocks, but
both had their hands full, and more than full, nearer
home, and in 1900 Mr. E. A. V. Stanley, of Quantock
Lodge, offered to get together a pack expressly to
hunt the Quantock Hills. How completely out of
hand the herd on that small range of hills had
become is best shown by the fact that it took
Mr. Stanley five years' hard work, hunting steadily
two days a week, to reduce it to its proper numbers.

Mr. Sanders also found it necessary to increase the
number of hunting days, and during hindhunting
hounds went out four days a week, Mr. Sanders
carrying the horn on two days himself.

The deer in the Barnstaple country were causing
much anxiety, as they were spreading far and wide.
The difficulty of dealing with them was great, because
some of the most important coverts, in the centre of


the district, were shut against hounds by a lady who
did not approve of staghunting ; and secondly, the
free run to the open moor by Friendship Inn and
Wistland Pound was badly interfered with by the line
of the new Lynton Light Railway, so that deer were
almost inevitably turned back upon the forbidden

Such was the urgency, however, of the matter that
a subscription pack was got up to hunt the district
under the Mastership of Captain Paterson and Mr.
Arundell Clarke, and, in spite of all the difficulties
they had to contend with, they for some years showed
excellent sport, and materially assisted to reduce the
numbers of the deer on that side of the moor. Thus
in a country where, less than fifty years before,
twenty-five days' hunting sufficed for the season and
the Master then dare not kill all the deer he took,
four packs of hounds were at work, and during many
months ten meets were taking place in every week.
These strenuous efforts undoubtedly checked the
increase of the herd, but it was still much too
numerous both for sport and for the capacity of the
country. To see herds of forty or sixty deer break
away from the deer park was nothing unusual in
October. With so many deer in the country the
difficulty of killing was immensely increased, as the
hunted deer was continually joining others, and the
ground was stained in all directions. Though many
good runs took place, in some seasons it happened,
especially over the forest, that hounds had to go


home without blood they richly deserved on many

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22

Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 19 of 22)