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Clans, Castles, Pipers and West Highland White Terriers

It’s over 90 years since the passing of Colonel Edward Malcolm, Master Breeder of the West Highland White Terrier. We tracked down his great-grandson, chief Robin Malcolm, 19th Laird of Poltalloch, Chief of Clan Malcolm.

“But that was the motivation apparently for us, that a working terrier wouldn’t be shot by mistake if it was white”.

“Yep, it’s quite something seeing the best part of 100 west highland terriers in one gathering. The noise was something appalling. It just needed one to start barking, all the rest would. It was like one of those mexican waves around a football stadium. One would start the whole lot going”.

Have you had West Highland Terriers yourself?

Yes. The breeding was continued after the Second World War because the head game keeper and his wife, James Wills and his wife Barbara, were interested in the breed. But when they retired, they moved from the kennels taking, I think, one pet with them. But that was really the end of them. I think my father continued to have one at the big house. It was the runt of the litter, a very small one, undersized. And that was the last West Highland White Terrier here.

Funnily enough I do get inquiries every now and then. I had a, I think it was last year or the year before, there is a West Highland White Terrier club in Japan. I don’t know if you know if they exist or not. Well, they had a special vehicle that was, sort of, should we say, plastered with West Highland White Terrier propaganda, and they arrived here to look around and I raised it with the present owner of what had been the kennels, for them to have a look around. We looked after them alright.

Do you get a lot of West Highland White Terrier owners visiting from outside of the UK?

Occasionally. They bring their pets back to see their roots, sort of thing. Very occasionally. Certainly, less frequently now then used to be the case.

Were there any West Highland White Terriers around your area at the time?

I think there’s none anywhere near where I live. I think the nearest breeder is in Kintyre, near Campbell town. I know a couple got married in our church and they live in Monte Carlo now and they wanted a West Highland White Terrier, so they got one from Campbell town, and I think it rules Monte Carlo. (laughs). Anyway, they get around.

Can you tell us of your family’s involvement breeding the West Highland White Terrier?

I see you have got a story here (we showed Robin our March 2021 edition which features a history interview with the UK Kennel Club), which is plausible, but what I was told was that Cairns were working dogs and they were used to flush foxes out of stone Cairns, by Cairns I mean heaps of rocks, and not a Cairn terrier. And on one occasion, one of the dogs was shot by mistake, because it was brown and white, and my great grandfather said, well, the way to stop this in the future is to breed White Terriers, and then they won’t get shot by mistake. And so, we set about breeding, trying to breed and fix the breed of White Terriers and one or two other places did the same. I think a relative of the Duke of Argyle at Roseneath did the same.

But that was the motivation apparently for us, that a working terrier wouldn’t be shot by mistake if it was white.

It must have been devastating for your great grandfather, as it was one of his favourite Cairns he shot, as the story goes.

Now that’s not recorded.

Was it the Campbells of Roseneath who were breeding a similar White Terrier at the same time as your great grandfather? Do you know what prompted the decision to combine both the Poltalloch Terrier and Roseneath Terrier?

Yes. I don’t know. I think the club was formed in 1905 and they were West Highland White Terriers. I don’t think it was a case of, well I suppose the owners of various kennels must have got together and said, let’s get our breeds properly recognised, so that we can show at Crufts and that kind of thing. Because I was asked to sort of do the prizes at the centenary show, and I can’t quite remember when that was, I think it was about 15 years ago. Yep, it’s quite something seeing the best part of 100 West Highland Terriers in one gathering. The noise was something appalling. It just needed one to start barking, all the rest would. It was like one of those Mexican waves around a football stadium. One would start the whole lot going.

There certainly is no other breed like a West Highland White Terrier, is there Robin?

There isn’t. Well they used to, as long as the Wills family were in residence at the kennels here. The West Highland Terrier continued. I remember a slightly wicked thing to do, but we had a coach horn at the big house, which was possibly a mile from where the kennels were. And I found aged 10, that if I blew it in the direction of the kennel, I could get all the Terriers barking. (laughs).

You still currently live on the Paltolloch estate. Could you tell us a bit more about it that and Duntrune Castle?

It’s the land we have had for generations. I’m the 19th Laird, you might say.

Your family’s history goes back to the 12th century?

Well, the Castle itself yes, goes back to the 12th century, but it was a Campbell stronghold until they overextended themselves, the Campbells of Duntrune, unwise investments, that sort of thing. And sold out to the Malcolms who lived nearby. We had landed Jamaica and were making quite a lot of money at that time. You know I’m talking 200 years ago.

Could you tell us about the Duntrune Castle Piper?

Well in the old days, there was always a garrison here and there would have always been a piper and the story of the piper goes that the Campbells were always converting this castle and it changed hands quite a lot between the MacDonalds and the Campbells. But there was one time the Campbells had it or took it and they killed all the MacDonalds that they could find, but they spared the life of the piper, because they didn’t have a piper themselves and he said that he would play for them if he got to live. So that was the deal and time then went on, but he obviously hadn’t lost his allegiance to the MacDonalds and he got word that the MacDonalds were going to attack the castle, which is what happened and I think he was meant to leave the gate open or something like that, but the Campbells sort of rumbled what was happening and the MacDonalds had to go away again, but the Campbells realised that their MacDonald piper was doing his best to betray them, so they chopped his hands off and that’s the legend. Our handless Piper.

But what they did find apparently about 100 years ago when they were doing up the floor in here in the castle, they did find a skeleton without hands in what had been under the floor in the guardroom, the main entrance. So, I suppose everybody entering the castle would be told that you’re stepping over the Piper, who sort of betrayed the place, like a, you don’t do any betraying yourself kind of thing. Talatry warning.

And that’s put people off ever since?

Not from visiting but I do tell them, Mind where you step. (Laughs)

You live in a beautiful part of the world, and you have cottages that you rent?

Holliday cottages, yes. They do quite well. There is a good photograph I think that is in all West Highland White Terrier literature of my great grandfather sitting on a rock in front of one of our holiday cottages, with quite a lot of West Highland Terriers sort of all over him. I think there was a calendar done at the time and it had 11 West Highland Terriers in it. I have never found a photograph that had more than eight in it.

What does the West Highland White Terrier mean to you and your family?

Well, we haven’t had them/any here for a very long time. Once the Wills family retired and then died, they were the ones who kept the Terriers going here. And when they were no more the Terriers were no more.

I am sure that you and your family are very proud to be associated with the West Highland White Terrier Breed?

Oh yes!

The following images were published in 1911 in a book called, The West Highland White Terrier: A Monograph by Holland Buckley and are amongst the earlier dogs and breeders. The Breed Club was founded by Colonel Malcolm in 1905 and the breed was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1907 and therefore images from before 1911 are contemporary with Colonel Malcolm and the early years of the Club.

With thanks to the Kennel Club Library for allowing us to publish these images.

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