The First Decade Of Recorded Irish Setters In South Africa

The Kennel Union of Southern Africa was founded in 1891 and the above  extraction is taken from their early hand written Stud Books. The first Irish Setter entered is a bitch Bess, sired by Rupis out of Venus whose owner appears to be a member of the prominent Cape Town Bisset family.

James Bisset was born in 1836 in Aberdeen Scotland.  He trained at London University to become an engineer and subsequently worked on a range of railway projects like the Crystal Palace, Sydenham station. In 1858, aged 22, he emigrated to South Africa to build the first railway line which stretched from Cape Town to Wellington.

The jubilant opening of the Cape Town to Wellington railway line in 1863.

(This sketch is in the Cape Archives and was published in the Illustrated London News. It reflects the arrival of the special train conveying the Governor to attend the official opening ceremony at Wellington)

 In 1862 James married Emily Jarvis, daughter of Cape Town Mayor, Hercules Jarvis and they had six sons and a daughter. It is  reasonable to deduce that one of the Bisset siblings owned Bess in 1891

Certainly James led a multi-faceted career, while pursuing the development of the Cape Government Railways into the eastern and northern Cape, he worked on various architectural projects amongst them the Mutual Assurance building in Darling Street, Cape Town and several other buildings in Beaufort West and Graaf-Reinet  He was elected and served as a Liesbeek Municipality Councillor between 1883 and 1886 and Mayor of Wynberg in1886 and 1893 with a brief period as Mayor of Claremont.

Of James and Emiliy Bisset’s six sons, Edgar, Arthur and Murray played first-class cricket, Murray, being the most successful.  Born on 14th April 1876  Murray was educated at Diocesan College, Rondebosch, where he earned the reputation of being an outstanding batsman and wicket keeper, making his debut for Western Province on 18th April 1895.  Scoring an unbeaten 124 runs against Transvaal in 1897 led to his Captaincy of the Western Province Eleven in the Currie Cup final that year. This achievement secured his place as South African Captain in 1898 against the touring English side at the age of 22. He retired from competitive cricket after the Fifth Test Match between South Africa and England held in Cape Town.

He studied Law and was admitted to the Cape Bar in 1899 (from the 2014 Cape Town telephone directory it appears that several of the Bisset family’s descendants followed the law as a career path). In 1905 he married his wife Gladys and they had one son.

In 1914 Murray Bisset was elected to the House of Assembly as the South African Party representative for SouthPeninsula, holding this seat until his retirement from politics in 1924 when he moved to Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).  There he was appointed a senior judge in 1925 and served as acting Governor of Southern Rhodesia in 1927 and 1928 in which year he was knighted Sir Murray Bisset.  In 1931 he died in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia.

Ch  Garryowen  ( owned by Mr. J.J.Giltrap )  b 1.10.1876

In 1895 G.E. Murray entered an Irish Setter dog named Lance sired by Garryowen out of Nita into the South African stud book.  It is doubtful, given the decade in which Lance was born, that his sire was Ch. Garryowen owned by Mr. Giltrap, Secretary of the Irish Setter Club, Dublin, but rather Garryowen’s namesake or his son Garryowen Junior born in 1886.

Mr. Giltrap’s Ch. Garryowen was sired by Palmerston out of Belle and had the distinction of being the first Irish Setter to be named in classical English literature.  In Joyce’s Ulysses he is present throughout the episode at Barney Kiernan’s during which he is called “a bloody old towser” and other affectionate things, and contributes a few growls of his own, some of which are rendered into the English language. This Irish Setter is also famous for having a brand of tobacco named after him, Spillane’s Garryowen Flake.

Gilbert Leighton-Boyce attests that Giltrap’s Ch. Garryowen lineage was carried  into twentieth century through the pedigrees of Strabane Pam which  lies behind Champion Ravenhill Sally, Show Champion Rheola Bryn, Rheola Malie, Gorse of Auburn and others at the back of Wendovers.  Through a daughter, Noreen, exported by Dr. Jarvis, Ch Garryowen had a great influence on the breed in America.

It also appears that G.E.Murray’s Lance is amongst the first sires with progeny entered in the Kennel Union of Southern Africa stud book as in1995 of the dog Mike Owen appears, owned by F. Heofer(?) out of Belle – ironically Ch.Garryowen’s dam was also named Belle!



The Kennel Union of Southern Africa Stud Book Records

A Tale of Three Cities written by Susan de Villiers Limited Edition to 2,200 copies

and published by Murray & Roberts Construction

Irish Setters written by Gilbert Leighton-Boyce – World of Dogs Series



Wikipedia – James Bisset and his son Murray Bisset  All About Dogs – A book for Doggy People

by Charles Henry Lane – print of lithograph of Ch. Garryowen

Miss Michelle Webster of Hooley’s Irish Setter Pedigrees