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Beautiful Joe appeared in 1893

Marshall Saunder’s Beautiful  Joe; Sir James Fitzpatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld; John Steinbeck’s Charley and Albert Terhune’s Lad are some of the first dogs to have been immortalised in print.

None of them is THE first, though.

The first real dog to appear in a best selling book was called Bungey. Or Bungay. His owner didn’t care which, as he only felt the need to spell properly in Latin or Greek. You won’t find Bungey in Wikipedia or any other index of famous dogs. This is a sad oversight in today’s information-rich world.

Bungey was the first dog in literature (English literature at least) both because he was a truly remarkable animal and because his owner was a famous writer at time when very few people wrote books.

Jock was immortalised in 1907

Famous is a relative term, Bungey’s master was more famous when he was alive than his contemporary, William Shakespeare. However, if you haven’t read the books about him by Southern, Scott-Warren, Grimble, Kilroy and Craig, you’ll never have heard of him. Unless, of course, you’ve read some of my previous blogs or my book, ‘The Archer Prism’, and there aren’t many of you that have, unfortunately.

So both a famous dog and a famous writer have been more or less written out of the history of literature. It’s time to put them back. Especially Bungey who has been completely forgotten.

Bungey should not be confused with the Black Dog of Bungay, the spectral hound who terrorised  the East Anglian town a few years before the real Bungey was scampering across south and west England.

Bungey was a spaniel. With the stamina of a wildebeest and the intelligence of a rhesus monkey.

His owner lived near Bath but he had career opportunities in Westminster. On one occasion he attached a message to Bungey’s collar and told him to take it to the Court at Westminster Palace. A couple of days later, Bungey was back with the reply. A round trip of 200 miles.

A year or so later, his owner put two charges (small containers) of wine across his back and instructed Bungey to take them  from their manor house in Kelston to their townhouse in Bath about twelve miles away. The rope holding one of the charges frayed and the barrel tumbled to the ground. Field hands working the Kelston manor holdings saw Bungey nose  the fallen barrel behind a hedge and then trot off with the remaining one. Within hours they were amazed to see him back to ferret out the fallen barrel, take the rope around it in his mouth and hurry back to Bath. The second barrel arrived intact, just like the first.

Bungey was always happy to run besides his master as they rode between Bath and London but he was independently-minded enough to go on jaunts of his own too. During one of them, he was dognapped.  For six months, his distraught owner looked high and low for him. Eventually, he tracked him down to the house of a fellow gentleman. Bungey’s new owner refused to give him back unless it could be proved who owned him before. When the visitor commanded Bungey to go to the adjacent dining room and fetch a pheasant from among the food on the dining table, Bungey did just that. The dognapper was so impressed he handed Bungey back with an apology.

Bungey’ s owner was John Harington, favourite godson of Queen Elizabeth I, inventor of the mechanically flushing toilet and well-known author of books, verse and epigrams. Bungey played such an important part in his life that he included him on the title page of his first great work, a translation of ‘Orlando Furioso’. This title page was the first to feature a living author and the first to include a beloved (and still panting) pet. See him, bottom left on the picture. Marketing before marketing was invented!

Bungey, bottom left on title page of 'Orlando Furioso' in 1592

Harington was not a conventional dog person and his wife acidly remarked that he had no time for any of her dogs. They couldn’t live up to Bungey, who, according to his owner, “lacked only the talent to shake golden du cats out of his ears”.

There must be other dogs almost as remarkable as Bungey. If you know any, I’d be happy to tell their tale in a continuation of this blog.