Who was the original Jack Russell who gave his name to one of Britain’s favourite dog breeds?

Kate Green takes a look at the the legacy of Revd John Russell, the man who gave his name to the Jack Russell and Parson Russell terriers.

As legend has it, Oxford undergraduate John Russell was strolling dreamily in the meadows of Magdalen College — ‘Horace [poet] in hand, but Beckford [sporting diarist] in head’ — when he came upon an appealing rough-coated terrier bitch called Trump, with a ‘dot, no larger than a penny piece’ on her tail. The Revd E. W. L. Davies, who became Russell’s curate and biographer, wrote that his hunting-mad subject ‘halted as Actaeon might have done when he caught sight of Diana disporting in her bath; but unlike that ill-fated hunter, he never budged… til he had won the prize and secured it for his own’.

Revd John Russell, aka the original Jack Russell.

Tan-and-white Trump became the foundation bitch for generations of what would become known as the Parson Russell terrier, predominantly white with a few patches of colour, long-legged enough to keep up with hounds, but compact enough to fit down a fox’s earth. And the original retained her fame: Edward Vll commissioned a painting of Trump, which hangs at Sandringham in Norfolk.

John Russell (1795–1883) was a founder member of the Kennel Club and wrote the breed standard for the fox terrier, but surprisingly it would be a long time before the dogs which bear his name gained KC recognition. The Parson Russell was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1990 (which refererred to it as the Parson Jack Russell until 1999) while the Jack Russell — closely related, but shorter in stature — wasn’t added to the official list of breeds until 2016, nearly 200 years after Russell fell for Trump. In 2024 a Jack Russell called Zen, from Japan, was named Reserve Best in Show at Crufts.

Recommended videos for you

Some of these terriers are still kept as working dogs (some forms of terrier work are still legally permitted in the UK) but these characterful dogs are nowadays predominantly much-loved family and pensioner pets — such as those of The Queen — although no one sensible would trust them near a guinea pig.

Incidentally, there is a pub in Swimbridge, north Devon, where Russell was vicar for some 40 years, called The Jack Russell; it is, of course, dog friendly.