Sirrah, the Ettrick Shepherd’s Dog

by W. H. G. Kingston

Sirrah, fortunately for his fame, possessed a master in James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, well able to recount his history. Hogg bought Sirrah of a drover for a guinea, observing, notwithstanding his dejected and forlorn appearance, a sort of sullen intelligence in his countenance. Though he had never turned a sheep in his life, as soon as he discovered it was his duty to do so he began with eagerness and anxiety to learn his evolutions. He would try every way deliberately till he found out what his master wanted him to do; and when once he understood a direction he never forgot it again or mistook it.

Often, when hard pressed in accomplishing a task he was put to, he had expedients for the moment that bespoke a great share of the reasoning faculty. On one occasion about seven hundred lambs which were under Hogg’s care at weaning-time broke up at midnight, and scampered off in three divisions across the neighbouring hills, in spite of all he and an assistant could do to keep them together. The night was so dark that Sirrah could not be seen, but the faithful animal had heard his master lament their absence in words which set him at once on the alert, and without more ado he had silently gone off in quest of the recreant flock. In vain Hogg and his assistant spent the whole night in searching for their lost charge; and they were on their way home to inform their master of their loss, when they discovered a lot of lambs at the bottom of a deep ravine, and the indefatigable Sirrah standing in front of them, looking round for some relief, but still true to his charge. Believing that it was one only of the divisions, what was their astonishment when they discovered the whole flock, and not one lamb a-wanting! How he had got all the divisions collected in the dark it is impossible to say. The charge was left to him from midnight till the rising sun, and if all the shepherds in the forest had been there to assist him they could not have effected it with greater propriety.

Hogg relates many other anecdotes of Sirrah. On one occasion he brought back a wild ewe which no one could catch from amid numerous flocks of sheep. He showed great indignation when the ewe, being brought home, was set at liberty among the other sheep of his master. He had understood that the animal was to be kept by itself, and that he was to be the instrument of keeping it so, and he considered himself insulted by the ewe being allowed to go among other sheep, after he had been required to make such exertion, and had made it so successfully, to keep it separate.

A single shepherd and his dog, says Hogg, will accomplish more in collecting Highland sheep from a farm than twenty shepherds could do without dogs. Without the shepherd’s dog, the whole of the mountainous land in Scotland would not be worth sixpence. It would require more hands to gather a flock of sheep from the hills into their folds, and drive them to market, than the profits of the whole flock would be capable of maintaining.

Here we have an example of a dull, unattractive-looking dog becoming of the very utmost canine usefulness. I have known many an apparently dull boy, by perseveringly endeavouring to learn what he has had to do, and then steadily pursuing the course marked out for him, rise far above his quick and so-called clever but careless companions. I do not say, Work for the purpose of rising, but, Work because it is right. Remember Sirrah. Learn your duty, and do it, however disagreeable it may seem.