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Jock of the Bushveld – SA's best loved dog hero

In the early days of South Africa’s European history, a man by the name of Percy FitzPatrick returned from England to South Africa to support his recently bereaved mother at the age of 22. In 1884, FitzPatrick left his home in the Cape in search of adventure and perhaps fortune in the Eastern Transvaal. Gold had been discovered in the area and he was one in a million who had made their way to the region to claim a portion of it for themselves. However, Percy’s attempts at gold-digging were somewhat unsuccessful and before long he gave up, bought a wagon and some oxen and began life as a transport rider.

Transportation in those days was hard and slow work. The roads were simple dirt tracks, the wagons were pulled by a span of 12 to 16 oxen and these had to be fed, watered and protected from wild animals. The scorching mid-day heat was best avoided and the wagons travelled for four hours before sunrise and for four hours after sunset. During the day men hunted for their meals or saw to various chores around the camp. In these hard times, many men sought out brave and obedient canine companions to keep them company during the cold nights, to accompany them on hunting trips and to act as an extra set of eyes on the restless South African bushveld. Percy FitzPatrick was no different. However, good dogs were hard to come by and FitzPatrick was short on luck.

Not long into his career as a transport rider, one of his companion’s dogs had a litter of puppies. She was a well-respected bull terrier trail dog, though somewhat unattractive, and she had been covered by a pedigree bull terrier. Five of her six pups were the epitome of their breeding. They were strong, fat and had good colouring. However, one of them was a runt. He was weedy, ill-proportioned and was the victim of constant sibling attack. Since the runt had not been spoken for, Percy slowly came upon the idea of taking him on as his own. However, right at the last moment Percy was offered the pick of the litter. After a night of contemplation, he decided to stick with the little weakling of the litter. He called him Jock and it seemed as if the puppy knew that FitzPatrick was his master from day one. He even followed him home without any coaching.

This was the start of many a great adventure. The odd little puppy grew into a great and fearless dog. He was well-liked, well-respected and well-behaved. He lived out his life at Percy’s side with unwavering loyalty and his loving memory inspired many a bedtime story to Percy’s three children. However, it was only when FitzPatrick had made his fortune, settled down to have a family and become an established and well-respected member of society that he took pen to paper at the urging of his children and shared these delightful tales with the rest of the world. ‘Jock of the Bushveld’ was first published in 1907 and it became and instant best seller and a local classic. Since then it has never been out of print and it has been the subject for at least one great South African movie. There is also a statue dedicated to this most faithful companion and it stands in front of the Barberton Town Hall in Mpumalanga. Jock’s tale is one that will creep into the hearts and minds of any dog-lover, regardless of nationality or race. Get your hands on the book or movie for a heart-wrenching dog-lovers epic.


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