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Professor Duncan’s Marvellous Collie Dogs as the London Canine Fire Brigade, mid 1890s

March 15, 2014

Professor Duncan’s Marvellous Collie Dogs (active late 19th-mid 20th Century), latterly billed as Duncan’s Royal Scotch Collies
(photo: unknown, circa 1895)

The Alhambra, Leicester Square, London, autumn 1895
‘Of all the numerous so-called dog shows which have been brought before the music-hall public lately, none have impressed us so favourably as that given by Professor Duncan and his collie dogs. The Alhambra audiences have for weeks past literally screamed with delight at the really wonderful deeds of these canine prodigies. There is one feature in particular which recommends the performance to every lover of dogs, and lies in the fact that Professor Duncan take the dogs through the whole of their performance without the use of a whip or stick of any kind, but (and there’s his secret) there is always a morsel of dog mean and a caress for the dog who has successfully accomplished his task. The photographs given here were especially taken for The Picture Magazine… [In one] we have a representation of the ”London Canine Fire Brigade.” The story is this: An outbreak of fire is announced, and the brigade start with their engine. They arrive on the scene of the disaster and a ladder is put up to one of the windows. A child is known to be asleep in the upper room. For one of the dogs to climb the latter, fetch the baby and lay it down in safety, is the work of a minute, but, alas! The exertion has been too great, the dog is exhausted and drops dead by the side of the saved child. A stretcher is brought and the dog is placed on it, when, lo! there comes his poor widow … There is a pretty story told by Mr. Duncan regarding this part of the performance, and which actually suggested it. It appears that Mr. and Mrs. Duncan were in their sitting-room one evening, when suddenly an unusual noise was heard, and before inquiries could be made, in came Duke …, carrying the three-month-old baby, whose clothes had caught fire at a stove in the room above… .’
(The Picture Magazine, London, November 1895, pp. 291-293)

* * * * *

‘Mr Tom Prichard, who introduced Professor Duncan’s collies to the West-end variety establishments, intends astonishing the world shortly with a horse that turns a somersault. The animal walks in an upright position both on his front and hind legs.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 20 January 1894, p. 17d)

Kennel Gossip.
‘Canine Firemen. – what a strange fascination the fire brigade has for some dogs. Of course we have all heard stories of the ”The Fireman’s Dog,” [sic] yet no one has yet explained wherein the charm lies. We shall never forget how on one occasion we were passing a large fire brigade station when the bell rang to summon the firemen to their work. No call to play was ever more eagerly responded to than was the bell by the yard-dog, who, in an incredibly short time, was careering after the engine, ready to play his part in the dangerous work before his masters. The Glasgow brigade is the latest to add a new member to their staff. The dog, a collie, is a volunteer, as he attached himself to the brigade, and steadfastly refused to leave it. Wallace now invariably accompanies the men, and is always the first to enter a burning building, no matter now fiercely the flames rage. If all Professor Duncan’s collies, which are now amusing the people at the London Palace, were as eager to undertake this work as the dogs we have mentioned, the competition for the famous fire scene in which one collie mounts a fire escape and rescue a baby from the flames must have been keen.’
(The Nottinghamshire Guardian, London, Saturday, 14 July 1894, p. 7f)

South London Palace, week beginning Monday, 7 January 1895
‘The marvellous intelligence shown by Mr Duncan’s collies excites wonder and admiration, and their appearance is one of the most attractive features of the current programme.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 12 January 1895, p. 16b)

Collins’s music hall, Islington, week beginning ‘The Dog Show at the Agricultural Hall has brought a good many people to Islington this week, and no inconsiderable number of them have availed themselves of the opportunity of paying a visit to Mr Herbert Sprake’s music hall just across the road. For these dog fanciers the most attractive item in the programme would doubtless be Professor Duncan’s collies, which have been trained to do the most wonderful performances. The most startling proof of canine sagacity is afforded by the fire scene, where one of the collies acts as a fireman, and accomplishes a gallant rescue from a burning house, winning the unstinted applause of the delighted audience.’
(The Era, London, Saturday, 15 February 1896, p. 18b)

* * * * *

Vic Duncan, Professor Duncan’s son, continued Duncan’s collies act from the late 1920s until 1958. He became chairman of the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and died at the age of 91 on 12 September 1988

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