Irrefutably the earliest Irish Setters in South Africa had close links to ancestry in the British Isles: With the establishment in 1891 of the Kennel Club of South Africa, known today as the Kennel Union of Southern Africa, the recording of pedigreed dogs began and remains one of its prime constitutional obligations.  Below is an extraction of registered Irish Setters from early hand written Stud Books.


Early KUSA Registered Irish



The first Irish Setter entered was the bitch Bess, sired by Rupis out of Venus whose owner was a member of the prominent Cape Town Bisset family.

James Bisset was born in 1836 in AberdeenScotland.  He trained at LondonUniversity to become an engineer and subsequently worked on a range of railway projects including the CrystalPalace, Sydenham station. In 1858, aged 22, he emigrated to South Africa to build the first railway line which stretched from CapeTown to Wellington.


Early Railway Construction

The jubilant opening of the Cape Town to Wellington railway line in 1863.

  (This sketch is in the CapeArchives and was published in the Illustrated London News. It reflects the arrival of the special train conveying the Governor to attend the official opening ceremony at Wellington)


In 1862 James married Emily Jarvis, daughter of Cape Town Mayor, Hercules Jarvis and they had six sons and a daughter. It is reasonable to assume that one of the Bisset siblings owned Bess in 1891.

Certainly James led a multi-faceted career, while pursuing the development of the Cape Government Railways into the eastern and northern Cape, he worked on various architectural projects amongst them the Mutual Assurance building in Darling Street, Cape Town and several other buildings in Beaufort West and Graaf-Reinet.  He was elected and served as a Liesbeek Municipal Councillor between 1883 and 1886 and Mayor of Wynberg in1886 and 1893 with a brief period as Mayor of Claremont.

Of James and Emily Bisset’s six sons, Edgar, Arthur and Murray played first-class cricket.  Born on 14th April 1876  Murray was educated at DiocesanCollege, Rondebosch, where he earned the reputation as an outstanding batsman and wicket keeper. He made his debut for WesternProvince on 18th April 1895.  Scoring an unbeaten 124 runs against Transvaal in 1897 led to his Captaincy of the Western Province Eleven in the Currie Cup final that year. This achievement secured his place as South African Captain in 1899 against the touring English side at the age of 22. He only retired from competitive Test cricket after the Fifth Test Match between South Africa and England held in Cape Town in 1910.

He studied Law and was admitted to the Cape Bar in 1899 (from the 2014 Cape Town telephone directory it appears that several of the Bisset family’s descendants followed the law as their career path). In 1905 he married his wife Gladys and they had one son.

In 1914 Murray Bisset was elected to the House of Assembly as the South African Party representative for the SouthPeninsula, holding this seat until his retirement from politics in 1924 when he moved to Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).  There he was appointed a senior judge in 1925 and served as acting Governor of Southern Rhodesia in 1927 and 1928 in which year he was knighted Sir Murray Bisset.  In 1931 he died in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia.




Ch  Garryowen  owned by Mr. J.J.Giltrap  born 01.10.1876

 In 1895  Mr.G.E.Murray entered an Irish Setter dog named Lance sired by Garryowen out of Nita into the South African stud book.  It is doubtful, given the decade in which Lance was born, that his sire was Ch. Garryowen owned by

Mr. Giltrap, Secretary of the Irish Setter Club, Dublin, but rather Garryowen’s namesake or his son Garryowen Junior born in 1886.

Mr. Giltrap’s Ch. Garryowen was sired by Palmerston out of Belle and bred by H.S. Moore in Dublin, Ireland.  He was named after the place Garryowen in Limerick and had the distinction of being the first Irish Setter to appear in classical English literature.  In Joyce’s Ulysses, published in 1922, he is present throughout the episode at Barney Kiernan’s during which he is called “a bloody old towser” and other affectionate things, and contributes a few growls of his own, some of which are rendered into the English language. Ch. Garryowen was an outstanding winner in the showring with thirty-four major awards and was still still winning as an eight year old at the Royal Zoological Society Show in Dublin.

As mascot and trademark for G. Spillane Tobacco Co., Ltd., (1829-1958) in Limerick, Ireland Ch. Garryowen became a celebrity and Spillane named one of its products after him – Garryowen Flake pipe tobacco.


Spillane Factory

                Spillane’s tobacco factory in Limerick, Ireland with the image of 

     Ch. Garryowen above the entrance, with the words “The House of Garryowen”

Garryowen Plug

Spillanes Garryowen Plug

In all Spillane advertisements Ch. Garryowen is wearing his collar festooned with the medals he had won in  the showring

 Gilbert Leighton-Boyce attested that Giltrap’s Ch. Garryowen lineage was carried  into twentieth century through the pedigrees of Strabane Pam which  lies behind Champion Ravenhill Sally, Show Champion Rheola Bryn, Rheola Malie, Gorse of Auburn and others at the back of Wendovers . Through a daughter, Noreen, exported by Dr. Jarvis, Ch Garryowen had a great influence on the breed in America as she was dam to Am. Ch. Elcho Junior. Indeed there can be few lines worldwide that do not have some influence from Ch. Garryowen in their distant ancestry including South Africa.

It also appears that G.E.Murray’s Lance is amongst the first sires with progeny entered in the South African Kennel Club Stud book as in1895 the dog Mike Owen appears, owned by F. Heofer(?) out of Belle – ironically Gilltrap’s Ch.Garryowen’s dam was also named Belle and co-incidentally, Mr. J.J Giltrap’s daughter, Josephine, married William A. Murray perhaps a distant relative of Mr. G.E. Murray?

The name “Garryowen” appears again in South African show results in the early 20th century with Klippoortje Garry Owen owned by Mrs. Grace Rose-Innes, a family member (by marriage) of the prodigious Rose-Innes family, who emigrated to South Africa in the1800’s and are noted for their achievements in the legal profession, government, the arts and sport from their arrival to the present day. Albert Rose-Innes preceding Murray Bisset as a Test Cricketer in 1889.

In early 1910  Klippoortje Garry Owen won the Puppy Class and was awarded a Very Highly Commended in the “Colonial Class” so this dog was certainly bred in South Africa,  possibly by Grace Rose Innes. Given the kennel name Klippoortje it is probable that Garry Owen’s breeder resided in the gold mining belt of Boksburg, Transvaal (now renamed Gauteng).  Grace seems to have been a keen exhibitor in the ring as she also showed  Klippoortje Bridget and Vaal Sally in the same period as Klippoortje Garry Owen.


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