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A Tribute to Those Gone Ahead:

Celebrating the lives of the one and the many.


By Dr. Jo Thompson (30 May 2009)
As basenji owners, we hold a unique place in the world of purebred dogs. Today
we live with a breed of antiquity. Our breeds' history is also human history. It seems
appropriate to me, on the anniversary of the passing of one of the more familiar of those
contributors - Miss Veronica Tudor-Williams, that we celebrate some of the founding
personalities. Those who contributed to basenji breed global recognition and
preservation outside Central Africa. It is through this tribute, recognizing a few, that I
hope to honor the many unnamed breed pioneers who have gone before.
The Basenji Club of Great Britain (BCOGB) was founded on 9 February 1939. It
was the first basenji breed club in the world. The rationale for accepting the breed in
Great Britain was obvious. It had been known by the outside world for more than 40
years as a naturally developed type, recognized as a geographically distinct breed
called the "Congo Terrier." The founding members of the original club were Mrs Olivia
Burn, Lady Kitty Ritson, Lady Helen Nutting, Major George Richards, M.C. and Miss
Veronica Tudor-Williams. Prior to writing the Standard, four of the five members had
actually known basenjis in their original habitat at the headwaters of the Nile River and
throughout the watershed of the Congo River in the heart of Central Africa.
According to Veronica Tudor-Williams, the two principal contributors who
described the breed for the official Standard, were Mrs Olivia Burn and Lady Kitty
Ritson. Lady Ritson bred German Shepherd Dogs and Mrs Burn bred Wire Fox
Terriers. Along with Mr K.B. Smith who had also known basenjis in their homeland, it
was this group of visionaries who drafted the first basenji Standard which has remained
the basis of all Standards for the breed. Their initial effort was distinctive because they
wrote the breed description with basenjis in front of them and endeavored to maintain
native ideal type instead of designing a blueprint for something yet to be achieved. The
Blean imports were the foundation of the breed and their points (both positive and
negative) were the basis of the original breed Standard.
Having scoured numerous notes, obituaries and tributes written in the wake of
the death of Veronica Tudor-Williams, as well as some of her own writings, I
incorporated several of the more revealing memories into this article. My hope is that
these reminiscences will open a window for a peek into the life and personality of this
incredible person whose legacy has touched all of us. Although I never knew her, I
would like to share some of the glimpses revealed through the words of those who did.
It is through this tribute to Veronica Tudor-Williams that I honor all of those who have
contributed to the breed and have passed ahead of us.
August 4th this year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Veronica TudorWilliams. Following what seemed to be her preference, she will be called Veronica in
this piece. At the age of 26, Veronica attended the first Committee meeting of the
BCOGB when the original breed Standard was agreed and is the only person who
participated when all subsequent versions were written. Witnessing the writing of the
first breed Standard, Veronica described herself as being so green and young that she
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merely listened while authors of the first formal breed Standard set down in writing the
ideal conformation based on the dogs they knew in the source population.
When she died, Veronica was the last surviving founding member of the
BCOGB. In her final years she was in constant pain. This was the result of a back
injury that included crushed and fractured vertebrae, which left her unable to walk and
virtually housebound for nearly three of those years. Additionally, she suffered from
congestion of the lungs resulting in numerous and reccurring attacks of bronchial
illnesses and pneumonia. Lilly Baldwin, Veronicas confidant, constant companion and
estate executrix, reportedly described Veronica as a very, very lonely lady burdened
by disability for much of her final decade and not unhappy at the prospect of departing
life.
Shortly after being taken to Molesey Hospital just outside London, Veronica,
President of the BCOGB since 1960 and life-long advocate of the breed, died peacefully
at 6:00pm. It was the evening before the Club's 50th anniversary. She was 76. Her
obituary noted that Veronica was survived by her last basenji, English and Australian
Champion Afrika Royal Challenge of the Congo (Aussie) who lived out his life on the
South Coast with Veronica's great friend, Bea Tolchard. Sadly, OUR DOGS issue
dated 4 August 1989 published a message written by Veronica. Her final note, printed
on the morning after her death, read: Our Golden Jubilee was going to be one of the
greatest days of my life. I even have a cloth-of-gold mandarin robe to wear on the day,
but a car accident put paid to all my dreams. I have a fractured spine, slipped discs,
must wear a surgical collar, and suffer agonizing neuralgia from concussion. This
happened four years ago. Now, I cannot even walk a step, let alone attend a Golden
Jubilee celebration, which was a lifes ambition after 52 years in Basenjis. Have a super
day and God bless you all. Veronica. The BCOGB Golden Jubilee Championship
Show, which she had so longed to be involved, began on 5 August 1989 with a minutes
silence in her memory. Her request was that there be no flowers at her funeral service,
but donations be sent to Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Responding to a collection taken up for her, Veronica wrote about the 50th
anniversary of the first basenji club (The Basenji, 1989) "the cause to which I am wholly
dedicated is spaying of bitches to stop this terrible problem of about a thousand healthy
dogs being destroyed each week. If the puppies are never conceived, they can't be put
down. I'd be thrilled to bits if basenji owners and others wished to contribute generously.
After all, we are (or should be) dog lovers before we are breeders and exhibitors. All
breeds must be concerned about this. I feel lately that perhaps I've wasted my time and
money in devoting my life to basenjis. Perhaps I should have found better things I could
do. But it is too late and now all I can hope is that my plan for a 52 year old Golden
Anniversary tribute be as suggested, a cheque for the spaying of bitches will be
approved as an extra good cause."
Veronica Tudor-Williams, born on 11 November 1912, was known variously as
the breeds first lady, the worlds most-renowned authority on the breed, the Lady of the
Basenjis, Mrs Basenji and the basenji breed doyenne. The youngest of three girls, she
was the daughter of a British naval hero, Captain Hugh Evan Powell Tudor-Williams, of
the Royal Navy. He died going down with his ship in an historic naval battle early in
World War I (1914-1919) when Veronica was still a very small child. Veronica's mother
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was the daughter of the eminent surgeon Sir Arthur Mayo-Robson who, according to
Veronica, had worked with Louis Pasteur in developing the rabies injections. As a
young woman, Veronica worked briefly as a journalist on Fleet Street. Her interests
included tennis, architecture and house restoration. She also designed jewelry and was
most interested in archaeology following her grandfathers involvement in the discovery
of King Tuts tomb (the Tomb of Tutankhamen) located in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt
in 1922. This may have led some to the speculation that the Curse of King Tuts Tomb
or the "Mummy's Curse" overshadowed the many early unsuccessful attempts to import
native stock basenjis.
Veronica's first two basenjis were purchased in 1937 from Blean stock bred by
Mrs Olivia Burn. The Sudan was one of the most actively governed of all the British
colonies or protectorates and almost every English expatriate home had one or more
basenjis as house pets. It was the many British members of the Sudan Defense Force
and presence of British missionaries that provided Veronica with access to native dogs.
With many personal contacts in Sudan, Veronica was keen to import additional dogs.
Devoted to expanding the gene pool by adding native imported stock, Veronica
imported a total of five native basenjis. In 1938 she was able to import a native bitch
named "Kandi" who quickly died from rabies contracted in Sudan. Then in 1939
Veronica imported a tricolor dog and a bitch from the Sudan-Uganda border. Neither
contributed positively to the breed. The dog was used at stud once and the bitch not at
all.
Most notably, during World War II Veronica was foremost in preserving the
breed despite difficulties of the time. Others who continued to maintain basenjis
included Pay-Commander L.R. Bishop and Miss C.P. Bishop (Pilon affix), Mrs A. Lait
(Fianna), Miss E.M. Gardner (Windymead), Mrs E.M. Lister-Empson (Ousefleet), Mr
W.J. Kent (Silvercaul), Mrs K. Sheppard (Tancor), Mrs F. Roberts (Sunnyshane), Miss
E.S.B. Barnaby (no affix) and before the war was over Delia Williams and Diane Berry
were breeding (according to the Basenji Registrations for the war years). Mrs Olivia
Burn was also breeding throughout the war years. They kept the breed even though the
Ministry of Home Security published a letter (dated 12 July 1940) detailing the
compulsory destruction of all dogs.
Veronica, living with her mother at Matham Manor (their countryside family
home in West Meon, Hampshire), maintained a core of dogs as breeding stock through
the war years (1939-1945) during which time very heavy in-breeding had to take place.
Her core breeding stock preserved the lines1 of Bashele of Blean, Bongo of Blean,
Bungwa of Blean, Bereke of Blean, Bokoto of Blean. She ensured that every sacrifice
was made to preserve the breed. She continued to breed despite the blitzkrieg
(bombings) and rationing. She successfully reared a number of litters. Milk was
impossible to get (if you didnt have a baby) so Veronica had milk powder sent from the
USA to supplement with weaning. She also kept milking goats. Veronica used to pick
through her neighbors trash to find anything edible for the dogs. She secured a small
petrol allowance to carry on the required travel in order to get slaughtered horsemeat
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Sires - Bashele of Blean imported 1937, Bongo of Blean imported 1936, Bungwa of
Blean imported 1938 and Dams - Bereke of Blean imported 1936, Bokoto of Blean
imported 1936.
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from the Downs (a racing track) that was considered unfit for human consumption. She
described the meat that had come from animals which had been buried for days, as
being quite "grim." Although it was sometimes green and stinking, she would cut it up
and the dogs flourished on it. Veronica also negotiated an allocation of "bombed
biscuits" from which she had to pick out pieces of glass carefully before feeding them to
the dogs. Remarkably during the war Veronica also exported basenjis to the USA and
Canada and these helped establish the breed in both countries. It is a measure of
Veronicas determination to continue the breed that she also retained additional
basenjis for herself from those she bred. She even rallied a war effort on behalf of all
British dog-owners known as the Fighter Fund to finance the purchase of a fighter
plane for England. Certainly, in a large part her dedication and determination kept the
breed going during that daunting time in history.
Under the affix of the Congo (OTC), Veronica was responsible for several
significant contributions. In 1941 she acquired Amatangazig, who had been imported in
1938. It is believed that Amatangazig was the source of the recessive tricolor gene in
the domestic breed. In 1942 her picture with some of her basenjis inspired great
interest in a series of newspaper stories, a book and a movie about "My Lady" the
basenji (the movie was released in 1956). In 1947 as a result of an accidental mating
between siblings, brother and sister Brown Trout OTC and Fern OTC produced a litter
of three; two were tricolors (Black Idol OTC and Black Magic OTC). This was the first
time this color had been seen outside Africa. She exported many basenjis as
foundation stock to countries all over the world. She popularized the breed by supplying
basenjis to the Royal Houses of Egypt, Monaco, the Netherlands, Romania and Saudi
Arabia, as well as through her writings found in many public books and articles (the first
on the breed was published in the Tailwagger Magazine, January 1940). Her early
books were considered by many to be the Basenji Bible. Her gift as a talented writer
ensured that the breed was always in the public eye. With her flare for public relations
and insistence on the importance of correct breed type, perhaps no one has done more
to promote the breed worldwide.
In November 1952 friends of Veronica who resided in Sudan found a native dog
in the village of Tembura near the Sudanese border with Central African Republic.
Veronica's friends, the MacGills, obtained the dog and called him "Fatty." He was
shipped to Veronica in wintertime England to begin the required six-month quarantine.
Upon completion of the quarantine period and having survived the required inoculations,
Fatty was released to Veronica with his newly acquired Kennel Club name "Wau" and
became one of the breed's most prolific sires.
In 1959 she embarked on her famous expedition with Lieutenant-Colonel John
Rybot and Mr Michael Hughes-Halls to the Congo and Southern Sudan border area in
search of genetic diversity to bring back to the narrow domestic basenji gene pool.
Fula, the ten-week old bitch she brought back, turned out to be just what Veronica
wanted to provide the foundation for her intensive line-bred program. Although never
shown and bred only twice, Fula is thought to have had a positive impact on the
progress of the breed more than any other dog, in any breed, has ever done. She also
brought back Tiger - Binza of Laughing Brook the first brindle to be brought out of
Africa. He was bred just once, by Michael Hughes-Halls, to Carmen of the Congo and

they produced two puppies, of which just one produced a single litter. Tiger was sent
back to Zimbabwe, Africa; to Michael who lived there at that time.
Certainly, as discussed above, Veronica was not alone in her efforts to establish
the breed outside of Africa. Mrs Olivia Burn was the original breed pioneer. She was
the first successful importer of basenjis when, in 1936 she started a breeding program
from seven native dogs brought from an area around Kwenge (Kikwit) in the Congo.
These dogs, namely Bongo (M), Bokoto (F), Bereke (F), Bashele (M), Basanga (F),
Bakuma (M) and Bungwa (M), all carrying the of Blean affix, constitute the initial gene
pool for all Basenjis in the western world before other founders were imported after the
war. These dogs were the origin /source of the breed in the Western world. Bongo and
Bokoto were the individuals whose type characteristics were the basis of the original
breed Standard. Over the years Olivia Burns had lobbied to get basenjis recognized as
a breed and the Kennel Club finally agreed to register them under the nomenclature
Basenji taken from a word proposed by Mrs Burn. She exhibited the first Kennel Club
registered Basenjis at Crufts in 1937, including Bongo and Bokoto, where they proved
to be a sensation. Mrs Burns lost Bongo after Crufts from distemper and she had the
arthritic Bokoto put to sleep. In the wake of those losses, she went to drive an
ambulance in France.
Lady Kitty Ritson was born Lady Kitty Edith Blanche Ogilvy on 5 February 1887.
She was married twice and had two children with her first husband, both of whom died
very young in 1914. She died on 17 October 1969. She is best known in the dog world
for having been a keen supporter of several breeds new to Britain in the 1920s and 30s,
including the Norwegian Elkhound and the Finnish Spitz. As well as writing many books
on dogs, she judged and also helped establish Guide Dogs for the Blind. She is the
author of the Tessa books series.
Lady Helen Nutting is predominantly recognized as a womans rights
campaigner. She led the fight to get every woman the right to access a proportion of
her husbands income. Lady Helen bred a number of litters while living in Sudan. In
1923 Lady Helen Nutting transported six basenjis native to the area along the
Congo/Sudan border west of Maridi. These basenjis had been with her for some time in
Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Unfortunately none of them survived the distemper
they contracted on arrival in Britain. When they went into quarantine, they were
inoculated with the experimental-stage distemper vaccine. All the dogs became ill and
died from the after effects of the injections.
Major George Richards of the British Royal Army in the Sudan Defense Force,
recipient of the Military Cross (British decoration for Gallantry and Meritorious service)
had kept basenjis in Sudan since 1920. When he returned to England in 1938 he
decided to bring a breeding pair back with him. He tried to import a black and white dog
and a tricolor bitch. However, the dog died from septicemia before leaving Egypt, after
being bitten by a jackal. The mahogany tricolor bitch, Nyanabiem, survived quarantine
in Britain but died within two years from an enlarged spleen. She was never bred and
was lost to the gene pool. Major Richards planned to attempt further importations but
tragically was killed while serving in Libya during World War II.
There were many other individuals whose contributions have left a legacy for us
to steward into the future including, but not limited to, Diane Berry, Mirrie Cardew,
Margaret Christy-Davies, Elspet Ford, Dorothy Key, Kath and Phyllis Juniper, Delia
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Williams and Jayne Wilson Stringer. The debt we owe these people and the many
unnamed others can only be repaid through our combined efforts to continue the
preservation and well-being of the breed as described in the Standard. Their legacy is
incomparable and their goals and ideals will live on in our dogs.