Wowser or Bud? The mystery of the goggled dog

Wowser or Bud? The mystery of the goggled dog
A thrilling tale of conflicting captions, critical enquiry and original sources
6 January 2015

In our previous Ask a Librarian blog post, we shared just a few examples of the hundreds of research questions we receive each month. We now take you on one question's journey.

Question: I've seen your Fashionable Eyewear album in Flickr and have a question about one of the photos: 'Clive Birtles at the wheel of the car with the dog, Wowser'. I've seen the same photo on other websites claiming that it's the American adventurer, Horatio Nelson Jackson, with his dog, Bud, in 1903. What’s the real story? Is it Wowser or Bud?

[Clive Birtles at the wheel of the car with the dog, Wowser] in the Fashionable Eyewear album of the National Library of Australia's Flickr Commons

The search for Bud

At the heart of the matter is trust—how can we trust what a picture claims to be? Let's start by examining the conflicting captions. A good way to get a quick overview of where this picture appears across the Internet is to do a Google image search, starting with "Horatio Nelson Jackson" and Bud. What we're looking for is a solid citation that tells us where the picture came from—its source. A reliable source is invaluable. It helps people to investigate the accuracy of the caption and, importantly, to track down the original picture and find out more about it. Who took it? What story does it tell? Are there more pictures in the series?

In our search results, we find that three websites do indeed imply that the image shows Bud with Horatio Nelson Jackson. They tell the story of Jackson and his driving partner, Sewall K. Crocker, the first people to drive an automobile across the United States in 1903. Along the way, they adopted a pit bull named Bud.

Two of these websites don't provide a source for their photographs. We'll ignore those, because they don't help us learn anything further about the picture. The third website, Coastal Canine magazine, has a feature about Bud in the Summer 2014 issue, written from Bud's point of view, no less. The photos used are 'Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Vermont.' At last, a breakthrough—a citation with the source of the image! But alas, when we check the University of Vermont Library's Special Collections, we can't find the photo. The plot thickens.

The search for Wowser

Since we’ve found no evidence for the 'Bud' claims, let's try another Google image search for "Clive Birtles" and Wowser. Happily, two Australian websites say the dog is Wowser with Clive Birtles. One of these, 666 ABC Canberra, says the photo we're looking for is held at the National Library of Australia.

We're getting closer! The Library is a source you can definitely check. You can search the Library's catalogue to find the digitised photograph. You can visit the Library to look at the original photo in the Francis Birtles motor car tour collection, ca. 1899-1928, of which this photo is a part. Or you can Ask a Librarian to check it for you, as our reader did.

Wowser found

How can we trust what a picture claims to be? The great virtue of being able to check the original items in the Library's collections is that we can examine the physical item for clues. This picture travelled decades to reach us and we received it as a precious box of photographs by Francis Birtles. Helpfully, most of these photos had pencilled annotations handwritten on the back, which help to identify each photograph. As you can see, 'Clive Birtles and Wowser' is written on the back of this particular photograph.

Handwritten description on the back of the photograph, "Clive Birtles and Wowser"

Want to know more?

And so this Ask a Librarian mystery is solved. But now that we've confirmed that the dog in the picture really is Wowser, you may like to find out more about Francis Birtles and his dogs.

Francis Birtles (1881-1941) was an Australian overland adventurer, photographer, film maker and writer. This picture may have been taken during a motoring expedition along the coastal lands of eastern Australia. His brother Clive was one of the expedition members. On these trips, Birtles almost always travelled with a companion dog. One of these was Wowser. You may already know another of his goggled dogs, Dinkum, shown below.

Francis Birtles' dog Dinkum behind the wheel of a car, Australia?, ca. 1924

In his book Battle Fronts of Outback (1935), Birtles writes, 'For sole companion I had a bulldog. He looked on the world with such a fixed expression of disapproval that I called him Wowser' (p. 44). Dogs, like people, needed goggles to protect their eyes from dust and sun in the harsh conditions of a windblown motoring expedition. Wowser and Birtles would go on to travel 30,000 miles (almost 50,000km) together, through high points and low. 'It is strange how,' Birtles writes, 'a dog always tends to keep a man's feelings away from self' (Across Australia in the Track of Burke and Wills', The Mirror of Australia, 11 December, 1915).

There are plenty of options to find out more:

Not sure where to start your research?  Stuck somewhere along the way?  Ask a Librarian.

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Comment: 
Strictly speaking you have confirmed that there is a caption on the back of the physical photograph at NLA that corresponds with your catalogue, which was taken from the note on the back of the photograph - which presumably was how the cataloguer came to create the title in the first place. Was the note on the back written conteporaneously? I suspect not. While there is some correspondending relational evidence, insofar as the collection was presumably formed by Francis Birtles or someone close to him (unfortunately the provenance isn't noted in the collection level record, which only references a NLA file number), there isn't corroborating evidence to confirm that it is Clive Birtles in the photograph. There is also the note in the volume mentioned to note that he had bulldog, but that is about it. Interestingly there appears to be only one other photograph on Trove identified as Clive Birtles (http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/15556069), which is indistinct. Oddly despite the breadth of the Birtles collection none of the other photographs in the Birtles collection would appear to include Clive. One of the Fairfax glass negatives includes Francis and another person who is unknown (http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn6296413), perhaps Clive - though certainly not similar to the person in the image in question. It is also curious that none of the other Birtles images contains a photograph of the same dog, given that he travelled so far with him, but only Dinkum. The best images that I can locate of Bud are here - http://amhistory.si.edu/onthemove/exhibition/exhibition_7_2.html - which includes a contemporary image of Bud's goggles, both are in the Smithsonian, but these are unfortunately unclear.
Comment: 
Hi Nick, Sue and I co-wrote this blog – we appreciate your taking the time to comment. Cataloguers use many resources to confirm an item’s description when creating its catalogue record, including contemporaneously published materials. Francis Birtles himself published many contemporary accounts of his expeditions in books, newspapers and magazines. He first used an image of his brother Clive and Wowser in an article in the monthly magazine ‘The Lone Hand’ (July 1, 1913; this magazine has not been digitised, but is held at several Australian libraries: http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/26870578). The National Museum of Australia provides a copy of this image at http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/glorious_days/about (the image is very similar to the one held in the National Library’s collection, but is taken from a different angle). Birtles reused the image to illustrate a newspaper article about his 1915 expedition following the track of Burke and Wills, on which he was also accompanied by Clive and Wowser. You can read many historical, digitised articles about Birtles’ expeditions at the Trove newspapers link provided at the end of the blog post. Some collection donors prefer to remain private; in those cases we don’t include their names in catalogue records. There are other images of both Wowser and Clive Birtles in the Library’s ‘Francis Birtles motor car tour collection’ (http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn3300502). I was delighted to find an image of an ungoggled bulldog, again with a pencilled annotation ‘Wowser’ handwritten on the back (PIC/8381/411 LOC Album 1054/D). A close comparison of the Wowser images reveals a consistent and distinctive distribution of nose dimples on the dogs depicted. I solemnly aver that the dogs in these images are the same. As we discussed in the blog post, and as you have found in your own searches, not every piece of a research puzzle is available online. The great virtue of our research Library is that it brings together a wealth of diverse resources – published books, journals, newspapers, original manuscripts, pictures and digitised items. These complementary materials enable researchers to find the connections between sources, and reconstruct a more detailed picture of the past. If you’re able to visit the Library, you’re welcome to view our collections in person. If you can’t make it in person, don’t hesitate to contact our Ask a Librarian service. Either way, librarians can help you find resources that will allow you to analyse historical ‘puzzle pieces’ from different angles: http://www.nla.gov.au/askalibrarian
Comment: 
Hi Sue and Renee, Thank you for the additional information, which substantially adds to the information provided in the initial blog posting, particularly the corroborating information included in the NMA reference. As does the newspaper illustration of Wowser on Trove, which for reference is: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104645013. Having searched through the Birtles collection, prior to my previous response, I saw that there was no other textual references to Clive, and a follow up visual search didn't locate any either. The only other reference to Wowser is the image of Wowser's grave site (http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn6097546), which doesn't really add much. Similarly having previously searched Trove for digitised newspapers with illustrations, didn't include an image of Clive, though the link you refer to doesn't refer to Clive, just to Wowser. I am a librarian/archivist (and used to work in rerefence at the NLA) so I appreciate the sources that go into both the creation of catalogue records as well as the sources, and that the picture provided in your blog post wasn't necessarily the full research that was undertaken to compose the blog, thank you for the additional information.