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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Listen to the ABC radio interview given by Library staff
- Read more at the National Museum of Australia
- Read about the life of Francis Birtles in the Australian Dictionary of Biography
- Borrow the book Francis Birtles by Warren Brown (at 86 libraries around Australia)
- Check out more of the story in Trove Newspapers
Not sure where to start your research? Stuck somewhere along the way? Ask a Librarian.
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