The Tchico

7th October 2015

A translation of George Métivier's dictionary entry for Guernsey's dread black dog, or Tchîco, p. 461. [By Dinah Bott]

Tchîco, s.m. The ancient dog, the dog of the dead.

Ancient forms, Guernsey and Cornish tchi, from the Gallic ki, dog, and ancient coh. In Morbihan coh means horn. We still say: La bête tehteo and toute la pêque [The beast Tehteo and all its catch].

This animal must have been the hell-hound, the dog of the dead, the dog à'An-duvn, of the abyss, of the tough Celtic warriors of Unellia, our motherland, who lived in what we now know as the Avranchin and Cotentin.

Scholars of the history of the French language will not regard the standard form of the word Tchîco as ever having been low or vulgar. Let the fastidious and precious scorn the humble ancestral tongue of this stubborn and conservative island of Guernsey, in which can be traced so much of interest to the scholar!

Tchîco, the dog of the dead, still haunts several places here that have been feared since time immemorial. There is, for example, the beast of the Tour Beauregard in St Peter Port, the fortress whose keeper was Sir Thomas de Beauchamp in 1376; the beast of the Boundary-stone of the Saumarez at St Martin; and the beast of the Fief de Rohais in St Andrew, where in olden times there was a prison, from which we get the Rue de la Bête. In addition, there is a Rue de la Bête on the traditional boundaries of the Fief de Lihou, and the Beast of the Rue Mase to the west of St Peter Port. This ghost dog is similar to the Mawthdog, sinister spectre of the old dungeons of the Isle of Man. Môth, in Irish, means male.

According to Amélie Bosquet, a famous writer of Norman romance, the Lord of Villeret, who beat his sister to death, returned night after night to the cursed ruins of his castle, in the form of a white hare. This brings to mind the Guernsey legend of Gautier de la Salle, supposedly the Bailiff under one of the Angevin kings, hanged, legend has it at St Andrew, for a crime similar to that of which, in 1563, Hostes Nicolle, Bailiff of Jersey, is accused in that island's Chronicles. The story goes (despite the total lack of evidence from our archives or from the acts of the contemporary kings), that Gautier de la Salle, who had long coveted a field belonging to his neighbour, a Massy or Matthieu, accused him of stealing two silver cups. The Bailiff, it is said, had hidden them himself in a haystack. Whether the story is true or not, suffice to say that, according to the imagination of credulous villagers who were not very familiar with Gaulish mythology, the ghost of Messire Gautier, in the shape of a white dog, still prowls, howls and barks, near a house in the country called the Ville au Rey [the Manoir of the Ville au Roi did indeed belong to Gaulthier de la Salle].

As for the Bailiff's Cross, a horizontal stone inscribed with a carved Gaulish thau, at the crossroads of the road that leads to the gibbet at St Andrew: it appears to be no more than a boundary stone marking the meeting of two fiefs, as is, for example, that of the Croix-au-Bailly in the parish of Election d'Eu in Normandy. See Ducange on the word thau iv 1075, and Masseville, Histoire Sommaire de Normandie, vol. 8, p. 564, Rouen: 1722.

However it may be, the ghost in the shape of a white dog occurs throughout history. He is the Baucho, in Gaelic Ki gwyn, the white dog of the Gaels. Bau cho is indeed not a name as such, but a nickname. Heinous crimes never escape the vengeful lashing of the popular tongue. With the help of one little word, repeated again and again through the centuries, the people, the dread executioner of fate's deadly condemnation, harasses and stabs at the impious and the tyrannical. That unnamed Thane of Lochaber who allowed his master, King Duncan, to be murdered, and who went on to betray his accomplice, the weak and cruel usurper Macbeth, thoroughly deserved the odious sarcasm of the epithet, white dog.

[He then goes on to talk about that 'old dog,' the fanatical Puritan, William de Beauvoir.]

Victor Hugo wrote about Guernsey's dogs of the dead in L'Archipel de la Manche, Chapter 10. His writer's fancy was taken with the 'Bodu' (whom he represents as having originally being a giant) and the white dog of the Ville au Roi, and he contrasted the 'black' dog against the white:

Il y a ... le géant Bodu, qui n'est plus qu'un chien noir par sa faute, ayant eu des galanteries avec une princesse, ce dont les fées l'ont puni. Ce chien noir, qui est Bodu, fait concurrence, dans les contes de bonnes femmes, au chien blanc, qui est Gaultier de la Salle, le bailli pendu. Les connaisseurs en fantômes ont, dans les Iles de la Manche, toutes sortes de variétés à étudier ... Dans ce pays-là, personne n'est bien aise de rencontrer, à la nuit tombée, une poule noire. 

 ... the giant Bodu, reduced to a black dog, for which he only had himself to blame; the fairies punished him for dallying with a princess. Bodu, in his form of a black dog, has a close rival in the old wives' tales in the form of the white dog, he being the hanged bailiff, Gaultier de la Salle. There all all sorts of subjects in the Channel Islands to interest students of the paranormal ... There, once night has fallen, people are scared even coming across a black chicken.

Discussions of the black dog in its various forms can be found in MacCulloch, Guernsey Folk Lore; Amy, Jersey Folk Lore p 167; Peddle, S V, Pagan Channel Islands; and is discussed at great length in Bois' Jersey Folk Lore and Superstitions, Chapters 1 ff. 'Tehteo the dog' is equivalent to 'the devil and all his legion'. That the Bodu haunts and gives his name to the Ville Baudu is almost certainly a philological construction. Baudu is a Norman name, a variant of Baudain, or Baldwin, owner or resident of the early settlement, or ville, that bears his name. Victorian philologists, unaware of this, but conscious of the ancient burial and sacred sites that abound nearby, as well as a supposed medieval slaughterhouse attached to the Priory, worked hard to justify a supernatural origin for the place name, and it would be interesting to know when the tales of a dog haunting this area first appeared. It may be down to Métivier himself: George Métivier mentioned the legend of the Bodu in a short article he wrote for The Star of July 20, 1878, entitled 'Cohu and Lainé.' 

Lainé, originally Lainécq, if one of our MS Terriers, or Livres de Perquage, may be relied on, reminds us of his ancestral abode, 'La Ville Baudu;' read 'Bôdu.' And is it not a shame that the only witness of the following witness should be ourself? About 110 years ago, a young lady, our nearest relative, soit dit en passant, while returning homewards with her playfellows, not far from 'La Hougue a la Perre,' was alarmed at the distant howlings of a dog. She immediately exclaimed, 'Oyous l'tchien Bôdu?' Now, strange to tell, this mysterious howler was no less a personage than Boduo, a giant, a tyrant, and a cannibal, according to the High-Dutch legend, deservingly transformed into a dog, and flung headlong into the boiling cauldron, a dark abyss or chasm, between two stupendous rocks, for ever and ever.

We transcribed the legend from Campbell's New London Magazine, while abroad, and sent it to the Star, many years ago.

The original article was published in the Star on March 6 1831:

Another ugly dog! A resident, perhaps, of the Ville Bôdu, whilom the slaughter-house of the Benedictine monks of St Michel du Valle. There was a time when the simple question, 'O tu l'chien Bôdu?' would have frightened away the gayest juvenile party in the twinkling of an eye. [There follows a lengthy rendition of the German story of the giant hound of the Hercynian forest.] Thus endeth the marvellous legend of Bohdo, the giant: it informs us how he was changed in to the black dog of the whirlpool.  How he came to the Norman Isles we have still to learn; there his dismal howlings were certainly audible within the recollection of many still living; and this 'airy nothing' has left in the parish of St Michael the Archangel 'a local habitation and a name.'

It seems likely that Métivier's contribution to the Star 'many years' previously influenced Victor Hugo's musings. Métivier was a dinner guest at Hauteville House and shared information with the writer about Guernsey's history and folklore. Several Celtic cultures have legends of two hell-hounds, one black and one white, to represent the world's polar opposites, so the presence of the Bodu in addition to the Tchîco is not surprising; the name of the Bodu may signify 'howling dog,'—which, as its often disembodied howling, (which, according to Alfred Naftel, 'portends an approaching death,') seemed to be its characteristic terrifying feature for our Guernsey ancestors, would be very appropriate.