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The True Origins of Hashing

The idea:

As I argued in an earlier post, the Hash House Harriers grew out of the Harriers. The main difference between us and those who came before is the “Hash House” in our name.

When you read about the various hash-style clubs and associations that date back to at least 100 years before the 1938 founding of the Hash House Harriers, it’s an inescapable conclusion.

People have been doing what we do, pretty much exactly the way we do it today, since the early 19th century. Back then they called it hare & hounds running, paper chasing, fox-hunting, beagling, and coursing. Groups that indulged in these activities were (and still are) called hare & hounds clubs, but more often harrier clubs.

In support of the idea:

The earliest print description of a hash-style run that I know of was published in 1857 in England, describing a run with the Big Side Hare & Hounds that occurred in the 1830s.

Tom Browns Schooldays

Tom Brown's Schooldays

From which, a brief excerpt:

The only incident worth recording here, however, was his first run at Hare-and-hounds. On the last Tuesday but one of the half-year, he was passing through the hall after dinner, when he was hailed with shouts from Tadpole and several other fags seated at one of the long tables, the chorus of which was, “Come and help us tear up scent.”

Tom approached the table in obedience to the mysterious summons, always ready to help, and found the party engaged in tearing up old newspapers, copybooks, and magazines into small pieces, with which they were filling four large canvas bags.

“It’s the turn of our house to find scent for Big-side Hare-and-hounds,” explained Tadpole; “tear away, there’s no time to lose before calling-over.”

And here’s an 1883 newspaper article about a weekend of hare & hound club runs near New York City.

The New York Times, November 30, 1883 (click to read entire article)

Again, a brief excerpt:

Thirteen minutes later, four of the number . . . sped away to the north of Flushing-avenue, scattering bits of paper as they ran. They were the hares of the club harriers . . . The course pursued by the hares lay over fields and through woods thick with underbrush . . . The hounds lost the trail once or twice, but kept together in good style . . . At 2 o’clock the harriers . . . sat down to a substantial Thanksgiving dinner . . . Uproarious fun characterized the feast. Waiters were paralyzed with chorus calls for food and chorus thanks . . . Then the harriers went out on the streets and for an hour wandered up and down, singing club songs and cheering everything and everybody, including standard time and the landlord.

The same NYT article gives details of two other hare & hounds runs set the same weekend, and describes the hares laying “throw-offs” and “doubling back,” confusing the pack with what we today call “false trails.” At post-trail celebrations, one harrier, a Mr. Borst, is described singing a song called “The Dude that Was Blown in the Window” — which can’t possibly mean what I think it means, can it?

If you’re interested, you can follow this link to read what I and others have written about the pre-1938 harrier clubs in what was then Malaya, clubs that Horse Thompson, Torch Bennett, and A. S. Gispert not only knew about but actually ran with prior to founding the Hash House Harriers: Springgit Harriers, Ipoh Harriers, Johor Bahru Harriers, even the Kuala Lumpur Harriers, which was active in the 1920s — and which admitted women!

In that blog post, the early harrier clubs in Malaya are repeatedly described as “following hash rules” by the veteran members of the Mother Hash who wrote about them. Many, including the veteran hasher who wrote the history I’ve included below the fold, mistakenly call them hashes — that’s how nearly identical the old harrier clubs were to modern day hashing.

If you’re a real glutton for punishment, you can follow this link to read about the young (and still healthy) Franklin D. Roosevelt laying trail for family paper chase runs on Campobello Island in the early 1900s, thus making him, IMHO, our first and only Hasher in Chief.

In summary:

The Hash House Harriers, the club founded by A. S. Gispert and others in Kuala Lumpur in 1938, was really just another in a long string of harrier clubs. At the time, harrier clubs had been around in England for at least 100 years, somewhat less time in the USA, and since the very early 1900s in Malaya. G and his buddies weren’t doing anything new, but were carrying on a fine old tradition.

Granted, the Hash House Harriers club that G founded thrived and spawned other Hash House Harriers clubs around the world, whereas most of the harrier clubs that came before us are gone (but not all; there are still some around today). But the main difference between them and us is the name. The details and spirit of hare & hounds running — how hares laid trail, what they used to mark it with, the basic tricks and techniques, the speeches and oratory afterward, the camaraderie, the alcohol-fueled celebrations that followed — would be instantly recognizable to any modern-day hasher.

When I share this idea with hashers, the most common argument I hear is this: “Yeah, but the harrier clubs didn’t drink, and we do, and that’s the difference.” It is true that the 1883 New York Times article doesn’t specifically mention alcohol, but I defy anyone to read the description of those early harriers wandering the streets after their post-trail “dinner,” singing and cheering, then tell me they didn’t wash down all that turkey with beer!

The second most common argument I hear goes something like this: “Yeah, but those hare & hounds runs were school events for children, whereas the hash is for adults.” Again, I refer you to that 1883 New York Times article. Those men may have learned harrier runs as schoolchildren, but they definitely carried the game into adult life.

What’s wrong with the idea that hashing is older than we thought it was? Mainly, I think, it’s that hashers believe acknowledging it will take something away from Gispert and the Mother Hash. I disagree.

Gispert founded the original Hash House Harriers. G will always be G; Mother will always be Mother. But hashing, under other names, has been around for a long time, and we should celebrate that fact. Knowing that hashing history goes back to at least the early 1800s makes me even prouder to be a hasher, doesn’t it you?

Below the fold: some additional HHHistorical information from a source I hadn’t seen before, but which seems sound.

This is from the home page of Cairns, Australia hasher Gil Jennex, and corroborates almost all of the information I outlined above:


The hunting of deer, hares & foxes using hounds or beagles goes far back into British history. As does the game of hare & hounds or cross-country racing, when two runners (the ‘hares’) layed a paper trail which was followed by their fellow runners (the ‘hounds’). It was known as “hare & hounds”, “paper hunting”, “paper-chaseing”, “coursing”, “fox-hunting”, “beagling”, “cross-country running” or “harriers”.

  • 1867 – Thames Hares & Hounds, Roehampton, west of London, first run.
  • 1898 – There was a cross-country race between England & France in Paris.
  • 1903 – The first cross-country championship was held in Glasgow. The participants were from the many amateur athletic clubs called “harriers”, which had grown up throughout the United Kingdom.With the arrival of other sports as cricket and rugby, the game became less popular. It was revitalized in Malaya in the 1920′s. The British in Malaya had developed an extensive government organization to administer the colonies or protectorates. These civil servants along with the British citizens in other occupations and businesses, produced large local expatriate communities where organized forms of ‘ hashing’ slowly grew in popularity.
  • 1913 – The Ipoh tin fields in Malaya started; here ‘harrier’ clubs were formed.
  • 1923 – In Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, there took place a ‘harrier’ paper chase on horseback.
  • 1927 – A Harriers was formed in Kuala Lumpur with men and women runners. It ended in 1932.
  • 1932 – A Hash was started in Jahore Bahru [I think he means "harrier" - FB].
  • 1934/35 – A Hash was started in Malacca [ditto - FB].
    “G” Gispert ran in the Malacca Hash, and Horse Thompson, one of the founding joint masters of the first HHH in Kuala Lumpur in 1938, ran with the Jahore Bahru Hash [ditto - FB].
  • 1938 (December) The Kuala Lumpur Hash House Harriers was started by “G” Gispert, and unlike other clubs, continued, even surviving World War II. Gispert, with many of his expatriate friends, was a member of the Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur . This club had a Selangor Club Chambers which was the living quarters of single members (including married men without their wives) with a dining room or mess . This mess although it had quite good food, was referred to jokingly or mockingly as the “Hash House”. With this in mind “G” named the new running club the “Hash House Harriers” or “HHH”. A phrase which might have contributed to its continuing popularity.

- Flying Booger

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