How Dogs Shaped our Colonies

The original Colonies of NSW and WA c1832The original Colonies of NSW and WA c1832

In 1788, the British landed in Sydney, New South Wales. Instead of respecting the rights of Aboriginal people who had lived in Australia for thousands of years, the British claimed the entire continent of Australia as their own. At first, as illustrated, the British governed it as two independent colonies. Then in 1901, Australia became an independently governed Nation with the six separate areas we now call States, each having separate laws.

Due to the different climate and terrain across what was first called the Colony of New South Wales, Australia's vast size resulted in our dogs developing differently. To simplify our dog breeds' history, we shall consider this development under the headings of the separately governed States we know today.


Rough Coated Terrier c 1850Rough Coated Terrier c 1850

Tasmania was previously called 'Van Diemans Land' named in 1642 when Dutchman Abel Tasman first discovered it. He incorrectly thought it was part of mainland Australia and named it after the head of the East India Trading Company. For at least 5,000 years, Van Diemans land had been isolated from the rest of Australia! During this time, the Aboriginal people had lived in harmony with its unique wildlife. The lack of Dingos and the island's temperate climate, similar to that of Britain, was attractive to potential British settlers seeking their fortunes!

In 1804, Lieutenant Colonel Paterson, described as an 'ardent botanist' first put livestock into Van Diemans Land. He arrived on the banks of the River Tamar in the north of the island, with his party of 184 persons and  livestock which included 612 cows from Bengal, which cost the English Government £15,350 and formed the nucleus of the cattle herds. That same year, Merino sheep came from Macarthur's flock in New South Wales. During the next decade sheep would be back-loaded to Britain and beyond with not only wool but also with meat for the growing trade in Britain.

Meanwhile in 1804 Hobart Town in the south of the island, it was the second British city to be developed in the penal colony of New South Wales. Situated on the southern coast of the island. With the development of the permanent settlement of Hobart, the Rough Coated Terrier from the Isle of Skye in Scotland arrived there and eventually was developed into our first national dog, the Australian Terrier. There must have also been Sheepdogs in Hobart Town by this time because newspapers recorded they were exempt from paying Dog Registration fees!


In the early 1800s, some 84,476 cattle, 553,698 sheep and 2,034 horses were charging wildly through delicate virgin terrain and impacting the ground[8]. By the 1830s numbers of sheepdogs and their shepherds had also arrived there. Because these came after delivering stock to the Smithfield market in London, these dogs became known as Smithfields. One 1835 report that 11 shepherds with 12 women, and a due proportion of collies or shepherd's dogs from the Scottish area of Lochaber in Inverness, sailed to Van Diemen's Land[5]. In 1848 these sheepdogs which, together with their shepherds, accompanied the sheep that were exported to USA where they became known as the Australian Shepherds.

The development of the sheep industry changed the pristine island of Van Dieman's Land forever. From 1804-1830 the British grabbed land grab which caused violent conflict with the Aboriginal Tasmanians. Known as the 'Black Wars', this almost exterminated the indigenous inhabitants. To make matters worse, the British put a 'pest control programme' in place which not only put bounty on the heads of Tasmania's Aboriginal people, it caused much of Van Dieman's Land's unique wildlife species to be hunted to extinction.

In 1856, the name Van Diemen's Land was changed to remove the unsavoury criminal connotations associated with its original name. Consequently, it was renamed Tasmania after the British explorer George Bass who, in 1798 had confirmed it was an island separate from the rest of the Colony of New South Wales. By 1877 the island was no longer a penal settlement.

The Thylacine (or Tasmanian Tiger)


The Thylacine is included here because resembles a dog in outline. Until the Dingo arrived in Australia, the now extinct Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger once inhabited the complete mainland. However, it became extinct in Tasmania because the early British settlers believed it might act like a dog and kill their sheep.

The Thylacine was not a dog. Instead it was a harmless marsupial which carried its young in a rear-facing pouch. Although carnivorous and weighing about 30 kilos, its intimidating 90° gape was only capable of killing small marsupials. What a pity these interesting marsupials were so mercilessly exterminated[2].


Australian KelpieAustralian Kelpie

The first British settlement in what is now Victoria began in 1834 when Edward and Stephen Henty arrived in Portland. Their tumultuous journey from Van Dieman's Land took 34 days for their ship, 'the Thistle' to sail across Bass Strait. This was because the West-North-West gale force winds blew them back to King Island six times! Their cargo included labourers, bullocks for transport and all provisions necessary for them to survive[1]. After a battle with the Aboriginal people for rights to a beached whale, the two Henty brothers headed north.

One month later, Edward and Stephen were joined by a third brother, Francis. In 1835 it is reported that Stephen imported 15 sheepdogs into country where Australia's native dog, the Dingo roamed. Surreptitious matings between the Dingo and these sheepdogs would have no doubt occurred which was arguably the beginning of the Australian Kelpie.

After the Henty brothers' land grab in 1837, they built Merino Downs[4]. Situated 80 kilometres north east of Portland, by 1848 the land they and other squatters had grabbed land had spread across 77,000 acres (over 120 square miles). It ran some 30,000 sheep!  Land grabs by the Hentys and other British families caused such conflict with Aboriginal people that some of them retaliated by killing the British settlers' sheep[6]! Dingos, rather than the native people, were blamed!

Pyrenean Mountain Dog in traditional rolePyrenean Mountain Dog in traditional role

A second land grab happened in 1837 when Irishman Samuel Pratt Winter also took also some sheep from Van Diemans Land to Portland. From there he travelled northward to Wannon River in Victoria's Western District where he established his own sheep station.

In 1841 Pratt sailed back to Ireland and then to France where he purchased a number of Pyrenean Mountain Dogs to use as Livestock Guardian Dogs back in Victoria. When wide open spaces were the norm, Pratt used these dogs in their traditional role of keeping the sheep together in flocks and protecting them from being stolen prospective gold miners or killed by crossed-bred Dingos. After Winter died in 1878, there was no further record of Livestock Guardian Dogs in Australia until 1939 when they were imported for show purposes[9].

South Australia

Murray River Retriever c 1863-1873Murray River Retriever c 1863-1873

In the mid-1830s around South Australia's capital, Adelaide, the district began to develop where there was potentially excellent agricultural land. Quick-growing crops of wheat and other primary produce fed the early settlers. Steamboats that sailed along the Murray River provided a convenient inland connection and a means of trading goods between South Australia and rest of the New South Wales Colony. By the 1850s and beyond, early settlers on these steamboats were also responsible for the development of Australia's only Gundog, the Murray River Retriever.

Unlike the rest of Australia, British colonisation of South Australia was not as a penal settlement. Instead, its early settlement included a town called Hahndorf which was developed by Germans escaping persecution. This was the first settlement in The New South Wales colony planned for and settled by non-British immigrants. The German settlers' dogs became known as German 'Coolies' which was how the Germans pronounced the British name 'Collies'. Until the 1900s these became famous for working the livestock in South Australia.

However, the political situation changed around 1900 when British-German conflicts became so intense it caused World Wars One and Two. This made everything with German connotations so politically incorrect that even the famous German Shepherd Dog was called an 'Alsatian'! Consequently the German Coolies' claim to fame was shunned and their name eventually was spelt with a 'K' to differentiate them from British Collies. Today, although Koolies still exist, they have not yet attained ANKC recognition.

New South Wales (NSW)

Australian Cattle DogAustralian Cattle Dog

George Hall was a British free-settler from Northumbria in northern England where Shorthorn cattle have existed since the 1700s. Additionally, in the same district working dogs called 'Curs' and Welsh Welsh Grey (or blue merle) Herding dogs have been described[3].

In 1802 George and his wife Mary arrived in NSW with their four small children on a ship called the 'Coromandel'.  Once settled in Australia, George and Mary Hall's family expanded to six sons and three daughters. Of these, Thomas who was born Hawkesbury, NSW in 1808, fulfilled his father's dream to create:

1. A breed of cattle suitable for unimproved holdings and
2. A working dog that could cope with wild cattle's independent nature and unwillingness to co-operate unless bullied.

Australian Cattle Dog StampAustralian Cattle Dog Stamp

Driven by these ambitions, while still a teenager Thomas ventured north of Sydney with his older brothers into what is now known as the Hunter Valley region. They settled on land they had previously scouted and  established their home, "Dartbrook". From there, He also oversaw the development of another property at "Gundebri" in the upper Hunter Valley region of NSW. Eventually their holdings totalled over one million acres (over 1,500 square miles)!

The Halls were among the British whose settlement caused the land to be cleared of the Aboriginal people who had previously lived there for thousands of years. When the British grabbed land, with the advantage of using horses and guns, one can only speculate how many lives this cost the Aboriginal people who only had primitive spears in defence.

Polled short-horn cattlePolled short-horn cattle

Back to his father's dream, Thomas imported polled short-horn cattle from Northumbria in Northern England and oversaw the development Hall family's cattle empire. These cattle were handy for the new Colony because they were one of the earliest pure cattle breeds capable of producing both milk and meat. Thomas religiously kept a Stud Book for the development of these cattle.

Simultaneously, Thomas also a imported two working types of dogs also from Northumbria in Northern England described as 'Curs' and the blue merle Welsh Grey Herding dogs. Adding Dingo to the mix undoubtedly caused the same sort political bias described in the development of the Australian Kelpie. Consequently, upon Thomas Hall's death, sadly the Stud Book for the cattle dogs he created was destroyed. However, his legacy remains in one of the most famous dog developed here which today is called the Australian Cattle Dog.


Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle DogAustralian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog

The land grab in Queensland and the north of Australia also saw the ruthless carnage of Aboriginal people in order to develop huge cattle empires. This required a dog similar to the Australian Cattle Dog, but even keener.

Thomas Hall died in 1870. In 1871, one of Thomas Hall's former competitors Jack Timmins bought those of Hall's Australian Cattle Dogs which were either tailless or short-tailed. Timmins then selectively bred these to create a different strain that was even more courageous than Hall's dogs, so they could cope with long-distance droving in rough country, as well as semi-wild cattle on even larger holdings. These were called Stumpy Tail Cattle Dogs.

It was recorded:

.. when a big double X bullock broke away, Jack (Timmins) set his dogs on him. They went straight for the nose. One pinned him by the nose and the other went back between the bullock's legs to nip its testicles. The bullock turned a complete somersault (as you would) got up, shook itself, looked around and galloped back into the mob, bellowing, with the dogs  heeling him as he went'.[7] 

By 1872, the railway arrived in the upper Hunter. Additionally, by the early 1900s road stock transport had became the preferred way of transporting cattle long distances to market. This reduced demand for such hard dogs. With little popular patronage, by the late 1800s the Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog was almost extinct. Later, it was finally revived by Australian pure breed dog enthusiasts.


On January 1st 1901, Australia became a Federation leaving colonialism behind. Instead, Australia's individual States became self-governed, overseen by a Federal Parliament. Consequently, with both State and Federal Government funding, railways and roads became the preferred way to transport cattle and sheep to sale-yards and markets not only Australia-wide but also to ports destined for overseas. This reduced demand for our hard-working dogs Cattle Dogs. However today, our Australian breeds have become iconic, with different roles to fill. Revived by the pure breed dog fraternity, they have attracted a new generation of enthusiasts. Lets hope their history and heritage is never forgotten!

References and Further Reading

[1] Letter by Mr Edward Henty to his brother, dated November 22, 1834. Published in "Portland Guardian" (Vic.) Thursday, 13th January 1927.

[2] Fleay, D. 1946 On the Trail of the Marsupial wolf. Vict. Nat. 63:129-35, 154-9, 174-7.

[3] Thomas Bewick , 'the History of Quadrupeds' in First Published 1789 by Longman and Co. London and Wilson and sons, York.  Pages 329-30

[4] Eric Rolls 'A Million Wild Acres, 200 years of Man and the Australian Forest' Published by Thomas Nelson (Australia) 1981, Chapter 3 'The Squatters - the Rules Ignored' Page 66

[5] The Hobart Town Courier, 11 November 1836

[6] Michael Pearson & Jane Lennon, 'Pastoral Australia' Fortunes, Failures and Hard Yakka' A Historical Overview Published by CSIRO Publishing 2010 Chapter 1 Genesis 1788 - 1830 Page 4

[7] Guy Hull, 'the Dogs that Made Australia' (Harper Collins Australia, Sydney NSW 2000) Chapter 8  'Halls Heelers and Timmins Biters Build a Beef Empire ' Pages 165-170

[8] W.N. Hurst 'A Short History of Land Settlement in Tasmania', published by the Tasmania Government Printer 1938.

[9] Portland Kennel Club and Top Dog Journal Archives ' Pyreneans 150 Years in Australia' Published by Top Dog Journal January 1994 Page 12.