Happy Birthday to Australian horses!

Today is the birthday of all Australian horses and to celebrate I decided to write about shipping horses from Australia to India. Yes a rather unusual topic, but nevertheless a key story in our upcoming exhibition East of India: Power, Trade and Australia 1788-1857.  I have been spending my days trawling through historic newspapers, government records and diaries to find reports of shipping activities between Australia and India during the early years of European settlement.

Imports from India to Australia included flour, rice, muslin, chintz, shoes, furniture and rum. Unfortunately for the ship owners there were few goods available for export back out of Sydney. While John Macarthur is famous for introducing the merino sheep to Australia, he also bred horses and established the largest stud in the colony. In 1822 he sent the Governor General of India a stallion as a specimen of a ‘fine New South Wales horse’. Captain Collins was sent to Sydney from Madras in 1834, his mission was to purchase horses for the Madras artillery and dragoons. By the end of the year he had sent three shipments of horses to India. Independent agents and ship owners were also keen to make money and they began shipping horses direct, hoping to sell for a higher price.

"Shipping horses to India"

Illustrated Australian News 4 October 1882  ANMM Collection

Offloading horses in Madras was particularly hazardous as shown in this dramatic painting from the collection of the Mitchell Library.

There was an absence of natural deep waters in the Madras region, so small country boats were sent out to meet the larger sailing ships. The horses were swung into the boats, and they were then taken to shallow waters, where the boats were capsized and the horses forced to leap out and somehow reach the shore. Daniel Wilson was responsible for looking after the horses onboard the Henrietta on a journey from Sydney to Calcutta and an excerpt from his fascinating diary held in the Mitchell Library illustrates one of the difficulties the horses faced on the journey.

‘Sunday 18th Feby. 1844-1845
We have now a great deal of trouble with the horses, they are quite worn out with standing so long on their legs that they are falling down every morning, especially Bowmans horses which are in very bad condition, being so when shipped.’

We are still working out how to tell the story of the horse trade in an effective and dynamic way for visitors. We could display paintings and reproduce historic advertisements or perhaps record dramatised accounts of diary entries with sound effects of loading horses onboard ship in the background. Another approach might be to interview a vet involved in shipping horses in the twenty-first century to reflect on the challenges involved.

While life onboard was difficult for all the crew and passengers, I feel especially sorry for the poor horses.

East of India: Power, Trade and Australia 1788-1857 opens in June 2013 and we will be posting regular updates on various aspects of its development over the next twelve months.

20 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to Australian horses!

  1. Greetings from India. It was nice to read your post about the history of the horse trade and your exciting June 2013 project. I’ve been studying the history of Walers for some years now in connection with my research in India, England and Australia on the subject of horses in my country’s history, including the period of the British Raj. I’m sure you’ve come across A. T. “Sandy” Yarwood’s seminal work on Walers and Keith Binney’s ” Horsemen of the First Frontier”. Jill Mather, based in Wyong,near Sidney,(who is in communication with me), has also published a book about these horses, ‘the forgotten heroes of Australia’ . I recently unearthed interesting material in the Royal United Services Institute, London about Australian horses after they were landed in India, their acclimatization after the long ship voyages and other aspects. If you need any help with historical references/ research material/bibliography on Walers in preparation for your exhibition next year ,do let me know, I’m happy to send these to you .Kind regards : John Britto.

    • Hi John, Thank you for your offer of help. I’ve only just started researching the horse trade and it is just one topic we look at in the exhibition. I have consulted the book by Yarwood and am keen to locate further information about Australian horses in India. Do you know if the Royal United Services Institute holds any illustrations or paintings of horses? Cheers Michelle

    • Dear John,

      My name is Suzanne Poré and I am the NSW Coordinator for the WHSA. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind contacting me via porey1@gmail.com. I am hoping that you could assist me with my research into the Waler Horse in India after the early 19’s.

      Looking forward to hearing from you,


  2. There is considerable information on the Australian horse trade with India availailable on the “Trove” site. The National Library of Australia are progressively digitalising Australian newspapers from 1803 and it is a great source.

    Keith Binney

  3. Hi Michelle and John,

    Just found these entries… relating to horse exports to India. I would be interested in anything you find relating to Bungarribee and the venture run by Captains Dallas and Apperley, when they leased Bungarribee from Charles Smith’s estate (Feb 1845 – Feb 1847). Trove newspapers do indeed provide answers in place of previous speculative opinion. Daniel Wilson (mentioned above) was probably related to Charles’ wife, Ann, nee Wilson. Records show intertwining business interests between Smith and Wilson families, and there was a Daniel Wilson in the family tree.

    John WSM

    • Dear John ,
      A belated reply to your post. Greetings from India.
      You’ve probably come across the numerous references to Captains Dallas and Apperley, Bungarribee and Charles Smith in A. T. Yarwood’s book on Walers. Perhaps you’ll find further data in the Leslie Letters that are referred to (in the bibliography of Chapter 4: annotations 20 and 21) on page 209 of the book. There are a few references on page 17 of ” the Horse in Australia” by Fiona Carruthers pub by Random House, Australi 2008, but I daresay these are from Sandy Yarwood’s book too.

      John Britto

      E: dr.johnbritto@gmail.com

  4. Hi John
    Our exhibition East of India Forgotten trade with Australia opens on 1 June, so we are counting down here at the the museum. We are displaying a painting of the Bungarribee estate dating from around 1847 that the State Library of NSW is kindly lending us for display. We do not go into a lot of detail about the individuals mentioned above, but we do give an overview of the horse trade and are displaying some great items focused on the sale of Australian bred horses in India. I hope you have a chance to visit the exhibition. Kind regards Michelle

    • Hi Michelle,
      That would be one of the T. Rider paintings, commissioned by Capt Dallas in 1845-46 during the height of the enterprise, when Bungarribee was leased for two years. Dallas lured various artists to the estate, on the basis of receiving a paid commission to record the venture. There is also a rough sketch by Henry Curson Allport (the original painting went with Capt Apperley, which his son had in the early 1900s). The Rider paintings auctioned in England, had also probably gone with Apperley, as Dallas died in Calcutta, in Dec 1848. Such was their impact on Sydney society and the economy, Capt Apperley and his wife Catherine, were cast in wax, before their departure in April 1847 for India. Charles Smith (of Bungarribee) and Charles Roberts were very active in the horse trade with India, as featured in many articles on Trove.

      Did you come by any horse paintings from the colonial times? If they survive, few are known or have been found by others focused on Australian horse breeding.

      Good luck with the June exhibition. Kind regards, John WSM

      • Hi John

        Yes the painting is by T. Rider. Thanks for the additional information, I hadn’t heard about the wax castings, how fascinating. As I mentioned I have not done exhaustive research on the horse trade as the exhibition covers numerous topics. I haven’t come across additional horse paintings, with the exception of those fairly well known in library collections.
        Thanks for the good luck, we are now counting down and are quite busy installing the show.
        Kind regards
        Michelle Linder

  5. I have done some work on the horse-traders, but in the 20th century. My article may be of interest, ‘The Australian horse traders winter in Calcutta 1930’, JOSA Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia October 2008, Vol. 39-40 Part One pp. 37-49.
    I look forward to seeing the exhibition in July.

    • Would it be possible to scan and email me a copy of your article please ?

  6. Hi John

    I will provide you with Margaret Allens email address and you can contact her directly to obtain a copy of the article. Kind regards

    • Thank you, Michelle. Looking forward to ANMM eventually publishing a catalog/ book of exhibits (including those relating to the Waler horse trade with India) for enthusiasts like me who, sadly ,cannot attend the exhibition. All the best for the show.

  7. I thought I might see a saddle I know as the Indian military saddle at the exhibition. A cheaper saddle advertised as ‘never known to give a horse a sore back’. Maybe it dates from a later period. It looks like a pack saddle with a seat over the top.

  8. Great Stuff! I too have stumbled onto this Horse export of Mounts from New South Wales to India via my research into the Campbell family of St.Lawrence Qld. St.Lawrence was used as a Dumping ground by Campbell & Co and many thousands of wild horses wound up in the region. When the Australian Dept .of Defence took over Shoalwater Water Bay in 1965-6 era there were huge numbers of wild horses in the Region. In !859-60, Henry Augustus Campbell inherited the Selection of Waverly Plains held by Messes Campbell & Co ( Tertius) 3rd Party. He, H.A.Campbell sold one section – Tooloomba to John Douglas M.L.A of Talgia Station and another section Waverly Plains to Mr John Arthur Macartney. Information; Carmel Fox, nee Smith

  9. Hello: this is a message for John Britto. Dear John, you are doing very interesting work!!!! Do you know anything about horse breeding in Bihar (Pusa) and horse importation a.o. from Australia to Bengal? Thanks and regards

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