An equine history of the Shire

Dungog Shire, well known for its beef, timber and dairy industries, is perhaps less is known of its long history of horse breeding. We all know that horses played a major role in the days before the motor car, and the Williams, Paterson and Allyn River valleys, as usual, made some interesting contributions to this.

It was common for the earliest landowners to advertise their best horses for stud. This is what Edward Cory at Gostwyck did in 1827, breeding with such horses as Young Cameron and continuing to do so until at least 1837. A horse famous in its day – Chilton – was owned by John Hooke of Hooke Street, Dungog. Though he sold this prized horse not long before he moved his family to the Williams River, John Hooke, and some at least of his many sons, continued to breed horses into the 1840s. Also on the Williams River in 1846 the Maitland Mercury tells us that: ‘… Mr. Chapman [of Chapman Street] was the largest proprietor of horse stock in this part of the country, and the best judge of that noble animal’. Over on the Paterson River at Trevallyn, George Townshend was also breeding horses in the late 1820s, and in 1846, Indiaman, advertised as being ‘bred by G. Townshend, Esq’, was described as ‘a beautiful bay, with black points’.

Such prominent landowners were not the only ones to breed horses, and conveniently located innkeepers often stood stallions, such as Thomas Jones at the Settlers Arms Inn at Paterson. At a later period a Mr Mayo at Cardoness, ‘well known on the turf’ was also reported to be breeding horses, and at Tocal, horse breeding took place along with a Hereford stud at the end of the 19th century.

In the 19th century horses were not only thoroughbred for racing, with many horses being what was termed ‘part bred’ or ‘bush thoroughbreds’. Such horses became very popular with the British Army in India where horses imported from New South Wales became known as ‘walers’. This export market to India seems to have taken off in the 1830s and William Arnold on his Allyn River property of Wortwell, was certainly one such breeder within what was to become the Dungog Shire. It is not clear how many referred to as horse breeders at this time were doing so for this overseas trade.

A final interesting horse connection of Dungog Shire district well worth noting is that of Charles Bruce Lowe. Charles Bruce Lowe was the son of William Lowe who built Australia’s first ocean going steamship the William IV at Clarence Town. Born at Clarence Town, Charles Bruce Lowe, or simply Bruce Lowe, developed what he termed ‘Breeding Racehorses by the Figure System’, a system that is now the basis of a world standard system for assessing thoroughbred horses.