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Halls Heelers


HALL'S  HEELERS - Origins Of The Cattle Dog in Australia

Excerpts from the Abridged Version 2000

Author: A.J. (Bert) Howard 

"Pinemist", Robertson,  Australia 2577

ęCopyright 2004

This work is copyright and may not be copied or reproduced without the written permission of the author, A.J. Howard, "Pinemist", Robertson, NSW, Australia 2577, or his assigns.

Quotations from this work may be made provided proper accreditation is given the author.

This text is an update of the author's work published in "Over-Halling the Colony", Australian Documents Library, Southwood Press, Sydney, 1990 edition, ISBN 0 908219 07 5

Thomas Hall (1808-1870)

The 1828 census, and family records, tells us that Thomas Simpson Hall, colony born and bred, was residing on Dartbrook Station. This property was in the Upper Hunter Valley region, located over the Hunter River from the present day township of Aberdeen. During the period of drought(1825-1830) Thomas set about improving the quality of cattle held on Dartbrook, and built up his numbers of cattle, horses and sheep. This stock would be needed once drought conditions eased, and the family could establish the massive cattle runs they planned in the unsettled areas over the Liverpool Ranges.

Thomas had foreseen the need for a good working cattle dog before he moved herds of family cattle to the first three family cattle runs in the north-west, which where: 

Near present day Manilla (Cuerindi Run - 51,200 acres)

At present day Bingara (Bingara Run - 38,000 acres)

At present day Moree (Weebollabolla & Bullerue - 60,480 acres)

He also anticipated the dangers of horned cattle once they were let run free on vast unfenced grazing lands. To overcome these problems, early in the 1830's he set up two breeding programs on Dartbrook station - the first was to breed a suitable working cattle dog, and the second was to build up a herd of pure Polled Shorthorn cattle.

The quality of stock bred by Thomas Hall became legend in the colony. Using imported Durham (Shorthorn) cattle it is recorded that by circa 1840, he had bred the first herd of pure Shorthorn cattle in the colony. It is interesting to note that it was some 30 years later before any Shorthorn herds were bred in America. Thomas also maintained a Lincoln sheep stud, and bred excellent stock horses.

The Munro family have been numbered among Australia's leading cattle breeders. When A.G.F. Munro came out from Scotland he visited Dartbrook Station. He was so impressed with the quality, size and scale of the Hall cattle that he told his father he would one day come back and buy some. He made good this boast in 1873, after Thomas Hall had died (1870) and the Hall estates were sold at auction.

Angus Munro bought Weebollabolla and Bullerue Stations, near Moree, from the estates. These properties included 500 pure bred polled Shorthorn breeding cows, plus many other cattle from Dartbrook transferred to these properties by Thomas Hall in 1868 to save them from the severe drought then affecting the Hunter Valley. The largest of the freehold Hall properties in the Upper Hunter was Gundebri Station , which was later also bought by members of the Munro family. At date of writing in 1999, the Munro families still own and operate Weebollabolla and Gundebri Stations.

The Smithfield Dog

The first type of droving dog imported to the colony was probably one of a type called the Smithfield, or Black Bobtail. The name came from the Smithfield Markets of London, which were once the largest live meat market in the world. Dogs of all  sizes, shapes, dispositions, types or breeds , were born at , or resided at, Smithfield Markets, and because of their association with the markets they were all called Smithfield dogs. It is variously recorded that not all the larger Smithfield dogs were suitable for working cattle . Those that came to the colony are described by Robert Kaleski as:

...a big rough-coated, square-bodied dog, with a head like a wedge, a white frill round the neck, and saddle-flap ears; he got over the ground like a native bear. Faithful enough, handy, and sensible; but he couldn't stand the heat and long trips. Besides, he bit like an alligator, and barked like a consumptive. The other faults were bad, but the last was a finisher. How could a man borrow any of his neighbours cattle with an advertisement like that...

The Old English Sheepdog

The Old English sheepdogs, sometimes called Bobtails, are said to have evolved from a cross between carefully selected Smithfield sheepdogs and the Sheperd's dog. Some Old English sheepdogs came to the colony, and would have been excellent for working quiet domesticated animals. Working wild cattle in a harsh colonial environment would be an entirely different matter.

Selecting the Cross

Thomas Hall had long studied the Dingo, and kept selected specimens at Dartbrook station. He, like many other early bushmen, had great admiration for this wild dog. He decided the Dingo body configuration and characteristics would form a major part in creating a suitable working cattle dog. Selecting the other side, or sides, of the cross were not such an easy matter. Thomas could not find the attributes he wanted in any of the dogs then existing in the colony.

His parents were born and bred on family farms in Northumberland, England, where farmers bred the now extinct 'Northumberland Drover's Dog'. They had first hand knowledge of all working breeds used in the northern counties, and border regions, so their advice may have influenced Thomas. In any event Thomas decided the 'Northumberland Drover's Dog' would form the other part of his cross, and imported a pair of these dogs from family owned farms in Northumberland. The colouring of these dogs was described as Blue Merle, which was descriptive only of the colour, not the genes. The word Merle, in this context, is said to have evolved from the word Marble, describing a mix of colours.

The Northumberland Drover's Dog evolved from the Shepherd's Dog of Scotland (forerunner of the Border Collie) crossed with the Old Beardie (sometimes later called the Highland Collie or Bearded Collie) with, most likely , a splash of something else thrown in. The home of this dog was traditionally Northumberland. The Northumberland Drover's Dog is described as a much more aggressive and forceful than the Shepherd's Dog, or Scotch Collie (Rough or Smooth Collie type). Slightly heavier boned than either of these other dogs, obedient, faithful, and highly intelligent, with a natural ability to heel cattle.  

At Dartbrook Station Thomas selectively crossed progeny from his Northumberland Drover's Dogs with progeny of the Dingoes. How many back crosses were made during this period we do not know. What we do know is that before 1840 Thomas Hall had bred the dog he needed. They were either blue or red speckled, with an initial preference being shown for the blue colours. From 1840 until 1870 (when Thomas died) these dogs were called Hall's Heelers. Thereafter they became known as Blue Heelers, or Queensland Heelers.

It is recorded how Hall's Heelers were a marvel at working wild cattle. From the Dingo they inherited their stocky powerful body, the quick brown eye's, the insulation of a double coat of hair, the wedge shaped head with powerful snapping jaws, the heavy footpads, the potential to work long hours in extreme conditions, and the instinct to silently dart in from the rear to sharply nip the heels of stubborn beasts. From the Northumberland Drover's Dog came the intelligence and obedience needed for control, further heeling ability, plus the well recognised competence of that dog to faithfully guard it's master's possessions.

From 1840 until his death in 1870 Thomas did not find the need to infuse any other bloodlines into his breed. It must be understood he had the capability and resources to do so if he wished. No record has been found of any other person infusing other bloodlines into his dogs during his lifetime. By the time of Thomas's death, Hall's Heelers had been working cattle for at least 30 hard years. He had produced a breed of working dog that answered the needs of the time, a strong breed, forceful, intelligent, and durable, not afraid to tackle even the biggest and roughest rogue beast.

Timmin's Biters

 In the mid to late 1800's there is evidence of a man named Jack Timmons (sic) working as a contract drover in the Upper Hunter Valley. By then the Hall family had the largest cattle herds in the colony, and employed contract drovers as well as their own stockmen. Logic suggests that this Jack Timmins must have done cattle droving work for Thomas Hall. Not far downstream from Dartbrook Station, on Hunter's River, family history tells us that for many years Timmin's Creek, or Bridge marked one of Jack Timmin's regular campsites. Following the death of Thomas Hall of Dartbrook, it is recorded that Jack Timmin's moved to live at Collarenebri, near the Queensland border. Records describe him having outstanding blue heeling cattle dogs which he referred to as his "Biters". The name stuck and they have gone down in legend as "Timmin's Biters". These dogs match, almost word for word, the description of the Hall's Heelers bred on Dartbrook by Thomas Hall. After Thomas Hall died there were numerous breeders of working dogs that were suddenly able to get their hands on breeding pairs of genuine Hall's Heelers. As there were no other similar dogs in the colony, it becomes obvious Jack Timmin's somehow obtained a pair of Hall's Heelers, and that he bred his own dogs from these pure bloodlines for the rest of his life.

By the mid 1850's, Hall cattle grazed on a wide spread of properties totaling more than a million acres, and extending well into Queensland. On the Balonne River alone, Thomas was personally granted leases covering 304,000 acres, and his nephew held the adjoining 304,000 acres. Records tell us how, in the 1850's, one of Hall's stock supervisors, a man named Dawson, took a magnificent blue dog called Jack from Dartbrook to the Dawson River. Records state this was the first blue dog to be taken to Queensland. Within a short space of time other Hall's Heelers found their way onto Queensland properties. This created the tap roots of the wonderful Queensland Blue Heelers. Still later, others like Harry Hillier and the Lanaghan Brothers of Bingara continued breeding from pure Hall bloodlines.

The Kelpie Cross

Hall's Heelers had been working for over a quarter of a century before the first Kelpie came to the colony from Scotland. Thomas died the same year as Kelpies found their way into NSW; therefore, Kelpie bloodlines were never infused into the Hall's Heelers by Thomas.

Outside Influences

In the mid to late 1800's, numerous events influenced the working dogs of Australia. One significant event occurred in 1859, when the world's first dog show was held in England. From then on it became fashionable to show dogs. From 1860 onward the word Collie became the "in" word, and soon came to describe a wide range of Scottish dogs instead of just the original Scotch Collie. The Kennel Club of England had its inception in 1873, and from that time careful breeding records were kept. Prior to then it is difficult to trace breeding details.

Names of Dogs

Before then the working breeds were named according to the work they performed. There was the Shepherd's Dog (worked with shepherds), The Scotch Collie (worked the Coaly, or Collie sheep), the Drover's Dog of Northumberland, and so on. Those who bred working dogs considered looks to be secondary to working ability. Of course the new show standards leaned more towards appearance than working ability. So from that time on there was a division in some breeds. Working dogs were selectively crossed with other breeds to enhance their appearance for the show ring. At the same time, in the rural sector, others were bred specifically for working purposes. Suddenly the working dogs of a breed looked different to the show dogs of the same name. The working dog usually leaner and meaner than his, or her, show counterpart, and not as refined. Conversely the show dogs found that whilst they had the advantage in looks, they had, in the process, often lost some of their original working ability.

After Thomas Hall's Death

It was from about this time that Sydney breeders crossed a variety of other breeds into the Hall's Heelers to " improve" the breed. They experimented by introducing a wide, sometimes weird, range of other strains. Some of these crosses were questionable to say the least. The Bagust Brothers were butchers at Pymble. They crossed the Hall's Heelers with a Dalmatian owned by a solicitor named Bently. While the Dalmatian was a handsome dog it was described at the time as:

...not remarkable for its intelligence, or the fineness of its scent...

So one wonders why anyone would cross it into an established working dog. Some say it was to give the heelers a love of horses-- excuse me ? Cattle dogs and horses merely tolerate and respect each other as working partners.

However, it is fair to point out that the original working needs demanding such strong characteristics in the original breed had generally diminished by then, and would not arise again except on large remote cattle stations. By 1880, barbed wire arrived in the colony, and soon fences were being erected as never before. The wheel had gone full turn - conditions became similar to the early days; cattle contained in paddocks became quieter, and easier to handle. The need for a forceful dog diminished, and so the Kelpie X Cattle dog answered the needs of many small graziers.

Quote from Robert Kaleski

In his rare old book, Australian Barkers and Biters, Robert Kaleski gives us a wonderful description of the cattle dogs:-

" I was riding one day along the Southern Road near Liverpool with my two blue speckles, when I overtook a mob of cattle. The drovers were swearing, the cattle camping; a knocked-up Barb (kelpie) lay panting under a bush. Between language they told me their trouble. They had an outlaw dairy cow in the mob; she behaved herself till they got to where I found them. There she had slipped into a thick patch of tea-tree scrub adjoining the road and defied them. It was too thick to ride in after her; she charged them on foot; and merely laughed at the Barb's efforts to put her out. I asked them if they would like her shifted.

Their reply was so crisp and affirmative that I sent my dogs in at once. Inside of a minute we heard a terrible bellow, then the cow burst out of the scrub and into the mob as if possessed with a devil. I clicked; the two dogs slipped in after her, one to each heel, threaded her out the other side and into the scrub again, then back into the mob, which she firmly refused to leave, in spite of their arguments. I whistled the dogs off, and sent the mob away rejoicing. Next time I met those drovers they bought a blue-speckle pup from me at my own price."        

Author wished to thank Margot Balmain for her kind permission to quote from the book "Barkers & Biters" on which she holds copyright.

Misuse of the word Collie

The word "collie" once referred to the Scotch Collie only. It became a fashionable "in" word after Queen Victoria first visited Balmoral Castle in the Highlands of Scotland in 1860 and was shown the Scotch Collies; she fell in love with them and had some taken back to her Royal Kennels at Windsor. It is only in latter years the indiscriminate use of the word has caused so much confusion when we study the early working dogs in the colony. Collies were first shown at dog shows at Birmingham in 1861 - after that the word "collie" was much used. The Scotch Collie had nothing to do with the breeding of the Cattle Dog or Kelpie.

The following list gives some comparisons:-

Today's Common Name                Common Name Before 1870

Border Collie                                          The Shepherd's Dog 

 Rough Collie                                           The Scotch Collie (long haired) 

Smooth Collie                                         The Scotch Collie (smooth haired) 

Bearded Collie                                        The Old Beardie 

 Highland Collie                                       The Old Beardie

 English Sheepdog                                   Old Bobtail, Dorset Shag, Cotswold Dog

The word "Collie" had it's origins in the Icelandic & Germanic languages word KOL meaning black, or the colour of a piece of fuel. From this evolved the word COAL. The hardy breed of small black faced sheep in the Scottish Highlands were called COALY sheep because they had coal coloured faces. Therefore the breed of dogs that worked these sheep were called COALY DOGS. Over time this has changed to become Collie Dogs. However, as previously stated, the dogs used by shepherds in the Scottish Border regions, and Highlands, working Cheviot sheep, was known as the Shepherds Dog, and the dog used by drovers was known as the Drovers Dog etc. They named their working dogs according to the work done by that particular dog.

The Drover's Dog of Northumberland was often referred to as the CUR. However the word should not be confused with modern connotations. The Icelandic & Germanic languages had the words KUR and KURRE which virtually described an important dog used for guarding property and stock. These language came to Britain in ancient times. Over a long period the English usage changed. The letter K gradually gave way to be replaced by the letter C. Therefore KUR or KURRE became CUR in the English language.

Long tailed Droving Dogs in England were subject to a special tax. To avoid paying this tax farmers docked, or cut short, the tail on the CUR. From this practice evolved the word CURTAIL, meaning to cut short.


As large properties continue to be split up into smaller holdings, cattle continue to become generally quieter, so the need for a forceful working dog like the Blue Heeler is disappearing. In America, where they still have very large cattle ranches, the Blue Heeler is imported and highly regarded for working tough cattle. Some say the dog is better appreciated today in countries it has been exported to rather than it is at home. Be that as it may, never forget that at the most important time in the development of this great nation, a man named Thomas Simpson Hall, himself born and bred in the colony, used his skills to provide some of the finest foundation breeds of cattle, and he bred the first ' Heelers ' -- without any doubt the greatest working cattle dogs the world has ever seen.

Currently, there are still numerous people putting information onto Web Sites or other media that have no idea of what they are writing or saying. Perhaps this abridged work will allow people in a position of influence to gather a more coherent understanding of what really went on, and as a consequence bring about a correction of the proliferation of mis-information currently existing.

If this does happen, then my sixteen years of research was not wasted.

Bert Howard

Popular Misconceptions

When studying existing texts the student can easily get confused by variations in the meanings of words between early colonial days and today's usage.

Blue Merle Droving Dogs

Blue Merle was used to describe the coloured appearance of dogs in early times - they did not understand genes as we do today.

Timmins Red Bobtails

Name given to the experimental and unsuccessful cross bred dogs by " a drover named Timmins " around 1830.

Timmins Biters

Name given to blue heeling dogs which  Jack Timmins obtained and bred from for the rest of his life. These were, in reality, Hall's Heelers.

Rough or Smooth Collie

Originally the Scotch Collie - which had nothing at all to do with the breeding of the Cattle Dog or Kelpie.

Smithfield Dog

Name covered an assortment of dogs associated with Smithfield Markets - not all were cattle dogs. In the colony it referred to one type called the Black Bobtail of which only a few remnants remained beyond the mid 1800's and Beilby stated around 1880 that they existed " some years ago ".

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