Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Kangaroo Hunting

Most of my regular readers would be all too familiar with the stories of Thomas Crampton, Matilda Maria Hurst, Matilda’s admittance to Fremantle Asylum and the strange disappearance of Thomas Lisle Crampton (their son). It is a story (and a family) that consumes me.

Throughout 2015 I went to great lengths (including multiple visits to Collie) to uncover additional information about the story. While I have more than what was ever known (including maps!) I am still missing one crucial record; the police report or journal of Sub-Inspector Clifton continues to elude me. Much like Thomas Junior, these early Bunbury Police Records have apparently disappeared without a trace (much to my disappointment and frustration).

Nevertheless, I turn to what is available and I stockpile as much information as possible so that, combined, it builds a bigger picture of the story at hand. Newspapers articles have been a goldmine and the release of Bunbury’s Southern Times gave me a new clue as to the whereabouts of Thomas Crampton when his son went missing.

Mr Crampton was out kangarooing at the time…

An article in the Bunbury Herald elaborated and made mention of a dog that Thomas had recently purchased which had also gone missing at the same time. The detail in relation to the breed of dog has only recently been expanded with the digitisation of the newspaper, The W.A. Record.

Kangaroo Dog

The Kangaroo Dog (otherwise known as the Kangaroo Greyhound or Australian Greyhound) was bred primarily for hunting. Early settlers took the best qualities of the greyhound (speed) and the Scottish deerhound (tougher paws, thicker coat, powerful body and stamina) and bred a dog which could run long distances and would be able to cope in the harsh Australian conditions.

The exact time frame of when the kangaroo dog first came to be has thus far not been ascertained but a search on Trove indicates that advertisements for them were being placed in New South Wales newspapers as early as the 1800s.

Wanted

Advertising from 1805

In Western Australia, advertisements appear as early as 1833 (when the first newspaper was published) and one particular ad from 1834 indicates that some of the first dogs to arrive in the state were brought over from Sydney.

Just Landed

In those early colonial years when meat was scarce (the settlers often refused to kill their own stock for food) they relied heavily on a diet of kangaroo. The kangaroo dog and its usefulness for hunting therefore became a highly sought after commodity. So much so, that when the WA Government decided to impose a tax on dogs in 1841, the Inquirer responded passionately that kangaroo dogs (specifically those kept by settlers in remote areas) should be exempt.

We are of opinion that the exemption should extend to kangaroo-dogs kept on distant farms for the purpose of hunting; for these animals are as necessary to the out-settler as the horses or oxen with which he ploughs his fields. No establishment “over the hills” is considered complete without two or three of these dogs, and we consider it a very hard case that the settler, who keeps them at once for the purpose of procuring food, and for the protection of his property, should be called upon to pay a tax for them.

Kangaroo dogs also proved useful in Western Australia for more than just hunting kangaroo. In 1840 when the Colony was having issues with their sheep dying after eating the burtonia plant, William Nairne Clark decided to feed the plant (mixed with kangaroo) to a kangaroo dog named Hector. As they expected, the poor dog died from the effects of the plant but, “for the benefit of science” they were able to once and for all prove that the plant was poisonous.

When Sir Thomas Mitchell went out exploring the north west interior in 1847, he took with him several kangaroo dogs. Unfortunately, he underestimated the heat and the lack of water and all the kangaroo dogs died during the journey.

As the years passed the words ‘kangaroo dog’ in articles tended to be preceded with the word ‘valuable’. They had become indispensable to the settlers and the loss of the animal was lamented as a tragedy.

…near the same spot last year a valuable kangaroo dog was also bitten [by a snake] and killed.

Their value however may not necessarily have been simply because of their usefulness at home. They had also become an export with many owners breeding and selling their dogs to the Indian market who considered them to be superior animals.

Moreover the dog itself is an animal of export, and sometimes realizes in the Indian market more money than a horse.

Kangaroo dogs continued to be used well into the early 20th century but tended to be seen more in rural areas. It’s of no surprise that as Western Australia grew and the Colony’s reliance on kangaroo meat diminished, the use of the kangaroo dog went much the same way.

Today they may still be seen in some country areas, often performing similar tasks for which they were originally bred for but, generally, kangaroo dogs are now a very rare breed of dog within Western Australia and Australia.

Kangaroo Dog Poem

Sources:

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