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Dogs in Colonial Cities


© Warren Fahey 2008

The colony of New South Wales had more than its fair share of problems what with rowdy convicts, sometimes even rowdier soldiers, erratic food supply and pesky mosquitoes. You can add the dog problem to that list.  Apparently the streets of early Sydney were continually fouled by dogs, goats and horses, and, mixed with the mud, must have stank to high heaven and made for rather treacherous traveling. The same problem existed in other penal settlements.


Men betraying their companions or accepting authority over them, are often called “dogs”, and sometimes have their noses bitten off – that tasty morsel being termed “a mouthful of a dog’s nose.”

The expression ‘Dog must not rob dog’ was popular amongst convicts and equates to honour amongst thieves. In Australia silent composure under suffering was strictly prescribed by convict etiquette. By 1826 it had become apparent that dogs in Hobart Town had become a major problem. The so called ‘kangaroo dogs’ had turned wild and had commenced attacking flocks and herds, and, it was feared that they would breed with the Aborigine’s native dogs. By 1830 regulations to restrain dogs were put in place. Dogs roaming the streets often bit passers-by, innumerable hoards of them infested the town day and night — by 1839 it was recommended that they be taken out, a dozen at a time and sunk in the river – many dog corpses were seen floating down river soon after.

One successful Van Diemen’s Land escapee was a convict named Cripps. Cripps was employed as a dog-handler for a while before being taken back to Port Arthur to join a timber-cutting gang. His other job was to prepare the dog food and, being an entrepreneur, he stole flour from the recipe (they didn’t have Pal) to sell on the black market. He was caught and, facing the lash, took off. He made his way to Eaglehawk Neck dog pound and, because the dogs knew him, he was welcome. He stole two of the dogs (who were also more than happy to have some freedom) and took them into the bush.

Cripps built a large, comfortable, bark hut and lived contentedly for 18 months or so, hunting game with the dogs, and occasionally nipping back to Port Arthur to abscond with some flour, sugar, soap, salt and cabbages. He was discovered by chance when an officer (coincidentally the one who had previously owned the two dogs) stumbled on his hut. Apart from Cripps, he also found more than 1800 kangaroo and wallaby skins, neatly tied in bundles.

Cripps was packed off to Port Arthur again, for an extended stay and 100 lashes, but lived out his final years as a free man.