First Horses to NT

© Janet Lane, 2017. Image: Sydney Mail & NSW Advertiser, 13th October 1909.

We have direct descendants of those first horses that went to the Northern Territory. Timor ponies were overlanded from the top end, for example William Laurie took a big mob to Marakai.

Andrew Tennant and John Love took a big mob of horses to Undoolya, next door to The Garden, in 1880. They were from South Australia, being mostly Thoroughbreds (as they were then, not all registered) and good carriage and hunter types of roadster breeding. Some had a significant amount of Timor blood being from Horse Peninsula (now Coffin Bay).

Before that, Ned Bagot had stocked that station plus Dalhousie Springs with horses – his first big mob of cattle and horses went up there in 1873 from South Australia. Ned had pastoral leases 1 and 2 in the Northern Territory – the first leases.

Ned’s horses were chiefly Suffolk Punch crossed to Thoroughbreds, with a dash of pony and roadster. He had created good types that bred true and owned at least three Suffolk stallions. But even Ned was beaten to the centre with horses, and by an even better horseman! – Alfred Giles – who came to love the Territory madly.

Alfred Giles took a big mob of horses through in 1872, to Overland Telegraph (OT) crews for work horses. Giles usually got horses from the Port Augusta area where he’d worked and knew station owners, sometimes Adelaide area. Halfbred and quarter bred types basically TB, Roadster, with a dash of draught, a touch of pony. He took thousands of sheep for the workers food supplies on other trips. When the OT line was finished, he gathered all the work horses and took them to Beltana station in the northern Flinders. They bred up there and were run in and dispersed about the area for stock horses, known for being exceedingly tough with iron legs and feet and a tremendous walk. Some went to Wilpena.

About 1880 the intrepid Alfred Giles again took horses (300 this time) with cattle and sheep to stock Springvale on the Katherine. It had been bought by Dr. Browne, Giles was the first manager. Giles was the first white person into many areas. He was an accomplished artist and a keen plant collector as well as a superlative bushman.

When Giles selected horses for the Territory he was helped by John Ross, whose son Alec was then aged 10. Alec was to become a great bushman and horseman too – he later managed The Garden station for some years. In another bit of Waler synchronicity, Giles’ had also worked for the Boucauts, great horsemen. Judge Boucaut’s horses influenced Walers in the Territory (he was Premier of South Australia).

Alfred also took horses to Delamere Downs station when it was first taken up. His horses were the first on many stations.

All horses in those areas descend from Giles’ horses, including the ones Tom Pearce ran on Willaroo – Tom, another great bushman, was on the big first droving trip up there with Alfred, then went well sinking for the government through the Tanami (we’ll meet Tom another time when we discuss Newhaven) to get himself funded. He took up Willeroo, where he bred excellent horses for stockhorses and the India trade, one of the best horsemen of the Territory. Like others he brought good stallions in, but the basis of most breeders there were Giles’ horses.

Everything kicked off in the NT pastoral world about that time. Joseph Gilbert, who married Dr. Browne’s sister Annie, stocked Pewsey Vale with cattle and good horses. Dr William James Browne built a property empire; he established Springvale station on the Katherine in the 1870’s then Newcastle Waters in the 1880’s. He put managers in – Alfred Giles was first manager of Springvale.

Alfred Giles and family NT

Newcastle Waters is halfway between Alice Springs and Darwin. Reg Wilson, so valuable to research in our Waler times of the 1980’s and ‘90’s, was born and raised there. Due to good water it became an important rest stop on stock-routes – horses, sheep and cattle – en route to and from Queensland, the Kimberley, the Top End and South Australia. It was known for good horses and sent thousands to India, via the sales. Alfred Giles next bought Bonrook Station and helped a brother take up the Peake – where many drovers were to have a welcome break. They all stocked extra good horses.

Alfred Giles rode from Adelaide to Port Darwin (then called Palmerston) with John Ross on his courageous survey marking out the OT line – the first people to go up the centre after John McDouall Stuart. Theirs was a 13 month journey in 1870-71. They slept in the open the entire trip – not even a tent – rain too. When Ross and Giles got to Palmerston they rested under ancient Tamarind and Banyan trees, planted over the centuries by visiting Muslim traders from Macassar and Chinese traders. They came around Christmas annually to trade peacefully along the northern coast, mostly in beche de mer, then sailed home.

Darwin was first colonised by a boatload of people in 1870 and was only just kicking off when they got there – simply a hut or two. Giles was to do this incredible ride from Adelaide to Darwin seven times – mostly taking stock to the OT crews. He kept excellent diaries all his life, wrote a book, and was writing The First Pastoral Settlement in the Northern Territory, when he died in 1930. He wrote entertaining reminiscences for the papers. Having worked extremely hard all his life, he decided to stay in the top end for life, where he saw a chance at a new life. He took up offers to manage stations and guide stock through eagerly, it paid well. It set him up for life. In late life he retired to Darwin.

Significantly, Giles also took the first big mob of horses to Newcastle Waters, with 14,000 cattle. They were from South Australia. He took another mob of horses and cattle there from Queensland. He pioneered several stock routes. He rode 132 miles once in a hurry to get medicine for an ill woman, Mrs Sam Browne, and his little brown mare, Peggy, was ‘as fresh as a daisy” the next morning.

Newcastle Waters’ horses, Springvale’s, the Peake’s etc were bought by many other stations as they established. Their blood is in Territory Walers we have. What a legacy, to have descendants of the horses of the quiet, modest, yet extraordinary Alfred Giles, and of Bagot, Tennant and Love. The first horses on the stations of the Territory. The horses of the Territory’s best ever bushman, Alfred Giles.

Posted by Janet Lane

Rare breeds advocate, and Waler researcher and owner/advocate since the 1980s.