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In a new country

Spirited: Australia's Horse Story

In a new country

A picture of Major George Johnston and Trooper Anlezark battle convict rebels from the saddle.
In one of the first images of horses in Australia, Major George Johnston and Trooper Anlezark battle convict rebels from the saddle at Castle Hill (detail) in 1804. National Library of Australia, an5577479.

Horses arrived in Australia in January 1788 with the first British colonists, who had purchased at least seven light riding types at Cape Town, en route to Sydney.

For several decades, horses remained scarce and highly valuable. By the 1830s, however, Australia’s herd was growing steadily, as settlers imported mixed-breed horses from India and the Cape, and Thoroughbreds, Clydesdales and Arabians from England.

Explorers began using horses to traverse and chart inland Australia, and from the 1850s thousands of hopeful miners relied on horses to carry them to the booming goldfields.

Explore some of the stories and objects

Scrimshaw powder horn (detail)
Scrimshaw powder horn

An 1836 horn engraving depicting kangaroo hunting.
John McDouall Stuart’s watch
John McDouall Stuart's watch

Presented to the explorer in 1859.
Wire horse hobbles
Wire horse hobbles

Found at the site of Tommy Ah Toy’s goldfields market garden.