New book: Dogs in Van Diemen’s Land

When Hobart author Dr Ian Broinowski started to write about dogs in Van Diemen’s Land he thought it might be about thirty pages long. Little did he know his book – Dogs in Van Diemen’s Land – would end up being over 300 nor did he realise just how important dogs were to the British in the early years of Colonisation.

Initially they were instrumental in feeding the British who would most certainly have starved had it not been for their dogs’ ability to provide them with the sustenance they needed. Guns were inaccurate and of course required gunpowder. Dogs on the other hand could catch, kill and often return their prey to their hungry owners which made them very valuable indeed with Rev Knopwood paying £25 for one in 1806.

They also ran alongside the paths of bushrangers who needed them for food and protection and became a prime target for bushrangers to steal.

Dogs almost immediately befriended the palawa people and played a significant part in the 1820’s war for Lutruwita (Tasmania) on both sides by guarding, attacking, and often dying protecting their people. The first peoples even taught their dogs to be quiet when the murderous roving parties were close by or to warn them of impending attack.

In the emerging colony crime and murder were ever present and dogs played their part as guard dogs, defenders and at times risking their lives. Eventually of course their predilection for procreation began to cause huge problems with thousands of unfettered dogs causing havoc in the country side and towns. Once caught the offending dog appeared in court with only their master there to defend them as was the case for Pompey on the 27th August 1839;

A Newfoundland dog of gigantic dimensions, was exhibited behind the grating, to the gaze of the Bench, charged with having been found roaming the streets, without proper guidance, or under the necessary restraint. The dog looked remarkably solemn and wise, and, thrusting his nose into his master’s hand, appeared to request him not to allow his character to be taken away after that fashion….

Love for dogs by all strata of this tiny, isolated community is evident in so many of the articles and images presented in the book and are both amusing and pleasurable to read and view. Ian has also included well over 100 high resolution colonial images, some of which have never been published before, which are a delight to behold.

While this book has many enticing stories about our canine companions it also delves into the darker, tragic and mystifying aspects of our early colonial period on the island.

The book is an enticing read for those who love dogs and enjoy tales from our past.