The Australian Hampshire Down Association is in place to promote the breeding of Hampshire Downs and encourage the sale of rams to commercial primary producers as terminal sires. With the help of the Australian Stud Sheep Breeders Association we keep pedigree information of the breed dating back to 1916, which is the year of the first registered Hampshire Down flock in the Flock Book of 'British Breeds of Sheep in Australia'. That Flock was owned by John Snell of Sailsbury, South Australia with the prefix of the flock: ILLAWARRA.
Hampshire Downs were present in Victoria by 1861 where they were shown at Port Phillip Farmers Show by J. W. Brown and Cyrus Hewitt, but there is suggestive evidence that at that stage they were not persisted with.
Hampshires had a more permanent reception in Tasmania where they were introduced by William Hartnall in 1866. Of even more significance were two consignments which arrived in Victoria in 1888; one for the Hon. William McCulloch of Colac and the other of 25 ewes and 2 rams for the Hon. William Water-lrving of Pin-on Yallock.
Three Hampshire flocks were registered in Volume 1 of the Flock Book (1898) but Volume 27 (1935) recorded only one. By 1970 there were 11 flocks, but there was growth to over 50 flocks in the 1980's. Much credit for the maintenance of the breed through the 50s, 60s and 70s must go to E. E. & R. C. Cotton of Oberon, New South Wales. They were mating over 200 ewes in the 1970s and they exhibited and promoted the breed with enthusiasm.
HAMPSHIRES OVER THE· YEARS
The year 1861 is significant in the history of the Hampshire Downs for that is the date
on which the Hampshire Downs was first recognised and admitted for competition by the Royal Agricultural Society of England.
The evolution and development of the breed had been in progress for several previous decades as agricultural practices began to change in Southern England. Areas which for centuries had been "sheep-walks" were, between 1800 and 1868, ploughed for cereal cropping and it was found that with new forage crops and artificial manures that not only could the sheep population be sustained but that the British public could now
have the privilege of eating lamb rather than mutton.
Two breeds gradually disappeared and they were replaced by the Hampshire Down we know today.
They were the Old Hampshire which was tall, horned, narrow in the carcase and having white face and legs, and the Berkshire Nott, which in conformations resembled the Wiltshire Horn but was dark-faced and sometimes polled. The Wiltshire Horn made some genetic contribution and the Southdown, which was so popular in Southern England in the period, was consistently used over a period of years.
William Humphrey who farmed near Newbury, west of London, is recognised as the chief developer and' promoter of the new Hampshire Down.
It is said that he attend the first show of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, in 1842, and was so impressed by the Southdown Sheep, exhibited there by the famous breeder ]onas Webb of Cambridgeshire, that he determined to continue with infusions of that breed.
It is obvious that by Late1850's Humphrey and his followers had developed a distinctive sheep which would perform well in the intensive farming regimes then being established in their region. It was a hornless, dark-faced, good conformational sheep, with the newly emerging requirement of early maturity. It would economically produce prime lamb. We know the new Hampshire breed was soon attracting attention in the new world, particularly in America.
We can only wonder if Northern Tasmanian farmer William Hartnoll attended that show of the Royal Agricultural Society of England in 1861 where they were exhibited for the first time.
We do know that Hartnoll went to England in that year and that as well as Hampshire Downs he purchased Lincoln sheep and Draught and Thoroughbred horses.
Hartnoll was well experienced in selecting stud stock for buyers in the island colony. Indeed he had made a trip to Britain some years earlier and selected Southdowns to augment the Cressy Company’s flock and it is not hard to imagine that he would be made aware of the new breed and be attracted by its size and suitability as a terminal sire. We do not know whether he was the first importer to Australia, but we do know that by 1866 he had Hampshire’s on his property "Leighton" at Evandale, which incidentally is in close proximity' to the well known Marananga Stud of Rodney Summers, and that he had representatives of the breed at the Northern Tasmanian (Longford) Show of 1866.
There were several studs in Tasmania 1890s. Alfred Fry, who was the tenant of Elphin Farm, the site of Launceston Show Grounds was a leading breeder. Hampshire
Downs' were amongst the Lincolns, Leicesters, Cotswolds,
Southdowns and Shropshire’s which members of the Tasmanian Longwool Sheepbreeders Association sent to shows and sales at Melbourne and Sydney in that period.
There were two exhibitors at the Royal Melbourne Show in 1896. They were Alexander Cameron of “Mayfield” Cranbourne and the Hon William McCulloch M.L.C of “Mertoun Park” Colac. The McCulloch flock had been founded in 1988, from the English flocks of J.H. Hughes of Longstock and Sir Thos. Fowell-Buxton of “Water Place Farm” Ware.
When Vol. I of the Flock Book for British Sheep in Victoria was published in 1898 three Hampshire flocks were registered; the two already mentioned and one belonging to Hon. W. Winter-Irvine whose address was “Tirrengower” Pirron Yallock.
In 1935, the year in which the Australian Longwool Association amalgamated with the A.S.B.B.S., there was only one Hampshire Down flock registered. By 1960 there were only nine, and in 1970 eleven, leading to the observation that for one hundred years the Hampshire Downs barely persisted in Australia:
There were two probable reasons.
The Southdown enjoyed entrenched dominance as Australia's terminal sire.
Around the turn of the century it withstood a brief assault from the Shropshire and won because it was a smaller sheep and produced the compact carcase which the market required. In the same way it disallowed the expansion of the Hampshire Down which was larger than the Shropshire.
Then there was the pigmentation factor. All through that period Australian Merino breeders maintained and publicised their almost paranoid aversion to breeds with dark haired legs and faces, and the fact that Hampshire’s persisted at ail is an achievement.
Much of the credit for the maintenance of the breed through the 50's, 60's and 70's and its rapid expansion to over 50 flocks in the 1980's, should be attributed to E.E. & R.C. Cotton of "Carrington Park", Oberon N.S.W.
Theirs was a large flock, mating over 200 ewes in the 1960's, and they exhibited and promoted the breed with enthusiasm.
American sheepmen had no inhibitions about pigmentation. In fact they made their first imports in 1855, six years before Hampshires were officially recognised in Britain.
They made steady progress and by 1920 registration in USA were running at 20,000 per year. They are still a popular breed there today.
The Hampshire Down is now distributed world-wide and there are around one 100 flocks in Britain today. The breeders who stage the Royal Melbourne Feature Show, from a basis of about 30 flocks Australia wide, are to be congratulated.
A. Hawkesworth: Australian Sheep & Wool. 1898.
British Sheep: The National Sheepbreeders Association of
S.J.D. Hall and I. Clutton-Brock: 200 Years of British Livestock
A.S.B.B.S. Flock Books: Various.
"The Australasian" 1896.
"The Examiner" 1866.