Along with other heavy breeds, the Clydesdale horse has played a significant role in Australia’s development, particularly in agriculture and the transport of goods. Not for nothing has The Commonwealth Clydesdale Horse Society adopted the slogan “The horse that built Australia”.
The Clydesdale is a Scottish breed, tracing its history back to the early 19th century. The breed was developed in an area known as Clydesdale, now Lanarkshire, on the River Clyde. Although the name for the breed was first officially recorded in 1826, the horses had been identified by their place of origin some years earlier. In 1823, the Caledonian Mercury makes mention of a Clydesdale horse gaining a prize from the Highland Society at its exhibition.
In 1824, the Sydney Gazette recorded that the Australian Company had imported a “beautiful entire Clydesdale horse” on the ship Triton. The Scottish horses were soon being exported around the world. In 1830, the American New England Farmer praised the breed, writing:
The CLYDESDALE is a good kind of draught horse, and particularly for farming business and in hilly country. It derives its name from the district on the Clyde in Scotland, where it is principally bred. The Clydesdale horse owes its origin to one of the Dukes of Hamilton, who crossed some of the best Lanark mares with stallions which he had brought over from Flanders. The Clydesdale is larger than the Suffolk, and has a better head, a longer neck, a lighter carcase, and deeper legs; strong, hardy, pulling true, and rarely restive. The southern parts of Scotland are principally supplied from this district; and many Clydesdales, not only for agricultural purposes, but for the coach and the saddle, find their way to the central, and even southern counties of England. Dealers from almost every part of the United Kingdom attend the markets of Glasgow and Rutherglen.
In the early 1830s, Australian newspapers make frequent references to particular Clydesdale horses, which seem to have reached almost celebrity status. Ploughboy, Czar, Clydesdale Bob and Clydesdale Ben were among the much sought-after sires. By the 1840s, Clydesdales were winning trophies from the various agricultural societies in Australia, and by the 1850s they were the predominant heavy breed in this country.
The first Australian stud book recording details of the breed was issued in 1907 and the Commonwealth Clydesdale Horse Society was formed in 1918.
The horses were used to pull agricultural machinery, brewery wagons, horse-drawn omnibuses and a whole range of carriages and delivery vehicles. For 100 years, up until the 1930s, they were a common sight in the cities and on the land. As tractors and trucks replaced draught horses the breed declined, although some remained in service pulling milk-delivery carts until the late 1980s. Some dairies even bred their own Clydesdales.
Carlton and United Breweries retained a team of six Clydesdales to draw its brewery wagon in parades and at shows, but retired them in 2018.