The Working Kelpie Council of Australia

Breed Society for the Australian Working Kelpie

The Working Kelpie Foundation Strains

The initial foundation of the working Kelpie stemmed from the blending of what appears to be three different strains although there could be a connection between two of them in their country of origin. Of the original breeding the only further imports and infusion documented are those of the Rutherford strain and imports of these dogs continued until around 1910. The following article by Wayne McMillan dated 25/8/2011 gives a greater insight into the background of the Rutherford family and their dogs suitability for Australian conditions.

"In the mid 1800’s in Australia, when sheep, dogs and pioneers are discussed, there is one family that stands out above the rest and that is the Rutherford’s. The family can (and) The Kildonan clean bred line of collies can be traced back to Gideon Rutherford a shepherd who was born in Sept 1778 in Showman, Roxburghshire, Scotland and died about 1869 in Kildonan, Sutherland Scotland. He was the fourth child of Andrew Rutherford and Christian Stevenson of Showman, Roxburghshire, Scotland. (From Parish records Roxburghshire: Brian & Dianne Dixon, J. Gregory Barron and Chris & Sheila Hale) Gideon Rutherford’s outstanding line of Collies originally bought to Australia by his son John in 1864, were one of the most successful and influential line of sheepdogs ever introduced. His strain of collies had such a legendary reputation that they were still being imported to Australia over 40 years later. It is also certain that the early Kelpie sheepdog strains had Rutherford bloodlines in their breeding.

It is believed that Gideon created his line of collies from a mixture of the best lines available from the shepherds of the Border regions of England and Scotland and the North-West Highlands of Scotland. Whether Gideon’s father Andrew had started the line is unknown, but Gideon has been given the recognition by his family for their creation. (See "Highland Sheepdogs for South Australia", The South Australian Register, Tuesday 6 September, 1910 p.5) Gideon was living and working in the Northumberland area in the early 1800’s, but moved back to Sutherland about 1806, just before the advent of the introduction of the Cheviot sheep breed to the region. The birth of his oldest child Elizabeth, born in 1805 at Bird hope, Craig, Northumberland in England, verifies that he had been working and living in Northumberland The Rutherford’s were one of a number of well-known border shepherd families of the early 1800’s.

Whilst working at ‘Wonwondah’ station in Victoria Australia in 1864 John Rutherford the third youngest son of Gideon, imported the first "Rutherford Kildonan" line of collies to Australia. John had asked his older brother Richard a shepherd who was running the family farm at Kildonan in Scotland, to send to him two dogs a boy and a girl. The dogs were named "Clyde and "Lassie." Richard was John’s older brother born in 1811, who died in 1897 at age 87. (See Inverness Courier Tuesday, March 7, 1899).

In 1864 the late Mr Rutherford, Kildonan, sent out to his brother Mr John Rutherford, Yarrawonga, Upper Murray, a pair of collies "Clyde" and "Lassie" which proved to be noted workers in the Colonies." (See "Collie Dogs for Australia", The Northern Times 26 Oct 1907) These two dogs from that line of collies were to become famous in rural Victoria and across other Australian states by farmers and stockmen for the next 50 years. They must have been quick moving workers as the merino sheep of those days were smaller, faster and flightier than the sheep of today. Here is an account of how great a dog "Clyde" was at working sheep: "While riding cross country one morning from Yarrawonga, Mr Rutherford came across his friend Sir Samuel Wilson with a mob of 5000 newly weaned lambs, with his men and dogs absolutely failed to get the lambs through the gate of the paddock. After some consultation, Mr Rutherford agreed to give them a trial with "Clyde" on condition that all the other dogs should be called up. In less than half an hour the lambs were through the gate and safely mustered in another paddock. Sir Samuel Wilson rode up and offered £100 for "Clyde" which was declined. Later £500 was offered for him, but was not accepted." (See "Collie Dogs for Australia", The Northern Times 26 Oct 1907).

Four years later John was competing at the first sheepdog trial in Australia at the Wangaratta Cattle Show on 5 September 1868 with "Clyde" and was made an offer of £300, for which he refused. (The Register, Tuesday 6 Sept, 1910.) These offers would have been world record prices at the time for a sheepdog.

Imports of Kildonan Rutherford Collies to Australia in the early 20 Century
*Gerald S Kempe the renowned Australian Kelpie breeder started importing dogs from the Rutherford’s around 1890, 22 years after the original importation by John Rutherford in 1868. There is evidence to suggest that his earliest importation could have been made around 1890. The dog Saxon II after being trained by Kempe eventually went to Mr Frank C Bishop of "Apalkaldree", Normanville, South Australia. A 1907 "Northern Times" article cites Bishop as having a dog called Saxon II, which had been bred or obtained from Kempe from the Kildonan Rutherford strain. Saxon II was bred from Saxon I, who was either a direct descendant of the original 1868im importation or was from a later importation by Kempe.

Mr F C Bishop of Apalkaldree, Normanville, writes: – Here is an account of a fine bit of work by a sheep dog: – Saxon II had 24 hours with sheep ‘on his own’. We went to Buluturudda, which is a paddock about six miles from the station, to tail lambs, and I sent him after some rough sheep in the scrub, and lost the run of him, as I picked up seven scrubbers and had to stick to them. He stuck to his. Next day he had a mob of about 100 sheep down below the station house at the gate, lying quite contented with them! They had the ground all trodden down, and black looking, so he must have had them there early in the evening. This collie distinguished himself last summer by keeping eight wild sheep during a heat wave for 24 hours 20 minutes, and although nearly famished by thirst refused to leave them until his master found them. Saxon II was bred and broken by Mr Gerald Kempe, at Kildonan, Morgan, and is of the Rutherford Strain of Scotch Gatherers from Sutherlandshire." (See "Collie Dogs for Australia", The Northern Times 26 Oct 1907).

The second record that I can clearly verify of importations of Rutherford dogs after 1868 is the 1894 importation by Gerald S Kempe for his employer Stephen S Ralli who had a Shropshire sheep stud near Balaklava South Australia called "Werocota". The two dogs were "Glen" and "Bess" and "Glen" was a direct descendant of the original "Clyde". Richard Rutherford was a shepherd in Kildonan Scotland, and the older brother of John who came to Australia in the 1850’s. It was Richard who sent dogs over to Australia on the request of Kempe until he died in 1899. You get the distinct impression form reading old records, that the old original Gideon and his two sons Richard and John were the ones who had the most talent in breeding sheep and dogs and were experts at handling them.

"In 1894 the late Mr Rutherford, Kildonan, again sent out to Mr S S Ralli, "Werocata", two dogs "Glen" and "Bess".

The former, a descendant of "Clyde", proved a very fine worker in Australia. On one occasion at a field trial he was put in a wheat sack to prevent him seeing the way the sheep would go. When they were out of sight he was let loose, and yarded three wild sheep within twenty minutes. The two dogs now going out are still strains of "Clyde" and "Lassie"." (See "Collie Dogs for Australia", The Northern Times 26 Oct 1907).

The third importation by Kempe was in 1907: - "Mr Rutherford, Kildonan House, is sending to Mr Gerald S Kempe, Morgan, South Australia, a pair of collie dogs. Mr Kempe has one of the oldest kennels of pedigree workers in the Colonies which he names "The Kildonan Clean Bred Collies". (See "Collie Dogs for Australia", The Northern Times 26 Oct 1907.) Gerard S Kempe again imported two dogs in 1910 on behalf of John Collins and Son in Lucernedale, Mt. Bryan South Australia. This was either Kempe’s third or fourth set of imports in 20 years.

"The collies under notice are described by Mr John Rutherford of Kildonan House Sutherlandshire (their breeder), as the best pair he has put together for export. This is the third pair from this celebrated kennel of working sheep dogs Mr Kempe has secured for this state during the past 20 years. The Rutherford sheepdogs have a remarkable history. The great grandfather of the present owner (Mr Gideon Rutherford) first put them together from the Sutherlandshire shepherds 150 years ago, and have been line bred by the family ever since." (The Register, South Australia, Tuesday 6 Sept 1910, p.5) The John Rutherford of Kildonan House, Scotland in 1910 mentioned by Gerard S Kempe, was the son of Richard Rutherford and a nephew of the John Rutherford who was famous in Victoria, Australia. He wasn’t a great grandson of the original Gideon, but his grandson. This is verified by an article on Richard Brown Rutherford, the son of John Rutherford.

Richard Brown Rutherford immigrated to Perth Australia on 8 April 1909. He in fact was one of the great grandsons of Gideon the original founder of the "Kildonan Rutherford" line of collies.

"After finishing his education, Mr Rutherford entered the law offices of Mr Macaulay, Golspie. His experience there will stand him in good stead in after life. Later, he went to London to the office of Messers John Taylor & Sons, but the change from country to city life proved injurious to his health. He returned home, and since then he has been assisting his father, Mr John Rutherford (in the management of Kildonan Farm), whose Cheviot sheep are so widely known." (The Northern Times April 8 1909).

If there were further imports of Rutherford collies after 1910, then there are few records to verify this activity. As World War I approached it’s quite possible imports were curtailed or stopped completely. It is fairly certain that the Rutherford line of collie imports up to 1910 were bred back into Kelpie bloodlines by Gerald S Kempe and other kelpie breeders. Also, it would be foolish to assume that as modern Border collie lines came into Australia and New Zealand, that they also were not crossed with mixtures of the Rutherford line of collies by practical Australian farmers and stockmen.

The next most interesting question is, did this fantastic working strain of collies just die out, or did they continue to flourish back in Scotland? Also did any of this line of collie’s filter into the breeding of the modern Border Collie in the UK? It seems only further careful historical research will tell us the answer.

*(Gerald S Kempe was an Englishman born in 1850 in the Rectory of Wexham, Bucks, England and arrived in Australia in July 1870 and worked on or managed many properties from 1881 onwards in the Darling to Lower Murray and the Coorong regions in Victoria, NSW and South Australia. He eventually settled in South Australia in 1903 and bought ‘Kapinka’ station near Port Lincoln and then moved to ‘Kildonan’, Morgan South Australia. He was an avid breeder and fan of the Kelpie. He died on 8 January 1917.)