Friday, November 23, 2012

Suburban Goats at Large

The very first ships bringing Europeans to Australia carried goats on board to supplement the rations of those on board with fresh milk. Breeding pairs of goats were often left on remote islands as a food source for passing ships and for possible shipwreck survivors.[1]

When the celebrated German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt set off on his second great expedition he took with him flock of 280 Angola goats.[2]

In his second expedition, Dr. Leichhardt will take with him a number of goats, as well as mules, - the last mentioned useful animals are now in training, and are to have bells suspended to their necks.[3]

Caricature of the daily life of the suburban goat.

In the early days of the settlement of Brisbane, goats were popular with many residents, particularly with small landholders in South Brisbane, as a source of milk and meat. Goats were very hardy, did not need as much space as cows, and were not fussy eaters.  This last attribute could also be a curse for victims of the voracious and indiscriminate diet of the goat.

The goat owners of South Brisbane were often subject to the ire of fellow residents for not controlling the foraging habits of their milk producers. Given their proclivity for climbing and jumping, the animals were also in the habit of seeking shelter of neighbours’ verandas.

A local storekeeper named Ebenezer Orr took particular offence when returning home he was confronted by a particularly disagreeable billygoat which had taken up residence on his veranda. It was not long before Orr lodged a complaint at the Police Office across the river.

Advertisement in the Moreton Bay Courier 4.7.1846


At the Police-office, on Tuesday, three of the inhabitants of South Brisbane were summoned to answer informations for suffering goats to stray about the public streets. They were fined 5s. each and costs.

The informations had been laid at the instance of Mr. Orr, to whom the animals had become a serious nuisance, in consequence of their congregating under the verandah of his house, at night time, during the wet weather.

Mr. Orr was about ascending the steps of his house a few evenings since, when a huge billy-goat disputed possession of the premises, and rushing at him knocked him head over heels on to the ground.

Not relishing this kind of treatment, he proceeded forthwith to eject the intruder, which was accomplished after some little difficulty.

The Chief Constable, we understand, is about to file informations against "all and sundry" who do not keep their goats tied up on their own premises. [4]

Over the following years much police work was given over to rounding up miscreant ruminants and locking them up in the town pound. Advertisements were frequently run in the local press posting the descriptions of the current internees.

The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 21 August 1847

Despite the efforts of the constables, The Moreton Bay Courier continued to raise the issue. Goats were particular damaging to the small landholders who grew much of the fresh produce consumed in the settlement.

ANIMALS STRAYING IN THE PUBLIC STREETS. We are glad to see that the Police are at last turning their attention to clearing the public streets of the numerous nuisances which in the shape of animals abound in them. Several goats have been impounded and, as we understand, sold.

These animals, on account of the familiar habits which they soon acquire when kept in a state of partial domestication, are a great nuisance to many of the inhabitants, and, particularly to those who keep gardens.

 If a door is left open and unguarded for any length of time, one or more goats are sure to pop in, and if anything be lying about suited to their tastes (and they are by no means nice) they make an appropriation without any ceremony.

There are few, we believe, of these animals that are not owned by some person or another, but we suppose the number is very small who derive any benefit from them. In some cases they may be advantageous to many poor families in furnishing them with a luxury which they may find it inconvenient to purchase-and provided they keep their "nannies" from annoying their neighbours, no interruption will be offered to their doing so; but it is absolutely necessary to abridge the number roaming about in the street, and ready to enter into mischief the moment an opportunity for doing so presents itself.[6]

Most of the impounded goats seemed to come from South Brisbane but the pond was located across the river in North Brisbane. This caused particular inconvenience to the constables who not only had to take the offenders into custody but had to wrangle them aboard a punt to cross the river, often at night.

The Moreton Bay Courier suggested that a pound needed to be constructed at South Brisbane for stray goats and another for their human counterparts.

South Brisbane panorama

Amongst other wants at South Brisbane, are two of a restrictive character, namely, a pound for men, and a pound for goats and other animals destructive to the gardeners there.

In other words a watch-house in the first place is much required for it is highly inconvenient for the two constables stationed there to have to bring offenders whom they may apprehend at night, over the river to North Brisbane, besides the danger arising from leaving that part of the township entirely unprotected in their absence.

The other nuisance arising from the destructive ravages of stray animals, is highly injurious to the small agriculturists, and robs them often of their slender profits: and the remedy might be found in the establishment of a public pound; the keeper of which might also act as watch-house keeper. We beg to commit these suggestions to consideration in the proper quarter, as they refer to evils of real importance.[7]

Children with their pet goat
Despite their misadventures goats continued to be popular with many residents and pet goats were cherished by children. Small carts were constructed as miniature sulkies and goat races were keenly contested.

Child in her goat sulky
Eventually some of the domesticated goats wandered off into the bush and embraced a feral lifestyle. As of 2010 were are at least 2.3 million feral goats in Australia, with estimates of up to 240,000 in Queensland.[8] 

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] viz. the fictional character Robinson Crusoe.
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 7 November 1846
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 3 October 1846
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 5 December 1846
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 21 August 1847
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 22 April 1848
[7] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 29 June 1850
[8] Estimated by: The State of Queensland, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, 2010

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