The Smithfield Drover dogs of old were a strong, athletic and intelligent bearded collie type of working dog that were used by farmers for watching their livestock and by the drovers to drive the livestock to market. They got their name from the Smithfield Market in London, England where they were a common sight for many centuries up until the 1900’s.
Long before the railway system, motor vehicles and tarmac roads large herds of cattle and sheep were driven down drover paths from rural parts of Britain into the new industrial cities where the large markets were. The London Smithfield meat market was the most famous and biggest of them all and had been established since the 1200’s.
It was an extremely long journey which sometimes started as far as Wales and Scotland, therefore every drover required experienced working dogs capable of keeping the livestock in check and all heading in the right direction. These dogs were highly valued and revered all across Britain and I’m sure the markets were also used to sell, swap and breed the different regional Smithfield types together that existed and congregated at the meat markets. Every region had their own type that had been purposely bred to work the terrain where their owner lived.
One of the problems that many of the more remote farmers faced was if they drove there stock all the way into the cities there would be no meat left on them. So instead of driving the stock straight into the markets they would leave their stock on “fattening fields” with other farmers who lived closer to the cities to allow them to put on some weight. They even drove flocks of geese with their feet tarred to stand the journey. It’s well documented that many drovers would return home by coach or horse and leave their dogs to find their own way home. This was common practise and despite some of them having to travel long distances, most always found their way home year after year.
Once modern technology kicked in the drovers and their Smithfields became a rare sight in the UK and with time they slowly disappeared into the history books. The drover dogs went extinct but I am sure that some of their blood was added to some of the herding/shepherd breeds that we still have today up and down the UK.
Luckily, the Smithfield Drover dogs were taken to Australia by the British in the 1800’s and 1900’s where they were continued to be used to drive cattle and sheep from rural areas into Sydney stock market. They also played a hand in creating the Australian herding breeds in the 1800’s. The breed’s final strong hold is in Tasmania, a small island off the coast of Victoria in southern Australia where they are still used for farm work and their original purpose.