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Vincent James Dowling (1835–1903)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Vincent James Dowling (1835-1903), explorer and pastoralist, was born on 11 January 1835 at Flinton, South Head Road, near Sydney, the eldest son of James Willoughby Dowling and his wife Lillias, née Dickson. His father was a nephew and associate of Sir James Dowling. Vincent was educated by Rev. J. Wilkinson at Meads, Ashfield, until 1849 and then at Clapham, near London. He returned to New South Wales in 1851 and, after experience at Pomeroy, near Goulburn, held a New England run for about three years. He then bought mobs of sheep and cattle from the Richmond and Clarence Rivers and overlanded them to Victorian markets. His last trip in the 1858 drought was 'sufficient to sicken' him of overland work.

Early in 1859 Dowling drove 1200 Hereford heifers to establish a station on the Darling, which became known as Fort Bourke. When yards and living quarters had been erected, he started a garden. In 1860 he became a justice of the peace for New South Wales and in 1862 for Queensland. He sat on the bench at Bourke, Mudgee, Bathurst and Sofala. He soon found the Darling 'too civilized' and began exploring to the north and west; with an Aboriginal guide he traced the Paroo and Bulloo to their sources. He founded Caiwarroo and Eulo stations on the Paroo in 1861 and others on the Warrego and Cuttaburra Rivers, and Yantabulla and Birrawarra in New South Wales. About 1863 he went into partnership with George Cox; by 1867 they had leased over 1300 square miles (3367 km²) in the Warrego district of Queensland. Dowling was the active manager. In 1863 he had been saved by his 'long American hat' from an Aboriginal spear in his head and in 1865 his brother John was murdered by natives. To such dangers were added arduous labour and intense loneliness, relieved only by books and the writing of bad poetry. 'God knows how it is all to end', he wrote in December 1865, 'but if this weather continues much longer, we must all go to the wall together'.

On 4 May 1866 at St Peter's Church of England, Cook's River, Dowling married Frances Emily, the fifth daughter of Thomas Breillat; he had courted her for eight years. Their first child was born in 1867 and Fanny went with Dowling to Thargomindah on the Bulloo; she was the first white woman in the area and he the farthest-out magistrate. He built up a fine herd of Herefords which he thought withstood drought better than Shorthorns. When Thargomindah was auctioned in 1874 it had a frontage of eighty miles (129 km) on the Bulloo and nearly 1000 square miles (2590 km²) of grassed mulga ridges and salt-bush plains. By 1875 Cox & Dowling had sold out in Queensland. In August 1876 Dowling left Sydney to tour the East, America and England where, despite ill health, he followed such famous hounds as those of the Pytchley Hunt.

He returned to Sydney in July 1877, bought Lue, Rylstone, from Dr James Cox, and settled down as a stud breeder. By 1884 Dowling had fenced Lue's 23,000 acres (9308 ha) and subdivided it into about forty paddocks. With 1500 acres (607 ha) of lucerne and much prairie grass he raised the carrying capacity to 21,000 sheep and about 500 cattle. By 1891 he had 33,771 sheep on Lue and Slapdash. The Lue merino stud was famed for its wool which won many prizes. Dowling bought several rams from Edward Cox at Rawdon and the 'champion ram' at the 1879 International Exhibition in Sydney. He continued to breed Herefords mainly with stock from Cressy, Tasmania. Bulls bred at Lue were later sent to his Queensland stations. He also bred carriage horses and Clydesdales.

In 1880 for £9500 he bought Gummin Gummin in the Warrumbungles where he ran sheep and cattle and bred 'walers' for the Indian Army. He later acquired Walla Walla, near Gilgandra, but never lost faith in Queensland. In the 1880s Cox & Dowling bought Connemara, north of Cooper's Creek, and were joined by Septimus Stephen; by 1896 the station had 25,000 cattle on 3000 square miles (7770 km²). The partners also acquired Pillicawarrina on the Macquarie River. On 19 September 1890, during the maritime strike, Dowling was one of six men who drove their wool to the Sydney wharves under police escort; the resulting turmoil led to the reading of the Riot Act. Dowling's last decade was clouded by anxiety over his muddled finances; before the 1902 drought ended large sums had to be borrowed to keep Connemara going, and selections on Pillicawarrina led to many complicated court cases.

Known as 'V.J.D.' Dowling loved all forms of sport: in his exploring days he hunted kangaroos and other game; a lover of horses, he was keen on racing and rode in steeplechases in Sydney. He owned racehorses and his four-in-hand was famous in Mudgee. He became vice-president of the Australian Jockey Club, the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales and the Stockowners Association, was a councillor of the Tax Payers Union and a member of the Bathurst Anglican Synod. He was not only widely read but had 'wonderful vitality' and great humour. He died from heart disease on 5 November 1903 at Neotsfield, Singleton, the home of his son-in-law, R. H. Dangar, and was buried in the Anglican cemetery at Mudgee. He was survived by his wife, two of his four sons and three daughters, to whom he left over £47,000.

Select Bibliography

  • C. McIvor, History and Development of Sheep Farming from Antiquity to Modern Times (Syd, 1893)
  • Sydney Mail, 24 Nov 1884
  • Australasian, 4 July 1885
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Nov 1903
  • Pastoral Review, 17 Nov 1903
  • G. H. Cox cash book and letters to George Stewart (privately held)
  • V. J. Dowling diaries and letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • S. A. and C. C. Stephen letter-books (privately held).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Dowling, Vincent James (1835–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 12 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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