The Durham Ox was a castrated bull who became famous in the early 19th century for his shape, size and weight. He was an early example of what became the Shorthorn breed of cattle, and helped establish the standards by which the breed was to be defined.
The animal was born in March 1796 and was bred by Charles Colling of Ketton Hall, Brafferton near Darlington in North-East England. Colling, together with his brother Robert who farmed at nearby Barmpton, was one of the pioneers of the cattle-breeding movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. After a visit in 1784 to Robert Bakewell, a successful breeder of Longhorn cattle, Colling began using Bakewell’s techniques to develop and improve the Shorthorn breed. The animal eventually known as the Durham Ox was the grandson of Colling’s original bull “Hubbach” or "Hubback", and became known as the Ketton Ox when he was exhibited in Darlington in 1799. He was painted as such at the age of five years in 1801 by George Cuit of Richmond.
In 1801 the ox was sold to John Day of Harmston, near Lincoln, for £250 (2010: £14,900 ). Day renamed him the Durham Ox and had a carriage specially made to transport him, drawn by four horses. For the next five years the ox toured with him around England and Scotland, exhibited to the public at agricultural fairs and other events. The ox proved extremely popular. For most of 1802 the Durham Ox was on show in London, where it is recorded that in one single day admission fees to see him totalled £97.
A dedication accompanying a painting of the ox by John Boultbee (1753–1812) in 1802 gave details of the animal’s measurements and estimated its weight as 171 stone (1,086 kg), but later estimates ran as high as 270 stone (1,715 kg), although there may be some confusion as the stone was not a standardised weight at the time. Whilst his size and weight partially accounts for the admiration he attracted, he was also regarded as a particularly fine and well-proportioned example of his type, at a time when the concept of selective breeding for particular characteristics was just becoming established in agriculture.
On show in Oxford during February 1807, the ox damaged his hip as he was getting out of his carriage. The injury failed to heal, and on 15 April 1807 he was slaughtered. His weight after death was reported to be 189 stone (1,200 kg or 2646 lb)
In popular culture
The ox was painted by various artists during his lifetime and pictures of him were reproduced and sold commercially. A coloured engraving after John Boultbee’s picture of 1802 sold 2,000 prints in that year alone. China and porcelain was produced, decorated with pictures of the ox, including a range of blue and white Staffordshire pottery. The impact made by the Durham Ox is reflected in the large number of British pubs named for the creature and a town Durham Ox in Victoria, Australia.
- "200 years since the sad demise of the legend that was the Durham Ox". Darlington & Stockton Times. 27 April 2007. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
- Colling, Charles (DNB01). Wikisource.
- "Online Exhibitions: Livestock in Art". Museum of English Rural Life. University of Reading. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
- Quinn, Michael S. "Corpulent Cattle and Milk Machines: Nature, Art and the Ideal Type". Society and Animals Journal of Human-Animal Studies. 1 (2). Retrieved 4 September 2012.
- Unattributed maker Durham Ox series china at the Virtual Museum, www.blueandwhite.com. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
Ritvo, Harriet (1987). The animal estate: The English and other creatures in the Victorian age. Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press.