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Colling, Charlesfree

  • Ernest Clarke
  • , revised by Anne Pimlott Baker

Colling, Charles (1751–1836), stockbreeder, was the second son in the family of two sons and two or three daughters of Charles Colling (1721–1785), farmer, and Dorothy Robson (d. 1779). He succeeded his father in the occupancy of a farm at Ketton, near Darlington, in 1782, shortly after a visit he paid to Robert Bakewell (1725–1795), the well-known breeder at Dishley, Leicestershire.

It is generally supposed that the great lesson that Charles Colling learnt during the three weeks he spent at Dishley was the expediency of concentrating good blood by a system of in-and-in breeding … What he really learnt at Dishley was the all-importance of ‘quality’ in cattle, and he resolved to devote himself to the preservation and amelioration of the local cattle on the Tees and Skerne.

Bates, The brothers Colling, 5–6

On 23 July 1783 Colling married Mary Colpitts (1763–1850), who was almost as interested as her husband in the breeding of improved shorthorns and who helped him a great deal.

Colling bought his first good bull from his elder brother, Robert Colling, and it was later known as Hubback. This bull was mated while at Ketton with cows—afterwards famous—called Duchess, Daisy, Cherry, and Lady Maynard. In 1795 one of Hubback's female offspring produced, by another celebrated bull called Favourite, a roan calf, which grew to be the famous Durham Ox. By the time it was five and a half years old it weighed 3024 lb, and it was sold as a show animal for £140. After five months' exhibition, its then owner refused £2000 for it, and for the next six years he took it around the country. A portrait of the Ox, painted by John Boultbee and engraved by John Whessell, was published in March 1802. At ten years old the Ox weighed about 3800 lb, but after dislocating its hipbone it was killed at Oxford in April 1807. A still more famous animal was Comet, born in the autumn of 1804, which 'Charles Colling declared to be the best bull he ever bred or saw, and nearly every judge of shorthorns agreed with him' (Bates, The brothers Colling, 16).

On 11 October 1810 Colling sold off his entire herd at a public auction, which was very well attended. Comet sold for 1000 guineas, and the forty-seven lots went in all for £7116 18s., or an average of £151 8s. 5d. A testimonial was presented to Colling by forty-nine subscribers in the shape of an inscribed silver-gilt cup.

Charles and Robert Colling, in making the shorthorn into a good beef animal, applied the principles developed by Robert Bakewell in breeding longhorn cattle. They were regarded as next in importance to Bakewell in improving the cattle of the United Kingdom. Thomas Bates and Thomas Booth built on their work, and Amos Cruikshank of Sittyton (1808–1895) produced Scottish shorthorns based on Colling stock. Robert Colling died in 1820, but Charles lived on in retirement until his death on 16 January 1836. He had no descendants.


  • C. J. Bates, ‘The brothers Colling’, Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, 3rd ser., 10 (1899), 1–30
  • C. J. Bates, Thomas Bates and the Kirklevington shorthorns (1897)
  • T. Bell, The history of improved shorthorn or Durham cattle and of the Kirklevington herd from the notes of the late Thomas Bates (1871)
  • The Druid [H. H. Dixon], Saddle and sirloin, or, English farm and sporting worthies (1870), 146–8


  • T. Weaver, double portrait, 1811 (Charles and Robert Colling)
  • W. Ward, engraving, 1825 (after T. Weaver), repro. in Bates, ‘The brothers Colling’, frontispiece
  • G. Cook, line engraving (after J. M. Wright), BM, NPG; repro. in The Farmer's Magazine (Feb 1844)