Let me introduce  a famous  Aussie  dog by the name of  Coil. Born in the late 19thC, he was a slate blue and tan  Australian Kelpie with a ‘fox brush’ tail. He was a champion  performer in sheep dog trials. Just look at that proud stance in the photo below.

Coil the famous Kelpie

Coil the Kelpie

Kelpies were specifically bred to work sheep in harsh Australian conditions. They were less thickly coated than their  British ancestors, and able to handle the heat. When Coil wasn’t competing at agricultural shows and trials he worked as hard on his owner John Quinn’s property  as any other dog on the place.

Kelpie working sheep.

A working Kelpie with the flock.

In 1898  Coil was taken down to the  prestigious Sydney Trials.  Mr Quinn had won the inaugural competition in 1896, with a Kelpie called Gay.

Coil performed perfectly on the first day. In fact he received the maximum number of points; 100. The next day was to be the finals. It scarcely seemed possible that the dog could perform so well again, but nevertheless he was the hot favourite.


On the way back to the hotel Coil, perhaps unsettled by city traffic, jumped out of the horse-drawn carriage while it was still moving. Sadly, he broke a foreleg on the wheel spokes.

Now  John Quinn was a man of many parts, dog breeder, farmer, stock-and- station agent, and trained veterinary surgeon,   That night he set Coil’s broken leg using strips of cork. Next morning the little champion was raring to go, so off they went to the trials….not much hope in their hearts, but worth a go. The judge allowed Coil to enter, not something we would condone today, that’s for sure. It was raining heavily, which made the challenging course even more difficult.

On his three good legs Coil worked the sheep as well as he had done the day before. It was his eyes and brain  and his  wonderful working relationship with Quinn that saw him through to another perfect score…. and the title. He had sent his trio of sheep around the course in 6 minutes  12 seconds. No dog has ever come close to equaling this performance.

It was characteristic of  the Australian sense of humour that the Kelpie  became known as The Immortal Coil.   A journalist writing in  the  Bulletin  described him as being to the dog world what  the legendary Victor Trumper was to cricket.

On another occasion, Coil persuaded his sheep through a gate,  a Maltese Cross, and into a tiny, 5ft square pen in five minutes, ten seconds.  They were completely under his control from start to finish.  One spectator recalled the dog  as, ‘looking like a child pushing three dummy sheep about wherever  he wanted them’.  

By the way, if you want to see how difficult it can be to get sheep through  the gate known as Maltese Cross, watch this video.

When Coil retired from competition he sired another generation of champions. One of his daughters,  the red haired  Bawn,  inherited another of her father’s talents.  Like him, she could herd a tiny chick into a jam  tin. How about that? Apologies for the following  picture, it was published in a newspaper in 1903. But it provides indisputable proof. Yes, that ‘white blob chick’  is nearly in the can.

Kelpie herding chick into tin can

Bawn  (and his shadow)  demonstrating his  chicky herding skills. (Trove)

John Quinn later became a top judge at sheep trials around New South Wales.  At the Sydney trials in 1928 the governor-general, Lord Stonehaven, presented him with a silver salver and a wallet of banknotes donated by fellow  sheep dog enthusiasts  in appreciation of his efforts.

He died on January 22 1937, aged 73. In his obituary, tribute  was paid to his enormous contribution to the  industry, with special mention of Coil.



I was contacted by Cameron Quinn, great-nephew of John ,after publishing his piece. In a delightful tradition his family still call one of each new generation of Kelpies….. Coil.

  1. Nice story. John Wuinn was my great uncle. The tradition in our family is to name the first dog of the generation Coil in memory of Uncle John and his wonderful Coil.

    • Quinn of course. Not Wuinn. I have fat fingers!

    • Pauline

      Hi Cameron, thanks so much for taking the trouble to leave a message. What a delightful family tradition. I’ll add it to the story.

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