Cheers to a most famous bull!

It is 200 years since the arrival of Tarquino, the bull who laid the foundations for Argentina’s world-renowned beef

Engraving of a shorthorn bull from The Farmers magazine, 1856. Source: Wikimedia commons

It’s surely quite unusual that a bull and its legacy is commemorated, but here in Argentina, this year is the 200th anniversary of the arrival of a Shorthorn bull called Tarquino, brought from the UK in 1823 by Scotsman John Miller.

Born in Elgin in 1787, Miller settled in Buenos Aires in 1810. A businessman, he detected the benefits of introducing a pedigree Shorthorn bull, also known as Durham. He bred Tarquino with the criollo cattle brought by the Spanish in the 16th century, beginning the genetic improvement that laid the foundation for an industry that has positioned Argentina among the top countries in the world for the quality of its meat.

The Shorthorn was developed during the last quarter of the 18th century through selective breeding of local cattle of the Teeswater district, Durham County, in northern England. It is characterized by its short horns, blocky conformation, and color, which ranges from red, red with white markings and white, to roan – a mixture of red and white hairs.

The importance of the Shorthorn in the development of other cattle breeds is enormous for both beef and dairy, and Shorthorn genetics have been used worldwide in the development of over 40 different breeds. 

On April 11, the Argentine Shorthorn Breeders’ Association (Asociación Argentina Criadores de Shorthorn) organized the formal bicentenary commemoration at the Agriculture and Livestock Market (Mercado Agro Ganadero) in Cañuelas, Buenos Aires province. A bagpiper greeted those arriving and was a reminder to all of Miller’s origin.

Present at the event were Cañuelas Mayor Marisa Fassi, Shorthorn Breeders’ Association President Carlos “Charly” Dawney, Agriculture and Livestock Market President Andrés Mendizábal, and of course, many farmers. Speeches were given by the authorities and Alfredo Fierro, Director of Trade and Investment from the British Embassy, who paid tribute to those first British immigrants and their contribution to Argentina’s development.

The Scottish connection is alive and well: Dawney’s great-great-grandfather, John Alston, was a Scottish doctor specializing in tropical diseases who came to Argentina at the end of the 19th century, in the midst of the yellow fever epidemic, and fell in love with the countryside. He bought land in Guatraché, La Pampa, and set up his Shorthorn rodeo there.

As the fifth generation of cattle producers, today the Dawneys run a family farming business, proudly and passionately upholding a 120-year tradition as Shorthorn cattle herders.

The Cañuelas Agriculture and Livestock Market is close to where Miller had his estancia, “La Caledonia”. The ranch is where generals Juan Manuel de Rosas and Juan Lavalle famously signed the historic agreement on June 24, 1829, establishing the cessation of hostilities between Federales and Unitarios during the first Civil War, and the election of a new governor. Tradition has it that dulce de leche was created at La Caledonia by a housemaid when the generals met.

Nearby is a monument to John Miller and his bull Tarquino. It was unveiled on May 20, 1943, to commemorate the centenary of Miller’s death, at a ceremony attended by Argentine President Ramón Castillo (overthrown a few days later), as well as the British and U.S. ambassadors and the president of the Rural Society, José María Bustillo. 

Miller was buried at the second Buenos Aires British Cemetery. When this was shut down in 1892, his tombstone was transferred to the cemetery’s present location in Chacarita.

A local whisky, called Breeder’s Choice, has an image of Tarquino on its label. Cheers, then, to this most famous bull!


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald