Kolbroek – Chinese, New Zealand, and English Connections

Kolbroek – Chinese, New Zealand, and English Connections
2 December 2019
By: Eben van Tonder

Featured image:  A Kunekune pig from New Zealand

Previous article on the Kolbroek:

In Search of the Origins of the Kolbroek


In the previous article, we examined the theory that the Kolbroek came from the Colebrook, an English East Indian vessel that sank along the Cape Hangklip coast at Kogelbay in 1778. The idea that they swam ashore and became the nucleus of the Kolbroek is disputed in many circles but seems to be the most plausible possibility. My theory is that as the animals swam ashore, they were received by slaves living in what is called Dappas Gat, a large cave overlooking Kogel bay. That slaves actually received the pigs ashore and reared them, maintaining them as a homogenous unit, is a romantic possibility. The slaves could even have helped the survivors who made it safely onto the shore and supplied them with food and drink. Half the people on the small boat drowned when it capsized in the surf on the rocks. The sight must have been miserable!

If the slaves assisted the shipwrecked sailors, the pigs may have been given to them as a gift by the survivors. This is an even more romantic possibility that must be borne out by facts. However it happened, the animals made it to land and became the nucleus of what we today know as the Kolbroek breed. I like the slave option, but there could have been, of course, other possibilities such as one of the farmers who arrived days after the ships sinking.

The Chinese link of the Kolbroek must be further elucidated because in many old circles they were referred to as Chinese pigs. If they did indeed come from the Colebrook, how did Chinese pigs get on the ship? The ship did, after all, sail from England to the Far East (India and China) and not the other way around. In this article, I deal with this intriguing question.

A compendium of Afrikaans words by Van der Merwe, from the middle 1800s, gives the following definition for Kolbroek. Afrikaans words started to appear in the dialect in South Africa, but the language of the early to mid 1800s was still unmistaken Dutch. It gives the definition of the new Afrikaans word, Kolbroek as, “Kolbroek, of Snees vark, kortpootig Sineesch varken, aldus genoemd naar Colebrook, die het alhier invoerde. De Slamschen noemen het vark en het langpootige varken swyn.” It translates as follows, “Kolbroek or or Snees pig (abbreviated form of Chinese pig), short-legged Sineesch pig (Chinese pig, this time the full word), thus named after Colebrook, who introduced it here. The Slamschen (Slams, a derogatory word used to refer to Islamic; Malay; Mohammedan; Moslem; Muslim) call the pig and the long-legged pig swyn (swine). ” (http://www.majstro.com/)

The Plot Thickens

I am feeling completely out of my depth and the more I learn about the subject matter of breeding pigs and developing a race, the more insecure I feel! I have, however, never been put off by complicated subject matters!  🙂 When I visited Dr. Danie Visser, he gave me a nugget of information. He suggested that I also look at the Kunekune pigs from New Zealand. According to him, the Kunekune and the Kolbroek are closely related.

Let me show you what he meant. Compare the Kunekune photos, courtesy of the Empire Kunekune Pig Association of New York (https://www.ekpa.org/).


Kunekune 2.png

Compare these with the Kolbroek, photos with the courtesy of Zenzele farm (http://www.zenzelefarm.com/Kolbroek.html).



The resemblance is uncanny. We added two important chess pieces to the board namely the Chinese link and the close tie between the Kolbroek and the Kunekune of New Zealand. Is it possible that the Kolbroek came to the Cape of Good Hope and that in essence the same pigs (group) also arrived at the shores of New Zealand? These intriguing questions invaded my mind and are not letting me go.

Uniting the Kolbroek, the Kunekune, the English East Indian Company, and China

An obvious link between the Kunekune, the Kolbroek, and China from the 1700s is the English East Indian Company and possibly the English navy. The English East Indian Company is the most obvious organisation of that time who facilitated trade between England and China. It makes sense that they were responsible for populating England with Chinese pigs. It also stands to reason that it was an English East Indian ship that was responsible for ferrying the fletching nucleus of pigs of what would become the Kolbroek to Kogel Bay at Cape Hangklip where runaway slaves possibly took over the small herd and were responsible for initially preserving them.

If the Kunekune came to New Zealand around the same time and also from an English East Indian ship or from the English navy; if the New Zealand pigs were also taken on board from Gravesend as the evidence seems to suggest was the case with the Kolbroek pigs; if the pigs were not breed-pigs like the Berkshire or the Buckinghamshire but, as I suspect, village pigs from Kent; this will explain the Chinese connection and how these seemingly very close relatives made it to both South Africa and New Zealand. One would expect to find evidence in the genetic makeup of the breeds, both Chinese and European origins.

Considering the facts before us leads to this very intriguing and neat conclusion and would settle the matter of the origins of the Kolbroek based on the strong similarities between the Kolbroek and the Kunekune. It would preclude the possibility that the Kolbroek “evolved” through a complicated cross bearding of Chinese or Portuguese, Spanish or Dutch breeds with South African wild boars or even warthogs. Let’s delve into the facts.


Around eight thousand years ago, pigs in China made a transition from wind animals to the farm. They started living off scraps of food from human settlements. Humans penned them up and started feeding them which removed the evolutionary pressure they had as wild animals living in the forest. They were bred by humans instead of being left in the forests to breed naturally and to find for themselves. This led to an animal that is round, pale, short-legged, pot-bellied with traditional regional breeding preferences that persist to this day. (White, 2011)

Yu, et al (2013), reports that there are 88 indigenous breeds of pigs in China today.  They investigated the origin and evolution of Chinese pigs using complete mitochondrial genomic sequences (mtDNA) from Asian and European domestic pigs and wild boars. “Thirty primer pairs were designed to determine the mtDNA sequences of, Xiang pig, Large White, Lantang, Jinhua, and Pietrain.” (Yu, 2013)

This is a great place to start because it not only speaks directly to our topic of pigs in China and their relationship with those in the West, but it also introduces us to very important concepts for our study.

The first new concept is that of phylogenetics. “Phylogenetics is the study of the evolutionary history and relationships among individuals or groups of organisms (e.g. species, or populations). These relationships are discovered through phylogenetic inference methods that evaluate observed heritable traits, such as DNA sequences or morphology under a model of evolution of these traits. The result of these analyses is a phylogeny (also known as a phylogenetic tree)—a diagrammatic hypothesis about the history of the evolutionary relationships of a group of organisms.” (Biology online. Retrieved 15 February 2013.) Yu and his coworkers investigated the phylogenetic status of Chinese native pigs “by comparing the mtDNA sequences of complete coding regions and D-loop regions respectively amongst Asian breeds, European breeds, and wild boars. The analyzed results by two cluster methods contributed to the same conclusion that all pigs were classified into two major groups, European clade and Asian clade.” (Yu, 2013)

A clade is “a grouping that includes a common ancestor and all the descendants (living and extinct) of that ancestor. Using a phylogeny, it is easy to tell if a group of lineages forms a clade. Imagine clipping a single branch off the phylogeny — all of the organisms on that pruned branch make up a clade.” (https://evolution.berkeley.edu)

A Clade, credit http://evolution.berkeley.edu)

It revealed that Chinese pigs were only recently diverged from each other and distinctly different from European pigs. Berkshire was clustered with Asian pigs and Chinese pigs were involved in the development of Berkshire breeding. The Malaysian wild boar had distant genetic relationships with European and Asian pigs. Jinhua and Lanyu pigs had more nucleotide diversity with Chinese pigs although they all belonged to the Asian major clade. Chinese domestic pigs were clustered with wild boars in Yangtze River region and South China.

In the West, the scavengers were treated differently than in China. There is evidence that they were initially exploited, as was the case in the far East, around 9000 to 10 000 years ago. The denser settlements of the Neolithic times in the fertile crescent did not pen the animals up but ejected them from their society. The pigs may have been a nuisance or competed with humans for scarce resources such as water. Genetic research shows that the first pig exploitation in Anatolia (around modern-day Turkey) “hit a dead end.” (White, 2011) Various European populations developed techniques of mast feeding (Mast being the fruit of forest trees and shrubs, such as acorns and other nuts). Herds were pushed into abandoned forests and feeding them on beechnuts and acorns that are of marginal value to humans. (White, 2011)

The practice of pannage, as it is called, is the releasing of livestock-pigs in a forest, so that they can feed on fallen acorns, beech mast, chestnuts or other nuts. Historically, it was a right or privilege granted to local people on common land or in royal forests. Interestingly, it was the exact same technique practiced at the Cape at the time when the Colebrook sank and is one of the reasons why I doubt that the Kolbroek would have remained a homogenous pig breed if they were initially taken in by a local farmer. The slave-hypothesis where the animals were kept in a confined space and fed by humans right from their arrival on African soil fits the scenario where slaves had to keep the animals under constant control in caves or at least, a small geographical area to avoid detection by the authorities who were looking to re-capture the slaves. The slaves did this, not only with pigs (which I assume) but also with other domesticated animals such as cattle (which we know for a fact).

The result of chasing animals into a forest to fend for themselves is that controlled breeding was very difficult, if not impossible. The pigs from the West remained long-legged, with ridges of bristles and residue tusks, keeping them fierce and agile like their wild ancestors as they continued to struggle against predators and the harshness of life in the wild. This correlates well with the Green quote from the previous article. He records Richter as reported by MacAdams that “pigs easily revert to wild state. . . and all over the world, there were droves living in forests and bush and raiding farms and plantations. They bred fast like guinea pigs mastered the law of the wild and move silently about their destructive business. After years of this life, they lost their civilised look and developed large heads with long snouts and narrow, arched backs. They were far more alert than farm pigs and more ferocious. Richter declares that they were almost as intelligent as the great apes. They became hairier and regained the colour and shape of their wild ancestors with stripes on their sides.” (Green, 1968) Pliny said in Roman times that “a few generations can turn a thoroughly domesticated breed into a fierce feral animal.” (White, 2011)

The introduction of Chinese breeds into Europe and Brittain was precipitated by changes in population and deforestation which became precursors for globalization. By the early 1600s, sty rising was encouraged by a shortage in mast forests and some improved breeding followed, especially in southeastern England. The rapid expansion of London gave rise to an increased in pigs as urban scavengers. Brewery and dairy waste in this part of England became the first sources of concentrated fodder for pigs. Agriculture manuals started to appear that advocated using these to supplement mast or replacing it altogether as a quick and effective way of fattening pigs. In addition to these, potatoes from the Columbian Exchange became a lifeline for the family hog who lost access to pannage. (White, 2011)

New stay raised pigs from around cities like Leicestershire and Northamptonshire at the end of the 1600s and early 1700s, in conjunction with the rapid development of English agriculture, provided the first improved English breed, particularly around Leicestershire. These animals served the growing London market as well as the British navy for fresh and salted pork. These animals were rounder and fattened more quickly than the pigs from medieval times. (White, 2011)

Chinese breeding stock arrived in England in the midst of these developments. Studies of mitochondrial DNA suggest that the earliest exchange took place around 1700. Certainly not much earlier. “More detailed examination of European and Chinese haplotypes find two separate introductions, each from a different Chinese variety, the one ancestral to the large white and Berkshire and the other to the later Swedish Landrace, Duroc, and Welsh. All these share more genetic material than they do with traditional European pigs.”

The Chinese Kind.png
Thomas Bewick’s late 1700 engraving shows the Chinese pig breed in England ((White, 2011)

As early as the 1720s writers began to note the growing presence of a small black Variety in England which appears to match contemporary descriptions of those Chinese and Southeast Asia pigs that had already excited the interest of travelers to the far East. The earliest definite statement that Chinese pigs had arrived in the West appears to come from the Swedish naturalist Osbeck writing in the 1750s, who compared them favourably with European scavenger varieties.” (White, 2011)

It was the last years of the 1700s that provided the real breakthrough with the production of improved crossbreeds combining the larger frame of European pigs with the rounder body and faster weight gain of the Asian newcomers. By 1797 William Henry Hall’s New Encyclopedia notes how “the breed of pigs have been greatly improved, both in the harness of their nature and the goodness of their flesh, by the introduction of those commonly called Chinese, or Touquin.” (White, 2011)

The fourth edition Bylbeis’s General History of Quadrupeds in 1800 would expand its chapter on hogs to note how, “By a mixture of Chinese black swine with others of the large British breed, a kind has been produced that possesses many qualities superior to the original flock. They are very prolific, are sooner made fat than the larger kind, upon less provisions, and cut up, when killed, to more useful and convenient portions.” (White, 2011)

Sow of an improved breed.png
The new improved breed of the 1790s crossed the rounder body and shorter legs of the Chinese with the larger frame of the European hog.  (White, 2011)

What we achieved here was to place the development of the crossbreeds between Chinese and European breeds at a time before the Colebrook sailed for the Cape of Good Hope in 1778 and before the three visits of Cook to New Zealand, in 1769-70, 1773 and 1777.


We have already seen that the Kunekune and the Kolbroek can be one pig breed for all intent and purposes.   What is there that we know about the genetics of the Kunekune?  A paper was presented by Gongora, et al., at the 7th World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, August 19-23, 2002, Montpellier, France, entitled
Origins of the Kune Kune and Auckland Island Pigs in New Zealand.

They introduce their paper as follows, directly addressing the matters of interest to us.  “Migrating Polynesians first introduced pigs from Asia to the Pacific islands (Diamond, 1997), but it is not clear whether they reached New Zealand. European sailors and settlers introduced pigs into New Zealand in the 18th and 19th centuries, many of which became feral, but few records were kept of these introductions (Clarke and Dzieciolowski, 1991a; 1991b). It is believed that the European settlers introduced contemporary domestic animals originating either directly or indirectly from Europe (Challies, 1976).” (Gongora, 2002) It is this last possibility that is of interest to us.  If the DNA evidence supports this possibility, it opens up the link with the Kolbroek since both pigs with prominent Chinese in their DNA and both possibly originating from Europe.

The possibility that the Kunekune came from pigs that Captain Cook released on the South Island in 1773, obtained from Tonga and Tahiti, and, therefore, undoubtedly of Polynesian origin (Clarke and Dzieciolowski, 1991a) remains.  (Gongora, 2002)

Gongora, and coworkers et al. (2002) reports that the “unequivocal Asian origin of the Kune Kune mitochondrial sequence is consistent with the pigs being taken from Asia to New Zealand by the Polynesian ancestors of present day Maoris, but may be better supported by the well documented introduction of Polynesian pigs into New Zealand by Captain Cook in 1773.” (Gongora, 2002) This is, of course, the most obvious conclusion.

However, the possibility of the introduction of this Asian mitochondrial sequence via a European breed, which acquired Asian mitochondria by introgression in the 18th century in Europe is as good a possibility as the aforementioned. (Gongora, 2002)  Gongora says that “such introgression explains the clustering of the Large White and Berkshire sequences with Asian pigs” as can be seen from the graph below.

Kune Kune Lineage.png
Nucleotide substitutions and gaps found in 32 porcine mtDNA D-loop sequences.  The Kune Kune clusters with Asian domestic pigs, being most closely related to Chinese and Japanese breeds. The Auckland Island sequence clusters with domestic European breeds (Gongora, 2002)

Analysis of additional Kune Kune sequences as well as more Polynesian sequences may help distinguish the first two possibilities from the third. Finding unambiguous Polynesian sequences may be difficult though, as Giuffra et al. (2000) found that a feral pig sequence from Cook Island in Polynesia clustered with European domestic pig sequences. Analyses of nuclear gene sequences in conjunction with mtDNA sequences will also help in discriminating between European and Asian origins as for the porcine GPIP gene in the study of Giuffra et al. (2000).  Analysis of microsatellite marker allele frequencies using the standard ISAG/FAO marker set (Li et al., 2000) will also assist in deciphering the relationships of these populations of pigs and are already underway for the Auckland Island population and are planned for the Kune Kune pigs. Jointly these studies will illuminate the history of Pacific island pigs, their geographic origins and genetic diversity.”  (Gongora, 2002)

They conclude by stating that “Kune Kune pigs have Asian mitochondrial DNA but at this stage we cannot distinguish between i) Polynesian introduction of Asian pigs, ii) European introduction of pigs from Asia/Polynesia or iii) introgression of Asian mtDNA into European pigs in Europe in 17th century and subsequent introduction of these “European” pigs into New Zealand.”  (Gongora, 2002)  The link with the Kolbroek may give a hint of what actually happened.

Links with Captain Cook

A cursory survey of Captain Cook and pigs confirm the fact that he released pigs on the islands.  He probably did this at more than one time.  The pigs could even have been from the Cape Of Good Hope.  On this 3rd voyage to New Zealand in 1776, he was met by a ship in Cape Town who accompanied him to New Zealand.  The ship was the Discovery, commanded by Charles Clerke. “The Discovery was the smallest of Cook’s ships and was manned by a crew of sixty-nine. The two ships were repaired and restocked with a large number of livestock and set off together for New Zealand ( December).”  (http://www.captcook-ne.co.uk)

We also know that pigs were sent to New Zealand from Australia.  In 1793, Governor King of Norfolk Island gave 12 pigs to Tukitahua, one of two northern Māori chiefs who had been kidnapped and taken to Norfolk Island. By 1795 only one animal was left. King then established relations with the northern chief Te Pahi, and sent a total of 56 pigs in three ships in 1804 and 1805. It is probably from these, and from being gifted between tribes, that pigs became established in the North Island. From 1805 Māori were trading pigs to Europeans.” (https://teara.govt.nz)

It is unlikely that the Kunekune came from animals that were merely “released” on the islands.  I also suspect that, as was the case along the South African coast, pigs that were given as a gift or traded were probably consumed.  There must have been a reason, planning, purpose and some instruction that accompanied the exchange of pigs into the hands of a leader who could command the breeding of the animals.  Such an example exists, and as we will see later, it relates to the one voyage of Cook that started at Gravesend.

“Two pigs were gifted to Māori by de Surville at Doubtless Bay in 1769. During Cook’s second and third voyages, a number of boars and sows were released – most in Queen Charlotte Sound, but two breeding pairs were given to the Hawke’s Bay chief Tuanui.” Cook’s first visit to Hawked Bay was in 1769 sailing in the Endeavour as part of his first Pacific voyage (1768-1771). “Wild pigs, in the South Island at least, may have originated from Cook’s voyages, and are generally known as Captain Cookers.”  (https://teara.govt.nz)  

Below is a portrait of Tuanui (also known as Rangituanui), principal chief of Ngati Hikatoa.  The drawing by W. Hodges. Engrav’d by Michel. Published Feb 1st 1777 by Wm. Strahan New Street, Shoe Lane, and Thos. Cadell in the Strand, London. No.LV. 1777

Tuanui, (also known as Rangituanui), principal chief of Ngati Hikatoa 1777.png

The fact that Cook gave him breeding pigs is very interesting.  There are accounts from New Zealand where Maori’s tried to pen up wild animals with no success.  A leader such as Tuanui is exactly the kind of exchange one would expect to develop into the Maori-pig or the Kunekune.

Oral Tradition

I have great respect for oral traditions.  Over the years I have seen how tenacious phrases and stories are over time, persists.  It seems to me that the shorter the phrase, the simpler it is to pass on and, oftentimes, the more revealing it is of an actual event.  This is more or less my approach with the Kolbroek and I was eager to see just how entrenched the theory is that Captain Cook released, not just any pig, but pigs from England on the shores of New Zealand that could have been the start of the Kunekune.

Searching through a database of newspapers, an internet search and working through different books and publications yielded the following

From The Age (Melbourn, Victoria, Australia) of 14 July 1939, it was reported that “when Captain Cook landed in New Zealand during one of his great voyages of discovery, he set free on the shore several pigs which had been brought all the way from England to provide fresh meat on the voyage.”   The wild pigs of New Zealand are according to the author, also descendants of the pigs that Cook released here.  The link with England is of particular interest.

The Courrier (Waterloo, Iowa), 7 April 1886 calls the Maori Pig, “a descendant of one of Captain Cooks Pigs it may be – a swine, black but not completely, ill-shaped and clumsy, but apparently a perfectly happy pig leading, as he does, the life of a free and independent gentlemen, as does his mater, the Maori landowner and rejoicing in the grubbing up of abundant and gratuitous fern roots.”   There is no reference to the pigs being from England and the author mentions the link between the Moari pig and Captain Cook as a possibility, but there can be little doubt we are talking about Kunekune here.

new zealand pigs.png
(King, 2015)

The image above can easily be a young Kunekune.

The Gravesend Connection

The diary of events leading up to Cook’s first voyage gives us the connection with Gravesend.

Jul. 18 Mon. Pilot arrives to take Endeavour to the Downs.
21 Thu. Sails from Deptford for Gallions Reach.
30 Sat. Sails from Gallions Reach to Gravesend.
31 Sun. Sails from Gravesend.
Aug. 3 Wed. Endeavour in the Downs.
7 Sun. Cook joins Endeavour to commence Voyage.
8 Mon. Sails for Plymouth.

(from https://www.captaincooksociety.com)

Cook’s second and third voyage was undertaken, not from Gravesend, but another location in Kent, The Downs.  This means that in 1768 Captain Cook took pigs on board the HMS Endeavour,  and in 1778, a mere 9 years later, the East Indiaman, Colebrook, took pigs on board from the exact same location in Kent.  Could these have been Chinese Pigs, crossed with the same large English breed, possibly from the same boar resulting in the Kolbroek and the Kunekune?


What a journey!  So many matters to consider.  This article, like my first one on the topic, In Search of the Origins of the Kolbroek, is done to lay the foundation and introduce all of us to the amazing world of pig genetics and domestication.  What is amazing to me is the human and animal drama, tightly woven together.  The best and the worst of humanity is touched upon in the quest.  By no means do I think that I achieved anything else but reveal my ignorance of history and genetics.  I soldier on!  It is fascinating! The amazing rabbit trails I wander down on, or should I rather call them pig trails!  🙂

My fertile imagination concocted the following hypothesis.  Village pigs at Gravesend in Kent, during the early 1700s, received a dominant pig boar that the villagers used to service their sows.  This boar was probably owned by a wealthy local landowner.   Beginning in the 1700s, Old English pig breeds were crossed with Chinese pigs, probably brought to English shores by the English East Indian Company.  The navy used Gravesend to stock their ships with livestock, as did the English East Indian Company.  Captain Cook took on board some of these pigs that managed to survive the journey without making it onto the sailers menu, all the way to New Zealand where they were given as a present to a powerful Maori chief who bred them. They later became the legendary Kunekune pigs.

It was the same kind of pigs that went aboard the East-Indiaman, the Colebrook, who sank off Cape Hangklip.  Pigs from the sinking ship swam ashore at Kogel Bay, was taken in by runaway slaves (drosters) and became the legendary Kolbroek breed of the Cape of Good Hope.

The breeds, as they exist today, share so many similarities that if one would simply look at them, one would say it is the same breed.  Much more work remains.  Evidence may prove reality to be far removed from my imagination, but look at what we learned!  I am stunned!






The Age (Melbourn, Victoria, Australia) of 14 July 1939, p 5.

Biology online. Retrieved 15 February 2013.

The Courrier (Waterloo, Iowa), 7 April 1886

Gongora, J., Garkavenko, O., Moran, C..  2002.  From the 7th World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, August 19-23, 2002, Montpellier, France, Paper entitled
Origins of the Kune Kune and Auckland Island Pigs in New Zealand.

Green, G. L.. 1968. Full Many a Glorious Morning. Howard Timmins.

King, C. M.., Gaukroger, D. J., Ritchie, N. A. (Editors), 2015.  The Drama of Conservation, Springer.

The phylogenetic status of typical Chinese native pigs: analyzed by Asian and European pig mitochondrial genome sequences. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology volume 4, Article number: 9 (2013).

White, S.. 2011. From Globalized Pig Breeds to Capitalist Pigs: A Study in Animal Cultures and Evolutionary History, Vol. 16, No. 1 (JANUARY 2011), pp. 94-120, Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of Forest History Society and American Society for Environmental History, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23050648