A Perfect Mania #4: 'anything on four legs' - Sheep


'anything on four legs'

JC Garran & L White, 1985, Merinos, myths and Macarthurs, Sydney
Ian Parsonson, 1998, The Australian Ark, Csiro
Ted Henzell, 2007, Australian Agriculture, Csiro
Michael Pearson & Jane Lennon, 2010, Pastoral Australia, Csiro

1.1 Chronology of Improvement

1818 Muster: 127,883 sheep
1819 Muster: 172,128 sheep
1820 Muster: 182,468 sheep
  Governor Macquarie and Lieutenant-Governor Sorell arrange to import 312 of John Macarthur's Merino ram lambs to Van Diemen's Land, for distribution to settlers with more than 200 ewes. Only 209 are landed alive, and 28 of these die later. 33 settlers at the Derwent and 10 near the Tamar share the surviving 181 sheep, paying 7 Guineas per head. [In exchange, Macarthur is granted 4,368 acres at Camden valued at 7s. 6d. per acre.]
  2,300 lbs wool shorn from the Government flock are sent to Sydney.
1821 Joseph Archer introduced a flock of English Merinos on his land grant 'Woolmers'.
1822 Timothy Nowland introduce 50 Spanish Merinos from Ireland.
1825 EM Curr (Van Diemen's Land Company) applies for large land grants, in the same year that VDL becomes a separate colony under Governor Arthur.
1827 VDL Company lands 28 rams and 266 ewes of an original 310 Saxon Merinos purchased from Germany and receives land grants of 'Woolnorth' and 'Circular Head'.
  Wool exports from VDL increase to 192,075 lbs.
1828 VDL Company imports another 28 rams and 668 ewes and lambs from Saxony.
1829 VDL Company purchases 24 rams and 146 rams from the George III Merino flock.
  William Forlonge arrives at Hobart on Clansmen, landing 75 Saxon Merinos of an original 97 handpicked by his mother Eliza in Germany.
1831 Thomas Henty arrives at Launceston on Czar with 6 rams and 130 ewes from his prize-winning English Merino flock.
1836 VDL exports of wool rise to 1,986,786 lbs.
  Land rush to Port Phillip District begins with high demand for VDL breeding sheep. 


2.1 The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 22 October 1831
"YOUNG SAXON RAMS. A few of these fine young animals, the progeny of the well known flock imported by the Willises, are to be disposed of. They are ready for the ensuing season, and may be seen at Mr Willis's at the Tea tree branch near Brighton. Application for purchase may be made to Mr Adey, of Davey street."

2.2 Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 29 January 1835
"Pure Saxon and Merino Rams. To Be Sold -- One Hundred Pure Saxon and Merino Rams; also -- A Few Very Superior Horses. Apply to R. Willis, Esq., Wanstead. Nov. 25, 1834."

2.3 The Hobart Town Courier, Friday 23 November 1838 (italics added)
"Mr T.Y. Lowes, Will Sell By Auction, At the residence of Richard Willis, Esq., Wanstead Park, on Thursday, 27th Dec. next, and following days, commencing precisely at 11 o'clock each day, with out the least reserve, the proprietor being about to proceed to England, All the truly valuable and elegant household furniture &c.,...Also -- The following pure and highly improved stock, about -- 2,000 wethers and wether lambs, 500 ewes nearly pure from Lord Western's breed, and other select importations, 100 pure Saxon and Merino rams...2 Imported Durham bulls...A pure imported Devon bull...20 beautiful heifers from imported stock, and a variety of others of superior breed."

2.4 Willis was a reputable importer and breeder of Saxon Merinos, but at his 'clearing sale' before returning to England, we see that his 'fine wool flock' is to a large degree only 'skin deep'. The remnant of his flock, the 2000 wethers and 500 ewes left after the the highly demanded younger ewes have been sold off, are "highly improved" and "nearly pure", but they are not all Merino. There was a deep cross-bred core beneath the thin stud veneer. 


3.1 Stuffing mattresses
Parsonson, 1998, The Australian Ark

"The first sheep arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1803...Before 1820 there had been no interest in producing wool in the colony. The first record of a sale of wool from Van Diemen's Land was at threepence a pound in 1820 for making mattresses...Before that [sheep were shorn to control scab and their] wool was discarded as waste."

3.2 Macarthur's mongrels
Henzell, 2007, Australian Agriculture

"Although wool had been accepted as New South Wales's most promising export by the time Governor Brisbane arrived in 1822, a huge amount of breeding and selection remained to be done. Just how much was evident from the condition of 60 bales of fleece wool that was received in London from the Macarthurs in 1827; only 27 out of 56 bales where white, 29 were coloured, and there is no record for the other four...Similar difficulties were evident when Victoria [the Port Phillip District] was first settled:
It has been asserted and frequently repeated that the great majority of sheep brought to Port Phillip from Van Diemen's Land and from the Sydney district prior to 1842 were of the Merino breed, and a good class of animal, which formed the foundation of many leading Port Phillip flocks. Such was far from the case. If they were of the Merino breed, the majority were of a most inferior kind, but most likely a great many were mongrels with strong strains of the Bengal type, which had multiplied in both New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land."

3.3 The ubiquitous Bengal
Henry Wilkinson, 1829Present State of Van Diemen's Land: Comprising an Account of its Agricultural Capabilities &c.

"The sheep first imported into Van Diemen's Land, came from Bengal direct [actually via Norfolk Island, arriving with the relocated settlers from there]. In describing the form of some that have originated from them, without being at all improved, I cannot refrain from recommending you have nothing to do with them. Although you may not have much experience amongst sheep, yet I have no doubt you will be able to recognise them from the following description. Their form, as near as possible, is this: a very large head, Roman nose, slouch ears, extremely narrow in the chest, plain narrow shoulders, very high curved backs, and a coarse hairy fleece; these bad qualities, with four tremendously long legs, give a faithful representation of the native sheep; yet from these animals have emanated all the improved flocks now in the country...Pure Merinos, or sheep nearly pure, are generally out of the reach of most settlers. The price of good healthy ewes, according as they have been improved, may be said to fetch from 1 Pound to 1 Pound 10 Shillings."


4.1 Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 16 March 1837
"It is calculated that 40,000 sheep will leave this Colony this autumn for Port Phillip; 30,000 having left last year. What the Gulf people (Colony of South Australia] will require remains to be seen; but if they purchase sheep in proportion to their numbers, as largely as the Port Phippites, both this Colony and New South Wales will surely have difficulty in supplying them."

4.2 Port Phillip Gazette, February 16, 1839
"FOR HOBART TOWN DIRECT. The well known and fast sailing barque WALLABY, 284 tons, Captain Wishart, will sail positively on or before the 25th instant. This vessel having just completed five trips between this and Georgetown with sheep, all landed in fine order, excepting a few deaths not worth mentioning, is still fitted up to carry sheep, thus affording an excellent opportunity to Shippers of Wethers, from her superior sailing qualities. For particulars of freight, as also for that of wool, apply to Captain Wishart; or WILLIS & Co. February 15, 1839."

Marten A Syme, 1984, Shipping Arrivals and Departures, Victorian Ports, Vol. 1, 1798-1845, Roebuck No. 32, Melbourne

5.1 First season: 1835-1836
From October 1835 to June 1836, a total of 14,405 sheep were shipped from Van Diemen's Land to Port Phillip [Melbourne and Geelong]. 1 cutter, VANSITTART (3 trips); 5 schooners, ADELAIDE (9 trips), MARIA (1 trip), GEM (3 trips), CHAMPION (3 trips), ENTERPRIZE (3 trips); 2 brigs, CALEDONIA (3 trips), HENRY (3 trips); and 3 barques, NORVAL (1 trip), CHILI (2 trips), FRANCIS FREELING (1 trip); in all, 11 vessels made a combined total of 32 journeys. On 7 of these trips the numbers of sheep were not specified, meaning the total of sheep actually transported in the first season exceeds the above figure of 14,405.

5.2 Second season: 1836-1837
From July 1836 to June 1837, a total of 27,620 sheep were shipped from Van Diemen's Land to Port Phillip. 1 cutter, MARY (1 trip); 9 schooners, ADELAIDE (5 trips), CHAMPION 1 trip), GEM (3 trips, EAGLE (3 trips), HETTY (5 trips), INDUSTRY (4 trips), LOWESTOFT (1 trip), JOHN DUNSCOMBE (3 trips), ENTERPRIZE (1 trip); 3 brigs, HENRY (14 trips), SIREN (5 trips), SEA WITCH (2 trips); and 2 barques, FRANCIS FREELING (1 trip), AFRICAINE (1 trip); in all, 15 vessels made a combined total of 50 journeys. On 2 of these trips the numbers of sheep were not specified, meaning the total of sheep actually transported in the second season exceeds the above figure of 27,620.

5.3 Third season: 1837-1838
From August 1837 to April 1838 a total of 19,832 sheep were shipped from Van Diemen's Land to Port Phillip. 1 cutter, DOMAIN (1 trip); 4 schooners, ENTERPRIZE (2 trips), TAMAR (5 trips), JOHN DUNSCOMBE (4 trips), INDUSTRY (7 trips); 2 brigs, SIREN (2 trips), HENRY (10 trips); and 2 barques, BROUGHAM (3 trips), Lady EMMA (1 trip); in all, 9 vessels made a combined total of 35 journeys. On 7 of these trips the numbers of sheep were not specified, meaning the total of sheep actually transported in the third season exceeds the above figure of 19,832.

5.4 Fourth season: 1838-1839
From December 1838 to June 1839 a total of 24,387 sheep were shipped from Van Diemen's Land to Port Phillip. 4 schooners, MUMFORD (1 trip), TAMAR (4 trips), LOOK-IN (3 trips), JOHN DUNSCOMBE (1 trip); 2 brigs, HENRY (4 trips), BRITTANIA (3 trips); and 3 barques, MEROPE (2 trips), WALLABY (6 trips), BRITOMART (3 trips); in all, 9 vessels made a combined total of 27 voyages. On 1 of these trips the numbers of sheep were not specified, meaning the total of sheep actually transported exceeds the above figure of 24,387.

5.5 Fifth season: 1839-1840
From July 1839 to June 1840 a total of 16,263 sheep were shipped from Van Diemen's Land to Port Phillip. 6 schooners, HENRY (2 trips), MINERVA (1 trip), TAMAR (4 trips), JOSHUA CARROLL (1 trip), LILLIAS (1 trip), LOWESTOFT (2 trips); 4 brigs, LORD HOBART (1 trip), SOCRATES (3 trips), FOX (3 trips), CHARLOTTE (1 trip); and 1 barque, WALLABY (4 trips); in all, 11 vessels made a total of 23 journeys. On 2 of these trips the numbers of sheep were not specified, meaning the total of sheep actually transported exceeds the above figure of 16,263.

5.6 Other Port Phillip District destinations
1834 - Portland Bay 100 sheep. Total 100 sheep.
1835 - Westernport 1,200 sheep. Total 1,200 sheep.
1836 - Portland 1,429, Westernport 1,100. Total 2,529 sheep.
1837 - Portland 2,000, Port Fairy 940, Westernport 200. Total 3,140 sheep.
1838 - Portland 1,920 sheep. Total 1,920 sheep.
1839 - Portland 2,309, Port Fairy 600. Total 2,909 sheep.
1840 - Portland 1,550, Port Fairy 630. Total 2,180 sheep.
Over all, these smaller ports absorbed another 13,978 sheep from Van Diemen's Land. The number of voyages that specify the number of sheep carried is 31, but another 9 journeys do not record their loads beyond the generic term "sheep". Once again, the total number of 13,978 sheep transported to the mainland is understated.

5.7 Summary
At least 116,485 sheep were extracted from the Van Diemen's Land flock over five years to meet the Port Phillip demand, indicating an average annual requirement of 23,297 per annum. In practice the PPD squatters were after breeding (female) sheep rather than ewes and wethers. This feature of demand effectively doubled the effect on the base flock (it still took a complete drop of lambs to supply the female portion alone). Compounding this was the VDL breeders' reluctance to place their top sheep on the market. They retained their best ewes to continue improving their own flocks and cut more wool. Only their 'seconds' were for sale. It can therefore be argued that such an exodus to Port Phillip could only have been achieved by cutting deep into the crossbred core of the VDL sheep population, well beyond the veneer of 'purebred' Merinos on the surface.


6.1 Joan Palmer & David Syme, 1980, The Great Days of Wool: 1820-1900, Rigby, Adelaide, p.12
"In a few years the wool trade had headed whaling and sealing as Australia's main export business and almost everyone with ambition, sons of early settlers, respectable citizens, moneyed immigrants, and ex-officials wanted to invest in 'anything on four legs'."

6.2 Palmer's use of this colloquialism implies an indiscriminate enthusiasm, a recklessness about what they spent their money on, which is probably unfair. A more accurate reflection might be that buying sheep without too much insistence on wool quality was unavoidable in the circumstances. The pressure to purchase 'sufficient' numbers to stock and 'keep' a run from the competition of others similarly motivated, meant compromise on Merino purity was inevitable. With the limited depth of fine wool characteristics in the VDL flock, it was always likely that the Port Phillip District would be settled with few purebreds and a whole lot of relatively unproductive crossbred sheep. This less flamboyant interpretation of the squatters' sheep buying is also consistent with evidence of their intense worry about the welfare of their expensive acquisitions, a concern that was expressed by even the most incompetent 'New Chum'.

6.3 PL Brown (ed.), 1935, The Narrative of George Russell of Golf Hill, OUP, London, pp. 75-76
 "During the summer of 1835-6 I heard of the discovery of extensive tracts of fine country on the shores of Port Phillip...I resolved to pay a visit to Port Phillip, and left for Launceston in March 1836...[On the road I met] Two gentlemen from India, Mr George Mackillop and Mr James Smith [droving their sheep up to port]...Mr Smith, who was extremely cautious and knew very little about sheep or country matters, would not agree to have his flock divided into convenient lots, but said he liked to have them all under his eye, as it was no joke to see one's pound walking along the road before him...After resting the sheep a couple of days, about 500 of them were put on board...The sea was rather rough and I was very sick...and Mr Mackillop, dressed in a pair of dirty duck trousers and a blue serge shirt, with a red nightcap on his head and a short black cutty pipe in his mouth, was creeping about the sheep all day, assisting those that had fallen down, and feeding them with handfuls of hay dipped in water. And he had the satisfaction of not losing a single sheep on the voyage across the Straits."


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