Rise of the wool industry: John Macarthur’s work for Australia [chapter 10 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 10 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 19 August 1934.]

The story of Australia — X.

Rise of the wool industry

John Macarthur’s work for Australia

The wool industry of Australia may be said to have begun in 1793 when 30 sheep of the Indian breed arrived from Calcutta and a few English sheep from Ireland. Captain Phillip had landed a number of sheep which he had bought at the Cape of Good Hope, but all had died but one by September, 1788.

Two years after the settlement was established John Macarthur, an officer in the New South Wales Corps, arrived with his wife in Sydney. He was sent as commander to Parramatta, and on February 12, 1793, he was granted 100 acres of land at Rose Hill. In the following year he received a second 100 acres grant. His object in acquiring this land was to carry out experiments in wool growing. He had already seen the effect of the local conditions on the Indian sheep, and he was firmly convinced that wool-growing would eventually become a source of great wealth to the colony if the right class of sheep was introduced.

First merino sheep

He began crossing hair-bearing ewes with sheep of English breed, and, this proving successful, he conceived the idea of obtaining merino sheep.

The history of the introduction of the merino wool into Australia and the foundation of the wool trade is of so great importance, and is so interwoven with the leading colonial event of the period, that the subject cannot fail to be of interest.

Two ships, the “Supply” and the “Reliance”, were sent from Sydney to the Cape of Good Hope in 1796 to obtain supplies for the settlement, and Macarthur requested his friends — Captains Waterhouse and Kent, to purchase for him any wool-bearing sheep they could buy.

Strange to say, they found on their arrival at the Cape that a small herd of merino sheep was for sale in Cape Town. This stock was the remainder of the flock belonging to Colonel Gordon, who had died at the end of the year 1795. Three of these sheep were given to Governor King by Colonel Gordon’s widow, and 13 each were purchased by Captains Waterhouse and Kent. The sheep belonging to Waterhouse and King were carried on the “Reliance”, but all perished except seven or eight belonging to the former. Kent carried his sheep on the “Supply”, but only one or two survived the voyage. Macarthur, however, received his share, and we are told that he treasured them as the apple of his eye. Unfortunately they did not prove very satisfactory, and the experiment practically failed.

Visit to England

In 1800 Macarthur went to England and carried samples of wool in various stages, pure and crossbred. Three years later he was again in London and submitted a sample of Australian wool to a committee of manufacturers, then in London, and it was so much approved of that Macarthur appeared before the Privy Council, and laid before it his plans rendering England independent of foreign countries for the supply of the best wools.

The Privy Council adopted his view, and with its encouragement he purchased from the merino stock of George III two ewes and three rams, with which he returned to New South Wales in 1806, appropriately calling the vessel in which the sheep were embarked, the Argo.

Such was the origin of the flocks of Australia, whose wool, which for fineness and strength, is pronounced by the best judges to be equal to any Saxon or Spanish wool imported into England.

A grant of 5000 acres was given to Macarthur, and he chose the spot known as the Cowpastures, on which a herd of wild cattle had been found grazing a few years previously. He called the place Camden, as a recognition of Lord Camden, who awarded the grant, which was afterwards extended.

John Macarthur died on April 10, 1834, but before his death the expectations that he had formed of the wool trade of the colony had been crowned with success.

Wealth in wool

In 1807 the colony exported 524 lb. of wool; 12 years later 79,299 lb. was shipped, and in 1820 the quantity had increased to 112,616 lb. The total wool produced in 1931-32 was 1,006,630,847 lb.

The number of sheep in the colony at different dates will convey some idea of the expansion.
1800 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 6,124
1821 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 290,185
1843 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 4,804,846
1850 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 16,000,660
1891 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 61,117,278
1902 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 30,675,210
1922 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 111,993,517

In 1902 a disastrous drought had depleted the flocks.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 19 August 1934, p. 29

Editor’s notes:
The last four statistics in this article were unclear in the scanned version. However, here are the statistics Martin Hambleton listed in an almost identical article in The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 22 February 1931, p. 18:

1800 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 6,124
1821 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 290,185
1843 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 4,804,846
1850 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 16,000,000
1891 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 61,000,000
1902 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 30,000,000
1925 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 42,925,177

[Editor: Corrected: “depleted the flock” to “depleted the flocks” (corrected with reference to the 22 February1931 printing of this article).]

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