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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Sheep and Wool

Sheep and Wool.

The original stock of sheep in this colony was nearly all drawn from New South Wales. The missionaries were the first sheepowners in the Bay of Islands, though Captain Young may be considered the second in the field, as he brought both sheep and cattle to Hokianga with him when he settled at One-Tree Point, on the river, though the sheep were soon scattered and killed by the dogs of the natives and settlers. The missionaries exported perhaps the first wool to Sydney, though a Mr. George Bell, of Dundee, took up Mana Island, in Cook Straits, in 1832, and put a small flock of sheep on it, beside some cattle, making a kind of farm and whaling station there. Mr. Jerningham Wakefield, who was on the island in 1839, states how Mr. Bell's widow, quite mad, lived among the natives, and had acquired all their habits and ways of living, from which we can gather that Mr. Bell had been dead some years. Rangihaeta, who laid claim to the island, used to kill the sheep for their fleeces, and Mr. Wakefield says that at a late feast some fifty had been sacrificed.

New South Wales herself started her herds and flocks from small beginnings, as the whole of the stock which accompanied the expedition of 1788 consisted of only 1 bull, 4 cows, 1 calf, 1 stallion, 3 mares, 3 foals, 29 sheep, 12 pigs, and a few goats. Mr. King, however, the grandson of Governor King, gives us some interesting information concerning the introduction of fine-woolled sheep into Australia, which, considering the sheep of New Zealand came thence, cannot be without interest to our colonists. He says Captain McArthur, with whose name the sheep of Australia are imperishably connected, was the first man, we are told, who, in the year 1795, first broke Australian soil with a plough—all previous cultivations having been carried on with a hoe. The sheep brought by Captain Phillip came from the Cape of Good Hope, and their numbers were subsequently reinforced by sheep brought from India. Mr. King says:—"Except for wool of the roughest kind both the Cape and Indian breeds were useless. Their fleece was justly called 'coarse hair.' and was converted at once into blanketing for local use."

Captain McArthur established a homestead at Parramatta with the Crown grant of 100 acres, and bought in 1794 60 Bengal ewes and lambs, and "two ewes and a young ram of the Irish race, which had been brought out in a transport"

In 1796 Captain Kent and Captain Water-house were sent in two sloops of war, the Reliance and Supply, with a transport, the Britannia, to the Cape of Good Hope to get live stock and provisions for the settlement at Sydney, and on leaving Port Jackson these officers were "begged" by Captain McArthur to procure if possible any wool-bearing sheep they might find there. It fortunately happened that at the period of the visit of those officers to the Cape a flock of pure Spanish sheep, of the Escurial breed, which had been presented by the Spanish authorities to the Dutch Government, but which was not appreciated at the Cape, probably for the reason that the carcase was too small, was for sale by the widow of Colonel Gordon, who had them in charge.

A portion of the flock was purchased by Captains Kent and Waterhouse (the Government Commissary having refused them) at four guineas a head. There seems to be some uncertainty as to how many reached Sydney, but it is understood that Captain Waterhouse landed only a few; yet for as many as there were Captain McArthur still following up his views, when he begged his friends to bring back woolled sheep, immediately offered 15 guineas a head for the whole lot.

With the new and valuable blood of the pure merino, which Captain McArthur had thus acquired, he commenced to cross his hairy sheep, and whilst others were devoting their attention to the production of carcases he steadily persevered in the attainment of his original object.

Captain McArthur being in England at the commencement of the present century, purchased nine rams and a ewe from the Royal flock of pure Spanish merino at Kew. Four of the rams, however, died on the passage to New South Wales, where he found his breeding flock had increased during the four years of his absence to 3,277 ewes, and this number was soon afterwards augmented by a purchase from the Government flocks of 100 of the finest woolled sheep he could select.

The foundation, Mr. King says, of a pure Australian merino flock being once laid, and good prices obtained for fine wool in the London market, the settlers soon took up the profitable speculation, and Captain McArthur's sheep became the source from which the whole industry emanated.

For the successful prosecution of the enterprise on which he had engaged, the Government gave Captain McArthur a grant of 5000 acres of land in any locality he chose to select as being most suitable in his judgment for pastoral purposes.

As showing the many sided character of the Reverend Samuel Marsden, it is related that when he was in England in 1808 he was introduced to George the Third through Sir Joseph Banks, that he requested as a special favour a gift of two merino sheep, of which he heard nothing further until the ship was ready to sail, when he writes:—"We are at this moment getting underweigh, and soon expect to be upon the ocean. I have received a present of five Spanish sheep from the King's flock, which are all on board. If I am so fortunate as to get them out, they will be a most valuable acquisition to the colony."

Wool is the most important production of New Zealand. It is divided into two classes: combing wool and clothing wool. The first comprises the long-stapled wools of the Lincoln, Leicester, Cotswold and Romney Marsh breeds of English sheep; the second the short-stapled wool grown by the Southdown and page 14 Shropshire Down breeds of English sheep, and the merino from which are manufactured woollen goods.

Though the Leicester breed has received great attention in New Zealand and in the Auckland provincial district especially, the merino is the most valuable and important breed fostered in the colony, "and of sheep of this class the flocks of the colony are chiefly composed." Dr. Hector says: "They are of the Australian merino variety, improved through the importation of pure Saxon merino rams from Germany."

The published exports of the wool of the colony commence at 1853, and the quantities and declared value are given below of the number of years stated:—
lbs. Value.
From 1853 to 1860 23,879,437 £1,590,556
From 1861 to 1865 66,153,331 4,201,207
From 1866 to 1870 143,644,304 7,526,482
From 1871 to 1875 222,666,191 13,079,384
From 1876 to 1880 312,685,994 16,643,300
From 1881 to 1885 360,534,526 15,515,327
From 1886 to 1888 282,636,923 9,509,053