Wool specimen, stud ewe, bred by Thomas Millear, Wanganella, Deniliquin, New South Wales, Australia, 1898
The wool collection held by the Powerhouse Museum contains thousands of wool samples collected between 1804 and 2003. These samples provide a record of wool growing in Australia. The different fleeces reflect the breeding programs and environmental conditions under which the fleeces were grown and, as such, they provide a valuable history of the areas of Australia in which sheep were grazed.
Sheep were introduced into Australia in 1788 from Cape Town in South Africa. Since then sheep from other countries, including the Spanish Merino were imported into Australia and selectively crossbred. Careful crossbreeding, paying particular attention to the impact of the environment on both animal and fleece, led to the evolution of the Australian Merino. It is an excellent example of the engineering, through selective breeding, of a domestic animal. Wool went on to become the mainstay of the Australian Economy from 1807 to 1960.
This particular wool specimen came from a sheep bred at Wanganella station in Riverina area of New South Wales. Wanganella was one of the most influential sheep stations responsible for the evolution of the merino sheep in Australia. Established by James Hindmarsh in 1847, of 100,000 acres on the Billabong creek, by 1850 it became known as Wanganella. The station changed hands several times until in 1858 George Hall Peppin and Sons purchased it. The Peppins experimented unsuccessfully with different breeding lines on the property and in 1861 they became disheartened with sheep breeding and put the station up for sale. After no buyers were found they changed their minds, took it off the market, and with the help of the famous wool classer Thomas Shaw, set about evolving a merino stud. They decided to let the environment have a major say in sheep type and to breed sheep to suit the country. This was a major turning point in the history of the Australian merino.
It seems clear that Merinos of both Spanish and French origin were introduced and the influence of a French Rambouillet ram, called Emperor, is widely acknowledged as one of the most important events in the development of the Peppin stud.
The Peppin Merino has a large frame and long legs, which make it perfectly adapted to dry inland regions of Australia. The Peppin merino is particularly successful in the sheep flocks of Queensland, on the slopes and plains of New South Wales, through the north of Victoria, and the mixed farming areas of South Australia and Western Australia. It can also be found in significant numbers in the higher rainfall areas of Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. Its heavy fleece falls in the mid-range of Merino wool qualities, with a high wool grease content, which protects the wool from the environment and gives it a creamy colour.
The merino sheep introduced into Australia, soon after settlement, were only able to produce one to two kilograms of wool each year. A Peppin Merino stud ram of today may produce up to 20 kilograms of wool.Wanganella was one of the most prolific merino breeding properties in the 1800s and today over 70% of merinos in Australia are descended from their breeding stock.
Charles Massy. 'The Australian Merino', Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Victoria, 1990.
Written by Erika Dicker
Assistant Curator, February 2008.
The wool was produced in 1898 by Thomas Millear in Wanganella, New South Wales, Australia.
Originally donated by George Alfred Broughton, Kout Narin, Harrow, Victoria, 1898.
This wool specimen is part of the Bill Montgomery Wool Collection which consists of approximately 7000 samples. In the older part of the collection there are 5000 samples from Australian sheep fleeces grown between 1856 and 1906. The samples were collected by the Museum at a time when scientific research was prominent in the Museum's activities. In 1979, when the Museum's focus changed, most of its wool collection was transferred to the teaching collection of Mr Bill Montgomery, a wool classing teacher at Newcastle Technical College. When Bill retired from the College, the collection was again in danger of being thrown away. He took the entire collection home and stored it in his garage for 15 years. His Collection also contains approximately 1500 wool samples grown between 1950 and 2000 and collected by Bill himself. It includes 147 examples of faults and stains occurring in Australian flocks, 20 pigmented wools and 33 rare and extinct breeds from around the world. The Museum purchased the entire collection in 2003. Bill Montgomery died on 7th July, 2007.