It was never envisaged by the English government in 1788 that the penal colony at Port Jackson would be anything other than a self-sustained depository of the overflow of convicts held in English gaols.
Certainly the idea the fledgling colony would develop into the world’s greatest producer of fine wool grown by Merino sheep was beyond all comprehension of those who were determined to make a success of their new surroundings.
Sheep were a part of the livestock on board the First Fleet loaded at Cape Town, with 70 head surviving to form the first flock in Australia.
During the first 50 years of settlement, further imports from northern India, Cape Town, the British Isles and Saxony added to the genetic diversity from which the current Australian Merino flock draws it’s strength.
When the first shipment of wool from Port Jackson arrived in London in December, 1800, one fleece of the eight sent was considered by Henry Lacocke, wool adviser to Sir Joseph Banks as being nearly as good as the wool grown by the Spanish flock bred by George III at Kew.
That one fleece, grown by a yearling ram bred at Cape Town but reared on the banks of the Parramatta River, did not necessarily create a colonial finewool industry. However, it was sufficient evidence to excite the interest of the English wool manufacturers that a separate source of finewool to Spain and Saxony might be found in the penal colony.
History now records the purposeful efforts of the many sheep breeders during the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century who were successful in forming great flocks from which the ultimate prosperity of the various colonies was founded.
Striking out to form stations on the wide grasslands beyond the coastal boundaries, those successful sheep breeders recognised the need to breed sheep that would survive in a tough environment, if they were to secure financial success.
It was on the accomplishment of those original breeders and their successors the future of the Australian Merino flock was secured.
But the fulfillment of the original promise was not to be completed until January, 1860, when George and Frederick Peppin with Thomas Shaw, as sheep classer, formed the famed Wanganella stud on their property in the heart of the Riverina.
Based on the best of those ewes that had proved their productivity on the sun-scorched plains, the stud would eclipse all when a Rambouillet-bred ram ‘Emperor’ was purchased in 1865.
The use of the French-bred rams was widely accepted within the western flocks, lifting the capacity of the emerging Australian Merino. But the use of ‘Emperor’ at Wanganella was timely, as the move towards breeding a medium combing-type wool was stimulated by the shortfall of that type now in great demand by the English manufacturers.
The introduction of the French genetics into the Australian flocks was an inspired decision. And George Peppin recognised his good fortune in 1873 when he wrote to fellow sheep breeder James Richmond, the founder of the Haddon Rig stud at Warren. “I wish you would come to Wanganella. I believe I have found the right nick now.”
I wish you would come to Wanganella. I believe I have found the right nick now
That ‘right nick’ would be of immeasurable benefit to the Australian wool industry, and ‘Emperor’ would be one of many Merino rams that would be recognised by name.
Just as influential was the Tasmanian-bred ‘Sir Thomas’, lambed in 1868 and descended from the Saxony-bred sheep imported by Eliza Forlonge (see page 18).
Before the advent of the Peppin-Shaw type, ‘Sir Thomas’ was a household name and his bloodline highly prized by woolgrowers looking for a long-stapled fleece grown on a plain body.
Other rams recognised by the broader community included Uardry 0.1, grand champion at Sydney in 1932, and immortalised when his image was struck upon the shilling in 1938, which featured until the introduction of decimal currency in 1966.