Will Wool continue?
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser
17 October 1829
Whether wool will continue to be the leading export of New South Wales, or whether it will in time be surpassed by her tobacco, the produce of her fisheries, or any other article, not now foreseen, we are not disposed to hazard an opinion, nor is the question of immediate importance.
It is sufficient to know that wool is and must be well deserving of general attention, that the capabilities of our climate for the improvement of even the finest European fleeces are now established beyond doubt, and that the character of our first rate wools stands high, and is rising yet higher, in the British market.
But there are other question before us, claiming the present and most serious consideration of the Colony at large. The first is, which fleece deserves the preference, Merino or Saxon? Until within the last four years and a half, the latter was unknown to us, and the Merino stood without a rival.
Mr. Macarthur will certainly long hold a conspicuous place in the annals of Australia, for his spirited exertions in introducing the Merino in the very infancy of the Colony, and for the skill he has shown and the capital he has expended in improving its quality.
Other gentlemen there are, such as the Rev. Mr. Marsden, Mr. Clarendon Cox, &c., who are also entitled to the thanks of their adopted country for their persevering exertions in this important department of its interests; but Mr. Macarthur must undoubtedly be recognised as the father of the Austral Merino fleece.
We know nothing of Mr. Macarthur personally, nor of any of his numerous family, and have no private inducement whatever to speak either for or against him.
But as a great agriculturist, who has done much toward the developement of our resources, and the raising of our character in the estimation of the mother country, we certainly respect him; and that respect leads us the more to lament, that a person of such standing in the community should not have given his powerful support to our public institutions, to the Agricultural Society especially.
What can future generations think, when they read in Australian history that one who so highly distinguished himself in her earlier years, and who, to the end of life, enjoyed a prominent rank in her aristocracy, had withheld his purse and patronage from the most important of her secular institutions?
How can it be reconciled with his relation to her agriculture, and with the ample fortune he had reaped from it, that the very institution formed for the special purpose of promoting it had never exhibited his name upon its muster-roll of members, nor the names of more than one of his numerous family!
While Governors and Judges, and nearly all the first men in the country, had recognised its vast importance to the territory, and had cheerfully acceded to its claims upon their pecuniary and personal support, on what principle in human nature, by what rule of historical interpretation of human actions, can it be hereafter accounted for, that the family whom our agriculture had laid under the heaviest obligations, should have utterly disowned and despised that patriotic association?
Those who shall in future times compile the chronicles of this infant empire, will, when they come to this anomalous fact, be compelled to dive into secrets, to unravel motives, to compare circumstances, and to speculate on the infirmities and inconsistencies of that complicated creature - man.
We have not wandered from our subject. These reflections come right in our way. Here we sit with the Agricultural Report before us, we look into its long list of members, and though many respectable names greet our eye, Mr. Macarthur's is not there! We turn to its interesting observations on our thriving fleeces, but though we see the signature of several men of consequence to sensible communications on the subject, Mr. Macarthur's is not there! Our wonder is excited, and that wonder we cannot forbear to express.
The year 1825 was an epoch in the history of New South Wales. A discovery was then made which soon threw Merino into the shade. Richard Jones, Esq. M. C. an old and most enterprising emigrant, returned, in the April of that year, from a visit to Europe; and from what he had there heard and seen of the Saxon fleece, he was induced to think it would prove susceptible of high improvement in our climate, and would surpass the finest flocks of Merino?
He accordingly brought out with him a small but exceedingly choice flock of twenty prime Saxon sheep, the offspring of which, together with the subsequent importations caused by Mr. Jones's example, now present in our fields a goodly number of Saxon flocks
The Agricultural Report of last year gave conclusive evidence, in communications from British wool-brokers and clothiers, that these sheep, so far from degenerating, had considerably improved by our climate in the qualities of their fleece; and the present Report adds still farther confirmation of the fact. In a letter to Mr. Western, M. P. Messrs. Donaldson, Wilkinson, and Co. (to whom the Colony is under lasting obligation), bear the following testimony to excellence of our Saxon wools:-
“What Saxony was twenty years ago, New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land now are, with the incalculable advantage of carrying on their operations by natural, instead of artificial means, for it is already clearly demonstrated that the purest Saxon fleeces, some of which have only been three years in the Colony of New South Wales, progressively increased in fineness of staple, and generally in their fulling; qualities, from the effects of climate alone."
Among the various documents we have read, and the numerous poisons with whom we have conversed, we have not met with one that questions the superiority of the Saxon over the Merino fleece, or that the latter, by crossing its breed with the former, decidedly improves its character. If any of our great wool-dealers hold a contrary opinion, why do they not come forward manfully, and show the why and the wherefore?
And we ask in good earnest, why has not the Agricultural Society the benefit of Mr. Macarthur's facts and reasonings on this important question? He, we understand, still clings to the preconceived opinion, that the Merino cannot be surpassed. It is perfectly natural that he should be reluctant to relinquish the palm he has so long borne uncontested; but why not, at all events, make the experiment, and fairly weigh the testimony already put in favour of the Saxon? And if he has made that experiment, why not acquaint the Society, and, through the Society, the public at large, with its process and results; if he has weighed that testimony, why not tell us on what grounds he rejects it as inconclusive?
As the father of the fleece, be owes this to the country, and his silence furnishes to impartial lookers-on a riddle which they cannot solve. He must of necessity have a large share of experience in most branches of Colonial agriculture, he must, if, us we believe, he is a man of sense and observation, have, accumulated a considerable stock of local knowledge on matters of the utmost consequence: and what a thousand pities that he should wrap that experience in a napkin, and hide that knowledge under a bushel! Is it fair to the Colony, is it just to himself?
We had intended to discuss the second question connected with our wool, viz: Which is the better season for lambing, spring or autumn? But we have already trespassed so far upon our space that we must for the present desist.