….On the basis of Caldwell’s letters, and not wanting to remain a burden on his mother, Frederick Wolseley sold his commission in the army in 1854, at the age of 17, and sailed to Melbourne.
He worked for Caldwell as a jackeroo, then managing one of his properties, before finally buying land himself – with financial assistance from Caldwell and Garnet.
Wolseley saw the difficulties associated with shearing massive flocks of sheep, with the work being carried out by bands of itinerant shearers. The work was back-breaking hard, but required skilled use of hand shears. Conditions in the sheds were tough, and shearers were paid per 100 sheep shorn, but often with crippling penalties for injuring sheep or not working to the station owner’s satisfaction.
Wolseley felt that if a mechanical method of shearing could be developed, particularly if it could be operated by unskilled labourers, it could make life much easier on the shearer and cheaper for the pastoralist.
He wasn’t the first to think along these lines, though, and a number of patents had already been taken out as early as the 1860s for the mechanical shearing of sheep – none of which proved satisfactory.
However, Wolseley had an inventive mind and bought up many patents which he tried to adapt to find a working solution, but with many disappointments. He had travelled to the US and bought at least two important patents while over there – possibly simply to prevent any competition.
During this time he bought and sold a number of properties in Outback NSW, particularly in the Deniliquin region. He was well known in the area, became a Justice of the Peace and was on a number of pastoral improvement committees. He also became a member of exclusive Gentlemen’s clubs in Melbourne and Sydney, the addresses of which he often used for correspondence.
Wolseley bought Euroka Station near Walgett in 1876. After nearly 20 years’ work, with help from various people including Robert Savage and Richard Pickup (RP) Park in Melbourne and Jack Gray, the blacksmith at Euroka, Wolseley gave his first successful demonstration in 1882 – where Gray is credited with being the first person to shear a sheep completely by mechanical means.
However, there was still a way to go with making the machines truly viable.
In 1885 Wolseley bought the patents for a horse clipping machine from recently arrived English inventor John Howard and employed Howard to work as a mechanic/engineer at Euroka.
This same year he had enough confidence to start the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Co. (WSSC) in Melbourne, and to place his first commercial order for sheep shearing machines from engineering firm RP Park in South Melbourne.
Wolseley realised a successful shearing machine had a potentially huge market globally. By this time, the national flock in Australia alone had reached 98 million – for a human population of around 2.7 million.
Wolseley was also concerned with other areas of rural life and farm maintenance that could be improved. Hi list of inventions and pioneering work, mostly with Robert Savage, is impressive and includes a mechanical earth scoop (for digging irrigation channels); post hole digger; tipping railway truck; sheep branding machine; and electrified fencing. He was also one of a number of pioneers in water boring to reach the Artesian Basin and in establishing a dingo-proof fence.
Meanwhile, in 1882, a 16-year-old Herbert Austin had arrived in Melbourne with his uncle, Walter. The son of a farmer, Austin was reasonably well educated but after a couple of unsuccessful attempts to gain an apprenticeship as either an architect or engineer he left for Australia.
On his arrival in Melbourne he worked for two years at Mephan Ferguson, in Hotham (renamed North Melbourne in 1887) where his uncle was the works manager. He later worked for Langlands Foundry and reportedly studied part-time at the Hotham School of Art – a night school operated by the Hotham Council, from 1883 to 1893.
Austin was always interested in machinery and after working for two or three other companies, was employed as manager at RP Park in South Melbourne in December 1887. Only three days later, on Boxing Day, Austin married Helen Dron, Australian-born daughter of British parents.
He soon found himself involved with Wolseley, who had transferred his company to Sydney, installing John Howard to manage the workshop….
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