William Charles Wentworth; Australian politician, explorer, author, barrister, statesman and landowner.
At the height (maybe that should be depth ) of the 1840’s economic depression in New South Wales, sheep were selling at just 9d each and cattle for only a few shillings a head. The crisis was the result of a recession in England causing low wool prices, plus an extended drought, and land speculation.
On July 21 1843 The Sydney Morning Herald published a piece on what would turn out to be the savior of many pastoralists; the boiling down of livestock (both sheep and cattle) for tallow.
The first experiment was tried by Mr Wentworth at his residence [Vaucluse House] near town, on a sheep purchased by him at a butcher’s stall. It gave, I have been told, about twenty-four pounds of tallow.
The success of the experiment carried out at Vaucluse, prompted William Wentworth to establish a boiling down plant on his Hunter Valley property, Windermere. The following month he was praised for offering butchering and boiling down services to other settlers. He placed an ad in the press;
Mr William Wentworth, having engaged a competent superintendent to boil down his own surplus sheep, is willing to accommodate the settlers in the districts of the Hunter, Wellington, Liverpool Plains and New England at the following charges;
Slaughtering, skinning, cutting up, and boiling sheep, rendering caul and kidney fat separately, packing the tallow and boiled fat in the sheep skins, in suitable and secure parcels for exportation, marking and lettering those bags so as to distinguish the quality, and getting the same on board the steamer at the Green Hills …..at per sheep…………9d.
The number of animals slaughtered at Wentworth’s Hunter Valley property for the year 1843 was amazing;
It should be said that Mr Henry O’Brien, a pastoralist from Yass, began boiling down his own sheep and that of his neighbours around the same time.
By the end of 1843 the price of sheep had recovered to about five shillings a head. Cattle prices had also increased substantially.
Any diseased stock were quickly dispatched, as mentioned in an article that appeared in October 1844;
Ointments, washes, doctors and fees are superseded by the knife and the cauldron……..Sheep-boiling is one of the most fortunate hits that colonial experimentalists have ever made; the want of a market for their sheep was foremost amongst the objections of the small capitalists who contemplated emigrating and engaging in the easy life of shepherding. Its removal will open a flood-gate, and let in a considerable amount of capital, accompanied in all cases by respectable, bona fide settlers.
The same article promoted the idea of employing labourers in the grinding down of bones for manure, the manufacture of glue and even the use of small intestines for harp strings.
Fortunately the tallow trade marked a slow recovery in the economy. It continued until the discovery of gold in 1851 created the next ‘boom’.
The production and export of tallow remained an important part of the Australian economy until the turn of the century. The photograph below is of a processing plant in Queensland in the 1890s.
Some of the giant, copper vats used in the boiling process were later recycled as water tanks. I loved this anecdote published in 1930.
It took two teams of big, strong bullocks to drag each tank from the river into position for erecting…..I successfully evaded having a tooth pulled out by hiding in one of these vats while it was at Moorna before being erected.
So many settlers were bankrupted in 1840s, including Governor Macquarie’s nephew during The Hungry Forties.
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