Visit to "Warrah".

This was published in the

The Maitland Mercury.

Thursday, 26th September 1872.




About a visit to the Australian Agricultural Companies “Warrah Estate” by the new Governer of NSW, his Excellency Sir Hercules Robinson, accompanied by the Hon. Lady Robinson, the Hon. G. A. Lloyd, the Hon. Saul Samuel, Mr. De Roebeck his Excellency's Private Secretary, and Captain St. John (Aide-de-Camp).


It's worth the long read. The railway was only just completed to Murrurundi. It mentions the tollbar and the willow tree that the town was apparently named after. Gives a great insite into the workings of the washpool and shearing shed.


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Contrary to expectation, but agreeably to the general desire, Monday morning set in fine. The rain of the previous night had ceased, and although the mountains were still fringed with watery looking clouds, the sky was clear overhead, and the sharp cold morning air shadowed forth a beautiful day. Sir Hercules Robinson was early astir, the requisite preparations were made without delay, and the party, consisting of the Governor, Captain St. John, Mr De Robeck, the Hon S Samuel, and the Hon G A Lloyd, were on their road northwards before 6 o clock, travelling at a dashing pace, in Mr A. Loders carriage, and drawn by a fine pair of greys. JP Mr Sub-inspector Wright accompanied the party as an escort.


The drive from Murrurundi to Warrah is, for the distance (some eighteen miles as we should judge) one of the prettiest in the colony. Leaving Murrurundí you proceed up a gentle slope, having the hills on your right hand, and the fine estate of “Glenarvon” of Mr Lukes on the left. Presently you arrive at the foot of the Liverpool Range. The road up the range is long, winding, and in parts very steep, but the labor of the ascent is well repaid by the glorious view that meets the eye, Near at hand you have high hills, precipitous cliffs, lofty forest trees, and shrubs and wild plants in profusion. Southwards from you extends the beautiful "valley of the Page, with its vividly green pastures, and the picturesque little town of Murrurundi at your feet, altogether composing a scene which only the pencil of a skilful artist could pourtray, and which words cannot sufficiently describe. At length the top of the range is reached-the point whence on the one hand the rainfall runs down the rocky gullies into the tortuous channel of the Page thence into the Hunter, and so down to the sea at Newcastle, while on the other hand the waters rush down creeks and brooks, which gradually expand and widen until they become rivers, rivers which irrigate miles and miles of pastoral country, and which eventually unite in the Darling and roll down into the Murray.


The descent on the northern side of the range is much shorter, but far more steep, and one cannot help thinking that the wool teams, with their heavy loads, must find it a terrible pinch. At the foot of the range is situated the little village of Doughboy Hollow, Sleepy Hollow we should have been inclined to call it, but that we were told, that, inspite of the quiet appearance it presents, it is in reality a place of considerable activity, its trade being chiefly amongst carriers and travellers on the road. There are a few tolerably well looking houses, including two comfortable inns and some stores. The road beyond Doughboy Hollow for some distance traverses the side of a spur of the range, in one place forming a kind of terrace, with a steep hill on the left hand, and a precipice of some twenty or thirty feet on the right, with a little creek winding its way along the hollow below. Further along, to the right, the mountains rise again, their grim black sides heightening, by contrast, the delicate green of the herbage in the valley at their feet. A few bush houses are seen as you proceed along the road and here and there some rough log fencing shows that a free selector has there taken up his abode. The country gradually gets more and more level and open, although, the lofty forest trees prevent any extensive view from being obtained. Some four or five miles from Doughboy there is a neat little general store, not far from which is a public house, and still farther along is a blacksmith's shop, evidently the nucleus of a future town.  Along the road several wool-teams were seen, on the road, either to Murrurundi to hand over their loading to the railway, or more probably to take it to Morpeth, it being found in many instances cheaper to convey the wool by road than to send it by rail.


The remainder of the road possesses features not very different from those just described, a creek or two are passed by means of substantial culverts and at length the toll-bar at Willow tree is reached. For some few miles the land on the left hand, we were told, formed part of Warrah, and here, just through the toll-bar, a pair of white gates give access to the estate. A few hundred yards beyond, on the right hand side of the road, is the far famed Willow-tree, from which the locality derives its name, beneath the shade of which is the Willow tree Hotel, kept by Mr Guest, and where the weary traveller will find such comfort and kind attention as are seldom to be met with.


But we are bound to Warrah, and must pass through the white gates already mentioned. The distance from the gates to Warrah house is about four miles, and the road being over the well-known " black soil" of Liverpool Plains, is very heavy in wet weather, the mud sticking to the wheels of  our light vehicle until they look like the wheels of a dray. The black soil is, however, wonderfully  rich, I and one cannot help thinking what a quantity of grain this estate might produce were it devoted to agriculture, instead of being given up to pastoral occupation but there is plenty more blacksoil on the Plains, and there are, we hear, many farms springing into existence all over the district, so that wheat is now grown upon Liverpool Plains over and above its consumption, and, in fact, is actually exported to other districts. No longer do we see teams going from Maitland to the Plains loaded with flour, for not only do the farmers of the district grow the wheat, but at all the principal towns there are steam mills where the excellent flour is made and at an expence to the consumer much less than the cost of cartage from here. There is no cultivation on Warrah, but there is herbage of the richest description, and just now looking green enough to delight the heart of the most ardent Hibernian. The recent gentle rains have caused a splendid spring in the grass and so rich in the herbage that several of the cattle have actually died from eating to excess of the luxurient clover and other herbs. During the first mile or two of the way from the entrance gates the country is lightly timbered, hut it gets gradually open as you reach the Warrah homestead. Here a perfect little miniature township is formed, with the house, the mens huts, stables, outbuildings, etc, not forgetting the large, convenient, and well-ordered shearing shed. The house stands upon a gentle elevation, facing the open plain. It is a long one-story building, part of which has been recently erected, very comfortably arranged, and furnished with elegance and taste. This is the residence of Mr S. A. Craik, the superintendent of stock and stations, and general manager of the companies pastoral affairs.


The Warrah Estate, we may remind our readers, is the freehold property of the Australian Agricultural Company it comprises 250 000 acres of fine pastoral land, most of which consists of open plains, very lightly timbered, and covered with rich succulent herbage, so that the property is perhaps better adapted for a fattening than a breeding station. The estate is said to be about 30 miles in length, by about 13 in breadth. It is abundantly watered by numerous creeks, which collect the rain fall from the adjoining mountains, and distribute it through the estate. There are about eighty or ninety hands employed at Warrah in ordinary times, while at the shearing and washing season the number is about doubled.


The carrage containing His Excellency, Captain St John, Mr De Robeck, the Hon S Samuel, and the Hon G A Lloid, arrived at the gates of Warrah about half-past seven o'clock, and we were  met by Mr S A Craik, and Mr Terrick Hamilton (son of the Governor of the Board of Directors of the A. A.  Company), who expressed a cordial welcome to their distinguished guests. The party then drove to the shearing shed, where the shearing hands, to the number of about 43, were drawn up in line, under Mr Thompson, and who upon the arrival of His Excellency, gave one of the heartiest cheers heard during the whole tour. His Excellency and party went into the shed, which they inspected with great interest, after which they adjourned to Warrah House, where they were entertained at breakfast by Mr Craik and his amiable and accomplished lady. With his usual promptitude his Excellency delayed not a minute longer than necessary over the breakfast table, but at once proceeded to inspect the estate. Mr Craik had horses saddled, and the whole party galloped on at a rattling pace towards " The Pinnacle," an isolated peak from the summit of which a splendid view of the plains is to be obtained. Several kangaroos were observed on the mountain, while emus were to be seen stalking over the plain. The bright green herbage, dotted over with sheep, in the foreground, the dark gloomy hills at the back, and the buildings at the head station in the centre, all combined to make up a striking picture, worthy the pencil of ony artist. Having admired this glorious scene, the party retraced their steps down the Pinnacle, and thence drove over the plain to the Washpool. Here the highly interesting operation of washing the sheep, with the newest and most approved appliences was seen, and his Excellency spent some considerable time witnessing the various stages of the process. On taking his departure tho Governor was loudly cheered by the washers, who had, as we should have mentioned before, erected a triumphal arch at the entrance to the Washpool yard. Sir Hercúles then returned to Warrah House, where luncheon had been prepared by Mrs Craik. His Excellency, however, knowing that the time for his departure had arrived and wishing to keep punctually to his appointed time for leaving Murrurundi in the train was, obliged to decline to sit down.


As we have already said the Governor and his party visited the shearing shed first, but as the sheep have to be washed before they are shorn (and none of the sheep at Warrah are shorn in the grease) the natural order of precedence would place the Washpool first. Here we saw two large circular yards into which the sheep are driven to await the cleansing process. From these yards they are taken, a few at a time, into a wooden shed, raised some feet above the level of the ground. Here the unsuspecting victims quietly remain, until the men are ready for them below. Suddenly a trap door is opened, and the unfortunate sheep are tumbled down a "shoot" or smooth sloping platform of wood, into the " soak," or hot water bath, contained in the " swim," a large, long iron tank, divided into three compartments the first of which is some three or four feet wide, but narrowing at the farther end to a width just sufficient to allow of the passage of one sheep at a time. The "soak" consists of hot water mixed with soft soap and caustic soda this is heated in two large cylindrical boilers, set in brickwork, and is used for the sheep at a temperature of about 110 degrees. The poor sheep, no doubt considerably astonished by their unceremonious and involuntary plunge into the hot " soak,"are poked about by men at each side with implements like flat wooden rakes, with the object apparently of securing that every part of their fleece shall be immersed in the cleansing fluid, as well as to prevent any of them from being trampled under foot by the others and drowned. Precaution in this direction is very necessary, for the silly sheep, unable to comprehend that the treatment they undergo is for their own good, or rather for the good of their fleeces, make frantic efforts to escape, and one or other of them is constantly disappearing in the liquid soak. So watchful however, are the men, and so prompt are they in saving any unfortunate wether that may have been trodden down by his companions, that the drowning of a sheep is a matter of very rare occurrence, an incredibly small number being lost in this way out of the many thousands that are soaked and washed every year. Eight sheep are dropped into the soak at a time, which, after being manipulated as above described, are passed onward into the second compartment, by the raising of a swinging door. They are here treated in the same manner, while another eight are shot down into the first compartment, from the shed. The first eight then pass into the third compartment, where the process is repeated, something under a minute being occupied in the passage through each compartment, and the sbeep are consequently nearly three minutes in the soak in total. The liquid is kept at the proper temperature, frequent reference being made to The thermometer by means of hot water supplied from three large iron tanks, heated by steam from the engine to be spoken of presently. The soak is changed four times a day, the water being drawn off through a valve in the lower part of the swim, and passing along a drain, it runs away down the slope of the paddock adjacent. The soak is the only water that is allowed to run to waste, for the cold water used in the next part of the process, the spout washing,is carefully conserved, and made to do duty over and over again The sheep, having emerged from the swim, find themselves on a wooden platform, where they, without suspicion of the ordeal before them, await the next portion of their Turkish bath.


It is to be hoped that the poor sheep find their thick, heavy fleeces protect them alike from the heat of the soak and the cold of the spouts, for after leaving the first at 110 degrees, they are suddenly doused into water, which in cold weather, as on the occasion of our visit, marks as low as 60 degrees. However, whether they like it or not, down the shoots they are plunged, where they are seized by the washers, held under the spouts, and turned over and over, until the dirt in the fleece, which the soak has already partly dissolved, is thoroughly washed out of them. They then, pretty well exhausted by the rough treatment they have expenenced, clamber, panting, up an inclined plane of wood, on to a platform of wooden gratings, along which they are moved to a large stage constructed of the same materials, where they remain to drip and dry for about two days, their fleeces being now, instead of the dirty hue of the flocks we see come in to market, of a pure creamy white on the exterior, while if you part the wool and examine it down to the skin you find it pure as snow itself. There are eight spouts used at the Warrah washpool, winch are fed from a large square cistern, holding some 3000 gallons of water. The spouts are so arranged as to send down, not a thick round stream of water such as issues from the hose of a fire-engine, but a long narrow sheet, which, descending with considerable force, penetrates the fleece to the very skin, and washes away all unwanted matter save a few burrs, which it is almost impossible to get rid of. The men stand to their work at the spouts, not in the water, as we have seen elsewhere, but in an iron tube, while they are still further protected from splashing by stout canvas jumpers, supplied to them by the Company. It is nevertheless very trying work, especially on such cold days as Monday last. Each time that the soak is changed, the whistle of the engine is sounded, as a signal for the men to cease work for a short spell, when they get a cup of hot coffee, and can enjoy their pipe before resuming work. It will be seen, however, that not much time is lost, when we state that at present some 1600 sheep pass through the washing process every day, the men working about seven and a half hours a day. As the days get longer and warmer a larger number will be washed in a day. The cistern which feeds the spouts is supplied by a fine eighteen inch force pump, capable of raising 5000 gallons of water in an hour, with a twelve feet lift. This water is supplied from an adjacent dam and the waste water used at the spouts, is conveyed back again to the dam by means of a tail race, it being found necessary, especially in these dry seasons, to take every care of the water supply. The pump is worked by a l6 horsepower portable engine, by Clayton, Shuttleworth and Co, Mr Robert Brock being the engineer. This useful engine not only does all the hard work at the shearing season, but turns its powers to account at other times in sawing wood, splitting shingles, making fencing posts and boring holes for the wire with which the estate is fenced to pass through. About one half of the Warrah estate is fenced and subdivided into paddocks and the re- maining portion will be completed in the course of a few months. The greater part of the fencing consists of upright posts with a top rail of wood, and four or five rows of wire below, forming a fence at once strong and inexpensive.


The sheep, after remaining on the wooden platform to dry for about two days, are then driven gently along the green pastures towards the shearing shed, where they arrive in a day or two. Around the shearing shed are covered sheep yards, capable of holding from 800 to 1000 sheep, according to their size. Great care has, of course, to be taken to prevent the sheep from soiling their nice, clean, white fleeces The shearing shed is a fine, lofty, roomy building, with a hardwood floor, clean and neat as can be. The scene here is a very animated and interesting one. There are about thirty shearers, and some twelve or thirteen other persons employed in various ways in connection with the wool. The sheep yards surround three sides of the shearing floor, the fourth leads to the sorting room, and thence to the wool press, and to the storeroom. Each shearer seizes a sheep, throws him down, and without ceremony or compunction robs the almost unresisting animal of his fleecy coat. The " locks," and odd pieces fall on to the floor, and are swept up by boys with brooms, until a considerable quantity is collected. The fleece itself is shorn off in one piece, and it appears to be the perfection of shearing to take it off clean, smooth, and unbroken, although this is sometimes rendered impossible by the futile struggles of the animal to escape. We fear, however, that on Monday last, when the weather was so cold, they must have severely felt the loss of their thick, warm overcoats, and they would doubtless hail with joy the return of warm, sunny days. The shearer, having taken off the wool, has no more to do with it, but marks the sheep on the back with the raddle, in order that it may be known at the end of they day how many sheep be has shorn, for they are paid at the rate or three shillings per score, and they can shear from fifty to sixty sheep per day. Having done this he proceeds to catch and shear another sheep, while in the meantime, one of the active young fellows whose duty it is, picks up the fleece, and spreads it with a certain knack, only to be acquired by practice, on the sorting table, where every fleece in turn comes under the practical eye of Mr Charles Stead, the wool-sorter. This gentleman, who has been acting in this capacity for the company for many years, rapidly skirts the wool, examines it, and defines its classification. It is then rolled up, tied, and placed in the proper bin, according to the judgment pronounced upon it by Mr Stead. To give some idea of the onerous nature of the sorter's duties, and the delicacy of judgment required, we may mention that there are about sixteen different classifications adopted at Warrah, such as first combing, first clothing, second combing, superfine. The bulk of the wool produced on the station, however, is heavy combing wool, that being the class of wool which the cornpany goes in for. The average weight of each fleece may be taken at 3 lb., which is rather under the mark, since the average of last year was 3 lb. 3 oz. About 1500 to 1700 sheep, according to size, can be shorn in a day. There will be 80,000 sheep shorn this year, giving a total yield of 240,000 lbs. of wool, or about 800 bales Altogether on the station, including recent purchases, there are something like 100, 000 sheep,


The wool thus rolled and stacked in the bins has presently to be packed. The press used by the company is a very powerful one, working on the rack and pinion principle. The wool pack is placed into a box, the exact size of the wool bale when finished, open of course at the top The wool is token out of the bin, placed in a trolly consisting of a wooden frame work covered with canvas, and wheeled to the press. The wool is then put into the bale until it is level with the top. Another open box, open at top and bottom, is fitted on to the lower box, and this is also filled up with wool. A wooden lid, so to speak, just fithing into the boxes, is-then screwed down by means of the rack and pinion mechanism, until the wool is screwed down level with the top of the lower box. The lid being removed, the filling up and the screwing process is repeated. The requisite quantity of wool being at last placed in, the lid or top of the bale is placed under the wooden lid, and this being screwed down, the top box is lifted, and the lid of the bale is sewed securely on. When this is completed, the side of the lower box is opened, the bale is removed, and marked to indicate the class of wool it contains It is then ready to be loaded on a dray, and carried away on route to the port of shipment. The woolpacks used by the company are all imported by them, as are also the kegs of soft soap used in the washing process, and other articles required on the station.


A large building is provided as a residence for the shearers during the season, fitted up with bunks, like the forecastle of a ship. Everything here, however, appeared quite clean and tidy. The shearers at Warrah are evidently of a class far superior to those we have seen elsewhere in former years. There did not appear to be any of the old hands among them, whose drunken habits at one time made the very name of a shearer a reproach. We notice that every means is taken by the managers of the station for the rational amusement of the men. Among other recreations the game of cricket is particularly encouraged, and the annual match at the close of the season, between the shearers and the washers, is an event of very momentous interest.


His Excellency and party, having been escorted to the Warrah boundary by Mr Craik, Mr Hamilton, and some other of the gentlemen connected with the station, made the best of their way to the Page, arriving in Murrurundi about two o'clock. Her Ladyship, it should be mentioned, had spent Monday morning in visiting some of the leading ladies of the town, gaining golden opinions on every hand, by her urbanity and affability towards all who approached her. About halfpast two the party took their seats in the special train, and left Murrurundi amid hearty cheers, and the loyal and best wishes of the inhabitants.

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25.09 | 09:36

Absolutely delighted to come across a part of my direct ancestors history about which I knew very little and shall endeavour to find out more
Thank you Prof. A.

23.09 | 22:23

Very interesting Kelaher family history. Impressive number of trained nursing sisters. Jack lent the Copelands a cream horse, Playboy, in 1950's, ridden by Kate

09.09 | 17:58

Wonderfully informative. Thank goodness for Jane and John Atchison's work

06.09 | 14:33

I am Jack Kelaher and I am proud of my pop, dad and ancestors.

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