Letter to Jesse Gregson.

This is a letter written by Warrah Station Manager, Richard Hudson, to AACo Company Superintendent, Jesse Gregson after a terrible drought that encompassed all of 1877 and was finally softening in April 1878 after a wet February.

At the end of 1875 there was 104,564 sheep on Warrah, 9630 unweaned lambs, and 2718 cattle. Twelve months before the drought, Jesse Gregson had remarked that, 

 

..."The hardships so severe in other parts of the colony were scarcely felt upon the Warrah property"...

 

Then the 1877 drought set in. By the end of 1877, over 800 cattle, and 30,000 sheep were dead and 43,000 sheep were sent to pastures in new England.

 

No mention of the rainfall recorded, however there was only about 300 mills of rain recorded in both Boggabri and Muswellbrook in 1877, 280 mills at Dubbo and just a 100 mills at Bourke. Plus it was already dry at the start of 1877. Armidale received 600 mills in 1877.

 

Following is a letter written by Richard Hudson to Company superintendant Jesse Gregson.

A busy days shearing at Warrah shearing shed, 1870.

 

Australian Agricultural Company

Warrah 7th April 1878

Jesse Gregson Esq.

Newcastle.

 

 

Dear Sir. 

I have your letter of the 4th instant conveying the following questions for my replies, namely,

1. Were the plains at any, and for what time absolutely useless?

2. What was the state of the forest country during the last two months of the drought?

3. Judging by your past experience, have you sufficient forest land to carry 60,000 sheep and 2,500 cattle during the pinch of such a drought as you have just come through?

4. Say on what part of the property the sheep and cattle were during the pinch?

 

 

1. Your first question is most difficult to answer, for though it cannot be said that the plain country on Warrah has been absolutely useless at any time from the fact that it afforded a precarious existance to some 10,000 sheep up to the break in the drought. Still, I am reluctantly compelled to record my opinion that, in such a drought as the one we have just come through, the plains are eminently of little worth. 

I dont mean to say that the carrying capability of the plain country on Warrah might not be greatly increased by a larger distribution of water among the different paddocks, I am firmly impressed it would be in ordinary seasons, but to wear the expense of such distribution simply as a dependence in time of drought I consider would be unwise. Possibly some deaths might have been avoided in the early part of the summer had water been more easily got at, but for the last three months I am inclined to believe that no amount of water would have substituted the great dearth of feed.

 No doubt you are aware that the rich fattening lands of Warrah were systematically lightly stocked during the winter and early spring for the purpose of giving the large number of fat sheep then on the run an opportunity of holding their condition. The result as you know was most discouraging for the sheep continued to lose condition, and as the summer advanced, the feed burnt up and disappeared.

 

 2. A better state of things existed in the forest lands, though in the two months previous to the break up, it was anything but promising. Feed as a matter of course was very scarce, and on the top of the ridges, none was visible and non had been for many months. But the few odd showers that fell during December caused a shoot in the creek flats and other low lying places which put fresh life into the sheep for the time being and helped them to get through the month or so of hard dry weather that followed.

 On the plains, no such good effect ensued on the slight rainfall. The cause refered to above that led to stocking lightly the plains, implied on the other hand heavy stocking on the bush country which under other circumstances would have been avoided, more especially as it contributed to a stoppage in the growth of summer grass.

 Probably the grazing qualities of the bush country on Warrah are enhanced by a fair spread of water over many of the paddocks and notibly by the sapping that has already been done. The fact is that of the 40,000 sheep depasturing on Warrah at the time of the break up, some 30,000 were finding a living on the forest country, the sapped land of which has proved itself on inestimable value by carrying at the rate of one sheep to some two acres through the very worst of the time.

 

 3. Your third question is more easily solved by the experience gained in the past drought tends to show that to place any confidence in the forest land carrying 60,000 sheep and 2,500 cattle at the pinch of such a drought would be simply depending on a broken need.

 My own opinion is that it was stocked to its utmost with 30,000 sheep only to say nothing of the cattle that positively could not have lived through it. You are aware we had not more than some 200 cattle on Warrah at the pinch, quite three quarters of which were kept alive on oak leaves. I believe the forest land on warrah might be rendered capable of carrying 60,000 sheep in all seasons by a well devised system of sapping, and I am convinced that such outlay would be, in view of the dry weather, far more renumerative than any expenditure that may be made on the plains. But I do not think that you could ever reckon on the run carrying any number of cattle in such a season as the one just passed. Moreover, though the sapped land was by far the heaviest stocked of any part, there is already a better growth of feed on it by a long way than any where else in the forest. Indeed the feed generally in the bush land is yet very backward.

 

4. The answers to your 4th question is almost implied by the answers already given to the previous ones. As mentioned previously, some 30,000 sheep were depastured at the pinch on forest land, 7,000 which found a fair living mainly on the sapped land in Warrah Creek, Toll Bar, and Willow Tree paddocks. The rest being distributed in small lots among the remaining paddocks of which Borambil, Devil's Camp, and Pump Station carried the greatest number. I do not wish you to understand that I consider either of these paddocks better than say Yarramanbah, Mount Parry, and Haydons, and in comparing them it should not be forgotten that the three latter paddocks were heavier stocked during winter and spring. 

 I think all the bush country equally good, and I have already stated that sapping is the reason why I was able to put so many more sheep in Warrah Creek, Toll bar, and Willow Tree than in any of the other paddocks. I could not say with a degee of certainty that I consider any one part of the plain country on Warrah better than the rest, for the 10,000 sheep that were running on the plains at the worst of the drought, each paddock had an equal share in proportion to its size.

 You are aware no doubt that the feed on the plains is softer, more nutritious and of quicker growth than that on the bush country, and also on the other hand, it's staying qualities cannot be reckoned on. As an instance of this, the growth on the plains is now most luxuriant whereas on the forest land no great improvment is perceptible. You will be pleased to learn that a great deal of the rubbishing long white grass has died out and that many of the native herbs are re-appearing, the fattening qualities of which are well known to the governer.

 I cannot help thinking that the policy of many of the large holders on the Liverpool Plains has been the best one and that to make the most of the rich pastures during the favourible seasons and to risk losing heavily during drought, is the most profitable way in which such country should be worked. I think it would be unwise to increase the number of breeding ewes on Warrah beyond 30,000 and to render the existance of these more sure would recommend that a further sapping of the bush land be resorted to. 

 

I am

Yours faithfully. 

Richard Hudson.

Stock Supt.

 

 

Warrah woolshed

Jesse Gregson then writes this letter dated 10th May, 1878. Its not really explained who it's written for, however I'll guess its to the board of directors of the Australian Agricultural Company to explain the dead sheep and cattle.

Memorandum to avoidance of loss of stock upon AACo’s Warrah estate.

 

After passing through a season of drought as severe as 1877, the first thought upon learning the extent of loss of stock in that season on the Company’s Warrah estate is whether there is any, and if so, what is the best security against such loss in the future?

It will assist the answering of this question if I just state shortly the events preceeding the ascenting of this loss.

The practice so far adopted by the company has been to make Warrah principally a breeding station for sheep, in addition to which it has been customary to purchase store sheep for fattening, and also to fatten bullocks from the Company’s Gloucester herd.

The number of sheep latterly depastured has averaged 100,000, the cattle being about 3,000. The area of the estate is 249,600 acres, all fenced and all available.

The numbers of the stock on 30th June 1877 were 115,902 sheep and 3,994 cattle. At that time the run was not absolutely short of feed, but the weather had been dry and threatened a severe drought, markets had been glutted for months and numbers were only to be reduced by selling at very low rates. Sales were made accordingly and on 30th September, the numbers stood at 94,933 sheep and 3,469 cattle, the whole of which together with 16,162 lambs shortly afterwards weaned, were because of drought, in such poor condition as to be unsaleable to the butchers. There was no demand for store purposes, and no possible method of further relieving Warrah than to send a run to New England and make arrangements for agistment, which together provided for 43,000 sheep and 747 cattle.

These arrangements were made in the last quarter of 1877, and the stock remaining upon Warrah amounted to 61,187 sheep and 755 cattle.

The season changed in February 1878 and by 30th April, all the travelling stock had returned and the drafting was completed. The numbers resulting were 74,586 sheep and 2,619 cattle.

There had therefore been a decrease in six months of 36,509 sheep and 850 cattle of which numbers, deducting sales and slaughtered, 32,494 sheep and 798 cattle were dead and missing, mostly from those left at Warrah.

The loss shows the urgency of the circumstances which have to be encountered at such times and I may safely say, that without the refuge we had found for part of the stock, the loss as enormous as it was, would have been doubled.

It is my opinion that loss to some extent is inevitable in such a crisis. I do not believe that we would have been more free from disaster if we had started with fewer numbers, because where there is a superabundance of old grass, it is impossible to prevent fires, and even if saved from burning, the old grass would be left untouched by the stock till it became perished and crumbled away. Therefore I look for no safety from understocking. The country should in my judgement always be kept well stocked, but never overdone and it would be of great advantage that each paddock were allowed in rotation to seed to grasses occasionally.

In admitting that I see no method by which Warrah would be made competent to maintain in hard seasons the stock it carries with ease in a more prosperous time. I am not doing it an injustice, or ignoring it’s excellence so far that I believe the estate is not to be surpassed in the colony either for its lasting power or for the use to which it may be applies at all times. Unless some improved system is found to be applicable, I think it must be admitted that a loss must be unavoidable?

But this admission increases the necessity to carefully consider the best plan of working this magnificent estate, so that the fullest advantage be taken in more prosperous times, that the loss in times of drought shall be as little as possible, and that when it occurs it will be confined to the least valuable of the stock.

I can suggest an improvement upon the plan here to fore adopted, and I would recommend that the station bred sheep be supplemented as formerly by purchase of weathers for fattening and that the estate should continue to give its valuable aid to the Gloucester cattle.

The number of breeding ewes has been limited by the court of directors to 30,000. I think that limit should be adhered to, and it will imply that the average number of station bred sheep will be from 90,000 to 100,000.

We have seen that though estimated as being able to carry a sheep to the acre and a half at it’s best, the estate in a time of drought has failed to keep 40,000 sheep alive out of 60,000. It is conceivable that with a strengthened under ground water supply, we might be hard pushed to keep even 20,000 sheep alive within the company’s boundaries?

The saleable sheep would of course be removed as occasion required or opportunity offered, but there would also be a large balance of unsaleable sheep, and the question arises what is to be done with the balance at such time?

In my opinion, cattle cannot outlast a drought at Warrah. Feed will supply a sheep upon which cattle would starve, and I should think it be recognized as a necessity that the cattle should be removed whilst travel is practicable, either to Gloucester or to some rented ground within the influence of coastal rain.

Mr Hudson is of the opinion and I am quite in agreeance with him that the forest country might be very much improved by ringbarking the timber, and the country so treated will do much more in a drought, as well as in fair seasons. In this respect, Warrah is capable of improvement, but I know of no other means of increasing its capabilities in a hard season. No storage of water will outlast the wells, although some outlay in that regard would find acceptable help in ordinary times. The case I am now considering is what to do with high class ewes on Warrah in a failure of feed as complete as in 1877, and of feed and water as in 1849/50, and 1838?

 

 

Jesse Gregson.

General Superintendant 

AACo.

Native grass Liverpool Plains. At Harrisons Plain, Jacks Creek near northern boundary of Warrah. Almost nothing there in November 2018 after one of the biggest droughts in decades. Yet the red or sandy country on the slopes next door had at least a bit of grass. The lighter soils were able to use the small amounts of rain. The black soil flats couldn't make use of the light falls as it just did nothing. Probably similar situation to 1878?

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