The foresight and vision of John Macarthur was largely responsible for establishing the Australian wool industry. In 1794 Macarthur purchased 60 hair–bearing Bengal Ewes which he crossed with an Irish Breed. A little later in 1797 he acquired four ewes and two rams being “Gordon” merinos of pure Spanish blood which had been imported from the Cape of Good Hope. Also fundamental to the development of the Australian Wool Industry and complementary to Macarthur’s breeding endeavours was Macarthur’s successful promotion of the potential for wool production in Australia. In 1801 Macarthur was sent to England to face court martial charges which were later dropped. On this trip he took with him samples of the wool he had produced. These samples were judged by experts in England to be of “very superior quality”. Macarthur decided that his future lay in the development of the fine wool industry. On this trip Macarthur acquired 9 rams and 1 ewe from the Royal Flock of George III at Kew. These first steps taken in the creation of the wool industry occurred while the Macarthur operation was based at Elizabeth Farm, where his wife Elizabeth was a major contributor to the successful breeding campaign particularly during Macarthur’s absences overseas. From 1820 onward operations were largely transferred to Camden Park.
Descendants of the original Macarthur Merinos
The task of developing the wool industry devolved to three of John’s sons. James and William who oversaw operations at Camden and implemented the latest scientific methods supported by meticulous record keeping. The use of shearing sheds and the introduction of a wool washing practice were important developments that occurred on Camden Park. A third son, John who lived in London was an invaluable conduit of information and advice and represented family interests in the marketing of wool to merchants as well as obtaining information on what improvements could be made and keeping a careful eye on any political developments the could benefit the family business.
Camden Park remained at the centre of the Macarthur families wool operations from 1820 until 1850 when the flock was dispersed. During this period the flock varied in number from 18,000 to 25,000 head according to market conditions.
At different times John Macarthur has being given credit as the founder of the wool industry at other times great credit has been given to his wife Elizabeth. Perhaps a more accurate assessment would be to acknowledge that with the distance so great between England and Australia and communications so slow it required a the efforts of competent and entrepreneurial people both in Australia and England for the potential to grow wool in Australia to be realised.