The Unsung Woman Behind Our Wool

The Taylor family has run the Winton Saxon merino stud near Campbell Town since 1835 and for most of that time it has bee in the hand of generations of men named John Taylor.

The family has had a vision to continue to breed these bluest of blue bloods among sheep, whose history and lineage trace back to the successful days of the fine wool industry in Spain.

But behind the Taylor patriarchy is the fascinating contribution of a woman, a remarkable Scotswoman name Eliza Furlonge. This gifted and determined woman was one of Australia’s unsung heroines, whose singular vision and courage aided the wool industry in Australia to make huge steps forward in the early settlement days of the colony. Living in Scotland, Eliza Furlonge had lost four children by 1826 when her life took another dramatic turn. She learned that one of her two living sons had become very ill and needed to move to a warmer climate. Eliza, with her husband John’s support, decided to move to the new colony of NSW where, they had heard, there were good prospects for growing wool.

With her sons William and Andrew, she left first for Saxony where she had learnt there were studs breeding some of the finest Escurial strain of sheep from the royal flocks that the King of Spain had given the Elector of Saxony in 1765. Eliza’s plan was for her two sons to learn German and to place them into wool sorting houses to learn the wool trade. Meanwhile, she set out alone to inspect and buy the best merinos she could find.

Saxony at the time was a rough and rugged place with isolated villages and medieval walled towns. She travelled over 500 miles on foot and more on horseback to select the finest sheep on offer. She placed a collar around the neck of each sheep she bought, fastened it with her seal, paid up to 30 pound in gold sovereigns for each, and left them on each farm until her return.

William and Andrew joined Eliza, travelling through Saxony to collect her selected 100 sheep. They drove them on foot from all over the country, finally bringing them together at Hamburg. This was an incredible effort by lone woman and her two sons with little help from Germans, whom she found unfriendly and suspicious. That made it difficult for them to find adequate feed and shelter for their valuable stock.

Eliza eventually shipped her flock from Saxony to Hull in England and ten to Greenock in Scotland. She is believed to have sold this flock to the Australian Agricultural Company for a considerable sum and then had to return to Saxony to do it all again.

On her second visit, the legend of the Scotswoman had become known throughout Saxony. Farmers were now willing to offer her better sheep because they knew she would pay with gold sovereigns So Eliza found the task much easier to select her sheep She returned to Scotland with an even finer flock of 100 Saxon merinos.

In 1829 William Forlonge, at the age of 18, embarked on the ship Clansman with the flock, bound for NSW. When it berthed in Hobart on its way to Sydney, Governor Arthur, realising the valuable addition the Saxon merinos would make to the breeding stock of Van Diemen’s Land, persuaded William to settle on the island with the offer of a land grant. William took up this offer, although his family were displeased that he did not continue to NSW where land had already been made available for them.

William’s land grant in Tasmania was in the Midlands, a property near Campbell Town named Kenilworth. Here, his rams were in great demand as there were very few sheep of such quality. He wrote to his family with enthusiasm at the success of his sheep and encouraged them to join him.

Eliza returned to Saxony with her husband and son Andrew, selecting a further flock of superior fine wooled sheep. In all Eliza travelled over 1500 miles on foot buying her sheep

The Furlonge family joined William in 1831, when John Forlonge received a further land grant, but not Andrew as he was considered a minor. The family was disappointed, especially when no further grants were being issued in Tasmania.

They returned to England in 1834 to speak with officials in an attempt to gain more land but were unsuccessful. This was a huge blow as the original Kenilworth block was not large enough for their sheep and there was no access to water or a river. By 1844 the Forlonges left Tasmania to live in Victoria, finally settling at Seven Creeks station in 1851.

John Taylor’s family had arrived in Tasmania from Scotland in 1823 and settled on their land grant at Valleyfield near Campbell Town. avid Taylor, one of the six sons who arrived with his parents, later settled at Winton in 1832. Here he lived with his wife Nancy in a house constructed in 1821. David and Nancy had seven children. Their youngest son was John.

David settled into farming with the typical enthusiasm of early settlers and, with the help of free labourers, build some fine farm buildings from handmade bricks and sandstone.

In 1835 the Forlonges sold a large portion of the Saxon merinos to David Taylor plus the Kenilworth property. This was the beginning of the Winton Merino stud that based its bloodlines on the sheep personally selected by Eliza Forlonge in Saxony from 1826 to 1829. Descendants of the Forlonge sheep still survive, possibly the purest line-bred race of sheep existing in the world today.

Climatic conditions and variations in feed regimes have an effect on the fineness of wool. However, it is only the straight-bred Saxon merino which can pass on the characteristics of brightness, softness and high crimp definition. Low micron wool must also be sound and this can only be achieved consistently with Saxon merino blood.

David Taylor’s son John took over the running of the two properties and the Winton stud. He and the generations of John’s who have followed have nurtured the pure bloodlines of the original sheep with care.

The challenge of those in charge today is to maintain and improve these cherished bloodlines in a closed stud situation and still provide proponent stock of high calibre to stud and commercial flocks in Australia and overseas.

Story by Mrs Vera Taylor, ‘Winton’ 1997.

There is a monument to Eliza Furlonge at Campbell Town.