January 19, 2011

Merino sheep in Australia – the research of H.B. Carter

By Dr Clive Dalton.

The story starts at Leeds
This bit of Australian agricultural history has turned out to be a fascinating tale - and it's necessary to tell it backwards! This is because it developed from my lecturing years at Leeds University Department of Agriculture, when some funny looking sheep arrived at the University farm around 1967 which we learned were ‘Merinos’, along with a Mr H.B. Carter who was given an office in the Textile Department, and not with us. We had no contact with the textile department staff, as we in Agriculture had no interest in wool and synthetic fibres. This attitude was similar to our association with the University Leather Department (one of the few in the world) - we just never met.

None of us on the Agriculture staff knew anything about either Carter or his Merinos, other than they had arrived from the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO) in Edinburgh, where it was rumoured that Carter (an Australian) and his sheep had departed, but not by choice.

It wasn't easy in 2010 to find people who remembered what went on at Leeds after I left in 1968, but I was fortunate through one of the few ‘agriculturists’ who was there after me, (Tim Johnson), to find Professor Richard Carter in the Institute of Immunology and Infections Research, at the School of Biological Sciences in the University of Edinburgh. Richard is H.B. Carter's second son and fortunately had documented his father’s papers after his death in 2005, intending to deposit them in a Sydney museum which specialised in the history of sheep and wool.

More on my part of the story is blogged here: http://woolshed1.blogspot.com/2010/05/merino-sheep-hb-carters-book-on-sheep.html

H.B. Carter scientific archive
On H.B. Carter's death in February 2005, Richard Carter assembled and listed his father's papers and equipment at Yeo Bank, Congresbury Somerset, UK, 6th May 2010. It's a fascinating list and is indicative of a man passionate about his work.

One of many H.B. Carter's photos in his archive, of Merino sheep in
Australian grazing conditions where he did his research.
H.B. Carter is standing nearest the car.

Contents of archive
1. About a dozen rolls, 1 to 3 feet in length comprising data maps of Australia and NSW (e.g. numbers and distribution of Merino sheep, pedigree flocks) and including a package of rolls of plans by H.B.Carter for the C.S.I.R. Sheep Biology laboratories at Prospect.

2. Metal cabinet ( 9" x 19" x 38") containing approx 10,000 glass slides of tissue sections (sheep skin) fixed, stained and mounted under glass (6 to 8 per slide) in 5 shelves or tiers, each containing 14 drawers of slides (all with identification numbers)

3. Three portfolio-sized folders with research data, charts etc.

4. One box (20" x 20" x 26") containing HBC's saddle, harness and other "bush" equipment

5. Forty one boxes (11" x 18" x 18") containing HBC's books, documents and original paper records, correspondence etc. identified as follows:
  • Box (l) - HBC, records, scientific etc. (Australia)
  • Box (2) - HBC, records, scientific etc. (Australia)
  • Box (3) - HBC, records, scientific etc. (Australia)
  • Box (4) - HBC, records, scientific etc. (Australia)
  • Box (5) - HBC, records, scientific etc. (Australia)
  • Box (6a) - HBC, records, scientific etc. (Australia)
  • Box (6b) - HBC, records, scientific etc. (Australia)
  • Box (6c) - HBC, records, scientific etc. (Australia)
  • Box (7) - HBC, sheep & wool ( National statistics)
  • Box (8) - HBC, Edinburgh & after, 1954- 1970s scientific records & correspondence.
  • Box (9) - HBC, Leeds, 1963 ? - 1970 ; correspondence 1948 – 1969.
  • Box (10) - HBC, Massy "Australian Merino"; other bound material, 1929 – 1988.
  • Box (11) - HBC. papers, mainly correspondence - 1948 – 1998.
  • Box (12) - HBC, papers, Yeo Bank years,1970 - correspondence.
  • Box (13) - HBC, scientific research data pre 1953.
  • Box (14) - HBC, scientific research data - Australia - pre 1953.
  • Box (15) - HBC, papers & correspondence Edinburgh & later.
  • Box (l6) - Approx. 400 fleece samples annotated (each 1/2 x 2 X 18 inch) in 7 x card boxes; samples are from cross-bred sheep grown at the Animal Breeding Research Organization (ABRO), Edinburgh, Scotland; dating from between 1954 and 1963. H.B.Carter personal skin biopsy punch kit. Photograph album of fleece collecting in action. Envelope of H.B.Carter’s pen and ink drawings of Merino sheep.
  • Box (17) - 560 well annotated slides of fixed and stained skin sections from Merino sheep mounted under glass in 7 boxes and 1 package. Documents from Russia.
  • Box (l8) -2 black file boxes containi11g:- 1 x envelope 4 x 6 inch containing 18" and early 19th century fibre specimens (presumably sheep, unknown breed); 54 sheep skin biopsy specimens preserved in wax (Bradford) (3 x packages); 144 sheep skill biopsy specimens preserved in wax (1966/67) (18 X packages); 93 tubes with label slips inside them (no biological material evident); 1 cardboard box approx l cubic foot containing 58 sheep fleece specimens (unknown date and place of origin, possibly from around 1990). 2 A4 envelopes with Merino wool samples (Edinburgh 1956).
  • Box (19) - Approx. 100 slides of Soay (Scotland) sheep skin sections, fixed, stained and nlounted under glass; Approx. 100 slides of skin sections of cross-bred sheep - e.g. Merino X Border Leicester - fixed, stained and mounted under glass; Approx. 100 slides of skin sections of Scottish rodent species (most likely including Microtos sp., Apodemus sp. or Mus musculus , fixed, stained and mounted under glass (4 packages); Approx. 400 slides of skin sections of Scottish deer (most likely Red Deer, Cervus elaphus or Roe Deer, Capreolus capreolus, fixed, stained and mounted under glass (4 packages); Approx. 200 slides of skin sections of Merino sheep, fixed, stained and mounted under glass (2 packages).
  • Box (20) - Approx. 1000 coarse wool fibre samples from Scotland (likely Blackface Sheep, or other such breed) (second half of 20th century); 3 jars with early Australian wools (presumably early Merino); 5 jars fleece samples from Afghanistan (presumably some breed of Afghan sheep); Blue card box containing:- 55 tubes with labeled slips inside (no biological material evident); Brown card box containing 45 tubes with labeled slips inside (no biological material evident); Small brown box containing 24 tubes with labeled slips inside (no biological material evident); 8 wooden racks containing:- 192 tubes with labeled slips inside (no biological material evident).
  • Box (21) HBC, sheep follicle drawings, photos, film and sundry.
  • Box (22) HBC, papers UK post 1954.
  • Box (23) HBC, papers UK post 1954.
  • Box (24) HBC, papers UK post 1954.
  • Box (25) HBC, papers UK post 1954; incl photos ?pre 1954.
  • Box (26) HBC, (fleece samples) papers UK post 1954.
  • Box (27) HBC, papers UK post 1954.
  • Box (28a) HBC, papers UK post 1954.
  • Box (28b) HBC, papers UK post 1954.
  • Box (29) HBC, literature reprints A – C.
  • Box (30) HBC, literature reprints D – G.
  • Box (31) HBC. literature reprints H - I.
  • Box (32) HBC, literature reprints M – P.
  • Box (33) HBC, literature reprints R – T.
  • Box (34) HBC, literature reprints U - Y + lit card files + "books" from Leeds (1960's).
  • Box (35) HBC, personal publication reprints & other published material.
  • Box (36) HBC, other published materials.
  • Box (37) HBC, other published materials, pre 1945.
  • Box (38) HBC, other published materials.
  • Box (39) - 1 plastic bag with 18 labeled fleece (sheep unknown breed) samples (1 x 1 x 4 inch); 1 plastic bag with 8 labeled fleece (sheep unknown breed) samples 1 x 1 x 4 inch); 1 plastic bag with 26 labeled fleece (sheep unknown breed) samples (1 x 1 x 4 inch); 1 plastic bag with 12 labeled fleece (sheep unknown breed) samples (1x1x4 inch); 1 plastic bag with fleece (sheep unknown breed) samples (9 x 9 x 9 inch); 1 envelope (The Rodd 29th May 1973) containing 10 envelopes (3 x 4 inch) with fleece samples (sheep unknown breed);5 plastic sleeves (2 x 4 x 4 inches) with fleece samples (sheep unknown breed); 1 envelope (Ulundri/Castle Hill/NSW) with 20 plastic sleeves with fleece samples (Merino) (presumed pre-19541; Folders of data records, documents and plans with reference to Sheep Biology Laboratories, C.S.I.R. at Prospect, N.S.W.; Metal syringe (function unknown).

The HB Carter ‘Memoir’

Among H.B. Carter's documents, Richard found what his father called his ‘Memoir’, which Richard kindly let me read. I felt it was of such significance, not only in Australia but around the sheep world, that I suggested it should be made available for future agricultural researchers and historians via my blog.

The memoir made me realise that all the things we at Leeds had thought and inferred about Carter and his sheep, were in total ignorance of the calibre of the man, and his contribution to sheep and wool science, as well as to the textile industry in Australia and around the world.

The 'Memoir' knol
Richard Carter and I have worked on getting the memoir from HBC’s version (typed on his portable Remington with very few typing errors) through as a Google Knol (see http://knol.google.com/k/clive-dalton/h-b-carter-personal-memoir-of/2txpuk4gtju3n/18)
with the kind permission of the Carter family. To HB Carter's original words we have only added subheadings and some of his original photos from his archive to break up the text for easier reading.

Richard has written some personal notes to put the Memoir into perspective, in both time and location.

Notes by Professor Richard Carter – January 2011
A story about a sheep flock

When my father, Harold Burnell Carter, was in his late forties, he began to write a story about a flock of sheep that had been gathered together at the behest of a King who would go mad, and about the man who served him as their shepherd.

The flock of sheep was a very special one for it was descended from the sheep from whose backs came the Golden Fleece - that treasure of ancient legend sought by the Greek hero, Jason, the Captain of the ‘Argonaughts’. For, true to its name, whoever possessed the Golden Fleece held in his hands the wealth of a nation.

His Majesty's flock
And to this end also, the king who would go mad sent out his servants to find and bring him descendants of the miraculous sheep. My father called his story ‘His Majesty’s Spanish Flock’. The sheep of the Spanish Flock were Merinos, coveted throughout Europe for the extreme fineness of their wool and upon which the looms of England depended for their lucrative industry.

The king was King George III of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; his “shepherd” was Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society of England. In 1788, the small beginnings of the flock of Merinos, smuggled from their native pastures on the plains of Spain, was secretly assembled at Windsor Castle on the banks of the River Thames.

Intended as the seed stock for a revitalised wool industry in the United Kingdom – in the words of the King “a most national object” – the little flock, gathered in twos and threes by Spanish “contrabandistas” and smuggled through Portugal for shipment to England, was, indeed, destined to found the fortunes of a nation. For about 100 years, from perhaps the 1830’s to the 1930’s, the wealth of that nation would be built upon “the sheep’s back” – upon the back of the Australian Merino.

Founding the wealth of Australia
My father’s story - the story of the Spanish sheep that would found the wealth of the Australian nation - was the product of a personal quest, a quest that grew from his own instinct, common to his generation, to work for the prosperity of his country, the Commonwealth of Australia.

The means he found were through the scientific study of the Merino in Australia. And he began, in the early 1930’s, at the age of 23, by working for an organization called the “Australian Estates and Mortgage Company Limited” as a veterinarian for Merino studs on sheep stations in New South Wales.

As his second of three sons, growing up in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s, on a small farm on the edge of the Australian bush, 20 miles from the centre of Sydney, the line of the Blue Mountains marking the western horizon, I knew my father to be a “sheep scientist”.

Off to work in the 'lab’
My father went to work in Sydney most days to the 'lab', which puzzled me for a long time as I understood this to be the “lav”. When he wasn’t at the 'lab' he would be working on the farm making fences or ploughing or doing things with sheep.

This might be making them walk through, and be ‘drenched’ with, a very green liquid, and occasionally tying them onto a bench and shaving the wool off a square patch of skin followed by a short sharp dig in the sides with a metal object that neatly removed a small circle of skin.

Bare-foot in the dust

A photo by H.B. Carter of his gear for fleece sampling on farms

While this was going on, I and my brothers would be running around bare foot in the dust taking it all in and occasionally being chatted to by my father’s mates “Wol” Clarke, Daly and Ken Ferguson, of whom Ken always seemed more smartly dressed than Wol, Daly or my Dad. Once or twice there arrived at our farm, along with Wol and Daly, an impressive looking vehicle called the “Battle Buggy”, and an even more impressive one called the “Chev”, which had a canvas back.

Run! – here comes ‘Butty’
The sheep themselves also had quite a lot of character. There was one ram in particular called Butty. He was ‘unherdable’! In fact the only way he could be brought into the yard was, apparently, for someone, Bill in my recollection, to walk out into the back paddock, attract Butty’s attention, an easy task, and then run like the blazes with Butty in full pursuit, having calculated in advance the distance that could be covered and still reach the fence before Butty caught up with him.

Meanwhile someone else, probably my Dad, stood by to do some deft gate work, which with luck, would divert Butty into entrapment in the holding yard. Unconnected with any of the above was a Sydney Funnel Web spider which the same Bill captured by placing a glass coffee jar over the spider’s hole. I can still recall, as I imagine, the thwack as the spider hit the bottom (now the top) of the jar. Brave man was Bill.

Names and more names
Away from the yard and the paddock, in addition to those already mentioned, names such as Bull, Hedley Marston, Gill, Peggy Hardy, Noeline Schwann, Des Dowling, Dunlop, Tom Austin and Bunny Austin are ones that come readily to mind from recollections of conversions between our parents. All our table place mats had what I now realise were mites and parasitic worms and such like embroidered on them.

Factors and fleeces
There was also much talk of 'factors' and the 'fleece'. Once in a while the family would be treated to slide shows projected onto the wall of our “sitting room” in the tumble down shack that was, at the time, our home. These were thrilling occasions. The images were uninterpretable but very exciting.

There were whirls and coloured, somewhat circular, shapes within shapes, odd dots and what not. Slide after slide was projected, each quite as transfixing as the previous one, until it was all over and we were sent, more reluctantly than on most nights, to bed.

From time to time my father was absent altogether for days on end. This had something to do with places with names like 'Wanganella' and involved “Sheep Stations” and “Austin”. Whatever all this was about my parents seemed pretty happy with their lot, and so were we; who wouldn’t be?

Off to Bonny Scotland
And then, all of sudden, we learned that we were leaving Australia and going to Scotland. This was in 1954. And so we did, and came to live near Edinburgh while my father carried on working there as a “sheep scientist”. Unfortunately there were no more paddocks or sheep and horses and chickens, and less unfortunately, no more spiders and snakes, at least not to worry about.

So from here on my father just went to work at the 'lab', until, that is, he began to spend more and more of his time collecting old letters, or rather photographic copies of them, hundreds and, indeed, thousands of them. And sooner or later we learned that he was preparing to write a book, a book about some sheep, the mad king, George III, and Joseph Banks, a name familiar to me then, and to most of any who had heard of him at all, as the “botanist” who had accompanied Captain Cook on his voyage to “discover” Australia.

From Edinburgh to Leeds
Not long after this my father stopped working in Edinburgh and went instead to work in Leeds, still with sheep but now mysteriously associated with the “textile industry” and the names Sir Francis Hill and David Knight crept into the family vocabulary. The family didn't follow him to Leeds.

By now we were heading out and away to wherever our own lives were going to take us, and in 1970 my father, with my mother, now a senior consultant psychiatrist in hospitals and homes in the West Country, retired to live in a house in a country village near Bristol. “Retired” my father may have been but not idle.

By 1988 he had completed and published a definitive biography of Sir Joseph Banks. My father, his work begun with youthful optimism to understand and produce a better sheep, ended by lifting the vale of obscurity from 'the botanist who sailed with Captain Cook' to show him as he truly was - Sir Joseph Banks, inspired Godfather of British science in an 'Age of Wonder', and perhaps more than any other, Father of the Australian nation.

Continuing interest
My father’s interests and correspondences continued until near the time of his death in early 2005. Our mother’s death followed three years later to the day but one, in 2008. Thereupon began the task of dismantling the family home and the safeguarding of, as we now fully realised, our father’s double legacy and archive.

Most clear and obvious was the huge collection of his library and documents related to his historical research, now with the 'Sir Joseph Banks Archive' at the University of Nottingham.

And then there was the archive of material directly concerning his own work as a 'sheep scientist'. From out of this emerged the 'memoir' which is a main feature of this blog and knoll, and which reveals at last what was behind the slide shows, the names and the places, the Chev truck and the strange business of snatching neat round circles of skin from a shaven patch on the side of a sheep. The memoir itself was written to assist Charles Massy in writing his monumental work - 'The Australian Merino'.

Comments by Dr T.S.Ch'ang
'TS' was a young newly-recruited scientist at CSIRO at Prospect soon after it opened, and now retired, his 2011 comments are interesting. HB Carter was seen by these young scientists as a rather shadowy aloof figure around the lab, and there was little communication between them in the very hierarchical structure of CSIRO. This was even expressed in the colour of the overalls worn by the different ranks - scientists with white overalls of course!

'The Carter memoir made interesting reading with many, if not most of the names, places and events known to me, which places me in a category of dinosaurs or its near relatives.

'Helen Newton Turner recruited me to initiate and carry out research in CSIRO on meat sheep genetics and breeding in Australia, which may now appear like an after-thought after reading the Carter draft.

'Without the benefit of knowing what or how much Carter had already done in Merino sheep, e.g. such as sampling the Merino Studs for wool genetic studies etc, I also went to the trouble (in 1968) of writing to Dorset Horn Stud Flock owners, South Australian Merino (Collinsville), and some Corriedale ram breeders.

'This was to assemble my collection of experimental sheep for the definitive meat sheep genetics study on 'Arding' - a field station down the road from 'Chiswick'. I even designed and built an abattoir on 'Chiswick' to do slaughter for the carcass work.

'My years at Prospect - a geneticist rubbing shoulders with the physiologists now appear to be pre-ordained by Carter, and not a convenience move in CSIRO after the merging of Divisions, among other reasons to save money!

'A little history does provide perspective - even retrospectively, to see things which otherwise might be viewed as a linear process in time, but it's really a circular motion coming to its logical conclusion'.

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