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Image Sheep washing at 'Collaroy' station, 1872

TLF ID R4112

This is an image from a wood engraving, measuring 35.0 cm x 23.6 cm, showing an elaborate steam-driven sheep washing plant at 'Collaroy' station in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales. It shows sheep moving through several stages of scouring, washing and rinsing. Large boilers and engines are housed in sheds on the right of the engraving.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset records an artist's impression of sheep washing on a sheep station in New South Wales in 1872 - this extensive and well-designed plant represented the epitome of sheep-washing technology in the 1870s; plants of this type were first established in Tasmania in the 1850s and on the mainland in the 1860s.
  • It depicts various stages in the scouring and washing process - sheep were brought in from the paddocks carrying a year's accumulation of dirt, burrs and excrement in their wool; they were first scoured with steam-driven jets of chemicals (several tanks of chemicals can be seen upper left) and then driven into a race containing heated water, where they were washed by men standing inside tarred barrels; then they were rinsed and turned out into a succession of clean paddocks to dry, reaching the shearers about seven days after washing; about 1,000 sheep could be handled in a plant like this each day.
  • It shows steam-driven machinery and permanent infrastructure that provided economic benefits for the station owner - scouring and washing improved the appearance of the wool, reduced the weight of the fleece by about 40 per cent and enabled it to be sold for at least double the price of greasy wool.
  • It includes three men known as 'scrubbers', in what appear to be barrels, washing the sheep - tarred barrels protected the scrubbers from the worst effects of the heated water; sheep washing was not a sought-after job and Aboriginal and Chinese labourers were often employed; 'Collaroy' had a history of using indentured Chinese labourers for this and other labouring jobs and in 1853, about 20 years before this engraving was made, the landholder Edward Hamilton wrote 'I have bought ten more Chinamen - one brute died 12 hours after I had paid for him'.
  • It shows the use of steam power - the plant reveals that new technologies were applied to traditional tasks, resulting in increased efficiencies; in England and in the early colonial period in Australia, sheep were washed by simply dunking them in a nearby stream; the colony's first steam engine was brought to NSW by John Dickson in 1813; it began operating in 1815 and further engines were introduced in 1825, 1826 and 1829.
  • It shows machinery and infrastructure that would soon be superseded - by the 1880s many textile manufacturers had installed fleece scouring facilities in their factories; they preferred the greasy wool because it was cheaper and because they could extract the lanolin from the wool and sell it as a by-product; by 1890 only stations that were long distances into the Australian interior were still washing sheep.
  • It provides an example of a wood engraving of the time - wood engraving is a refinement of the technique of a woodcut (the carving of a design into a block of wood); the end grain of the wood is used, allowing for finer detail in the image; to make an engraving, the artist etches fine lines on a block of wood, then prints this in ink: this was, however, time-consuming and laborious work; an engraving the size of a 20 cm x 25 cm woodblock took an engraver approximately a week to complete.
  • It reveals the popularity of engraving as a form of newspaper illustration in the 1860s - the print is one of a set of three representing life at an Australian sheep station; the National Library's information about the image states that it was published in the ‘Graphic', London, 1872; this newspaper, begun in 1869, and papers such as the ‘London Illustrated News', brought readers visual representations of the far-flung reaches of the British Empire; engravings were only used by weekly or monthly newspapers because of the length of time it took to create an engraving; engravings were rendered obsolete in the 1890s when the linotype machine and the photomechanical half-tone process enabled newspapers to reproduce photographs quickly and cheaply.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Name: Cutts and Harrison
  • Organization: Cutts and Harrison
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Cutts and Harrison
  • Organization: Cutts and Harrison
  • Description: Author
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements