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Image ‘Wool tables, Horsley Downs - J D Lang’, 1880s

TLF ID R5399

This is a black-and-white photograph taken in the 1880s showing wool tables in the interior of a woolshed at Horsley Downs, a sheep station in Waipara County, North Canterbury (central east coast, South Island of New Zealand). The photograph shows seven men in the foreground sorting and grading sheep’s wool on slatted sorting tables. In the background three men are stacking the graded wool into pens for baling. Scraps of wool are scattered on the floor of the shed. The photographer was J D Lang of E Wheeler and Son, and the photograph measures 20.2 cm x 15.5 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset highlights various aspects of processing of sheep fleeces - wool has been an important export commodity and substantial contributor to the New Zealand economy since the late 19th century and sheep are seen as not only an important aspect of the New Zealand economy but symbolic of New Zealand’s farming heritage; New Zealand is said to have grown up ‘on the sheep’s back’; even today sheep have a dominant presence in the New Zealand countryside in many regions where sheep easily outnumber people.
  • It shows a woolshed on a large 19th-century sheep station - Horsley Downs consisted of 120,000 acres (48,600 ha) of freehold and leasehold land; at that time pastoralism in New Zealand was built on the idea of large stations that could sustain large numbers of sheep and would therefore be profitable.
  • It depicts fleeces belonging to one of the new landed gentry of the colony - James Lance, the owner of Horsley Downs, built a homestead and ran his estate 'like an English country squire'; Lance, like many run holders, also became a significant local politician.
  • It illustrates an industry that provided an important source of employment in rural New Zealand - seasonal labour was provided on the shearing gangs, typically by groups of itinerant workers, including shearers and workers such as those shown, who would move from farm to farm during the shearing season; this industry was one of the first to be unionised in New Zealand.
  • It shows fleeces on one of several slatted wooden tables that are found in a typical shearing shed - the slats allow the loose wool to fall through to the floor where it is swept up and baled with the belly wool, which is shorn separately from the main fleece.
  • It portrays one of the stages of processing wool in the shearing shed - the fleece is picked up in one piece from the floor beside the shearer and taken to the skirting table where it is skirted (trimmed), any burrs removed and the fleece rolled inside out; next it goes to the classing table for grading and then to the press to be packed into bales.
  • It illustrates an aspect of kiwi (New Zealand) culture steeped in a farming tradition - shearing displays at agricultural shows often highlight this industry and shearers such as Godfrey Bowen and David Fagan have attained celebrity status.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9

Topics Wool Shearing
Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: J D Lang
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: J D Lang
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • 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
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements