These millstones were part of the first water-powered flour mill in Sydney opened by Govenor Lachlan Macquarie on 14 January 1812. It was located at what is now Glenview Street, Paddington, a Sydney suburb, and the grinding technology involved the grain being worked between the flat surfaces of the horizontally-placed millstones.
The owner of the watermill was Thomas West, a [former] convict, who began work on it in 1810 on a grant of land promised by Macquarie which came to be called Barcom Glen. In 1812 West advertised that his mill could grind 4 1/2 bushels per hour and advised the bakers of Sydney that his watermill ground grist at a cheaper price and a finer quality than the numerous wind-powered flour mills which graced Sydney's hills and ridges at the time.
Although West boasted that his watermill was the first in Sydney it was not the first in the colony. According to Ian Jack in 'Industrial Archaeology in Australia: Rural Industry', the first attempt to build a watermill was in Parramatta in 1798 but it was unsuccessful. This was followed by another in 1805 but this mill's performance was disappointing. The windmills of Sydney were much more significant at the time. By the 1830s watermills had become common along the Hawkesbury River where about 20 of them were in operation.
West's Barcom Glen watermill was powered by an 18 foot diameter waterwheel and operated for only about 20 years before its water supply proved to be inadequate. The operation of watermills in Australia was problematic as our climate dramatically swings from drought to flood. Most water for Australian watermills depended for their water supply from water diverted from a river, creek or marsh in an especially constructed mill race.
About the time that the Barcom Glen watermill closed in the 1830s, steam-operated mills had become common in Sydney and in 1840 there were 26 steam engines at work in flour mills though still using millstones. Millstones had the disadvantage that their friction heated the grain which impaired the gluten of the flour; they crushed the bran with the grain; and required regular and expensive maintenance. The importance of dressing the stones correctly and maintaining them was critical for their successful operation together with the quality of the stone from which the millstones were made. Local stone was used but imported French burr, a type of very hard conglomerate, was preferred. As the burr stone was quarried in France in fairly small pieces, burr millstones comprised a composite construction of about ten pieces skilfully made into a circle and bound with iron.
Around the 1880s millstone technology began to be replaced with roller mill technology. Rollers were mounted side-by-side or one above the other, but from about 1910, the axes were in an inclined plane. Gradually the rollers took over from grindstones, with rollers initially working alongside stones in the same mill. White flour milled with rollers created a sensation and mills around the country began to convert their machinery at great cost to roller mills. Roller mills gave millers better control of their product and an incentive to buy better grades of wheat. The flour they produced was finer and less contaminated with by-products. A new age of milling machinery had arrived and by 1890 roller mill technology had become widely accepted in Australia. This involved installing the roller equipment together with cleaning, grading and dressing machines.
Flour mills have been very important in Australia since colonial times with the early establishment of government-owned mills. Where-ever cereal farming occurred a flour mill was never far away with the spread of them really taking off from the 1850s onwards. The expansion of the railways significantly affected the siting and marketing of these mills.
Birmingham, Judy, Ian Jack and Denis Jeans, 'Industrial Archaeology in Australia: Rural Industry', Heinemann Publishers, Australia, 1983.
Jones, William, 'Dictionary of Industrial Archaeology', Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, 2006
'Technology in Australia 1788-1988', Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, Melbourne, 1988.
Margaret Simpson, Curator