This single-furrow mouldboard plough with timber handles, beam and mouldboard is rustic and handmade. It reflects farming in Australia in the early 1800s. The plough represents the struggle first settlers went through to cultivate the land, and their ingenuity in utilising what little supplies they had available to them. It is a highly significant piece of Australia's farming history.
The first ploughs are thought to have been developed in Egypt around the 6th millennium BC. They were basic farming instruments, but their development through time represents a significant shift in human evolution. Advancements in the design of the plough allowed farmers to evolve from being self-sufficient to producing commercially viable crops and earning a living from the land.
Australia's first settlers struggled to produce food and reduce their dependence on supplies brought to the colony by ship. The government had a pressing need to experiment with the type of crops that could be grown on Australian soil, and to assess whether the colony could become self-reliant. A small number of ex-convicts were offered parcels of land to see whether they could support themselves. They were given meagre supplies, each receiving a spade, shovel, hatchet, tomahawk, and two hoes. Cultivating the soil using a hoe was difficult work, especially in the hot climate. Robert Hughes describes the first years of convict Australia as 'starvation years'. Because they had no ploughs or draft animals it was 'hack-and-peck hoe cultivation'. With the introduction of a plough, a farmer could use an animal to draw it and turn the soil more quickly and easily. The introduction of the plough to the colony was a significant turning point in settlers being able to produce their own food source.
The colonies found one of the chief difficulties in growing food was the lack of men with experience. James Ruse was a convict with a strong farming background and, upon finishing the sentence for his crimes in 1789, was awarded one and a half acres on which to prove himself a farmer. Using his knowledge, he burnt off timber to turn ashes into rich potash, hoed the ground thoroughly, and turned the sod over, so that the grass and weeds composted into soil. His techniques proved successful and within fifteen months he was producing enough crops to sustain himself, thus gaining the title of Australia's first successful farmer. Governor Arthur Phillip deeded him thirty acres of land as a reward for his hard work, making James Ruse the recipient of the first land grant in Australia.
Erika Dicker, Curatorial, 2007
Oral History from Neville Austin, Descendant of James Ruse, 1988, museum records.
Samuel Wadham, Australian Farming 1788-1965, F. W. Cheshire Publishing Pty ltd, 1967.
Robert Hughes, The fatal shore a history of the transportation of convicts to Australia 1787-1868. Pan Books, London, 1988
Watkin Tench, Complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson New South Wales, London, 1758-1833.