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2010-06, 365, 366, Australiana, Bookplates, Jeff Bidgood

An Australian bookplate

SOME TIME AGO my friend, Bryan Welch, sent me an email asking would I like an Australian bookplate for “Kathrine” [sic] Shaw of “Wooriwyrite” and, as a collector of such, I naturally said “yes”. The name Wooriwyrite was unknown to me so I set out to find out more about the person and the town. My search has turned up many enigmas and this has turned out to be an interesting story. The bookplate is one that had previously been unknown, as far as I can ascertain, by Australian collectors. It is contained in a Cassell‘s National Library edition (n.d.) of The Battle of the Books and Other Short Stories by Dean Swift.

As you can see from the illustration the plate is of two books, a lamp, something joining the book to the lamp and the quotation “The Book is the Soul of the Author”. The first mystery is the quotation as it seems to be one of Kathrine‘s own as I can find no other source for it. Bryan felt that it might be “not the obvious ri-poste as some authors have many souls!” One of the books may be Don Quixote as a D and a QU are visible. A second puzzle is the hooklike item joining the lamp and the book. It certainly does not appear to be one used or to have been used in the wool industry. But more of that later.

Who was the artist? Without too much imagination one can see “L”s in the scroll around the name and, as an Australian, one would hope the image to be one of the Lindsays but it is not in the style of any of the Lindsay family. There does not appear to be any other clue to its artist.

Kathrine Shaw was, I believe, Katherine Shaw, the granddaughter of Thomas Shaw senior who was born around 1800, and was a wool expert. In 1843 Thomas Shaw senior came to Australia at the request of Campbell & Co. of Sydney as their wool was not bringing the prices they expected. He and his son, Thomas junior, started work as wool experts at a property, Duntroon, now the site of our Military Academy. Both then spent some years in the western area of Victoria. Thomas junior bought Wooriwyrite in partnership with Thomas Anderson in 1854. Unfortunately, or not, depending how you see it, Anderson was killed in a riding accident also in 1854. Anderson‘s wife died in 1855 and the property defaulted to Thomas junior.

Wooriwyrite is therefore not a town but the name of what was, when the Shaws were in occupation, a pastoral holding of some 30,300 acres, occupied as a sheep station. The property lies near the town of Camperdown, west of Geelong, which in the 1850s, was the main port in Victoria, probably due to its proximity to the gold diggings. In those days it was three weeks travel away by bullock cart, three days by dog trap and two on horseback. The property is still occupied, but not by the Shaws, and is now two hours by road from Geelong. The name itself is derived from the Aboriginal word Wuuriwuuriit, meaning banksia trees and wild honeysuckle, both of which grew on the property. Another enigma in the Shaw family tree is that there were two Katherines and one Catherine, but in the family writings they seem to be eclectic in the use of Cs and Ks and there are no Katherines without the “e” after the “th”!

The first Katherine, in the family tree I have seen, was Thomas Shaw juniors wife from 1854 to 1888, which would seem too early for the bookplate. The second Catherine, 1862-1946, was, I think, by elimination the owner of the plate. The third Katherine was the third child of Catherines brother, Thomas, who married in 1888. I would therefore place the birthdate of this Katherine, his third child, as around 1893. She married, I would assume, around 1914 or earlier and then ceased to be a Shaw. Ladies on pastoral properties, in the main, were dependant on other pastoralists children as partners and it was quite typical for them to marry early. The second Catherine the Kathrine of the bookplate I suspect, left Wooriwyrite, as did some of her sisters, after her fathers death in 1907 and settled in Dorset. There she apparently held open house for Australians in England. It could also explain how Bryan came to find the book in the bargain basement of Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Road, London.

Digressing for the minute, it was Captain John Macarthur, considered the founder of the Australian wool industry, who imported some Spanish merinos from the Cape of Good Hope. These sheep were originally imported for meat but because of their very fine fleece were used as wool producers. The breed proved unsuitable for Australian conditions and Macarthur bred out the strain in his own flocks. However, in about

1850 Shaw senior discovered a second flock of Macarthur merinos of “pure” descent held by William Campbell in a nearby property. Thomas senior was successful in having local pastoralists breed these animals with others to produce the type of sheep he envisioned.

This “pure” descent flock was held by a number of pastoralists and, in 1900, Thomas Shaw junior bought the remnants of the flock which had been ravaged by bushfire and drought. These he kept in what could be termed “a hobby farm” as they were not of any real commercial value. In 1904 he provided Macarthur‘s descendants with a small lot of these in order that they might be reinstated after a period of more than 30 years. The flock was sold with the property in 1923. It was eventually divided into two lots and they are still kept as “museum” flocks.

We return now to Thomas senior, who was also an inveterate writer of pamphlets and letters to the papers, extolling the need for an “Australian Merino” which would not only provide a large fleece but would also be able to survive the dry areas of Victoria and Southern New South Wales. Thomas senior is credited by JL Currie, a local pastoralist with whom he worked, to have created what was to become the “Australian Merino Sheep”, also known as Peppin sheep. (It is called Peppin as it was developed further on the property of George and Fred Peppin.) This was achieved in conjunction with Jonathon Shaw, Thomas senior‘s second son, who also followed his father‘s calling. The wool from this strain was the backbone of the Australian wool industry for many years. Currently the demand is for finer wool.

Around 1860, Thomas Shaw senior, apparently feeling he had done his bit in Victoria, drifted off towards New South Wales and Queensland. In 1862 there was a pamphlet published entitled Sheep Breeding and Wool Growing which gave his address as Darling Downs, which is in Queensland. But, after that, there is nothing known of Thomas senior. Herein lies the final enigma: this person, who did so much for the industry that allowed Australia to ride “on the sheep‘s back” until minerals took over, has no known date of death or known final resting place!

By the 1890s when “our” Katherine Shaw still lived on the property, Wooriwyrite had prospered and had its own croquet lawn, tennis court and a nine hole golf course in the back paddock. It must have been some golf course as in 1899, Agnes, Thomas junior‘s youngest daughter and Katherine‘s sister, became Amateur Lady Golf Champion of Australia.

So, while my search led me to uncover the bookplate‘s owner and her family history, I am none the wiser as to the object that joins the book and the lamp, or why. Nor do we know why she may have created or chosen the quotation for her bookplate. Nevertheless, thank you Bryan for the bookplate and this interesting look into an area of our history that I knew little about.


G Day and J Jessup (general editors) The History of the Australian merino, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1984

Mary Turner Shaw On Mount Emu Creek: the story of a nineteenth-century Victorian sheep station, Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne, 1969

Australian Dictionary of Biography

– Online Edition



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