Prize winning potatoes

These three medals are some of the earliest agricultural medals in the Museum’s collection. They were awarded to Robert Laidlaw, Mr. Bostock and Jas (probably James) Bryden at the Victoria Agricultural Society show on the 21st April 1858. The medals were purchased by the Museum in 2014 and can be traced back to John Pascoe Fawkner who was the President of the society at the time.

During the nineteenth century, agricultural and industrial associations formed across rural and urban Australia to foster the development of modern farming systems by promoting new scientific and technological methods. The Port Phillip Farmers Society was formed in 1848 followed by the Victoria Agricultural Society in 1850. The Port Phillip Farmers Society became the National Agricultural Society of Victoria in 1870, then in 1890 after receiving permission from Queen Victoria it became the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria.

The annual show emerged as a key arena in which the hard work and skill of primary producers was acknowledged and rewarded. For rural families, shows also served a significant social function, providing a venue and regular occasion to gather and develop and celebrate community ties.

The words, ‘Speed the Plough’, which appear on the front of the medals are from the last verse of a poem dating back to the fourteenth century – So jolly boys now,
Here’s God Speed The Plough, Long life and success to the farmer
‘Speed the Plough’ became the motto of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria.

By 1858, Victoria had the largest area of cultivated land in the colony surpassing that of New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia. Wheat and oats were by far the most dominant crops, followed by hay, potatoes, barley and green pasture. Minor crops included maize, rye, peas, beans, turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, tobacco and vines. The Farmer’s Magazine, published in London from 1834-1881, frequently reported on agricultural progress in Australia with particular interest in wheat statistics and the quantity of wool being exported to the United Kingdom.

The day after the show, The Argus listed the prizes and their recipients along with the prices realised on their produce. The variety of grains, farm and garden produce exhibited at the show included wheat, oats, barley, kidney beans and dairy produce, as well as duck and goose eggs and a selection of vegetables.

Robert Laidlaw –  First Prize – Early Potatoes

Robert Laidlaw arrived in Melbourne from Scotland in 1839. On arrival he formed a partnership with a Mr. Kerr, and purchased a sheep station at Boroondara on the Kooyong Creek. In 1843 he started farming and over the next twenty years received recognition at numerous agricultural shows for his quality produce and skills in farm management. In 1853, he purchased ‘Springbank’ at Heidelberg. He was actively involved in the Victoria Agricultural Society.

Laidlaw is pictured (no.244) in Thomas Chuck’s compilation of photographs of explorers and early colonists of Victoria, alongside other prominent colonists such as John Pascoe Fawkner and Edward Henty.

These medals are reputed to have hung on the walls of Fawkner’s house and were passed down through generations of the his family. We don’t know how the medals came to be in Fawkner’s possession, however it is reasonable to assume that he was acquainted with Robert Laidlaw. Fawkner was a strong supporter of yeoman farmers, who campaigned over several decades to make more freehold land available for small-scale agricultural enterprises.

Mr Bostock – First Prize – Cape Barley

Mr. Bostock is most probably, Augustus Bostock, who arrived in Victoria from Tasmania in the 1850s. His father, Robert Bostock, was transported to Australia for 14 years after being convicted for trading in slaves. The charges were later declared invalid and he was pardoned in Sydney in 1816. Following his pardon, he established a trading business in Sydney and married Rachael Walker. After a brief return to Lancashire they returned to Hobart in 1821 where Bostock was put in charge of the Government Commissariat Stores. In 1822, Bostock opened his own bond store at Constitution Dock and ventured into shipbuilding. He acquired land at South Esk and became a grazier, establishing a herd of cattle and sheep. By the time of his death in 1847, Bostock had acquired 8000 acres of land.

Robert and Rachael Bostock had eleven children. Robert, frustrated with the land grant program in Tasmania, encouraged his sons to follow the early pioneers across the Tasman to take advantage of the new opportunities in the Port Phillip region. In 1839, George Bostock, aged 14, sailed for Port Fairy followed by his brothers, Thomas, Ernest, Augustus and James in the 1850s. The sons were all active in the Warrnambool community, holding positions on various committees, and enjoying similar leisure pursuits such as cricket and horseracing.

Augustus Bostock managed ‘Grasmere’, a property near Warrnambool. His diaries provide a comprehensive record of the daily activities on the farm including multiple entries detailing the cultivation of Cape Barley over a number of seasons: ploughing began in March through to April, sowing in June, carting manure in October, cutting in December, mowing in January and thrashing in February.

Jas Bryden – Extra Prize – Oats

An ‘Extra Prize’ for ‘Oats’ was awarded to Jas. Bryden. We have not been able to discover any information about the recipient of this medal at this stage.

David Allen collection

In late 2011 the Museum purchased the David Allen collection, a rare collection of 111 agricultural medals. This collection includes one other medal from the Victoria Agricultural Society show from April 1858. The’Extra Prize – Kidney Beans’ was awarded to Mr Arthur Dyson, who recieved a special mention for his twenty varieties of kidney beans.

If you have any information about Jas Bryden or any of the medals in the David Allen collection we would love to hear from you.

Feature image: Victoria Agricultural Society collection, National Museum of Australia
Photography by Jason McCarthy

token front and back

To the curious observers of natural phenomena

One of the Museum’s latest acquisitions is this late 18th century halfpenny token which features images of three exotic animals, ‘The Kanguroo, The Armadillo and
The Rhinoceros’. Thomas Hall, a taxidermist and curiosity dealer, produced these tokens to advertise his ‘house of curiosity’, otherwise known as the Finsbury Museum, which he operated from his home at 10 City Road, London. The token illustrates the fascination and curiosity shown by the British public in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to view exhibits of exotic animals, in particular the kangaroo from New
South Wales. Continue reading

An artistic interpretation

One of the most interesting aspects of working as a curator is observing how different people interpret objects in different ways. Some people may look at a writing box and see a functional object made to serve a specific purpose, others may view it as an object which tells the story of a person, place or event, and some may even experience an emotional response. Last week, I was privileged to gain an insight into how a contemporary artist is interpreting some of our collection through his camera lens. Continue reading

Essendon milk cart

A milkman’s Christmas memories

Christmas Day – before the daylight saving – it would be daylight at half past four in the morning and there’d be kids out on bikes and scooters and they’d all come to show the milkman what they’d got for Christmas …

Conway Tighe, owner of the Lincoln Park Dairy until 1987, remembers the excitement of the children early on Christmas morning, as he went about his daily business of delivering milk to homes in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon. The milkman and his horse and cart were a familiar sight in the suburb, at one stage delivering milk to over a thousand households. Continue reading

wakefield crop 2

The scandalous Mr Wakefield

Imagine yourself, for a minute, as a 15-year-old girl at boarding school in England in 1826. An urgent message arrives to inform you that your mother has taken ill and you must come to her at once.  The concern for your mother’s condition weighs heavily on your mind as you rush off in an awaiting carriage. When your carriage stops to change horses, you are informed by a charming gentleman that your mother is not actually ill at all, but you are to travel with him to meet your father in Kendal. You agree to travel with this man, who you had never met prior to this evening, and on arrival in Kendal there
is no sign of your father. The charming gentleman explains to you that your father is
on the verge of financial ruin and convinces you to marry him in order to save your family’s fortune. What choice do you have? It is a proposal you cannot refuse. Your journey continues to Gretna Green, Scotland where you are married by the blacksmith and become the wife of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Continue reading

Kangaroo closeup

A frosty reception

Hobart and Canberra rank as two of the coldest cities in Australia. As winter temperatures set in, spare a thought for our latest acquisition, the Forester kangaroo taxidermy specimen. In late 2013, this female kangaroo died of natural causes within the Boronong Wildlife Sanctuary in Brighton, Tasmania. The taxidermy was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia and prepared by Tom Sloane from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

The kangaroo has arrived from Hobart at the National Museum’s storage facilities at Mitchell, a suburb on the outskirts of Canberra. Unfortunately, the welcoming committee was far from warm. As soon as the kangaroo was removed from the packing crate, she was covered in calico and plastic wrappings and put into the freezer.

There she remained for a week, at a constant temperature of minus 21 degrees C. Continue reading

Hobart case in the Landmarks gallery with Forester kangaroo on loan from TMAG. Photo: National Museum of Australia

A crash course in taxidermy

WARNING: This blog post contains images which may be upsetting to some readers

The role of an assistant curator in a museum encompasses many different tasks, but one, which I had not envisaged is the procurement of taxidermy specimens. When asked to investigate the possibility of commissioning a specimen of a Forester kangaroo for our Landmarks gallery, I was slightly apprehensive. My knowledge of taxidermy, as I imagine for most people, was extremely limited.

As a child, I remember visiting museums and staring in wonder at exotic animals and birds, allowing my imagination to take me to places and dreaming of seeing these creatures in their natural environment. Continue reading

Colonel Light's vision from Montifiore Hill, North Adelaide, showing the new stands of the Adelaide Oval. Photo: David Niven

Light’s vision hit for six

As the second Ashes test on Australian soil for the 2013-14 series begins in Adelaide tomorrow, I wonder what Colonel Light would think of the growth of his city and in particular the re-development of Adelaide Oval. Since 1938, the statue of Colonel Light has watched over the city of Adelaide, perfectly positioned on Montefiore Hill. The view towards the city, with Adelaide Oval in the foreground, is known as Light’s Vision and has for many years featured on postcards and promotional shots of Adelaide. Continue reading