Mother of the Australian Fine Wool Industry
Eliza Forlonge was a woman ahead of her time. Her vision, courage and determination can only be described as amazing. Born in Scotland, Eliza Jack married John Forlonge, a Glasgow wine merchant in 1804, she bore him six children but lost four of them to the scourge of the times – consumption. Only two sons survived, William, born 13th May 1813 and Andrew born May 1814.
Fiercely protective of these boys, Eliza determined that the climate of the Colony of New South Wales would ensure their survival and so began her incredible journeys.
In 1827 Eliza took the two boys to Leipzig in the Kingdon of Germany. First learning German, the boys, William aged 14, and Andrew aged 13, were put to work as wool staplers (wool classers) in the wool lofts of a sorting house for the English market. William commenced as a common workman and then graduated 2 years later as a “Master of the Business of Wool Stapling”, then, as now, viewed as a craft.
Leaving the boys to learn their craft, Eliza began on the first of three epic journeys. She walked the length and breadth of Saxony sourcing and purchasing the best possible breeding stock for her sons to take to New South Wales. Buying one sheep here, two sheep there, Eliza selected the animal, paid for it and then fitted a collar bearing the Forlonge seal to the beast’s neck and left in it the care of the studmaster from whom she had made her purchase. On and on she walked, averaging a daily march of ten to twelve miles. When she had reached her target number, she then retraced her footsteps, collecting the sheep and driving them on.
We can only imagine the horrors of the journey. Eliza herself recalled many years later “my heart used to sink, as I heard the chains of the drawbridge rattle on coming to a fortified town, lest our passport and all our papers should not be at hand, or should by any chance be lost”.
Not only did Eliza complete the task she had set upon but, once she had the flock together she then drove them from Koenigstein to Brunswick and on to Hamburg where she shipped the sheep to Liverpool (in 1829) and Greenock (in 1830).
What makes her feat even more remarkable is that Eliza had no knowledge of sheep the and wool trade and had to learn it as she journeyed. One of the journeys also took her to Rambouillet, the top merino stud in France, en route to Saxony.
Eliza, after many more adventures eventually made her home at Euroa. The original homestead Seven Creeks Estate still exists.
Eliza died on the 5th of August 1859 and now lies at the foot of her beloved Balmattum Hill overlooking the town of Euroa.