When Australia was colonized, it was the intention of the early administrators to make this colony a self-sufficient agricultural haven. The first fleet (1788) came with required farm equipment’s and animals and it included sheep. In 1789 Merino sheep arrived in Australia and the story of Australia’s wool production began. By 1807, Australia started exporting wool to England. Soon wool became Australia’s main money earner until gold was discovered.
In September 1800, Philip Gidley King became the Governor of New South Wales. It was King’s main priority to make Australia a producer of quality wool. It was on those years, the advantages of the wool from Alpacas and Llama were getting discussed in the business circles of NSW. The merino wool was heavy and more suitable for European weather. Whereas wool from Llama or Alpaca were finer and more suitable for the warmer climate of Australia. The lightweight clothing made from the Alpaca wool were considered more fashionable by the affluent. It was also important for the business community to introduce variety of products to bring wealth and prosperity. A branch of the British Acclimatisation society was set up in Australia to experiment with the adaptation of plants and animals from other parts of the world to Australia.
An extract of a Newspaper report from “The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser” published on 9th November 1830 goes as follows.
“SOUTHEY ON WOOL.
Mr. SOUTHEY recommends the introduction of three new animals, which he thinks will be found to answer well in this climate. The first is the Alpaca sheep, which affords milk as well as wool, and the latter in such abundance, that in proportion to that of common sheep, it almost gives pounds for ounces; it will live, like the camel, a long time without water, and may be used as a beast of burden for light weights. The second is the Angora goat, whose fleece is used in England as list wool, for superfine cloth«. The third is the Thibet goat, which yields the wool of which the celebrated Cashmere shawls are manufactured.”
A report in the “Courier” published on 8th July 1853 stresses the importance of bringing the Alpaca’s to Australia. The report goes as follows.
“IT is impossible to over-estimate the importance of introducing the Alpaca sheep into this colony. Whether we look at the high price permanently obtainable in England for Alpaca wool, or at the fact that the animal finds its sustenance in places and on natural grasses such as can maintain no other description of stock, the project of naturalizing the Alpaca is worthy to stand side by side with the importation into Australia of the Merino sheep at the commencement of this century. We therefore
rejoice to know that steps will be forthwith adopted to realize this great practical end. Parties have been found to advance the necessary funds to meet the proposal of Don Manuel Flores, and a ship has been chartered to carry out the enterprise forthwith. We trust that the project will be immediately and satisfactorily achieved, and that the spirited colonists who have taken it in hand will meet with an ample and well-merited return for the money which they have embarked in the undertaking.”
In 1845, Peru passed a law forbidding export of Llama to other countries. But this did not damper the interest in Australia to bring the animals. One man saw an opportunity and adventure in breaking the Peruvian law to bring Alpaca’s to Australia and his name was Charles Ledger. Charles Ledger migrated to Peru in his late teens looking for greener pastures and became a respected general trader. Ledger started collecting Alpacas at his ranch which was illegal for non – Peruvians to do .
During that time, in NSW a group of business men headed by T.S.Morr petitioned the Peruvian Government through British Merchant Bankers Broadman Dickson and Co to permit the import Alpacas to Australia. But the application was rejected by the Peruvian Government.
Ledger was planning to export Alpaca’s to Australia overcoming the ban by transporting them to Argentina and shipping from there. This meant an extra 2000km travel for the herd of Alpacas. In 1853 Ledger travelled to Sydney to meet T.S Mort and his partners to discuss the business. They managed to get an oral assurance from then NSW Governor, Fitzroy. Fitzroy promised to give Ledger 10000 acres of land and reimburse the cost associated with the acquisition of Alpacas.
After facing many difficulties, it took nearly five years for Ledger to take his flock from Peru to Argentina passing through difficult terrain amidst a war. Anyone else in his place would have given up the project half way through either to cut losses or out of desperation. He lost nearly half of his flock to the hard weather and arduous journey.
Ledger arrived in Sydney with his animals on November 1858. Nearly a hundred animals died on voyage. He brought altogether 240 animals which included Alpacas, Llamas and Vicunas. Unfortunately for him, all those in power he made oral assurance were no more alive. The delay in bringing the animals due to the extra 2000km he travelled with the animals robbed him of the envious position of the first Alpaca importer to Australia. During that time three others have imported Llamas to Australia in small numbers.
The changed situations overall, has resulted in a waning interest for Alpacas in NSW. None of the oral agreements Ledger made with the authorities were kept. Ledger was paid a paltry 15000 pounds for bringing the animals and was offered the position of a herd supervisor. In the 1860’s Peru and Bolivia overturned the ban on export of Llamas and Alpacas. Australian farmers did not waste any time in importing Alpacas to Australia.
Image By Sizzlingbadger at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Kafuffle using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15778151
Llama Down Under by Berry Carter