About this objectThis example of a single-share, ‘self-sharpening’ Ransomes & Sims subsoil plough dates to the period following 1854 and is possibly later than 1869. It is most likely that the plough was manufactured and purchased during the late 1850s or 1860s with the wheel a replacement part purchased after 1869. Manufactured in Ipswich, United Kingdom, the plough was imported into Australia and used in the Windsor area near Sydney (Wheelhouse 1966: 16). The plough is a component of the MAPC collection, donated by Ms. Frances Wheelhouse, and is thought to be the
oldest surviving plough in Australia.
Subsoil ploughs were used to shatter / deep rip the hard pan resulting from continual cultivation, thus improving aeration and drainage (Lawson and Jackson 1982). Developed by James Smith of Deanston, Scotland during the 1820s, the subsoil plough was essentially an improvement on the earlier ‘miner’ plough. Smith combined deep ripping with underground drainage on his waterlogged 76 ha (189 acres) Deanston property, achieving spectacular results, and was soon to receive widespread attention from Smith’s neighbours and other farmers from elsewhere in the United Kingdom and Europe (Partridge 1976: 30 - 1). The practice of deep-ripping combined with drainage soon became known as ‘Deanstoning’ as fellow farmers imitated Smith’s methods (Partridge 1976: 17).
GMM’s subsoil plough was produced by Ransomes & Sims’ Ipswich factory. Known as Ransomes & Sims between 1854 and 1869, the firm was founded in 1789 and was originally known as Ransomes of Ipswich. The company’s founder, Robert Ransome, was manufacturing cast iron ploughshares in 1785 and chilled cast iron from 1803 (Simpson and Simpson 1988: 9). By the 1840s the company produced at least eighty-six types of plough with ‘self-sharpening’ chilled cast iron blades, with the current subsoil plough added to the firm’s catalogue sometime following the change of name to Ransomes & Sims in 1854. Ransomes & Sims traded within the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, however cast-iron plough bodies did not initially prove popular outside the ‘improved districts’ (Partridge 1976: 42). Innovative, successful and long-lasting, the firm eventually became an important exporter, with 80% of its output exported to overseas markets including Australia, Russia and South America (Archives Hub 2009).
The Ransomes & Sims subsoil plough is an historically significant artefact relating to the midnineteenth century. It was manufactured by an English company with a reputation for innovative manufacturing techniques. The presence of a highly specialised English-made plough in New South Wales during the 1850s / 1860s testifies to the international nature of the agricultural machinery trade and implies an awareness within the Australian colonies of international agricultural innovations.
Information about the plough’s provenance is patchy. The GMM’s claim that this plough is ‘Australia’s oldest plough’ is perhaps difficult to substantiate, as numerous ploughs were both made and used in the colonies prior to the 1850s and may remain in existence. However, of the extant ploughs with known provenance, it is certainly a reasonable claim that the GMM Ransomes & Sims subsoil plough is amongst the oldest surviving ploughs in Australia, particularly as many early nineteenth century ploughs were of timber construction. GMM’s dating of ‘c. 1850’ is probably incorrect, as the firm was known as Ransomes & Sims only after 1854, and Ransomes, Sims & Head after 1869.
The GMM Ransomes & Sims subsoil plough is one of the only examples of its type known in Australian collections. It is a relatively complete and representative example of its type.