Friday, March 2, 2007

Mr Bennett's Merino Sheep

Not, unfortunately, Mr Bennet of Longbourn, but Mr Bennett. M.P., of Pyt House, Wiltshire. Print from another life-size portrait by Shiels. Merino wool from Spain, in production since the middle ages, was in great demand throughout Europe. Export of the sheep was banned by the controlling guild, but once the Industrial Revolution got under way, the demand for the finest wool increased rapidly. Merinos reached Germany in 1765 , France in 1768, Britain in 1785-ish, , South Africa in 1789, and from there to Australia and New Zealand. The first to bring them to England was Sir Joseph Banks; then some were acquired by King George III. By 1811, Coke had started a Merino Society, but had to admit that the lambs produced from crossing his Southdown ewes were not thriving. Crosses with English longwools didn't produce either a wool animal or a meat one, either. However, many modern English breeds have some Merino ancestry, even though the pure breed is not common. Merinos and Corriedales (a Merino/Longwool cross) are of commercial importance still in the Southern Hemisphere.

I don't know if the ewes are ever horned; certainly most Merino rams have pretty solid-looking headgear. Apparently they are not very tasty?