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Merriman, Sir Walter Thomas (1882–1972)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Sir Walter Thomas Merriman (1882-1972), sheep breeder, was born on 18 May 1882 at Ravensworth, Yass, New South Wales, second son of George Merriman (1847-1915), sheep breeder, and his wife Mary Ann (d.1927), née Dowling. A grand-nephew of James Merriman, George was born at Berrima on 13 May 1847. He began to build his fine-wool merino stud, Ravensworth, in 1865 on Mudgee and Tasmanian blood lines. After being bred within itself, the stud was augmented in the 1880s and 1890s by some notable sires from Cullenbone stud, Mudgee, and the Glasslough and Esk Vale studs in Tasmania. A keen exhibitor, he won many show prizes in the farmers' class. A justice of the peace and a member of the Yass Pastures and Stock Protection Board, he died at Ravensworth on 28 August 1915, survived by his wife, whom he had married at Yass on 29 October 1866, and by two daughters and three sons. His estate, valued for probate at £51,359, was divided between his sons.

Walter was educated at Murrumbateman Public School under C. G. Dyce. In 1903 he acquired a small draft of fine-woolled Ravensworth ewes and the sire, Mountain King, from his father and began his own small stud, Merryville, on part of Ravensworth. He campaigned against the American Vermont sheep introduced by (Sir) Samuel McCaughey, which he described as 'wrinkled horrors'. He shore his ram at the Yass Show in 1904 and its wool won first prize in the open class; it subsequently won eleven more firsts. At the Anglican church, Mundoonan, he married Kate Sleeman, daughter of a local grazier, on 18 November 1908.

In 1911 Merriman introduced Peppin blood into part of his flock to produce plain-bodied sheep with medium to fine-medium wool and augmented this by purchasing the medium-wool sire, Sir Francis, from the Wanganella Estate of F. S. Falkiner for 1000 guineas in 1917 when Merryville became a closed flock. However, it was as a breeder of fine-woolled sheep that he became renowned. In 1915 he had received a quarter of the ewes and rams from his father's estate and in 1921 bought 680 stud ewes at the Murgha dispersal sale. Kept separate, this flock was registered as the Merryville-Murgha stud. Unlike most sheep breeders, he was an expert woolclasser and for many years prepared his own clip for sale.

In 1937 Merriman formed a family company, becoming managing director of Merryville Pty Ltd which embraced sundry properties around Yass and Boorowa on the south-western slopes. Merryville Poll Shorthorn stud at Hillview, Murrumbateman, was founded in 1943 and the Merryville Poll Hereford stud in 1960 with stock from Milton Park, Bowral, and the Brewarrina stud, Narrandera.

Merryville sheep and wool won many prizes including grand championships, and the Stonehaven Cup for pens of five at the Sydney Sheep Show a record twelve times, the Weatherly Trophy (Melbourne), a record six times in succession, and the Albury Sheep Show's Mungadal Cup a record twenty-one times. In 1953 Merryville won every major award at the Sydney Sheep Show; in the 1950s the stud's rams and superfine wool brought record prices. In over fifty years as a sheep breeder Merriman maintained the fine quality of his wool while increasing the average yield of his flock to fourteen lb. (6 kg) a head and at the same time more than doubling the yield of his top breeds. In 1954 he was knighted. He was a council-member of the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association for many years and of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales.

Sir Walter was very prominent in local affairs. He was a member of the Goodradigbee Shire Council (1906-10), president of the Yass Pastoral and Agricultural Association (1923-25), captain and president of the local bush fire brigade, director of the Yass District Hospital, Pastures Protection Board and District Soldiers' Memorial and Literary Institute, a leading Freemason and a vice-president of the Yass Picnic Race Club.

Hard-working, modest and hospitable with a dry humour, Merriman was also a keen sportsman. An enthusiastic cricketer and amateur boxer in his youth, he played tennis, golf and billiards well into old age, despite a serious stockyard accident in the 1940s which permanently damaged vital nerves controlling head movement and speech. Roses and his collection of pre-1956 Holden cars were other interests.

Merriman died at Yass on 25 January 1972, survived by his two sons and four daughters and was buried in the Anglican section of Murrumbateman cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at $169,099.

Select Bibliography

  • Register of Stud Merino Flocks of the Commonwealth of Australia, 8 (Syd, 1929)
  • New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association, The Australian Merino (Syd, 1955)
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Sept 1915, 16 July 1927, 16 Feb 1928, 10 June 1941, 16 Mar 1949, 19 Jan 1954, 25 Feb 1972
  • Australian Country Magazine, July 1972
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 5 June 1937
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Nov 1937, 13 May 1953, 26 Jan 1972.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Merriman, Sir Walter Thomas (1882–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/merriman-sir-walter-thomas-7561/text13195, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 12 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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