Object in focus: Wheat flail from Molong

By Sandra McEwen, Consultant Curator, Paddock to Plate: a history of food and wine in Orange and district

It’s not often that I’m lost for words…but it happened recently. I was rummaging in a cupboard at Molong Historical Museum, looking for treasures. Suddenly, out of the darkness emerged a wheat flail that was made and used in 1873. The label attached indicated that Sam Clarke used it on his first wheat crop grown at Home Plain, Grega. It wasn’t just a wheat flail. It was one in excellent condition, with a complete story!

Wheat flails were used for the horrible job of beating (winnowing) the outer casings off ears of wheat to produce clean grain. The user hung on to the longer stick and thrashed the wheat with the short one. Leather tied the two sticks together. In 1884 the task was taken over by stripper-harvesters that could both reap the heads off wheat stalks and winnow them to harvest grain in one operation.

Wheat flails weren’t precious, so not many have survived to tell their tales. This discovery at Molong reinforced for me what an important role small regional museums play in preserving the treasures of our rural past. That little wheat flail sat undisturbed in the dark for many, many years, just waiting for its time to shine. The exhibition will be full of gems similar to this one. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!

Image above: Sam Clarke’s Flail, c.1873. Loan courtesy Molong Historical Museum

The bad luck of Mr. F.H Brown

A fascinating link to Orange’s past is presented by a glass cordial bottle with the name ‘F.H BROWN EAST ORANGE’ moulded on the front.  Held in Orange Regional Museum’s collection, the bottle was found in the East Orange Channel by Orange City Council staff during works undertaken in 2016.

Glass cordial bottle, ‘F.H BROWN EAST ORANGE’, found in the East Orange Channel during works in 2016. ORM2016/227  Orange Regional Museum collection

Mr. F.H Brown was not Orange’s luckiest man, his cordial factory on Autumn Street in East Orange was up for sale in September 1914. However the sale did not go ahead as another article published by the Orange Leader reports his breach of the industrial act in July 1915. F.H Brown was fined for failing to keep time sheets and for pay sheets not being correctly written. His defense was that they were most likely placed in the waste paper basket.  Found guilty Mr. Brown was fined £1.

Bad luck continued when Mr. F.H Brown’s cordial factory was destroyed by fire on Friday 13th December 1918. £1050 (over $50,000 in today’s money) worth of damage was done to the factory and machinery.

The fire seems to have been the final nail in the coffin for Mr. Brown as between February 1919 and late 1920 notices for the sale of a car, carts, wagons, scales, pumps and pipes were advertised in the local paper.

The bottle is a codd design that was used for carbonated drinks. This type of bottle is closed by a glass marble in the neck and a rubber seal in the lip. The bottles were filled upside down and the pressure of the carbonated drink closed the marble against the rubber seal. When opened the marble would fall into a larger chamber in the neck allowing the drink to be poured.

Because of the inclusion of the marble many of these bottles were broken after use to retrieve the marble for children’s entertainment. The bottle in the museum’s collection seems to have be broken for this purpose.

Mr Stabback’s Cordial

Cordial making in Orange was well established after the rush for gold at nearby Ophir in 1851.  George Weily is believed to be one of the first manufacturers of cordials and ginger beer during in the 1860s.  By the 1870s there were several firms specialising in making cordials in Orange.

A recent acquisition to the collection of Orange Regional Museum is a green glass bottle with wooden stopper, marked “W.S. STABBACK ORANGE”.  William Samuel Stabback purchased the Phoenix Soda and Cordial Factory from Josiah Parker in 1871.  The factory was located in a lane off Anson Street, now Stibbard’s Lane, (possibly a misspelling of the name Stabback).

Cordials were sold in a range flavours including; lemon, lime, raspberry and orange.  The bottles were expensive to manufacture and were reused many times for the owner to make a profit.  Often bottles were marked with the name of the manufacturer as can be seen with the Stabback’s bottle pictured below.

Advances in refrigeration and transport led to the decline of small cordial manufacturers.  Whileys stopped manufacturing cordial in the 1960s.

Following  from Josiah Parker’s carrier in cordial manufacturing he was Mayor of East Orange from 1888-1889. Similarly William Stabback was Mayor of East Orange in 1889, 1891-1893, 1895-1897.

Moulded green glass bottle with wood stopper, marked “W.S. STABBACK ORANGE”. ORM 2017/115 Gift of Denise Moriarty.

An 1894 dictionary of cookery, published by Cassell, Petter and Galpin, gives insight into the time intensive process of making cordial during the late 1800s. A recipe for Hops and Sherry Cordial involves shaking and pressing hops covering them with sherry and leaving for a month for the flavors to infuse. Following this the mixture is strained and sugar is added. The final product must be kept in ‘closely corked bottles’ and should be mixed with water to consume.

For more Victorian recipes including ginger, cinnamon and aromatic cordials check out the Cassell’s dictionary of cookery here.

Hops and Sherry Cordial Recipe, Cassell’s dictionary of cookery containing about nine thousand recipes, 1894