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Wills' hobbies

Question: 

Hi,
Did William John Wills have any hobbies that you know of in his teens?

Alfie Grummet
Answer: 

Dear Alfie,

We know a little about Wills' life when he was young. He went to boarding school when he was 11 years old and then when he was 17 he went away to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London to learn chemistry. Wills was interested in science, astronomy, algebra and mathematics and read a lots of books about these subjects. When he was 16 his father took him to London to see the Great Exhibition where he was very interested in the new scientific instruments and mechanical inventions on display. Other than that we don't really know much about what he did in his spare time, but people 150 years ago certainly didn't have as much free time as we do, and they had very limited opportunities for hobbies compared to those we have today.

When Wills was 17 he migrated to Australia with his 15 year old brother Tom. Their parents didn't come with them, so Wills had to look after his younger brother on the journey to the other side of the world. When they got to Australia they both found work as shepherds and lived in an isolated hut in the bush and worked seven days a week looking after the sheep. So even though they were only young men, they had to work full time looking after 1,400 sheep, three dogs and one horse, as well as cooking, cleaning, washing their clothes, chopping wood for the fire, catching fish, killing sheep for food, etc and generally looking after themselves.

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During 1853 Wills wrote several letters to his parents from the Ram Station on Bulletiel Creek, near Deniliquin, New South Wales describing their situation:

We are now very comfortably situated on the bank of nice creek with a flock of sheep, which when well, we take it in turn to attend to ... We have engaged for six months at £30 a year each, but if we stay here after that, which it is most likely we shall, we shall get £40.

Our rations are as much mutton as we like, flour 10 lbs, sugar 2 or 3 lbs — I do not know exactly, but it is quite enough, and I think 1/2 lb of tea per week each. They find us frying pan, iron pot, hatchet, spade, tub for salting &c. We have a fine lot of melons here, they are not quite ripe yet. I have been preserving a part of one today just to make tarts of. We sweet pickle and smoke the legs of mutton and they make very nice ham, only there is a want of fat. But there is great difficulty in keeping meat here; we must kill and skin the sheep the last thing at night and salt it before sunrise in the morning, and then if you are not careful in keeping it well covered there will be maggots in it before night. Maggots come out here almost as soon as blown. The greatest pests here are flies and ants but the flies are much the worst. Mosquitoes here are not much harm, they bite rather sharp, but not like those in India and America, and they are easily killed.

I dare say you think we feel the heat much, but you are mistaken. Although the sun is hot here there is a beautiful breeze always blowing, and you may judge how we feel the heat when I tell you there is a nice river close by and we very seldom bathe.

There are abundance of ducks in the creeks, and up this way there are fine white cockatoos which are very nice and about the size of a small fowl; there is also a bird very plentiful here which they call a magpie; it is the colour of our magpie but larger and without the long tail it is very easily shot and is very nice food and I believe feeds [much] like wood pigeons. The latter here is a beautiful bird of a delicate brown colour tinged with pink about the neck, and the wings marked with green and (purple) gold. There are many pigeons here and they are very tame and much nicer eating than those at home.

We are very well off in the way of food; as much mutton as we like and we can make sure of getting either a duck pigeon or cockatoo at any time almost without going out of sight of the hut, besides plenty of fish in the creek; cod fish which in some of the rivers run as high as 80lbs but are generally caught in the creeks from 2 to 12 lbs; and a fish like a lobster, not quite as large, but good eating. There are also plenty of mussel fish.

William John Wills, Correspondence and press cuttings, 1839-1861. [manuscript], MS 9504, Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria.
View record HERE.

 

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