This advertising cover has a picture of Shearer’s Patent Wrought Steel Plow & Cultivator Shares and warns: “Beware of IMITATIONS, especially UNBRANDED Shares. These shares are often imitated but never duplicated”. The pink 1d South Australia stamp is postmarked MANNUM/ 2 MA 11/ STH AUSTRALIA and it is sent to a firm of Messrs E.H. & L.O PONTT, Bakara, S.A. (Figure 1).
The reverse is an advert for David Shearer & Co., Mannum, South Australia and there is a picture and extensive text concerning Harrows and Strippers, more than I need to know (Figure 2).
John (1845-1932) and David(1850-1936) Shearer, agricultural machinery manufacturers and inventors, were two of the five sons of Peter Shearer, stonemason and blacksmith, and his wife Mary, née Kirkness. John was born on 9 September 1845 and David on 7 November 1850 in the Orkney Islands, Scotland. The family migrated to South Australia in 1852, living in Port Adelaide, Robe and, later, Clare where the brothers were educated.
After an apprenticeship with Hanlon & Co., blacksmiths, John started a blacksmith’s business at Mount Torrens. There, on 15 July 1871, he married 15-year-old Mary Jane Watkins. Later he joined J. G. Ramsay & Co., agricultural implement-makers, Mount Barker, and in 1876 he started a smithing business at Mannum on the River Murray, repairing paddle-steamers and farmers’ implements and shoeing horses.
At 14 David attended a private school for a year, paying fees with wages from a farming job, then he had a series of jobs including blacksmithing and wagon building. In 1877 John joined David in partnership at Mannum. On February 1843 he married Mary Elizabeth Williams. There was considerable competition in the area by others who supplied scarifiers, harrows and strippers and the brothers had to subsidize the Murray River steamers to retain their fair share of river trade. In 1888 John invented wrought steel plough-shares, which were patented throughout Australasia.. In 1888 John visited England to consult about resilient steel, and ‘Resiflex’ became the backbone of all Shearer implements.
To escape the heavy transport costs from Mannum to Adelaide, the firm opened a branch at Kilkenny in 1904, and John and his three sons ran it, with the eldest, John Albert as manager. The Mannum partnership ended in 1910, with David and his two sons remaining there and John retaining the Kilkenny branch. John Shearer died on 9 August 1932 at his Kilkenny home , survived by his wife, four daughters and three sons. His estate was sworn for probate at £15,980. John was a stocky, red bearded man, gruff man, who believed that ‘soil is wealth, neither to be hoarded nor squandered. Land worked wisely is what we need’
In 1904 the Mannum factory concentrated on stripper, wagons, harrows and ploughshare, and 1910 saw the completion of another large factory. In WWI, David Shearer & Co. made military equipment, munition wagons, stirrups and the hames for harnesses. With Harley Tarrant and Herbert Thomson, David Shearer made a major contribution to the independent development of the motor car in Australia. About 1885, David as a hobby began to work on manufacture of a steam-carriage, basing transmission of power from engine to wheels on the stripper-harvester, and steering on a principle used for the stump-jump plough. By 1897 he was driving a steam-car round Mannum, where most of the mechanism had been manufactured. It was capable of traveling 100 miles at 15 miles/hour. In 1900 he was allowed to drive it around Adelaide, and the restored car is now at the Birdwood Mill Museum.
David was thickset, with a mop of sandy hair, and was a dreamer with a scientific mind. He died on 15 October 1936 and his estate was sworn for probate at £1858. The brothers John and David had sat on the Mannum District Council for many years, including periods as chairman. In the 1960s at Mannum, the John Shearer Memorial Gates were erected and the DaviD Shearer Sports Park opened.
This paper is a shortened version of that found in the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography.