Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings 2018 Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018

doi 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0067



Copyright © by the authors.


During the nineteenth century, exponential growth in sheep pastoralism in Australia and New Zealand, and in less predictable locales such as the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Rapanui (Easter Island), fueled the alienation of Indigenous peoples from their lands. The sheep and their wool, at the heart of these ‘grass wars,’ fed a global industry that supported another kind of war – the mass, cold climate warfare characterizing the century between the Crimean and Korean wars. Not until the second quarter of the nineteenth century did mechanization and factory organization affect wool production, as assiduous Australasian sheep husbandry bred wool staples long and strong enough to bear the stresses of industrial modes of textile production. This led to British imperial leadership in wool production, in its colonial territories (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa), and in locations such as Rapanui, not British by nationality but driven by British capital. So important and lucrative was the market for wool that the British-Chilean company, Williamson Balfour, which ran Rapanui as a sheep station from 1897-1953, allowed the sheep the run of the island while forcing the islanders to live in fenced compounds. Meanwhile, the important producers of woolen textiles—the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and eventually Japan—could not rely on domestic fleece to fill their manufacturing needs, and imported heavily from British-controlled wool markets, particularly in wartime. New Zealand and Sandwich Islands wool, for example, helped clothe the Union Army during the American Civil War. This paper, part of a larger project exploring the relationship between wool and war, examines how, in the industrial age, the “deep local” effects of taking land from indigenous populations and turning it over to sheep pastoralism both encouraged and was encouraged by the “pan-global” trade in wool that resulted.