Nearly every suit on the market today — especially in the high and mid-range area of the market — is made from wool shorn from the descendants of just four ewes and two rams.
It all started in 1789 when King Charles IV of Spain gave six merino sheep as a gift to the Dutch government from the Spanish crown. At the time, the finest wool in the world came from Spanish Merino sheep.
These six sheep were closely guarded by the King of Spain, who had the sole right to export them, so it was a pretty big deal for them to be given as gifts.
But according to Farmer’s Weekly of South Africa, the sheep had trouble adjusting to the climate of the Netherlands, and were then sent to the Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon, head of the Dutch garrison at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
In 1795 the British captured the garrison and Gordon committed suicide. His widow sold the sheep in 1797 (which now numbered 26 — sheep like to breed) to British military captains bound for Australia.
Finally, the sheep were sold yet again to British army officer, politician, and entrepreneur John Macarthur. He had been experimenting in making finer-quality wool, and was the one who turned these Merino sheep into the founding flock of the great Australian wool industry.
Within four decades, Australia had become the world’s largest producer of Merino wool.
For his contribution, Macarthur’s work was memorialised with a series of $US2 Australian bank notes in 1966. He’s pictured next to a Merino sheep, of course.
Australia’s Merino flock now numbers in the 100 to 120 million range and produces the vast majority of the wool used in quality suiting around the world, from Fifth Avenue to Savile Row.
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