Robe’s trade in the 1860′s was drawn from a large hinterland which extended for about 100 miles inland. In addition to wool, the district immediately around Robe was producing large numbers of horses for the export trade. By-products of he pastoral industry such as tallow and skins were also exported. Fellmongery was carried out on the shores of Lake Fellmongery (A Glimpse of Golden Days, DC of Robe 1985).
The word “Fellmongery” applies to an industrial plant whose purpose is to remove the wool from sheepskins. The method is as follows:
- Sheepskins are scraped free of fat on the flesh side.
- Skins are soaked in water for a certain time. This time depends on weather and temperature.
- Skins are hung on wooden racks between 12 and 24 hours.
- After the skin follicles have started to open, the skins are removed from the racks and place on wooden racks. Today, the skins are classed or sorted by registered woolclassers, but originally the only sorting would have been the separation of white and coloured skins.
- A wooden comb, shaped to the horse, is forced along the sheepskin, removing the wool in one or two passes.
- The resultant wool, in it’s wet state, is laid out to dry in netting.
- Sheepskins, now clean of wool, are also dried on racks. The follicles will close up again and the skins are used for uppers of shoes in the boot trade.
- The wool is referred to as “lave a dos” or part scoured (part washed).
- Wool scourers now scour (or wash) the wool fully in preparation for spinning into yarn. This would have been done by hand, but now is carded, combed and spun mechanically.
The above system of fellmongery was in vogue in the late 18th century and possibly earlier. This process continued to be the wool removal method until the 1980′s when chemical processes were used to separate the wool from the skins.