John Ridley

In the earliest days of the colony of South Australia, farm labour was provided manually by agricultural labourers (ag labs) but due to the failure of the government to successfully encourage the purchase of land which in turn funded the emigration of labourers, such labour was scarce. Problems were compounded by cheap prices being paid for wheat.

These factors encouraged individuals to look to machines to do the work and one of the earliest and most successful was John Ridley. Ridley, born in May 1806 at West Bolden DUR, arrived 17 Apr 1840 on the Warrior with his wife, Mary nee Pybus and two daughters. He established himself at Hindmarsh as a flour miller with the first steam mill at a time when this region of the Adelaide plains was the cereal growing region of the colony.

In late 1843, he developed the harvest stripper. Essentially it was a box with a comb mounted in front and a rotating beater placed behind the comb. As the stripper was pushed through the crop by horses, the wheat heads were drawn through the comb and then removed by the beater and collected in the box. The resultant mixture of grain and chaff was then separated in a small stationary winnower.stripper

In South Australia’s hot, and dry climate where the grain ripened on the stalk. the stalk was of little value and thus the stripper represented a major advance as previously the harvesting of wheat was done by hand with a sickle, followed by stooking, drying, stacking and threshing. The other great advantage was the simplicity of the design which meant that the stripper could be manufactured easily in small, local engineering works.

By 1857, half of the South Australian wheat crop was being harvested by machine. The significance of Ridley’s contribution to the colony’s economy cannot be under estimated.

John Ridley returned to England in 1853 although he still retained ownership of property in South Australia (know known as Ridleyton) He died in London 25 Nov 1887.
In 1843 the SA Corn Exchange Committee offered a prize of £40 to anyone submitting a model or plans of a reaper of which the committee would approve. On 23 Sep 1843 it was reported that several unsuccessful models and plans had been submitted.

Ridley had not participated but he had been constructing a machine, and on 18 Nov 1843 the Adelaide Observer announced that, a further trial of Mr Ridley's machine has established its success.

Ridley was greatly worried in later years by J Wrathall Bull's claim that he was the real inventor of Ridley's reaping machine. He was one of the men who had sent in models that were rejected by the committee. He said that Ridley had seen his model and constructed his machine on its principles. Ridley's denial is borne out by the fact that his machine had had two successful trials within two months of the models being exhibited and in those days a machine could be constructed in Adelaide only by primitive methods, and it would not have been possible to make a working machine in such a short period.


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