Rabbit control ephemera collection

Some interesting pieces of rabbit control ephemera published more than a hundred years apart were added to the National Library’s ephemera collection in May 2013.

The oldest item, circa 1905, is a trade catalogue for Fortescue’s Great Automatic Patent Pollard Distributor. The firm of George E. Fortescue & Sons, formerly of Tallangatta, Victoria, manufactured their Automatic Rabbit Poisoning Machines in the Sydney suburb of Arncliffe.

The “IXL” Fortescue patented machine, mounted on a light horse-drawn cart, won prizes in field trials and was widely used by pastoralists, farmers and rabbit boards throughout Australia. It cut a shallow trench with a stump-jump plough, and dispensed baits composed of a phosphate poison mixed with a molasses and bran paste. The pollard container on the cart held sufficient bait for a full day’s work, and the machine, connected by a cam to the cart’s wheels, dropped a small amount of bait at intervals, adjustable at four different distances between one and six feet apart. The freshly turned earth was believed to attract rabbits, and covering the baits with soil was intended to deter stock from eating them.

Phosphorous was a particularly nasty poison, inflicting a slow and painful death, but was preferred over strychnine, which unaffected rabbits quickly learned to avoid as their mates suddenly dropped dead around them. As articles in Trove show, phosphorous baits could ignite bushfires, and were eventually banned for this reason. According to some accounts, at the end of a day working with it, operators could apparently rub their hands together and see them glow in the dark, which suggests occupational health and safety concerns too.

However the “IXL” automatic patent pollard distributor was very popular and successful, obviously filling a significant need. According to A. J. Fortescue’s 1936 obituary, more than 10,000 of these machines were produced by the Arncliffe factory. Our example of this rare brochure has some insect and water damage, and the colour register is imperfect, but is nevertheless a wonderful record of an important piece of agricultural machinery. The cover depicts a beautiful pastoral scene, with the cart disappearing over the horizon, although the dead rabbits strewn across the foreground add a slightly macabre note.

'IXL' Fortescue’s Great Automatic Patent Pollard Distributor, trade catalogue, circa 1905

'IXL' Fortescue’s Great Automatic Patent Pollard Distributor, trade catalogue, circa 1905

After hearing that we were delighted to get this trade catalogue, its owner subsequently gave us a related single page leaflet for the IXL Pollard Distributor and another Fortescue product, their Bosker Fumigators. These were a fire drum that allowed carbon monoxide fumes to be directed down rabbit burrows, and could be supplied on a cart, on a barrow, or a frame for attaching to the customer’s cart. The leaflet can be dated to circa 1905 on the basis of a dated newspaper cutting from the Upper Murray & Mita Herald about a Barnawartha field trial in which the Fortescue “IXL” Pollard Distributor excelled in the completion against Hick’s “Ideal,” Northey and Bell’s “Peerless,” and MacMillan’s “Ringer.”

Very important improvements in the 'IXL' Pollard Distributor, flyer, circa 1905

Our other more recent piece of rabbit control ephemera was produced in February 2013 by the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation for the Central Wheatbelt District. It is a beautifully designed rabbit control calendar wheel, which encourages farmers to develop a plan of action for specific months of the year and to set short-term goals for an ongoing program. The wheel lines up the month of the year, rabbit life cycle stages, and appropriate control activities. As the card emphasises, “Effective rabbit control requires a variety of measures. There is no quick fix solution.” An earlier version of the card is online. Our copy of the rabbit control calendar wheel will be filed in our general ephemera run under pests.

Rabbit control calendar wheel, 2013