The convict who got Australia’s wheels turning

Australia’s first wheelwright* was Hugh Hughes, a convict with the First Fleet in 1788.

He was the only wheelwright in the First Fleet so Hugh would have been kept very busy. Wheelwrights had to have the eye, skill and accuracy of cabinetmakers, but it was also a very laborious trade requiring strength and endurance. Hugh Hughes would have soon discovered timbers in this strange land were much harder than any he encountered in England.

There was no powered machinery at the time to saw and dress the ironbark, blue gum and stringy bark. Every timber component Hugh made was split, sawn, chipped and shaved with wedges, pit saws, adzes, axes, draw-knives and spoke shaves. Even the lathe that turned the wheel hubs was hand powered. Hugh, like country wheelwrights in Britain, probably even felled the trees he needed.  Yet Hugh Hughes was not making the big wheels, carts and wagons we might expect.

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