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The Shearer Family

Extract taken from
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John Shearer (1845-1932) and David Shearer (1850-1936), were two of the five sons of Peter Shearer, stonemason and blacksmith, and his wife Mary, née Kirkness. John was born on 9 September 1845 and David on 7 November 1850 in the Orkney Islands, Scotland. The family migrated to South Australia in 1852, living in Port Adelaide, Robe and, later, Clare where the brothers were educated.

Both John and David had different pathways into their careers in engineering which culminated with the two of them starting a business together in 1877 at Manum.  John had bought a wagon building and blacksmith business which they turned into a company that made grubbing machines and fixed ploughs, scarifiers, harrows and strippers.

screenshot-2017-04-30-16-37-44To escape the heavy transport costs from Mannum to Adelaide, the firm opened a branch at Kilkenny in 1904; John and his three sons ran it, the eldest son John Albert being manager. This factory started with twelve men who produced three ploughs a week. The Mannum partnership ended in 1910, David and his two sons remaining there and John retaining the Kilkenny branch, adding tillage implements to production of ploughs. In 1923 John, chairman of directors, and his sons (directors) converted their partnership into a limited company.

John Shearer died on 9 August 1932 at his Kilkenny home, his family which had houses at no’s 84, 82, 80 and 78 had all moved out of the Kilkenny area by 1945.  In 1952 the Shearer organization became a public company which was taken over by Arrowcrest Group Pty Ltd in 1987.

In 1904 the Mannum factory concentrated on strippers, wagons, harrows and ploughshares and they worked during the war making military equipment.


David Shearer made a major contribution to the independent development of the motor car in Australia. screenshot-2017-04-30-16-41-08About 1882 he adapted the principle of the differential to a hand-tricycle. About 1885, as a hobby, he began to work on manufacture of a steam-carriage, basing transmission of power from engine to wheels on the stripper-harvester and steering on a principle used for the stump-jump plough. By 1897 he was driving his steam-car round Mannum where most of the mechanism had been manufactured; it would last for trips of 100 miles (161 km) and travel at 15 miles an hour. In 1900 he was allowed to drive it round Adelaide. The restored car is now at the Birdwood Mill Museum.

He died on 15 October 1936 and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £1858. In 1972 David Shearer Ltd (a limited company since 1922) was taken over by Horwood Bagshaw Ltd.

Photographic references

P05 Marchant E.W., (1910), J. A. Shearer with his model horse-drawn plough [B 74439] • Photograph [ONLINE]. Available at: resource/B+74439 [Accessed 30 April 2017].

P06 Michael Terry, (1897), Shearer’s first steam car, South Australia, [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2017].

For information on David Shearer and the Shear company please click on the links below.