c1880 The Furphy water cart invented

Image © J. Furphy & Sons

Not every business can brag about their name going into the language, but that’s the case for  J. Furphy & Sons and Furphy Foundry of Shepparton, Victoria.  The businesses are owned and managed by descendants of the founder, John Furphy, whose invention of the eponymous water cart proved a boon to farmers from the 1880s through to the 1940s and possibly beyond.

John Furphy was the son of an Irish farmer and was born in Melbourne in 1842. After an apprenticeship with a Kyneton firm of blacksmiths and implement makers, he set up his own business, moving to Shepparton in 1873. He expanded the business with an iron foundry and invented and patented a range of agricultural implements including strippers, ploughs and harrows. The Furphy Farm Water Cart is now the most famous of his inventions but was never patented.  It consisted of a 180-gallon (818 litre) cylindrical iron tank with cast iron ends, mounted horizontally on a horse-drawn wooden frame with cast-iron wheels.

It’s unclear exactly when these water carts were invented, although the embossed text on a 1940s model at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum claims they were “born about 1880, still going strong”. In 1899, a larger model was produced that contained 350 gallons. The Numurkah Leader described it as a “perambulating reservoir” and continued:

People have grown accustomed to the small water cart, for in some districts it is to be seen on every farm, and practical men recognised that the making of the big 350 gallon one was a step in the right direction… Happy is the man who has a “Furphy”.

The cast iron end plates of the Furphy water carts carried inspirational epithets that varied over time. The most famous was “Good Better Best, Never Let it Rest, Until your Good is Better, And your Better Best”. Later models even had inscriptions in Pitman’s shorthand, including one that ran: “Water is the gift of God but beer and whiskey are concoctions of the Devil, come and have a drink of water”.

The Furphy water cart was designed for farm use but, with the advent of World War I, it was adopted by the army to supply water to military training camps. As soldiers got together around the water carts, they exchanged gossip and rumours and the word “furphy” soon became a soldier’s term for any dubious piece of information gained in these gatherings.  It’s still a familiar Australian slang term for a misleading or false rumour or story – hence the mounting of one of the cast iron tank ends in the press gallery of Parliament House in Canberra.

This website uses cookies but doesn't share them.