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Head Rod

From the Collection of Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village 89 Merri Street Warrnambool Victoria

Head Rod, ullaging gauge. Long wooden rod made of three joined sections, brass hook on end, sliding centre section with hook, measurements marked along each section as on a slide rule. Used for measuring diameter of heads of casks in order for Customs to calculate excise (tax) on the contents
H 103cm x W 10cm x D 2cm
Object Registration
flagstaff hill, warrnambool, shipwrecked coast, flagstaff hill maritime museum, maritime museum, shipwreck coast, flagstaff hill maritime village, great ocean road, head rod, gauging rod, ullaging rods, measuring instruments, customs tax
Historical information
The Australian Customs Service, Melbourne, donated a set of gauging instruments, and Port Fairy Customs donated another instrument, the Sike’s Hydrometer, to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, all of which were no longer required. However these ullaging tools were in use for many years by Customs officials, called Gaugers.

Ullaging is a term describing the measurement of the amount of liquid remaining in a container of spirits such as a cask or barrel. It can also measure the free space or head space remaining.

The primary role of customs officers in Victoria was to calculate the tariff or excise duty payable on goods imported into Victoria. (Excise duty is a tax on goods produced within a country, and customs duty is imposed on imports.) Customs officers spent a great deal of their time measuring and weighing goods, and then calculating the amount of duty to be paid by the importer. The tariffs for different products varied, and officers consulted published lists.

Calculating the duty payable on a barrel of brandy was a detailed task. The gauger had to measure the barrel to determine its volume. Barrels were irregular in shape, and finding the volume required several measurements and checking tables of figures. Alcoholic content was then measured with a hydrometer. The duty paid varied according to the alcoholic strength of the spirits.

Uniform national customs and excise duties were operative in Australia from October 1901. These tools were still being used in Australia in the 1950’s. The Federal Government still imposes excise taxes on goods such as cigarettes, petrol, and alcohol. The rates imposed may change in February and August each year in response to changes in the consumer price index.

(1) Head Rod - this instrument measures the diameter of the heads (top and bottom ends) of a cask or barrel. The shaped brass pieces on the head rod enable the diameter of a barrel to be measured inside the chimes at the head end. The slide rule could then be used to calculate the internal volume of the barrel. On the reverse side is a set of ullaging scales, used like those on any ullaging rule, to calculate the volume of liquid in a partially filled barrel.

(2) Bung Rod – this instrument measures the diameter of a cask or barrel when it is lying on its side. It is a rod that fits into the ‘bung’ hole of a cask and is long enough be extended to reach the opposite side of the cask. The brass sliding pointer can be moved to mark the ‘wet’ line. When the rod is removed the bung measurement can be read from the scale on the rod.

(3) Long Calipers - this instrument measures the length of the cask between the heads. It has two rules sliding beside each other, each end having another piece of wood fixed firmly at right angles downwards then turned inwards at the ends so as to reach over the heads of the casks without touching the projecting ends. The centre pieces enable it to extend or contract, changing the distance between the two other parallel sides, the distance they are apart being shown by the rule on the sliding pieces.

(4) Cross Calipers – this instrument is used to take the bung diameters of casks, or "the Cross " as it is called. This instrument has two rules sliding beside each other, each end having another piece of wood fixed firmly at right angles downwards, together forming a 3 sides of a rectangle with the centre pieces enabling it to extended or contracted, changing the distance between the two other parallel sides, the distance they are apart being shown by a the rule on the sliding pieces.

(5) Sike’s Hydrometer – this instrument is used to gauge the strength of different alcoholic spirits when fitted with the different weights in the set. Every set is individually calibrated to ensure that it meets the exact Standard Weight and Measure compliance, then every piece in that set is stamped with the same number by the Calibrator, to ensure that the measurements are taken using the same hydrometer set.

[References: A Handbook of Practical Gauging, Janes Boddely Keene of H.M. Customs, 1861, F. Pitman, London; Customs Act, Volume 2, No. 1, April 1999; Old Customs House website ]
When Made
c. 1901
Made By
Dring & Fage
Last updated
3 Mar 2017 at 10:12AM