Historical information

This horse-drawn, two-wheeled cart with a tank, is known as a Furphy Farm Water Cart that was made in Shepparton, northern Victoria, c. 1942.

John Furphy (1842-1920) was born in Moonee Ponds, in 1842 to Irish immigrant parents and subsequently raised in the Yarra Valley before the family moved to Kyneton in central Victoria, where he completed an apprenticeship with the firm Hutcheson and Walker. Murphy began operations of his own at a site on Piper Street in Kyneton in 1864. He relocated for a business opportunity and founded the first blacksmiths and wheelwrights shop in the newly surveyed town of Shepparton in 1873. Furphy invented many farming tools and machines including a patented grain-stripper, and won awards at the 1888-89 Melbourne International Exhibition.

His most famous invention is the Furphy Farm Water Cart, designed in the 1880s, at a time when water for most households and farms was carted on wagons in wooden barrels. The Furphy’s water cart is a single item that combines a water metal tank and a cart. The design of the cart was simple yet effective, and became popular very quickly and established itself as a vital piece of farming equipment.

The water cart has had a number of words cast into its ends over many years. References to the foundry’s location in Shepparton, as well as advertising of other products also manufactured by J. Furphy & Sons were present on the ends. However, the most significant set of words to feature on the tank, was a poem encouraging continual improvement: ‘Good Better Best, Never Let it Rest, Until your Good is Better, And your Better Best’.

During The Great War (1914-1918), the water cart was used by the Australian militarily at a large AIF (Australian Imperial Force) camp in Broadmeadows (Melbourne) where thousands of men were camped for months, before being transported aboard. Furphy Water Carts provided water to the troops, and were usually placed near the camp latrines, which was one of the few places the troops could share gossip and tall tales away from the prying eyes and ears of their officers. The water cart drivers were also notorious sources of information, despite most of their news being hearsay, or totally unreliable.

By the time the men of the AIF were in engaged in combat on the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Western Front, the carts used for water supply had no markings and became simply referred to as Furphys. This owed as much to the coining of the term ‘Furphy’, Australian slang for suspect information or rumour. After a number of decades as principally a soldier’s word, 'Furphy' entered the broader Australian vernacular and was used mainly by the political class until recently when the term was taken up by a Australian brewer as a beer brand.

This Furphy Water Cart was purchased by Friends of Flagstaff Hill in 2014. The support of local individuals, organisations and businesses enabled its restoration and later its installation alongside the existing late-19th century water pipe stand and 1940s hand pump


The Furphy Farm Water Cart is of historical significance as it represents a famous Australian time-saving and energy-saving invention of the 1880s, replacing the labour intensive activity of collecting and dispensing water from barrels and casks on the back of carts.

The water cart’s connection with manufacturing companies J. Furphy & Sons and Furphy Foundry are significant for being early Australian businesses that are still in operation today.

Furphy carts are of military significance for the role they played during The Great War (1914-1918) in Australian army camps, and theatres of war in Europe and the Middle East, to supply the AIF troops with fresh water.

Physical description

A wooden framed, two-wheeled, horse-drawn cart, fitted with a horizontally mounted, cylindrical metal tank. The tank is made of rolled, sheet steel with a riveted seam, and cast iron ends with cast iron ends. The spoked metal wheels have fitted flat iron tyres and metal hubs. A metal pipe is joined to the outlet. The tank is silver coloured, the ends, wheels and trims are crimson, and the script lettering on tank sides is black. There are inscriptions on the tank, ends, and hubs.
The water tank was made in 1942 in Shepparton, Australia, by J. Furphy & Sons and has a capacity of 180 gallons (848 litres).

Inscriptions & markings

Hub perimeter, embossed “J. FURPHY & SONS” “KEEP THE / BOLTS TIGHT”
Hub centre embossed [indecipherable]
Tank, each side, painted “J. FURPHY & SONS / Makers / SHEPPARTON”
Tank ends, embossed –
Image [Stork carrying a baby] above shorthand, transcribed "Produce and populate or perish"
Image [Furphy Pig Feeder] beside ‘Cast Iron Pig’
Shorthand, transcribed “"Water is the gift of God but beer and whiskey are concoctions of the Devil, come and have a drink of water"