State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 9 April 1972


Manufacturing in Melbourne 1870–1890: A Bibliographical Essay*

A number of scholars have observed that, by international standards, manufacturing plays a large part in the Australian economy. The 1966 Census revealed that 1.3 million people — 27 per cent of a labour force of 4.9 million — were employed in manufacturing, a proportion which is higher than that of Canada, France and Japan, but lower than the U.S.A., the United Kingdom or Sweden. In terms of Gross National Product, manufacturing's share is 28 per cent, which is comparable with the U.S.A. and Canada, but well below the United Kingdom and France.
In these two senses Australia is highly industrialized, but this is a fact which seems to have escaped the attention of historians. Manufacturing has been a neglected field in Australian historiography. Like urbanization it has been ignored in favour of studies of the squatter, the selector, the shearer and the storekeeper. But, as Professor N. G. Butlin's magisterial works have shown, the traditional approach seriously distorts Australian history, especially in the second half of the nineteenth century. The manufacturer and the urban dweller must take their place in our story. Until this happens we will have a history of social groups and not of society.
The significance of the years 1870–1890 — the years of the ‘long boom’ — is well known to every student of Australian history. And this is especially the case in Victoria, because this is the era of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’. Accordingly in this brief article I want to give historians some idea of the mass of materials available for a study of manufacturing in Melbourne over these two decades in the hope that many more scholars will be stimulated to examine the tanneries of Collingwood with the avidity that they research the local history of the Victorian countryside.

1. Archives

There are three major locations for the archival material dealing with Victorian manufacturing developments during the nineteenth century. These are (a) the Australian National University Archives in Canberra; (b) the University of Melbourne Archives at Parkville; and (c) the State Archives of Victoria. The most important sources are to be found in Canberra and at the University of Melbourne. For example, the A.N.U. Archives contain the extremely valuable papers of Johns and Waygood Ltd (Deposit 33), John Danks and Son Pty Ltd (Deposit 34), John McIlwraith and Co. Pty Ltd (Deposit 35), Michaelis Hallenstein Pty Ltd (Deposit 36) and Laycock, Son and Co. Pty Ltd (Deposit 79), and this list can be supplemented by extensive holdings of union records. Of these the most useful are the records of the Victorian Society of Coopers 1880–1917 (Deposit T30), and the papers of the Felt Hatting and Allied Trades (Deposit E87), the Moulders (Deposit T20), the Furnishing Trades (Deposit T58) and the Shipwrights and Ship Constructors (Deposit E88).
At the University of Melbourne the archivist, Mr Frank Strahan, has assembled an excellent collection for the historian interested in manufacturing. The most important papers are the records of the Austral Otis Elevator Co. Ltd, those of the Hoffman Patent Steam Brick Co. Ltd, the Melbourne Steamship Co. Ltd, the North-cote Brick Co. Ltd, Swallow and Ariell,
Felton and Grimwade, and especially the voluminous records of the agricultural implement manufacturer Hugh Lennon. Nor does this exhaust the list, for many of the other university holdings contain material relevant to our field of interest.
As we might expect the ‘official’ archives sources are to be found in the State Archives. The historian should be grateful for the material which has been collected in the basement of the La Trobe Library, much of it as yet not subjected to systematic research. Of particular importance are the papers of the Victorian Railways, the Public Works Department, and the Defunct Company Papers of the Companies Branch of the Victorian Titles Office. The last named source contains details of over 2,500 firms established in Victoria between 1864 and 1890, and it would prove useful to social and political historians, as well as economic historians, because it gives lists of shareholders, balance sheets, company reports, directors’ reports and correspondence et al. The State Archives also contain the papers of the Department of Lands of which the records of Business Licences, Leases and the Rent Rolls are particularly important, especially when it is remembered that much of Melbourne's industry on the banks of the Yarra was established on Crown Land subject to periodic inspection. Those historians interested in discovering just how polluted Melbourne was in the 1870s and 1880s should not neglect this source! Nor should scholars ignore the Minute Books of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce or the Insolvency Papers which, despite the work of Michael Cannon in his book The Land Boomers, contain much socio-economic material which has never been used (e.g. the papers help to answer such questions as: Who were the manufacturers? Where did they get their capital? How easy was it to move from journeyman to employer? etc.).

2. Manuscripts

Unfortunately the manuscript sources are rather sparse. One hopes that much of what is being held by private individuals will find its way to the La Trobe, but in the meantime the historian can obtain useful insights from the Diaries of George Frederick Belcher, the papers of the merchant and manufacturer Jenkin Collier, the records of that fascinating man James Service, and, most important of all, the Daybooks, Journals and Tender Books of the Melbourne architects, Twentyman and Askew, who supervised the building and alteration of most of Melbourne's important factory developments in the 1870s and 1880s. Among private holdings one should note especially the Morrow Papers held by Mr R. B. Morrow of Ashburton, which contain invaluable material on the agricultural implement industry as well as showing James Morrow not H. V. McKay to have been the real inventor of the stripper; the records of the Trades Hall Council (parts of which are on microfilm in the La Trobe); and the Victorian Agricultural Implement and Machine Makers’ Society minute books, correspondence, etc., in the possession of the Sheet Metal Working … Union of Australia, Trades Hall, Melbourne.

3. Official Sources

These should be well known to historians but the excellent holdings of the La Trobe Library and the State Archives deserve closer analysis than is usually accorded them. This is particularly true of the Parliamentary Debates, the Census Reports, the Parliamentary Papers, the Year Books and the Statistical Registers. We do not have time to go into the mine of material available from these sources
and also the difficulties of using them; * it suffices to say that they are indispensable for any study of nineteenth century Victorian society. To take just one example, the 1,534-page Report of the Royal Commission on the Tariff contains a mass of information on manufacturing, mining, commerce, labour conditions, social life, wages, prices, politics, etc., and yet I doubt if more than a few historians have used it systematically. Official documents must not be taken for granted. When we ask the right questions of them they can yield extremely fruitful answers.

4. Newspapers

Once again an obvious source but still one which is too little used by economic historians. The amount of material on manufacturing in the metropolitan press during the period 1870 to 1890 is really overwhelming. I read each copy of the Age and Argus over these years and my xerox bill testifies to their value! Also of importance are the Leader, the Australasian and the Weekly Times. An excellent pictorial record of manufacturing developments can be obtained from the Illustrated Australian News and the Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil. Finally, the suburban newspapers. I have only sampled these but they are a very important source. The most useful for a study of manufacturing are the Brunswick and Coburg Advertiser (1882–88); the Carlton Advertiser (1882–3) and the Carlton Gazette (1886–1898); the Collingwod Mercury (1874–1903); the Fitzroy City Press (1882–1920); the North Melbourne Advertiser (1882–94); the Richmond Guardian (1872–99); and the South Melbourne Record (1880–96) and Citizen (1883–94).

5. Trade Journals

These are perhaps the most neglected source in the La Trobe, yet their importance is difficult to exaggerate. They contain important details on manufacturing, biography, labour relations, politics, etc., as well as giving an insight into Melbourne society. I have located 68 trade journals in the La Trobe's holdings and of those concerned with manufacturing the most valuable are: Australasian Builder and Contractors’ News (1887–95); Australasian Ironmonger, Engineer and Metal Worker (1886–90, 1891–1900); Australasian Trade Review and Manufacturers’ Journal (1882–1903); Australasian Typographical Journal (1884–1916); Australian Brewers’ Journal (1882/3-1921); Australian Coach Builder and Saddler (later Vehicle and Aviation Industry) (1890/1-1952); Australian Miller (1890–1899); Building and Engineering and Mining Journal (1888–1905) and the Victorian Engineer (1886/7-1889).

6. Other Sources

Finally let me mention briefly sources which will be known to every Victorian historian, but which historians of manufacturing tend to neglect. First, there is the massive La Trobe collection of Victorian Pamphlets, almost every volume of which has material for the economic historian (e.g. this is one of the few ways to obtain material on the machinations of the Chamber of Manufactures during the campaign for intercolonial free trade during the 1880s). Second, we can mention the Melbourne Review and the Victorian Review which contain a number of key articles (e.g. Volume XI, 1885 of the Victorian Review is essential reading for an understanding of employer organization in Victoria and for the formation of the Victorian Employers’ Union because it contains Bruce Smith's manifesto ‘Trades Unionism in Victoria: or, Who Shall be Master? A Note of Warning to Employers’). Third, one should not neglect the La Trobe Library's collections of Victorian Historical
and Biographical Pamphlets and the State Library of Victoria's Political Economy Pamphlets.
In a short article one can merely scratch the surface, but I hope I have shown just how much material there is for the historian interested in the industrial development of Melbourne in the years of the long boom. To many contemporaries it was Melbourne's manufactories which made her ‘Marvellous’, and it is these establishments and their owners who deserve attention if we are to reconstruct this period. The material is there; all we need are the historians.
T. G. Parsons


This essay is based on my Ph.D. thesis, ‘Some Aspects of the Development of Manufacturing in Melbourne 1870–1890’ (Monash Univ. 1970). Readers interested in pursuing the issues raised in the paper should consult this work which is held by the Monash University Library.


See my Ph.D. thesis, pp. 597-610, 682-87.