The First Uniform Buttons Struck in the Colony of Victoria
A button to wish for!
At the December, 1854, Melbourne Exhibition a bronze prize medal was awarded to Barbour & Co for “a Case of Buttons, the first manufactured in the Colony”.
Museums Victoria collection.
As this company were wholesalers (and later drapers) it is doubtful that they produced the buttons in question; instead they were likely produced by Thomas Stokes.
Note that Barbour had managed “getting struck a metal button”, “as neat as Birmingham itself could supply” for the railway uniforms they were providing. This indicates the button was sourced locally. Thomas Stokes had arrived in Melbourne on January 1st that year to look for gold. Unsuccessful, he had turned to his prior trade of die-sinking. Putting two and two together, the awarded case of buttons was probably that produced by Stokes, even though Barbour got the credit! The button is described as showing ‘a locomotive engine and the words “Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay”‘.
The Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway
Shares in the new railway were advertised from 28th August 1852. The company was given permission to be incorporated on 10th September. The Act of Parliament to allow this occurred on 20th January 1853. The line was to run from Melbourne (at the site of today’s Flinders Station) for 4.2 km onto a pier at the port of Sandridge (now known as Port Melbourne). It would be the first “common-carrier” railway in Australia (i.e. that offers its carrying service under licence to a government authority).
The broad gauge line was opened with great pomp and ceremony on the 12th September 1854, the trip taking 10 minutes. The service was opened to the public the following day. The first locomotive was locally made, due to delays in shipping four engines from the UK.
After this, a rather strange engine was used as a stop gap measure.
It has been used to draw carriages during the construction of the line. It only lasted until the 2nd December that year before breaking down. The train service had to cease running for several weeks until the imported engines, named the Melbourne, Sandridge, Victoria and Yarra, arrived.
In 1857 a further 4.8km line from the Melbourne station to St Kilda. Two other subsequent railway companies, the St Kilda & Brighton and the Melbourne & Suburban Railway Companies, were absorbed, creating the Melbourne & Hobson’s United Railway Co. This was in turn taken over by the Victorian Government in July 1878, becoming part of Victorian Railways. The original two lines still exist in the form of light rail (tram) services.
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