8th June 2022

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.

The Argus (Melbourne), 28th August 1854 page 5.

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).

Sketch by T. S. Gill, 1854 of the Melbourne terminus.

“The picture of the Old Railway Pier, Port Melbourne, is taken from a painting in the possession of Mr A. S. Robertson, of the late firm of Messrs. Porter and Robertson, who were the contractors for its construction, on account of the Melbourne and Hobson’s Railway Company, which was the first railway opened in Australia, in September, 1854. ” The painting dated from 1858 and shows the clipper Red Jacket on the left.

State Library of Victoria Picture Collection H81.249/4  . Railway Pier, Port Melbourne c.1860. The steam train can be seen between the rows of shipping.

National Library: Detail from the Plan of ship canal, etc. dated 15th August 1860, by Robert Bowden. The railway is shaded dark from the pier to the Melbourne terminus.

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.

The Argus (Melbourne), 11th October 1947 page 6.

From Wikipedia: A sketch of the locally made 2-2-2WT steam engine used for the first 3 months of service.

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.

The Argus (Melbourne)

The Argus (Melbourne), 26th December 1854 page 5.

The Argus (Melbourne), 11th October 1947 page 6.

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.

The Argus (Melbourne), 7th February 1948 page 19.



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