Department stores, who often sold branded merchandise, commonly had their origins as drapers, grocers or merchant stores. Some started as early as the 1840s to 1850s. Other stores that had there own branded buttons were haberdashery/sewing stores. These were sometimes single stores, but sometimes a successful chain of stores across the nation.
Adelaide Co-operative Society Ltd.
The Co-op was established in 1868 with 13 members in Carrington Street, but moved to larger premises in Angus Street in 1882. The aim of the society was to provide “reliable goods at reasonable prices” and would grow to included clothing, footwear, hardware and groceries with many suburban branches. It ran diary farms, a garage and a carpenter’s shop. In 1928 three women were elected to the board of management; very progressive! It lasted until 1962.
A. Hordern & Sons, Sydney
Anthony Hordern & Sons evolved from a store established by Anthony Hordern junior in 1842. With 52 acres of retail space, it was at one stage the largest retail store in the world. The company set up factories across Sydney to manufacture a wide range of goods including clothing. The company continued until 1969. From Smith’s Weekly newspaper, 3rd March 1934, page 37, a series of pictures of Anthony Hordern & Sons buildings through the years.
A. Phillips, Minyip
Not quite a department store, but more than just a tailor!
Andrew Phillips, a native of Derry, Ireland, came to Victoria in 1878. He moved to Minyip around 1883 to run a general store. The business was successful, and grew to be known as “The Big Iron Store”. Mr Phillips was very involved in community life, and became a local councillor as well as a Justice of the Peace. In 1916 he was tragically killed, falling from a train.
Ball & Welch Ltd.
Charles Ball and his nephew William Henry Welch started a store on the gold fields of Vaughn, near Castlemaine, in 1853. According to a newspaper story in the Herald, 1945, the drapery side of things was really started by their wives. Over the years they dissolved the partnership and restarted it a couple of times, which is a little confusing. In 1870 they started a branch in Carlton, Melbourne. Mr Ball died in 1876 in Carlton. As Vaughn declined, that store was relocated to Castlemaine in 1882. The Carlton store declined, so a new Emporium was built in Flinders Street. It opened in 1899, but Mr Welch had died in 1896.
Members of the family continued to run the business and in 1935 it was listed on the stock exchange.The firm expanded into Sydney and around Melbourne’s suburbs. It was Melbourne’s leading draper in its heyday. In 1970 it was taken over by George’s. Luckily, the Facade in Flinders Street has been preserved.
Celebrity note: Norm Everage, husband of Dame Edna, was an accountant at Ball and Welch.
Boan Brothers, Perth
‘Boan Brothers’ were Henry (Harry) Boan (1860- 1941) and Ernest Boan (1865-1939), in Broken Hill. Harry sold out to his bother and set out for Perth in 1893. He bought a swampy plot of land to set up a department store, noting that the railway passed by it. Borrowing heavily, and despite naysayers, he opened Boan Brothers with another brother called Benjamin (1859-1901) in 1895 and with clever publicity caused a sensation. The store was so successful it had to be expanded several times. All pictures below from Mirror (Perth) 30th November 1935 page 28.
After Benjamin died Harry was the sole owner. The business became Boans Limited in 1912. He moved with his family to England from around 1913, but he returned alone. He was a member of the Legislative Council on two occasions. After his retirement his son Frank, who had still been living in England, took over control of the firm. By 1954 the firm employed 1360 staff. The store included a cafeteria and a dining hall. Groceries and household as well as commercial goods were sold. A furniture factory opened in 1910. In 1986 the firm was sold to Coles Myers.
Bon Marché, Perth
As seen in the advertising below, this store opened in 1884. Unlike most drapers, they sold whips and rifles! They soon moved from Williams Street to Hay Street. By 1886 Mr Collins had sold the concern to Mr and Mrs Edward Thomas Hope. Mr Hope died of blood poisoning in August 1894 whilst on holiday back to his birth place of England, aged only 36 years. His eight month old daughter died four months later. The business was sold by his widow in 1895 to Messers George Henry Careeg, Elias Dimant and George Francis Pitchford, although Careeg soon left the partnership. Overtime it became a department store as well as a drapery. It was incorporated as Bon Marche Limited in 1897.
In 1919 a property was bought near the Hay Street store and extended through to Barrack Street. This became known as the Bon Marche Arcade. In 1954 David Jones took over Bon Marche Ltd., and rebranded it as David Jones.
Brownell’s were the first department store in Hobart, opening their “London House” store in 1836. They also had a successful mail-order business.
Buckley and Nunn, Melbourne
In 1851 a drapery store was opened in Bourke Street by Mars Buckley (c.1825–1905) and his partner, Crumpton John Nunn (1828–1891), selling goods imported from England. Nunn would return to England to run that end of the business. Buckley was successful in expanding the business, but sold it after the death of his partner. It was now know as “Buckley and Nunn Pty. Ltd.”
After the company was listed publicly the two buildings that survive today were built.
In 1982 they were taken over by David Jones.
Charles Birks & Co., Adelaide
Charles Napier Birk (1844-1924) came to South Australia with his family in 1853. In 1864 he and partner David Robin took over the drapery store of Mr G. Shaw in Rundle Street. The partnership was dissolved in 1876, with Charles continuing alone.
Taking partners, including his brother Walter Richard Birks, into the business, it became Charles Birk & Co. in 1881. Charles son Napier Kyffin Birks started as an office boy in the firm in 1893. He would become a partner, and later sole proprietor.
The store had expanded in 1888 and again in 1913, by then occupying Rundle Street from Stephens Place to Gawler Place. It became a Limited liability company in 1920. It purchased a neighbouring warehouse in 1932, now expanding to 4 acres of floor space. David Jones purchased the company in 1954 after the death of Mr Napier Birks. Myers had also been interested in purchasing it.
Craig, Williamson Propriety Ltd.
In 1874 William Craig entered into partnership with the retail drapers ‘William Weaver & Co’ to make the firm becoming ‘Weaver, Craig and Orrock’ in Elizabeth Street. It later became ‘Craig, Williams and Thomas’ when Caleb Williams and Thomas William Thomas were admitted as partners in 1879 and traded under that name until 1897. There were branches in Ballarat and Bendigo. (The Bendigo branch was later bought by Sidney Myer.)
In 1897 a disastrous fire destroyed nearly the whole city block from Flinders Street to Flinders Lane, and from Swanston Street down to Elizabeth Street with an estimated 1,500,000 pounds loss, including their store.
With the erection of a new building, the firm was made a propriety limited business under the name of Craig, Williamson P/L.
The Australasian 18th June 1898 page 30. A sketch of the new building. It would be expanded several times in following years.The business was bought by Marcus Clark Limited in 1926, but later was re-bought by the Craig family. It closed on 25th march 1937, with the stock purchased by Anthony Horden Ltd., thus ending trading after 63 years.
On 1st September, 1855 page 3, the following advert appeared in The Morton Bay Courier:
Benjamin Cribb’s partner was John Clarke Foote (1822-1895), born in Wiltshire and emigrated to Moreton Bay in 1850. He moved to Ipswich around 1852 were he managed the general store of Mr Cribb. In 1853 Cribb married Foote’s sister Clarissa, after the death of his first wife. The following year they went into partnership and created a major department store on the corner Bell and Brisbane Streets. In May 1877 until his death in 1895 he was a member of the Queensland Legislative Council.
After Benjamin’s death, his widow and Mr Foote ran the firm until they retired in 1891, younger members of their families continuing. The company of Cribb & Foote Ltd. was taken over by Walter Reid & Co. Ltd. in 1977.
David Jones, Sydney
David Jones (1838-1887) was a Welsh immigrant merchant who opened his first store in 1838. It continues today as the oldest department store in the world that still operates under its original name.
Farmer & Company, Sydney
The button below is interesting in that it not only has the store’s name (Farmers) inscribed, but also an advertising phrase: ‘The Store for Boys’.
Foy & Gibson Pty Ltd., Collingwood
This was the first department stores in Victoria. Mark Foy, a draper from Ireland, established a drapers store in 1870 in Smith Street, Collingwood. His son Francis formed a partnership with William Gibson in 1883 before selling out to Gibson. They they had their own mill and produced soft furnishings, manchester, clothing, hats, hardware, leather goods, furniture and food, all in Collingwood. Up to 2000 people were employed there. They were pioneers in the use of steam and electrical power. Branches were opened around the country. The company was sold to Cox Brothers then progressively split up and sold to David Jones, Woolworths and Harris Scarfe.
From 1910-1918 they also sold Commonwealth branded clothing, including trousers. I wonder if the King’s Crown dates the button to the War years, when Commonwealth pride was particularly strong? Alternatively it came from the Commonwealth Government Clothing factory. It is listed as “miscellaneous equipment” in Cossum’s book, so he thought it was military, although that could be in error.
George & George Ltd., Melbourne
In 1880 London-born brothers William Henry Harrison George (1855-1935) and Alfred Harley George (1857-1930) opened their drapery store at 11-17 Collins Street, moving to larger premises in 1883 at 280 Collins street.
In 1888 they merged with Equitable Co-operative Society at 162-168 Collins street to become George & George Limited.
A disastrous fire in 1889 destroyed the 280 Collins St premises, as well as killing 3 firemen and injuring 10 others. They moved into the other premise, refurbishing and extending 2 years later. William had lost a lot of money during the depression of the late 1880s. He left for New Zealand where he ran another business until about 1920 when he returned.
The firm was known as Georges & Georges Pty. Ltd. from 1914-1933, but was known as “Georges’” from at least 1908 onwards. The store motto was “What we do, we do well”, with an emphasis on exclusive , quality goods and meticulous service. The store was taken over by Cox brothers from 1960-66, then David Jones from 1981-1995 when it finally closed.
Gooch & Hayward, Port Augusta
The families of the Gooch and Hayward were pioneers of the area of the Spencer Gulf and the Eyre Peninsula region of South Australia. Port Augusta was a seaport near the gulf’s head. Charles Gooch, and his son Charles Henry Gooch (1834-1917) operated as ‘Charles Gooch & Son’ in King William Street, Adelaide, as wholesale drapers, having arrived in Adelaide in 1855. They dissolved their partnership in1868 (perhaps Dad retired?). His son continued in Port Augusta along with Albertus Lemmus Ricardo Hayward (known as Albert Hayward 1830-1888) as ‘Gooch & Hayward from 1871.
They were shipping and forwarding agents, alcohol merchants and general store keepers. They had their own jetty and were successful enough to build a new, larger store that opened around 1882. In 1883 the tailoring and drapery department of the business was selling ready made clothes, blankets, fancy shirts and hats and were agents for insurance companies. The business employed around 50 people in 1883, making it one of the largest employers of the region.They dissolved the partnership in 1884. Gooch started a new partnership with William and Thomas Scott (Gooch & Scott) which in 1888 merged with Tassie, Scott & Co.The business of ‘Gooch & Hayward’ was in liquidation in 1885.
Gowing Bros, Sydney
John Ellis Gowing, born in Suffolk, opened a drapery business in Sydney in 1863. In 1868 he was joined by his brother Preston, and Gowing Brothers was born. It was a department store specialising in novelties, camping gear and men’s wear and had trademarked lines of clothing. Although an investment arm of the business survives today, the last department store closed in 2006.
Grace Brothers Pty. Ltd., Sydney
Grace Brothers was a department store, founded in 1885 in Sydney by English brothers Albert Edward and Joseph Neal Grace.
Joseph worked for Farmer & Co, then as a travelling saleman with his brother before starting a small shop in 1885. They prospered so that by 1897 they needed to build a 4-story building which was extended a couple of times. The firm became a limited liability company owned by the Grace family in 1917.In 1929 they erected a business house at the corner of York and King Street. Prior to his death in 1938 Albert had planned the suburban expansion of Grace Bros. In 1985 it was bought by Myers.