Department stores often had their origins as drapers, grocers or merchant stores. Some started as early as the 1840s to 1850s.
J. Miller Anderson & Co., Adelaide:
This button reaches back to the early days of Adelaide.
James Miller Anderson was a draper and merchant from 1857, when the partnership of ‘Miller, Anderson and Company’ was dissolved, which in turn sprang from ‘Miller, Anderson and Hawkes’ (before the death of Robert Hawkes in 1856.) This in turn sprang from the former ‘Miller and Lucking’ in 1848, and before that ‘Miller and Bryden’s’ in 1843. This was preceeded by ‘Sanders and Miller’ in 1841 which came about from the amalgamation of two drapers, ‘Sanders and Whyte’ (from 1839) and ‘Miller and Gale’ (from 1840), both situated in Hindley Street, Adelaide. Whew!
A new store was built in 1863 which was used for the next century. Around 1927 the Sydney company ‘Marcus Clark & Co’ accquired the business. Waltons bought ‘Marcus Clark’ in 1966 then Venture bought Waltons in 1987. Unfortunately, Miller Anderson went into receivership the following year, after 148 years of trading as the state’s oldest department store.
The Advertiser, 28th December 1936.
John Martin & Co Ltd, Adelaide:
In 1866 Otto Peters and John Martin founded ‘Peters & Martin’ as a single fronted drapery store in Rundle Street. After Peters left in 1871 Martin continued on his own, successfully expanding into adjoining properties. By 1880 the company directors now included john Martin, Edward W. Hayward,of the prominent South Australian pioneering family, Richard Martin and W. Charles. The Hayward family would continue to be involved until it was sold to David Jones in 1985.
The business became a limited liability company in 1889. That year John Martin died, a victim of his own success, according to this newspaper story …
‘John Martin’s’, also known as ‘Johnnies’, developed a national chain store in 1990 (Venture). In the 1990s store were sold to Harris Scarfe, re-badged as David Jones stores, and closed .The last store under the John Martin name to close was the flagship store in the Rundle Mall on 18th March 1998.
John Thomson & Co., Hamilton:
Around 1866 the Thomson family, Scots who moved to Hamilton in 1852, opened an iron store in Gray Street. This was replaced with a stone structure in 1875. The success of the store necessitated several expansions in the following decades. In 1936 the company was listed on the stock exchange. It was the first department store in Western Victoria and supplied ” every requisite for household, farm or station.”
Thomas Hodges Mate, born in Kent in 1810, came to Australia in 1833. Whilst grazing in the district, in 1850 he opened a general store at the corner of Hume and Townsend Streets, Albury, to supply the village (of approximately 100 people) and surrounding district.
Mate was a fair boss, and ahead of the times in granting his staff a half day holiday each week as well as 2 weeks paid holidays each year. He served as a councillor, mayor and member of Parliment. He retired in 1886 and died in Sydney in 1894.
In 1946 the firm was sold to Burns, Philp & Co, and continued to trade under the Mate’s name. Mate’s closed in 1976 when Burn’s Philp sold to Walton’s.
Mutual Store, Melbourne:
The Mutual Store Limited was Melbourne’s first department store, established in 1872. A fire destroyed the original building in 1891, but was successfully rebuilt.
The department store traded until 1965. It was used for the Council of Adult Education for many years, and then converted into apartments.
Myers Emporium, Melbourne:
Russian brothers, Sidney and Elcon Myer, started their department store empire with a single store in Bendigo in 1900, expanding to Melbourne in 1911. In 1928 they opened an Adelaide store.
Sidney died in 1934, then in February of 1938 Elcon Boevski Myer( an elder brother of Sidney) died. He had preceded Sidney to Australia, and been involved with the business from its very start in Bendigo. A nephew, Norman Myer, would take over as the new head of the business. In September that year they held an exhibition of marble statues within the store.
Robertson and Moffat, Great Bourke Street east, Melbourne:
What we now know as Bourke St was originally known as Great Bourke Street from the 1840s until around 1900, and the section of Little Bourke street between Queen and Elizabeth Streets was known as Post Office Place (this was never official, but was widely used from 1866.) William Robertson and William Turner Moffat came to Melbourne during the gold rush to start a drapery store in Great Bourke Street, to take advantage of those who found gold and wished to spend up big!
They were successful, and the store expanded. They promoted themselves as “The House of Quality”, and as “Drapers, Tailors, Boot and Shoe Importers, Furniture, Furnishings and Carpet Warehousemen.” They set up factories to manufacture quality furniture themselves and had a notable art department. William Robertson, whose health had always been poor, died after only five years in the colony, so for many years Moffat continued alone. In 1922 that great business dynamo, Sidney Myer, successfully negotiated the takeover by Myers Emporium of Robertson and Moffat, which were located next to each other.
Below: the store from Post Office Place, and then from Bourke Street:
As early as 1892 John Snow and Co. “the increasingly popular and premium drapery emporium of inland Victoria” were operating in Ballarat. They grew into a department store.
Around 1915 they opened in Flinders Street opposite the station. In 1926 they purchased the business of Lincoln, Stuart Pty Ltd. The men’s wear department was sold to be run as a separate business, “Snow’s Men’s Wear Ltd.” in 1937 with the parent company continuing in Hawthorn. They moved from their premises to next door in Flinders Street, with Tatersalls moving in, and later on Yooralla. This Art Deco building, although much renovated, still stands today but it’s days may be numbered as developers wish to demolish and rebuild.
Solomons Pty Ltd., Geelong:
In 1944 Solomon’s department store printed a pictorial history of the Geelong area as a fund raiser. It included its own story:
Wills & Co, Adelaide:
G. & R Wills & Co were a major softgoods wholesaler in South Australia started by brothers George (1824-1906) and Richard Wills ( 1829-1862). Richard arrived in Adelaide in 1849 with some drapery, and set up a store. They moved to Rundle Street in 1853. George returned to England in 1859 to manage the purchasing for the company, leaving the Australian end of the business under the care of other partners. Unfortunately, Richard died in 1862 of typhoid. His son Kenneth would join the firm after discharge from the army in 1919. He would restructure the company, leading it through the Great depression years.
By 1922 the company had branches in Melbourne, Perth, Fremantle, Kalgoorie, Broken Hill as well as agencies in Brisbane and Sydney. In 1946 the firm was listed publicly and are still trading as wholesalers.
(Photos from the State Library of South Australia’s collection.)