The Early Years: 1788 onwards. Convicts and Colonists

At first the penal colony struggled to become established.   All food and supplies had to be brought from England by ship along with the convicts and soldiers.   When convicts arrived,  they were issued with uniforms that were made by convict tailors from imported cloth such as wool and cotton.  Examples found in museum collections show use of bone and metal buttons.  (See http://www.australiandressregister.org )   At first these too must have been imported ,  even though button-makers were listed among the convicts. ( See also http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemDetailPaged.aspx?itemID=404849 ) .   By 1803 button moulds were advertised for sale in the first newspaper.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 17 April 1803

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 17 April 1803

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 4 March 1804

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 4 March 1804

From around 1815 free settlers were encouraged to emigrate and set up farms and businesses, to help establish a free,  consumer economy and to move away from a convict based society.  In The Australian (Sydney) on  21st April, 1829 it was reported that  “Bullocks horns have lately been collected by two or three industrious men,  and cut up and polished into sailors’  or four eyed buttons.  They also make smaller ones of bone.”   In the Adelaide Observer on 15th March 1845 an article proudly described wonderful things being produced in the Colony,  including  “Pressed leather buttons made by an ingenious apparatus which can be attended to by a mere child.” 

Then in 1850 came the gold rush and hundreds of thousands of people flocked here.  Many of these people would eventually settle on the land or move to the cities to live and work.  Manufacturing industries were established.  Two of these  to start in earnest in Australia around this time were the pearl-shell and metal/uniform button industries.  In 1854 a bronze medal was awarded at the Melbourne Exhibition for a “Case of Buttons,  the first manufactured in the Colony.”

The Gloucester Advocate (NSW) 10th March 1950

The Gloucester Advocate (NSW) 10th March 1950

One of these buttons can be viewed with this link: http://archival-classic.sl.nsw.gov.au/album/albumView.aspx?acmsID=404849&itemID=861485

The Australian Agricultural Company was established by an act of British Parliment in 1824 in NSW as a land development company, running sheep, cattle and horses with the use of convict labour.  It was also involved in coal mining at Newcastle from the 1830’s to the 1920s. The company moved away from wool production due to labour shotages at the time of WW2 and today still exists as a  cattle and beef producing company in Queensland and the Northern Territory.