5Department stores often had there origins in drapers, grocers and merchant stores. Some started as early as the 1840s to 1850s.
Anthony 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.
The Palace Emporium, opened in 1905 in Sydney.
A. Phillips, Minyip:
Nor quite a department store, but more than just a tailor!
Published in the Minyip Guardian and Sheep Hills Advocate, 7th Novenber 1916.
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 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, Melbourne:
Charles Ball and his nephew William Henry Welch started a store on the gold fields of Vaughn, near Castlemaine, in 1853.
The Herald, 23rd January 1945.
According to a newspaper story, 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.
The Australasian 2nd September 1899.
The Frankston store, circa 1950s
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.
Brownell’s were the first department store in Hobart, opening their “London House” store in 1836. They also had a successful mail-order business.
The Mercury, 12th September 1936
Buckley and Nunn, Melbourne:
Mars Buckley c1825-1905.
In 1851 a draper 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 Davis Jones.
The western building (next to Myers) was built in 1911-12.
The eastern building was built in 1933-34 as a dedicated menswear store. Buttons from this store are below.
From the Argus, 22nd April 1937.
David Jones, Sydney:
Rundle Street Mall store, 1920
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.
NSW Military Forces uniform button circa 1876-1901.
Farmer & Company, Sydney:
Sir William Farmer (1814-1908) set up a draper shop in Sydney in 1840 which went on to become a significant retail company. It was the first company to close at 1pm on Saturday for employees to have a half day holiday. They acquired the first commercial radio broadcasting license in Australia in 1923 and broadcast as 2FC (Farmer & Co). Farmer’s lasted until 1960.
Carded buttons for Farmer’s, circa 1966.
Similar card without the Farmer’s branding. In Helen’s collection.
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 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.
“Designed in Melbourne for Foy and Gibson Pty. Ltd.” 7th October 1930 The Argus (Melbourne).
Foy and Gibson. New building in 1936.
The factories and warehouses in Collingwood supplied the company’s department stores.
Gowing Bros, Sydney:
John Ellis Gowing was born in 1835 in Suffolk. He emmigrated to Sydney in 1857 and died in 1908.
John Ellis Gowing 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.
“Gowings perfect gentleman”. The company boasted of pioneering affordable ready made suits made from Australian wool.
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.”
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.
Illustration in the Advertiser, 12th July 1933.
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:
Simcha (Sidney) Myer 1878-1934
This button has the more affectionate “Myer’s”.
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.
The Herald, 11th March 1931.
Published in the News (Adelaide) 29th Sep 1953
Sidney died in 1934, then in February of 1938 Elcon Boevski Myer( an elder brother of Sidney) died. He had preceeded 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!
The photos in this post all come from an article published in the Punch newspaper, 27th August 1907, describing the history of the firm.
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:
A selection of fashions available from Robertson and Moffat through the years: all but the first were published in ‘Punch’, a Melbourne newspaper.
Australasian, 24th November 1894
As sketched at Robertson and Moffat; 1907
Elegant race model; 1907
A charming opera Coat; 1913
Smart styles; 1915
Solomons Pty Ltd., Geelong:
Solomon button: rather worn and hard to read, sorry.
In 1944 Solomon’s department store printed a pictorial history of the Geelong area as a fund raiser. It included its own story:
Snow’s : Melbourne
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.
Hand coloured postcard of Ballarat circa 1910. The John Snow Company building can be seen to the right of the Town Hall with it’s clock tower.
Table Talk (Melbourne), 10th January 1929.
The Argus (Melbourne), 24th August 1931.
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.