Ballarat Gas Company

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The Ballarat Gas Company was a private corporation established on 17 July 1858.[1] In 1890 it had a capital of 35,000 pounds. [2] At first the price of gas was two pounds per 1,000 feet. By 1890 it was 7 shillings and 11 pence. [3]

Ballaraat Gas Company Letterhead. Courtesy University of Ballarat Historical Collection [Cat.No.4826].



Samuel Ernest Figgis became the managing engineer of the Ballarat Gas Company and was its general manager from 1913 to 1915.


The Gas Company is a private corporation, and was established in 1858, with a capital of £35,000. It has a freehold of about 3 1/2 acres in the heart of the town, a very large plant, with a gas-making power of 1,500,000 cubic feet per week, and storage for 210,000 cubic feet. The company has spent £65,000 on its works, and has over 50 miles of mains laid about the city. There were 1200 consumers as at the end of 1868, that year's income being £24,689. The first board of directors were Messrs John Hepburn, M. J. Cummins, R. Belford, J. Bigg, R. B. Gibbs, E. A. Wynne, J. Stewart, M.D. The engineers have been Messrs Jones, father and son, and the secretaries Messrs Binsted and Figgis. Exactly 100 days after the turning of the first sod for the erection of the company's works, gas was first turned on at the main for the supply of the town. This opening of the works was performed by Mr J. B. Humffray on Saturday evening, 17th July, 1858, and the newspapers speak of the "brilliant devices" illuminating the gas-works and other parts of the town as soon as the gas was turned on. Wesley Church was the first public building lit by this company. A year or so before the company was formed there was gas made by a Mr Courtis out of gum leaves, or gum leaves and oil or fat mixed. Courtis lit Christ Church, Bath's hotel, and other places - his works being at the rear of Lydiard street buildings on the slope between Albert street and Lydiard street. The Gas Company reported at its first half-yearly meeting that it had purchased "Courtis' pipes and customers" for £300. About the same time that Courtis was illuminating the western borough, gas of a similar kind was made by Mr John Gibbs for the Charlie Napier Theatre in Ballarat East. An equivalent to the conversion of swords into ploughshares and spears into reaping hooks was attained in laying the first gas mains in Ballarat. Some of the cartridges sent up by the Government for use during the Eureka troubles were left in store at the Camp, and were sold by the government auctioneer. They were bought by Mr James Oddie who buried the powder and sold the bullets to A. K. Smith, the contractor for the Gas Company, who used the lead in soldering the joints of the gas mains.[4]</div>

THE DIRECTORS hereby give notice that in pursuance of the power invested in them by the Act of Incorporation, they have made a call of two pounds on each share of the capital stock of the Company, and that the same will become payable at the Company’s office, Sturt street, Ballarat, on the 18th day of May, 1858.
By order of the Board.
G. E. BINSTED, Secretary.
Ballarat, April 27th, 1868.[5]
To Lime Burners and Others.
THE DIRECTORS of the Ballarat Gas Company are prepared to receive tenders for the supply of 60 bags Lime.
Tenders to be sent in on or before Monday next, 3rd May, 1858, addressed to the secretary and endorsed “Tender for Lime.”
G. E. BINSTED, Secretary.[6]
To Carters and Others.
THE DIRECTORS of the Ballarat Gas Company are prepared to receive tenders for the supply of 30 loads of Rubble Stone.
Tenders to be sent in on or before Monday next, 3rd May, 1858, addressed to the secretary and endorsed “Tender for rubble.”
G. E. BINSTED, Secretary.[7]
To Bricklayers and Others.
THE DIRECTORS of the Ballarat Gas Company are prepared to receive tenders for the supply of 60,000 bricks.
Tenders to be sent in on or before Monday next, 3rd May, 1858, addressed to the secretary and endorsed “Tender for bricks.”
G. E. BINSTED, Secretary.[8]
To Masons and Others.
THE DIRECTORS of the Ballarat Gas Company are prepared to receive tenders for the supply of 6 large blue stone blocks.
Tenders to be sent in on or before Monday next, 3rd May, 1858, addressed to the secretary and endorsed “Tender for blue stone blocks.”
G. E. BINSTED, Secretary.[9]
Since the opening of the works of the Ballarat Gas Company, and the commencement of business on Saturday, July 17, 1858, a great change in the business habits of our community in the matter and manner of illumination has taken place. Shortly after the opening of the works a large number of applications were made for connection with the gas mains, but these formed by no means the majority even of those who kept retail establishments which might be supposed to require gas, and the Directors of the Company found small difficulty in making their 40 feet wide gasholder contain sufficient for the diurnal supine remainder of that winter and the ensuing summer all went on well enough till towards the autumn the vast increase in the demand for fresh lights warned the Directors of a danger continually threatening them, viz., that some night the gas would give out before the evening was half spent. Morning after morning found the gas holder scarce showing itself above the water, and as the fact that something must be done was plain enough, it was resolved to increase the works. Like almost every other proceeding of the Gas Company this was done in no stinted measure, and for the past few weeks alterations have been making which will rather more than double the extent of the works previously in operation. A day or two ago we paid a visit to the Company's works accompanied by Mr. Jones, the engineer, who courteously supplied us with the statistics connected with the various contracts. The most striking feature of the works is the new gas-holder 50 feet in diameter and 20 feet deep which is now being erected by Messrs. Croll, of Geelong, at a cost of £2,269 12s 6d, a sum which includes the iron columns, guides, and framework. The brick work, which is already finished, was erected by Mr. R. Smith, the well known builder, of Lydiard street, at a cost of £1,170. A new iron building, equal in size to the old one, has been erected, and inside, ten new retorts nearly double the size of the old ones, are being bricked up. These are the retorts the casting of which at the Phoenix Foundry, by Carter and Co., we described some days since. We can now inform our readers that the castings are remarkably good, and considering the difficulties attending dry sand castings on Ballaarat, reflect great credit on the founders. A duplication of the present plant of condensers and purifiers complete the tale of alterations, the estimated cost of which will be £6000. The advantages of this will be that the manufacturing capacity of the works will be increased to a standard of 80,000 feet of gas per diem, being 48,000 feet more than could be made before.[10]
(To the Editor of the The Star.)
SIR,-Having observed in your impression of yesterday the comments of your Melbourne correspondent upon the value of the Ballarat Gas Company’s stock in the Melbourne market, I beg permission to offer a word or two in reply, lest it should be supposed, by treating with silence the allegations put forth, that the company had allowed judgment to go by default.
Your correspondent having touched upon the salient points in the last half yearly report, (viz., the dividend, the reserve fund, and the general properity of the working), in which he appears to have implicit confidence, enquires how it is that the shares are quoted at par in the Melbourne market, and proceeds to discuss some of “the reasons” that have weighed with the Melbourne capitalists and brokers for withholding their confidence in this stock. These he sums up under the following heads, viz.:-
1. That the plant is of an inferior kind.
2. That much of it “being old,” requires speedy renewal.
3. That in consequence of the foregoing, the reserve fund is disproportionately small, when weighed against impending demands for the renewal and maintenance of plant; and
4. That the whole plant and works are considered of less value than the capital paid up.
It is patent to every resident of Ballarat who takes any interest in its public works, that the erections and plant of this company may challenge comparison with those of any similar institution in the Australian colonies; and if the Melbourne capitalists and brokers would take the trouble of reading the engineer’s reports, published periodically during the erection of the works (in which the quality and cost of the apparatus, &c., have been fully described), the fallacies that have obtained could never have been entertained.
I shall adopt the shortest mode of answering these four fanciful objections, by stating that they are not only unfounded, but are met by a state of facts in an exactly opposite direction.
The plant is of the best quality and structure, and is in a state of perfect repair.
It is all new, and the prospect of any outlay for maintenance, retorts (always) excepted, is very remote. Consequently the reserve fund is in no jeopardy, and the whole concern estimated as an asset is fairly represented by the paid-up capital.
In the report of A. K. Smith, Esq., C.E., for the half year ending 31st July, 1858, that gentleman observes-“Many gas companies have not only kept their dividends low by the exercise of a spurious economy in their primary constructions, but have had to remodel their works at a heavy subsequent loss.” * * * “It is satisfactory to me that you considered it advisable to adopt my suggestions, and that they have resulted in increasing not only the value of the property entrusted to your management, but also the field of your operations.” And again-“The works have been erected under the immediate superintendence of Mr Thomas Jones, your acting engineer, in a manner alike satisfactory to me and creditable to him.”
It will be seen by the foregoing testimony that the very error into which it is now said the company have fallen, is that which the Consulting Engineer congratulates the directors upon having avoided; but should such testimony to the worth and durability of the company’s plant and apparatus prove impotent in dissipating the distrust which is said to operate on the minds of those at a distance, I fear that nothing short of actual inspection will eradicate the delusion.
The Resident Engineer is at all times happy to receive visitors interested in such manufactories, and I am sure he would value the opportunity of vindicating the honor of Ballarat from the aspersions cast upon its Gas Works.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Henry Salmon,
Chairman, Ballarat Gas Company.
Gas Office,
Ballarat, 6th Sept, 1860.[11]
[His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark]
In Sturt street, the Gas Company's Office, as became it, was worthily prepared. Lines of punctured pipes were placed around and across the windows, and numerous devices elsewhere.[12]
The Ballarat Gas Company lately held its half-yearly meeting. The directors’ report showed that the profit for the half year amounted to £2763 1s 5d, which, with £2891 18s 11d, the balance brought forward from the last statement, made the available balance £5654 0s 4d; out of this sum the directors recommend the declaration of a dividend at the rate of 12 per cent, per annum, and that the sum of £250 be placed at the credit of preliminary expenses, which would leave an unappropriated balance of £3603 5s 10d remaining to the credit of the profit and loss. The chairman said the officers of the company had given the greatest satisfaction to the directors. The company had raised £10,000 pm debentures, and with very little expense to the company, owing to the manner in which the officers of the company had managed the affair. He had to announce that a dividend of 12 per cent. per annum was payable to the shareholders at the company’s offices.[13]
The Ballarat Gas Company intends shortly to make some very extensive alterations in its works, with the view of meeting the gradually increasing demand for gas. The engineer, Mr T. E. Jones, left for England some time ago, for the purpose of purchasing the plant required. He has lately returned, and the necessary materials are now on their way to the colony, and may soon be expected to arrive, when operations will be at once commenced. A new gasholder has been purchased, 80 feet by 25 feet, thirty more retorts, and a number of condensers, tramways, turntables, and all the other appliances used at the present day in the mother country for cheapening the manufacture of gas. The whole of the apparatus has been purchased from Messrs Balfour and Co., manufacturing engineers, Leven, Fifeshire, and Mr Jones saw it all erected so that no difficulty might afterwards arise in refitting it. When the additions to the works shall have been completed the company will be enabled to supply about a million cubic feet of gas weekly, which it is considered will be more than sufficient to meet the requirements of Ballarat for some time to come.[14]

Should a colliery strike at Newcastle take place several of the principal factories here will have to stop work for want of fuel. At several of the fold mines coal is largely used, and without it the Phoenix Foundry must suspend operations. The Ballarat Gas Company has only a three weeks’ supply in stock.[15]

The Ballarat Gas Company participated in Factory Day, 1917, an initiative of the Forward Ballarat Movement.

Ballarat Gasometers, 1967. [Photography: Geoff Biddington] Courtesy University of Ballarat Historical Collection [Cat.No.9150.4].


The company offices were located on Grenville Street, Ballarat in 1887.[16]

The former Ballarat Gasworks Manager's Residence in Albert Street was registered by the National Trust. It has been demolished.

2 Grenville Street South, Ballarat Central - now occupied by the Pancake Parlour.


Community Involvement

Works Produced

Mr Bowman, engineer of the Ballarat Gas Works, has just completed a working model of a working water-pressure engine, which, to outward appearance, seems nothing more than a series of plunger pumps, but three of these are converted into an engine, by means of a novel appliance in the shape of a large air vessel, which has the effect of a cushion in softening the momentum of the water at the end of each stroke. The engine is of the simplest construction, and intended as an illustration of what a multiplicity of industrial purposes may be served by such a contrivance in places where water is abundant and fuel expensive. There are simply three plungers, three connecting rods, and a crank – no eccentrics or other gear, and it can be applied to every mining purpose except winding. The engine, which is at present working a wooden model of a quartz battery, is named the “Gong Gong,” suggestive enough of the inventor’s anticipation of the extensive use of his engine in this district wherever the local water supply can be laid on, or is found to have the requisite power.[17]

Workplace Relations

The People

Provisional Committee (as named on published Prospectus): Humffray, M.P,; Peter Lalor, M.P.; Sherard, J.P.; Daly, J.P.; R. B. Gibbs; W. C. Smith, M.M.C.; J. Oddie, J.P.; S. Irwin, J.P.; W. B. Rodier, M.M.C.; D. Oliver; E. A. Wynne; S. S. Larazus; H. Harris; Jas. Stewart, M.M.C.; W. Tulloch, M.M.C.; W. B. Robinson, M.M.C.; J. A Huxtable; J. Jones (of Hemmingway & Jones); S. Wilson; T. P. Mitchison; M. J. Cummins, M.M.C.; R. Belford, M.M.C.; D. O'Connor; Dr Clendinning, M.M.C.; Dr Hobson; Andrew Davies; W. McCrea, M.M.C.; Henry Farley; Dr Richardson; Andrew Anderson; Thomas Wymond (of Wymond, Vasey & Co.).[18]

Richard Belford, member of provisional committee (<17/06/1857>)

G. E. Binsted, secretary (<1858>)

Ernest Robert Bodycomb (1869-1954), clerical staff retired 1940 after 53 years of service[19]

Horace S. Bolitho

Bowman, engineer (<1864>)

M. J. Cummins, board member (1858>)

Charles Dyte, director[20]

Franz Folker, stoker

Samuel Ernest Figgis, managing engineer then general manager (1913-1915)[21]

W. H. Figgis, secretary (<1887>) [22]

J. Gibb, board member (1858>)

R. B. Gibbs, board member (1858>)

William Hart, engineer

Jones, engineer (<1859>)

W. H. Perkins

J. Hepburn, member (1858>)

Charles A. Mann

Edward Shuttleworth

Adam Smith (c1825-1888)

James Smith (c1831-1877)

Dr James Stewart, board member (1858>)


See also

Recommended Reading


  1. Guide to Ballarat. Ballarat: F.W. Niven & Co, 1890, page 38.
  2. Guide to Ballarat. Ballarat: F.W. Niven & Co, 1890, page 38.
  3. Guide to Ballarat. Ballarat: F.W. Niven & Co, 1890, page 38.
  4. William Bramwell Withers, History of Ballarat and Some Ballarat Reminiscences. Ballarat: Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999, pages 172-173.
  5. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Wednesday 28 April 1858, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  6. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Wednesday 28 April 1858, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  7. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Wednesday 28 April 1858, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  8. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Wednesday 28 April 1858, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  9. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Wednesday 28 April 1858, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  10. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Friday 20 May 1859, page 2. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  11. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Friday 7 September 1860, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  12. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Saturday 23 May 1863, page 4. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  13. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Thursday 24 September 1863, page 1. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  14. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Monday 24 October 1864, pages 1—2.
  15. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), Thursday 23 August 1888, page 8. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  16. Rogers, J. W. F. (ed.). (c. 1887). The Australasian Federal Directory of Commerce, Trades & Professions. Melbourne: J. W. F. Rogers.
  17. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Friday 24 June 1864, page 1. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  18. The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 - 1864), Wednesday 17 June 1857, page 4.
  19. The Age, 5 August 1940, page 5.
  20. Corfield, Wickham and Gervasoni, The Eureka Encyclopedia, Ballarat, 2004, p169.
  22. Rogers, J. W. F. (ed.). (c. 1887). The Australasian Federal Directory of Commerce, Trades & Professions. Melbourne: J. W. F. Rogers.

Further Reading

External Links

--Beth Kicinski 10:02, 3 January 2013 (EST)

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