Ballarat Woollen Mill

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Sunnyside from Hill Street. [Photograph: L.J. Gervasoni].
Ballarat Woollen Mills, c 1914. Courtesy Federation University Historical Collection [Cat. No. 1284].

Contents

History

Following an economic downturn in mining in 1870-1, John Anderson and company secretary James Main looked to other employment opportunities for young people. Charles Seal, the Chairman of the new company, also held the same view. Advice was sought from the Victoria Company in Geelong, that had established a mill in 1865. A company to operate the Ballarat mill was formed in 1871. In June 1872 a site had been determined and the Ballarat Woollen Company arranged to compensate all parties who had legal claims to any of the land selected as the site for the now factory at Sunny Corner.

According to Niven's 1875 Ballarat Directory: The Ballarat Woollen Company's Factory is distant a little over a mile from the Post Office, and situate on the Eastern side of Yarrowee Creek, off Humffray-street; a bridge (for foot-passengers only) will be found opposite the works, by which access can be had to Skipton-street and the City. The Factory - which is built on between three and four acres of purchased land, and fenced in - is a substantial and extensive building, with brick walls, stone floors, and slate roofing, and contains main factory, offices, store room, lavatory, woolley room, finishing room, milling room, engine and boiler house - the machinery consisting of four scribblers, five carders, four pair miles, twenty-nine power looms, and six hand looms, twisting machine, burring machine, woolleys, finishing machinery, scouring and milling machines, &c, &c; also two multitubular boilers and a vertical one hundred horse-power engine capable of driving three times the present machinery. Detached from the foregoing will be found a building part wood, part brick, containing dye-house, wool-washing machinery, store tooms, &c. The number of hands employed is about one hundred and fifty. The manufactures consist of flannels, tweeds, and shawls; blankets will probably be added to same shortely. These are stored at the Company's warehouse in Lydiard Street, close to the Western Railway Station, a large stone building, containing, also, wool store and offices. Visitors from the country should apply here for orders and admission to the factory.

‘The Ballarat Company is an incorporated venture, and was started in October, 1871, work commencing in June, 1873, with one set of machines. Improvements were made from time to time, until the whole of the capital (£40,000) had been called up, and by the end of 1886 the company had 40 looms at work and 130 hands employed. Flannels and blankets were first made, and then fine cloths and tweeds. The greater part of the clothing for the Victorian militia has been made by the company, and now the company has built larger rooms and obtained additional plant with which to manufacture worsted and compete for the £5000 bonus offered by the Government for the first production of that class of goods. Up to the end of 1886 the company had paid three dividends of 7 ½ per cent. on the capital, the net profit for the half-year ending 31st December, 1886, being set down at £1194 2s. 11d.’[1]

The company was restructured as the Ballarat Woollen and Worsted Co. Pty. Ltd in 1889. By 1895 the Ballarat Woollen and Worsted Mill was described as the most perfect of its kind in the southern hemisphere. It was the same year in which the Governor and Lady Brassey visited while in Ballarat attending the Industrial Exhibition. Lord Brassey expressed himself delighted and deeply interested with all that he had seen, and, in order to show his appreciation in a practical way made several purchases.

The Ballarat Woollen Mill participated in Factory Day, 1917, an initiative of the Forward Ballarat Movement.

The Ballarat mill was forced to close in 1981 after the Whitlam Government dismantled tariff protection in the 1970s. This was a great loss for the predominately female workforce. Subsequently the striking buildings have been used for a number of purposes, including an indoor sports facility and an antiques auction room. Currently it is being used by Rivers (Australia).

An extensive display of items manufactures at the Sunnyside Woollen Mill, Ballarat was on show at the Franco-British Exhibition in 1908.

Site

Architect Henry R. Caselli was engaged to inspect the site and to furnish the directors with estimates for the necessary buildings. The building featured of a long facade of 18 arches supported on piers with windows or openings on two levels between the piers.

The foundation stone of the mill was laid at the Ballarat Woollen Mill (also known as Sunnyside Woollen Mill) on 29 July 1872. The design included polychrome brickwork in the Romanesque style, and the building was located beside the Yarrowee River in Humffray Street South, Mount Pleasant. In 1872 a robbery of coins from the newly laid foundation stone occurred. The Argus of 29 August 1872 reported: 'Yesterday afternoon, the chairman of the Ballarat Woollen Company, Mr. C. Seal, accompanied by Mr. W. Scott as deputy of the Provincial Grand Master, J.C. Mr. J T. Smith, and Mr. Caselli, the architect, and Mr. Webb, the manager, proceeded to the building now in course of erection for the woollen company's factory, and relaid the foundation stone of same, having first substituted fresh documents, &c, for those which the thieves who removed the coins had destroyed. Mr. Scott was warmly thanked for the trouble he had taken in the matter'.

The 1872, 1874 and 1886 buildings are included on the National Trust Register (http://www.nattrust.com.au/trust_register/search_the_register/ballarat_woollen_worsted_mill_former). The building is considered as the best surviving example of 19th century woollen mill architecture in Victoria.

Innovations

In 1887 the mill received a government grant of 4000 pounds as acknowledgment for having established the first worsted cloth industry in Victoria. At that time they were manufacturing flannels, shirtings and blankets. In that year the manager was David Melvin, the secretary was J.T. Williams, the chairman was Alexander Bell (c1851-1931) and the Directors were Robert Bell and J. C. Smith.

Community Involvement

The mill was an important industrial site in Ballarat. In 1904 the engineering students of the Ballarat School of Mines reported a visit to the Mill in the Ballarat School of Mines Students' magazine: The Sunnyside Woollen Mills, one of the largest of its kind in Australia, situated on the south side of Ballarat, was visited by a party of engineering students on Saturday Morning, July 23rd, under the leadership of Mr Hawken. The main purpose of this visit was to enable the students to have some practice in taking indicator diagrams from a high power engine. The engine, which drives the whole of the machinery in the mills, was erected some 5 or 6 years back by the Austral Otis Company, Melbourne. It is compound, condensing, the cylinders being 17 and 36 inches in diameter. An indicator diagram is useful as it served as a guide from arranging the valves in their proper position; it shows the behaviour of steam in the cylinder throughout one stroke, and the mean effective pressure throughout the stroke may be obtained from it. The mean effective pressure may be obtained from a diagram, briefly, as follows:- The area of the diagram is found by means of an instrument called a planimeter, and if this area is divided by the greatest length of the diagram, which represent the length of the stroke, to a reduced scale, it will give the mean height. Multiplying the height by scale of the spring used, it gives the mean effective pressure. If a planimeter is not handy, the mean height may be obtained by erecting a number of ordinates from the back pressure line, and taking the average.

While some of the students were busy taking diagrams, the attention of the others was directed by Mr Hawkins to the valve arrangement on the engine. The admission and cut off of the steam is regulated by a trip gear, which gives an almost instantaneous cut off. This is noticed at once on the diagram, the point cut off being sharply defined. This is not so in cases where admission and cut off are regulated by the ordinary slide valve. After we had inspected the engine thoroughly, and each student had taken a diagram to his own satisfaction, the party adjourned to the main portion of the mills, and for a while were interested in observing the different processes through which the wool went in its transition from the rough state till it issued in the form of serviceable tweed.

Another trip was taken one afternoon to McKay's Harvester Works, (Sunshine Harvester) and was availed of by a large number of students, who were interested in the methods of forging and moulding, of which a good deal is done in the manufacture of their machines. This firm employees a large number of hands, and deserves the success their enterprise commands. These trips open the eyes of the students as to what is done in manufacturing establishments, and show that Ballarat is still alive in certain parts, as well as at the School of Mines.

Works Produced

Production at the new Sunnyside Mill began on 11 June 1873. The Ballarat Star of 2 July 1873 reported: The manufacture of flannels was commenced at the Woollen Factory on Monday, but of course in making a start with all industries of this kind some allowances must be made for the stiffness of some parts of the delicate machinery used in carrying out the manufacture. Therefore not progress was made on the first day, and it is probable that at least a week will elapse before any active operations will be in full swing. ...' The company began by manufacturing tweeds, shawls and flannels, and by 1875 was employing 150 people.

According to William Bramwell Withers in 'History of Ballarat' (1887) Improvements were made from time to time, until the whole of the capital (40,000 pounds) had been called up and by the end of 1886 the company had 40 looms at work and 130 hands employed. Flannels and blankets were first made, and then fine cloths and tweeds. The greater part of the clothing for the Victorian militia had been made by the company, and now the company has built larger rooms and obtained additional plant with which to manufacture worster and compete for the 5,000 pounds offered for the first production of that class of goods. Up to the end of 1886 the company had paid three dividends of 7 1/2 percent on the capital, the net profit for the half-year ending 31st December, 1886, being set down at 1194 pounds, two shillings and 11 pence.

Two thirds of production in 1915 was devoted to work for the military. During that year good progress was reported on the additions being made to the building at Sunnyside Woollen Mills. Machinery had been ordered from from England.

Workplace Relations

The School of Mines Science Club yesterday afternoon visited the Sunnyside Woollen Mills and were shown over by Mr Bremer, who explained the procedure adopted in the process of manufacture. this was found exceedingly interesting by the visitors, who were also examined the splendid up-to-date machinery.[2]

The People

In 1887 David Melvin was the manager of the Ballarat Company (Sunnyside Mill), J. T. Williams the secretary, and Messrs Alexander Bell (c1851-1931) (chairman), Robert Bell, and J. C. Smith directors.[3]

John Anderson

Mr Bremer, 1916

Daniel Brophy (1832-1895)

Henry R. Caselli

C.E. Grainger, Manager, Ballarat Woollen Mills 1882 donated samples of dyed and raw wool and dye material to the Ballarat School of Mines Museum. [4]

Roy Lillingston

James Main

Leslie J. Poole, Killed during World War One

James Russell, Director

Charles Seal

J. C. Smith.

J.T. Williams, secretary (1871-1887)

Jean Young

Legacies

Elm trees forming an Avenue of Honour in Hill Street. [Photograph: C.K. Gervasoni].

Ballarat Woollen Mills Avenue of Honour

In 1920 the mill was employing 400 people. During both world wars it provided important services to the defence effort, supplying flannel to the army.

Recommended Reading

Jennifer Barnes, 'The Ballarat Woollen and Worsted Company', Historical Research Project 1997, University of Ballarat.

Weston Bate, Lucky City, Melbourne University Press, 1989.

The Argus, 19 April 1915, 28 August 1918


Also See

Ballarat Science and Field Naturalists Club

Ballarat Woollen Mills Avenue of Honour

References

  1. William Bramwell Withers. The History of Ballarat from the First Pastoral Settlement to the Present Time. Ballarat: F. W. Niven and Co., 1887, page 294. [University of Ballarat, Mt Helen Library]
  2. Newspaper Clipping the the Minute Book of the Ballarat Science and Field Naturalists Club, 1915-18.
  3. William Bramwell Withers. The History of Ballarat from the First Pastoral Settlement to the Present Time. Ballarat: F. W. Niven and Co., 1887, page 294. [University of Ballarat, Mt Helen Library]
  4. Donation 549 made on 24 March 1882 IN The School of Mines Ballarat Donation Book in the University of Ballarat Historical Collection (Cat. NO. 458)

External Links

http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/#detail_places;67437 and http://www.nattrust.com.au/trust_register/search_the_register/ballarat_woollen_worsted_mill_former and http://www.cyberfibres.rmit.edu.au/biogs/TRC0655b.htm


--C.K.Gervasoni 14:50, 4 August 2011 (EST)

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