Balmain businesses 1902

365 Darling Road, Balmain - W J Laws

From The Australian Town and Country Journal of 10 December 1902 comes this item in a special edition of businesses in Balmain, a suburb of Sydney.

My suspicion is that it was a promotional feature which may have involved payment for the placement of what were, in reality, advertisements.

Disclosure:  W J Laws was my great-grandfather who went on to become the Mayor of Balmain in 1907-1908.


The most imposing block of buildings in Balmain, without doubt, is that which comprises the Town Hall and Post Office, situated, as it is, in the centre of the suburb’s main thoroughfare, and upon an eminence which renders it visible from almost any part of the city, and even of the more distant suburbs. Right opposite the Town Hall, and within a yard or two of the tram stopping place, are the premises of Mr. W. J. Laws, auctioneer, valuer, and property agent.

In such a thriving district there is a lot of business requiring the attention of an expert real estate agent, while a lot of property owners have interests which they must of necessity employ someone else to look after. Of this business and these interests a very large proportion are in the hands of Mr. Laws, who has a local standing of very nearly 18 years, during which period he has not only gained a most intimate knowledge of local properties, but has established a reputation for business aptitude and integrity. Some three years ago Mr. Laws took over the business of Messr. J. Garrard and Company.

Since he first started in the business of real estate agency Mr. Laws has probably had the bulk of the property in Balmain in hand, and his acquaintance with local values is, therefore, of such a character that his advice may be regarded as practically infallible. The fact that he has lived in Balmain, too, since he was but a few weeks old is an advantage in a business requiring judgment as to the relative prospect of advancement as between different localities. He is at the present time a member of the borough council, and he has had, too, a wide experience in local municipal valuation. The list of properties passing through Mr. Laws’ hands is such that it is safe to say that anybody, no matter what class of house was required, could be accommodated almost immediately. Once in each month, or at any time, by arrangement, Mr. Laws holds land and property sales at auction. As an adjunct to his business he conducts the local agency of the United Insurance Company.

writing machines

I have had the pleasure of meeting some colourful and portable not-so-old typewriters and their owners recently.  It had me wondering about the history of these objects that replaced the pen, and became a writer’s stepping stone to computers and portable laptops.

The following item, published by Pearsons Weekly, and reprinted by the Evelyn Observer, and South East Bourke Record on 8 December 1893, outlines the history of the machine, twenty years after its appearance, in the first flush of its commercial existence.


The invention of the typewriter, like that of every other epoch-making machine, was not a matter of a few years. The production of a practical writing machine was the result of more than a century and a half of scientific experiments, culminating in the construction of a successful instrument some twenty years ago. The first attempt in this direction of which we have any record was made by an Englishman, Henry Mills, in 1714. His specification was lodged in the Patent Office in that year, but as it was unaccompanied by drawings,we have little or no knowledge of its mechanical details.

In 1784 a French machine for embossing letters upon paper for the use of the blind was invented. Between that date and 1843 there is no record of any attempt to make a typewriter. In the later year a patent was taken out by Charles Thurber, an American, who constructed a practical, though extremely cumbrous writing machine, the types of which were arranged round the under surface of a horizontal wheel, which wheel the operator [would move] until the required typo was over the printing point on the paper. He then depressed the corresponding key, and the character was thus printed.

In 1856 a Mr. A. E. Beach (afterwards one of the proprietors of ‘The Scientific  American’) patented an instrument for embossing letters on paper for the use of the blind. The appearance of this machine is noteworthy because its main principle was somewhat similar to that embodied in later writing machines. ”The typo-base was arranged round a circle, and converged to the centre when operated by means of keys. Numerous attempts in the same direction followed, but none were successful until 1867, when a typewriter was constructed by three inventors. The chief of these, Mr. C. Latham Sholes, had had his attention called to an article in The Scientific American, relative to the writing machine invented by a Mr. John Pratt, and exhibited before the Society of Arts in London. In this article it was stated that the inventor of a successful writing machine would not only secure a fortune, but would confer a blessing upon humanity. This article, however, did little more than suggest the construction of such a machine, for the typewriter upon which Sholes set to work, with the co-operation of another inventor, S W Soule, and a capitalist, Carlos Glidden, was constructed on entirely different lines. The writing was done by means of pivoted types set in a circle and capable of being brought separately to the centre of that circle. In September, 1867, the first machine was finished. It was practical, inasmuch as letters were written with it, but was so far from perfect that between 1867 and 1873 Sholes was constantly employed in developing details. Some twenty-five or thirty experimental typewriters were made, each a little better than its predecessors, but all full of defects.

Meanwhile Glidden and Soule had long since retired from the concern ; but Sholes had confidence in the feasibility of the undertaking, and persevered, with the result that in 1873 his machine was considered sufficiently practical to be taken for manufacture on a large scale to Messrs. E. Remington and Sons, of Ilion, N.Y. “That the machine did good work at this stage is evident from the fact that it was regularly used by a large number of professional men, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, &c. But many improvements required to be made before the machine could be generally acceptable, and for the majority of these improvements Sholes is responsible.

In 1882 the commercial success of the  machine really began, when all rights connected with the Remington model were acquired by Messrs [.illegible.] Beemans [.illegible]. At that time only some 1,500 machines were being made by them per annum, whereas at the present time over 800 Remingtons are being made every week, a complete typewriter for every five minutes of the working day. The growth of the industry has been largely due to the fact that commercial firms and public companies, as well as professional men, have come to appreciate the advantages attaching to the use of the typewriter. This may be illustrated in our own country. In some fifty Government departments, and by upwards of thirty British railways the Remington is used, the London and North-Western Company alone having over one hundred and fifty in constant use. Within the next few years there will scarcely be a commercial firm of any repute without its equipment of typewriters.

The first commercial typewriter used a treadle to shift to the next line as this photograph via The Virtual Typewriter Museum of one of the earlier (Sholes and Glidden) models shows.

Sholes & Glidden typewriter - Virtual Typewriter Museum

For those interested in all things typewriter and more, head over here to oz Typewriter whose curator, Robert Messenger, also owns the Australian Typewriter Museum.

My favourite discovered article in this search comes from the South Australian Register of 23 December 1867. This time, it’s from Punch, clipped by the editor of this newspaper during the quiet of the Christmas season.  The author makes some interesting future predictions about other objects to assist ‘thought-hatching’.



It is surprising what discoveries are made in the dead season. Here is one for instance, the account of which has recently been snipped out by the scissors of many a sub-editor :—

“Writing superceded: Mr. Pratt, of Alabama, is the inventor of a type-writing machine lately exhibited to the London Society of Art, which is said to print a man’s thoughts twice as fast as he can write them with the present process. By a sort of piano arrangement the letters are brought in contact with carbonised paper, which is moved by the same manipulation.” 

Every author his own printer! What a happy state of things! No more struggles to write legibly with nibless tavern pens; no more labour in deciphering the hieroglyphs of hasty writers. Literary work will be in future merely play— on the piano. The future Locke may write his essays by a touch upon the keys. 

In this inventive age there really is no saying where discovery will stop. Now that authors are to put their thoughts in print with twice the pace that they can write them, perhaps ere long they will be able to put their works in type without so much as taking the trouble to compose them. A thought-hatching easy chair may very likely be invented, by the help of which an author may sit down at his ease before his thought-printing piano, and play away ad libitum whatever may occur to him. Different cushions may be used for different kinds of composition, some stuffed with serious thoughts, fit for sermons or reviews, and others with light fancies fit for works of fiction, poetry, or fun. By a judicious choice of cushions an author will be able to sit down to his piano, and play a novel in three volumes twice or thrice a week, besides knocking off a leader every morning for a newspaper, and issuing every fortnight a bulky epic poem, or a whole encyclopedia complete within a month.

don’t move – the 19th century transition to reduced exposure photographs

SF Instantaneous Photographic CoOn the hunt for some more shopfront photographs, I came across the so-called San Francisco Instantaneous Photographic Company. This newspaper advertisement on 4 October 1883 appeared in the Warragul Guardian and Buln Buln and Narracan Shire Advocate.  They could have saved on printing ink by shortening the paper’s name, but I digress.

So what was this thing called instantaneous photography, and why were customers and photographers alike excited by it?

The UK’s National Media Museum posted this to their blog in June.

The earliest photographic processes normally required exposures of many seconds, or even minutes, rendering the photography of movement impossible.

However, with the right combination of lighting, subject, lens and plate size, exposures of a fraction of a second, whilst still very difficult to achieve, were possible.

The taking of such photographs became known as ‘instantaneous photography’. Whilst the term was in common usage during the 19th century, there was surprisingly little discussion or agreement as to precisely what it meant.

In practice, it was applied to any photograph which contained an element of movement or which was taken with an exposure of less than one second.

In November 1880, an article in the South Australian Register explained.

Instantaneous Photography

INSTANTANEOUS PHOTOGRAPHY— The system of instantaneous photography has been recently adopted by Messrs. J. R. Dobson & Co., of the Temple of Light, Bundle-street, and the result of the improvement is the production of photographs infinitely superior in clearness, accuracy, and general effect to the likenesses taken under the old style. We were shown some sixty portraits of adults and children, and all of them were remarkable for the minuteness of detail as well as naturalness of expression, rendering them very faithful portraits. For photographing children this instantaneous process must be an invaluable aid, as the fleeting expression of a restless child’s face can be taken in a second ; and for adults it is very much more comfortable to sit for only a moment to have a portrait taken, without the inconvenience of having the head pilloried in an iron rest. In the photographs produced by the instantaneous process the natural expression of the eyes, the texture of the garments, and the softness of the lights and shades were particularly noticeable. The only fault some people could find with the process would be that it might too accurately portray the features, but they could remedy that by calling up their sweetest expression, and assume a virtue if they have it not.

This (out of copyright) photograph from the State Library of Victoria‘s collection was taken in Toongabbie, Victoria c 1890-1891 by the aforesaid photographic company. I’m not sure that the woman was calling up her sweetest expression as she looks quite sad, even without the inconvenience of her head being pilloried in an iron rest.

Toongabbie, Victoria - portrait

Woman, three-quarter length, to right, lace panel down front of dress, inscribed in black ink on verso: Toongabbie

reverse photo - stamp


I just had to add this comment to the body of this post.  Thanks to pellethepoet for an amusing story on the discomfort of posing for long exposure photographs.


Sir William Macarthur tells a humourous story of the ordeal for sitters of the long exposure -

“One day,” he says, “an old lady from the country was sitting before [William] Hetzer’s camera. Mrs. Hetzer, whose name was Teckla [sic - Thekla], helped in the studio and sensitised the plate in the darkroom while her husband posed the sitter. When the old lady was ready for the plate, Hetzer called out to his wife, ‘Teckla! Teckla!’ whereupon the nervous sitter jumped up in terror and exclaimed ‘For heaven’s sake don’t tickle me, sir, I can’t Stand any more!’”

from The Story of the Camera in Australia by Jack Cato (Melbourne : Georgian House, 1955), p. 17.

remembering the pianola

The inspiration for this post came from this pianola I saw in the Charters Towers Zara Clark Museum. I’m guessing the holes punched out in this pianola roll play a ballad of the slow variety given the visible lyrics …. through the long, dark hours. No knee slapping round the piano with this one! I’m sorry to say that my searching hasn’t uncovered the likely song on this roll. Perhaps someone can inform us.


The pianola or player piano was a popular home entertainment unit in the early and middle twentieth century if you could afford it, preferred perhaps if your piano playing skills were limited or non-existent.

From The Adelaide Chronicle of 30 March 1929 is a mouth operated mini-version. A few steps up from the kazoo don’t you think?

Pocket Pianola

Head over here to The Pianola Institute for a comprehensive summary of the history of the pianola. This catalogue was created 3 years after Edwin Scott Votey produced his pianola. Many player pianos had come before, but this one seemed to kick off their popularity.


Cover of the first Aeolian Company Pianola Catalogue – New York, 1898.

This theatre advertising slide is from 1929 and is in the collection of the John Oxley Library at the State Library of Queensland. (out of copyright). Coincidentally, given the Charters Towers connection above, this slide was likely projected in a theatre either in Charters Towers or nearby. Perhaps the player in the museum was bought through W F Greenhoulgh.

Player pianosAnyone old enough to remember a few sing-songs around the pianola, and the boxes of piano rolls stored neatly away in specially designed timber furniture?


For those who are riding the 21st century wave of skin decoration, here’s a nod to tattoos.

The Argus – 6 April 1946

Donald Duck - tattoo cartoon


.The Sunday Times – 19 November 1905

Take your pick – blushed cheeks or a serpent wrapped around your arm.

Flush of youth tattoos - Japanese 1905

Tattoo illustration 1905

The Sun-Herald – 12 September 1954

I’m pretty sure that dragons and butterflies are back, only not just on men’s bodies.

Tattoo topics

bloomers – and I’m not talking spring flowers

When I’m hunting down future posts for this blog, it’s often a previously unknown word that attracts my attention.  I was looking generally for articles on women in so-called unusual occcupations in days gone by. The word that attracted my attention on this occasion was ‘bifurcated’ which means, as I now know, split into two parts.

So emerged this post on Amelia Bloomer, who did not design the famous bifurcated dress, but did wear them and advocate their use.  (Image source – PBS).

Amelia Bloomer image via pbs.orgMrs Bloomer was a temperate woman and a suffragette.  The Evening News (Sydney) of 25 August 1894 takes up the story of how Amelia’s name became attached to this garment that was the forerunner of women’s modern trouser and gym wear, to say nothing of the benefits of eschewing a large hoop dress to enable one to climb on and ride a bicycle.  I particularly like that her married life was apparently ‘unmarred by other than the fleeciest of temporary clouds’.

Amelia Bloomer - Evening News 1894

(article continues)

now 76 years old, carries her years easily, her 54 years of married life having been unmarred by other than the fleeciest of temporary clouds. It was in 1851 that she began to wear the costume which is now known throughout the English-speaking world as the ‘ bloomer.’ She was then living at Seneca Falls, New York State, where she was publishing a temperance paper called The Lily. In addition to being a prohibition advocate, the paper also devoted considerable space to the subject of woman suffrage. A Mrs. Miller, who in 1851 paid a visit to Seneca Falls, appeared in the bifurcated dress, and Mrs. Bloomer published a description of it. She and Elizabeth Cady Stanton adopted the style and advocated its general adoption. Mrs. Bloomer wore the costume on several lecture trips, and in this way it became associated with and finally known by her name. By and bye (sic) Horace Greeley took the subject up, and was followed by other editors, the result being that the bifurcated dress became known all over the country as the ‘ bloomer.’


So, did Mrs Miller invent the bifurcated dress / miller / bloomer, or was it someone else?

A few months after Mrs Bloomer’s death Australian Town and Country Journal printed this article on 18 May 1895.

Amelia Bloomer ATCJ 1The %22divided%22 skirt
Amelia Bloomer - ATCJ 2

an accidental death

On 13 March 1922, this funeral notice for Steven Polkinghorne appeared in the Charters Towers press.

Steven Polkinghorne

A month later, this respected member of the Towers Concert Band was remembered by his fellow players.

Steven Polkinghorne photograph

One of these framed photographs is now housed in the Zara Clark Museum in Charters Towers.  It is accompanied by this story.

bass drummer

“At a picnic at the weir, Steve was boating with friends when a lady’s hat was blown into the water. Steve tried to rescue the hat but when he swam back his friends, as a prank, rowed away. It is believed that Steve tired, or had a cramp, and drowned.”

Both articles are from The Northern Miner via Trove Australia – 13 March 1922 and 13 April 1922 respectively.

the annual lumper’s picnic

Got to love this picture in The Sunday Times (Perth) – 17 March 1929.  The annual union picnic was a big deal in years gone by.  These waterside workers and their families often held their picnic at the zoo.  Wonder if any of the ginger beer went off like the home-made variety brewed in family sheds and laundries often did.

Gallons of ginger beer

now there’s a title page

The title page of this 1834 book via Project Gutenberg must win a prize for the number of words describing its contents.

Directory of Flowers

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The American Flower Garden Directory, by 
Thomas Hibbert and Robert Buist

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

shopfront – A E Fowler: news & cycle agency

Three men and a woman standing under the verandah of A. E. Fowler’s News & Cycle Agency c 1920-1935 from the Reginald Wood collection of glass lantern slides in the State Library of Victoria.

download (3)

This report appeared in The Argus of 16 February 1898 - it may be a hint as to the location of the photograph.  I’m unfamiliar with the landscape of the town of Bright and am hoping someone might recognise the church spire or know some of the history to put us straight.  The catalogue record tags the photograph as Stores retail – Victoria.

Art Union - A E Fowler


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