State Library and Tasmanian Archives Blog

The Race to a Thousand Pounds: Unravelling Tasmania’s Woollen Industry (Part Three: Success or Misfortune?)

A photograph of a farmer and his flock
Tasmanian Archives: A farmer and his flock. NS392-1-131

This blog is one in a series published by the State Library and Archive team that explores in greater depth some of the fascinating stories that we uncovered while researching our current exhibition, Duck Trousers, Straw Bonnets, and Bluey: Stories of fabrics and clothing in Tasmania. These blogs are designed to complement the exhibition, expanding information presented on the story walls to provide more context and other perspectives.  This blog is the last of three blogs that extends the research presented on the “Tale of two Woollen Mills” story wall.

By the end of 1874 the race to £1000 had reached its peak, with each Woollen Company seeing success at auction. Despite their vastly differing interpretations of the act, both the Waverley Woollen Mills and the Hobart Town Woollen Company submitted their intention to claim the bonus, believing that they were entitled to the incentive offered by the government.

Whilst Waverley had produced every item on the Governor’s list amounting to over £1000 in value, the Hobart Woollen Company had produced twice the amount in blankets and flannels alone. Before the Hobart Woollen Mill had even made it to auction, Overell publicly stated his displeasure at the reframing of the Act on the 13th of July 1874. Overell stated that it was unreasonable and that he intended on submitting the act to the Bradford Chamber of Commerce (the UK governing body) to deliberate on the definition of ‘Worsted Stuff”. He wrote:  

A newspaper snippet: Bonus for Woollen Manufactures’ The Mercury, 18th July 1874. It reads:I should be sorry to think the Governor-in-Council intentionally issued those regulations for the purpose of preventing this company from receiving the bonus, but to say the least of it, the Governor-in-Council has acted most illiberally, with the full knowledge before him that the Hobart Town Wolen Company had nearly completed the quantity of goods required by one interpretation of the Act, and the only sensible way it can be read, unless you make an absurdity of it, that is, that woollen goods must include worsted stuffs. You might as well say malt liquors included ale, beer, wine, and brandy ; the latter is exactly parallel with the wording of the Act of Council, 33 Vict., No 30, 4th section which is simply ridiculous, and am sorry to say the Governor-in-Council persists in this reading, not withstanding he has been referred to numerous authorities upon the subject, quoted in my letter of 3rd of July.
‘Bonus for Woollen Manufactures’ The Mercury, 18th July 1874, p.2

With emotions high and tension fraught, the final decision was left to the government. To remain impartial, the Government set up a ‘Commission of Enquiry” to investigate each respective company and report on their findings.  This commission presented their findings in January of 1875 and awarded the £1000 bonus to Bulman & Johnstone’s Waverley Woollen Mills.

After the excitement of the Race to £1000 died down, things started to settle for both companies.

Peter Bulman continued to grow business with the Waverley Woollen Mills, eventually forming a new partnership with his brother-in-law Robert Hogarth.

A photograph of Mr Robert Hogarth with his family. c1898-1900.
Mr Robert Hogarth with his family. c1898-1900. Tasmanian Archives, Launceston Manuscript Collection: Photograph – Hogarth family home “Roxburgh”, Mr Robert Hogarth and family, wife Janet Urquhart (Melbourne) Children : Agnes, Helen, John, Robert and Thomas – Half plate (1898-1900), LPIC32/1/9.

The Johnstons brothers would part ways with Waverley Mills and journey south where they would settle and continue to grow their business. At their new factories located on Gore Street and Molle Street, the Johnstons brothers were among the first to produce the renowned ‘Tasmanian Bluey’, a waterproof jacket.

A newspaper snippet showing a picture of a man wearing a waterproof coat. the text reads: The genuine waterproof bluey. Miners' bluey (guaranteed waterproof). Beware of imitations. Manufactured by Johnstone Brod. PTY., LTD., Derwent Wollen Mills, Hobart.
‘The Genuine Waterproof Bluey’, The Bulletin, July 6th 1932, p. 26.
A painting of the Gore Street Mill - One location of the Johnston Brothers Woollen Factories.
Gore Street Mill –  One location of the Johnston Brothers Woollen Factories. Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania: Gore Street Mill, Hobart / C.L. Allport. Painting, 1923.

However, whilst those in the north flourished, misfortune continued to cloud the south.

On the evening of the 7th of May 1878, tragedy struck the Hobart Town Woollen Mill. David Gledhill and his family were settling down for the evening when his daughter Emma saw a bright light through the blinds of her bedroom window. The mill was on fire.

David Gledhill took to action as he called upon his neighbours and tried to stop the fire from spreading. Unfortunately, despite their valiant attempt, the damage had been done and the mill could not be saved. The Tribune newspaper reported:

“Perhaps the most extensive fire that has occurred in this city for many years broke out last evening around 10 o’clock and raged for several hours.  The scene of the conflagration was the Hobart Town Woollen Mills, situated in the gully near the Cascades, and never were buildings more completely destroyed, than those which constituted the factory.”

‘Extensive Fire’. The Tribune, 8th May 1877, p. 2.

All that remained amongst the ashes was the chimney stack, the large water wheel and the fire damaged remains of the mill. An inquest was called near two weeks later, where suspicion was cast upon Gledhill and some of the young millworkers. It was found that while Gledhill held £2000 worth of shares in the company and currently resided on the mill site, he was no longer an employee. Some suspected that Gledhill held hostility towards Overell, however this was quickly addressed:

“He did not bear any animosity towards Mr Overell, but they were not on good terms, and were at issue on matters of business.”

‘Coroner’s Inquest’ The Mercury, 19th May 1877. p. 3

Several witnesses were called to the stand and after much deliberation a verdict was made. It was decided that despite the lack of evidence, they believed that the cause of the fire was accidental.

We may never know how the Hobart Town Woollen Mill took to flames, nor why Overell and Gledhill were at odds. Their story is but one of many tales found within our archives, brought to life through the records of the Tasmanian Names Index and the Historic Newspaper collection – perhaps you might like to find out more about the pioneers of the woollen industry or even dive into research of your own Tasmanian history.


Tasmanian Archives

Newspaper Articles

  • ‘The Hobart Town Woollen Manufactory’. The Mercury, 16th July 1874, p.2.
  • ‘Bonus for Woollen Manufactures’ The Mercury, 18th July 1874, p.2
  • ‘Coroner’s Inquest’ The Mercury, 19th May 1877, p.3.
  • ‘For sale’. The Mercury, 3rd Nov 1877, p.1.
  • ‘The Waverley Woollen Mills’. The Mercury, 5th Aug 1874. p.3.
  • ‘Business Notice. Dissolution of Partnership’. Launceston Examiner, 30th Jan 1883, p.1
  • ‘Extensive Fire’. The Tribune, 8th May 1877, pg. 2.
  • The Genuine Waterproof Bluey, The Bulletin, July 6th 1932, p. 26


  • Amberlei Darlington Beresford is an Archivist and Archives Support Officer with the State Library and Archive Service in Libraries Tasmania.

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