Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Henry and Mary Marsh establish themselves in Adelaide

After Henry and Mary arrived in Adelaide from Melbourne, they settled in Sturt Street, which was then a residential area. It was not far from 42 South Terrace, where they would end their lives fifty years later.

Business is good
Henry remained with W. H. Burford and Son, whose offer of a job had enticed him to Adelaide, for only three years.

Burford’s soap and candle-making had been founded in Adelaide in 1840 by William Henville Burford (1807–1895), an English butcher who arrived in the new colony in 1838. It was one of Australia's earliest soap makers and expanded in the late 1800s and early 20th century, under son William Burford (1845 – 1925) accompanied by a number of takeovers. 

Much later, it would become the dominant soap manufacturer in South Australia and Western Australia (WA). Later again, W. H. Burford and Son would, in turn, be taken over by J. Kitchen & Sons, Marsh’s original employer.  

In 1890, Henry Marsh started out in the same line of business with two other Burford employees – William Essex and a Mr Schram, under the name of H. Marsh and Co. Their factory was in Winwood Street, Southwark, and Henry moved with his growing family (Henry was born in 1888 and Philippa in 1889) to a house in nearby Phillip Street.

But back in Melbourne, Kitchens had not forgotten him nor his value to their business and during the nineties, he joined Kitchens again, but this time on equal terms as a proprietor. By the end of the century, he was managing director the new business of J H Kitchen & Son and Marsh and Co Ltd. He dictated his own terms, continuing his own partnership business of H Marsh and Co at Winwood Street, though by this 1900 Essex was his only partner.

Henry’s fortunes flourished through the 1890s and into the first years of the twentieth century. The Broken Hill mines appetite for candles seemed insatiable. Chartered sailing ketches took loads of candle across the Gulf of St Vincent around the foot of Yorke Peninsula and to the Spencer Gulf to Port Pirie, where the candles were railed in Broken Hill. On the return trip, the ketches were laden with mallee roots, the only fuel available for the factories. 

Henry opened a branch of J H Kitchen Son Marsh and Co Ltd in WA, travelling to Albany by ship and then to Perth by train, to supply candles for the new Kalgoorlie mines.

The reference to the branch in WA is worth highlighting because it’s easily forgotten given that the focus of his life and business was Adelaide. Marsh’s business covered the same territory as his old and larger employer Buford’s; South Australia and WA. 

The following is the only picture I can find which shows the Marsh name on a business – pity it’s slightly obscured.

The Marsh Candle Factory, Hilton, City of Freemantle.

H. Marsh and Company began operations in Russell Street, Fremantle in 1896. A factory was established in 1898 on the south side of South Street on an allotment surrounded by dense dryandra thicket. ‘Marsh's extract of soap’ was a detergent of the period. Towards the end of 1901, the firm name in WA changed to Kitchen & Sons and Marsh and various types of soap were the produced until the factory closed in 1908.

Operations were resumed after Marsh was bought out of the company a new factory opened in Napier Street, North Fremantle; Kitchen and Sons held a large portion of the WA market with ‘Velvet’ and ‘Witch’ soaps and ‘Electrine’ candles which they were producing in Melbourne when Marsh had worked for them. Kitchen’s also became local agents for MacRobertsons Confectionery and after 1928 operations combined with W.H. Burford and Sons

In addition to the business interests already mentioned, Henry had a flourishing sideline in the Imperial Preserving Company with premises in Winwood Street opposite H Marsh and Co where, as a distiller, he made almost anything out of anything – tomato sauce out of pumpkins, citrus juice out of apples, cordials, vinegar and other consumables out of cheap but ‘excellent quality’ raw materials.

His skill as a chemist is demonstrated by the fact that Velvet Soap, originally marketed by Kitchen’s, and now by Pental, was his basic formula. As an employee, he had no further legal claim on the formula or the name but nonetheless remains his lasting contribution. I remember my mother many years later recommended it to everyone!

South Australian Register, 31 May 1898 Page 5


The family: growth and tragedy
Meanwhile, the family continued to grow, Fred my grandfather was born in 1891, Walter in 1893, Alice in 1894, Frank in 1897 and the last Doreen would be born in November 1899. 

Perhaps Henry was hoping that one of his sons would follow him into the business, but that was not to be.

On Friday 23 June 1899, tragedy struck again when their eldest son Henry William, known as ‘Dick’, died. He was probably named after his father with his middle name the same as their first son William who had died in Melbourne some 12 years before.

My grandfather mentioned to me that his older brother had ‘drowned’ but didn’t give any details. I imagined it was an accident at the beach. In fact, Henry suffered from epilepsy. At about 6:30 am that morning he left the house to walk the short distance to the factory with the intention of joining the factory’s delivery dray for the day. The ground was wet after rain and Henry suffered an epileptic seizure. He fell to the ground face down in a puddle and suffocated as the result of breathing water and mud into his lungs. He was found at 7:20 am lying in James Street just outside the side gate of his home which faced Phillip Street.

His seizures had begun about 18 months before and in March 1899 his parents had taken him to Sydney for treatment. 

His last sight may have been the Southwalk Baptist Church which was opposite his home and in the direction he was headed.

He was buried the following afternoon at Adelaide’s West Terrace cemetery. In the press, the ‘elder scholars’ of the Southwark Baptist Sunday School were invited to follow the cortege from the Marsh home to the burial service.

The loss of a second son may have encouraged Henry to throw himself ever more fully into his business activities. Did he also have conflicting thoughts about the enervating routine of the business? His expanding business also meant responsibilities for employees and defending himself in a number of legal disputes and a coroner's inquest after the death, by misadventure, of an employee.

Whatever his thoughts may have been, Henry was certainly at the peak of his career, a notable, highly respected businessman, self-made. His eldest daughter Edith later remembered him at this period as immaculately dressed and erect with a silver-topped cane, proudly leading his handsome wife and brood of eight children down the aisle of the Southwark Baptist Church to his private pew.


Henry and Mary Marsh and their children at home in Phillip Street, Thebarton, Adelaide about 1900. 
Standing (l to r): Edith, Phillipa, Elsie.
Seated (l to r): Walter, Alice, Henry, Fred (my grandfather), Doreen, Mary & Frank

 The next item will cover Henry and Mary's move to Coomandook.