Palmer Street Factory
On my way to work through Richmond every now and then I pull off Bridge Road into a petrol station on the corner of River Street. While I fill the tank I often stare vacantly past the pumps and across the street behind to a large and featureless modern brick wall belonging to a storage business. That street is Palmer Street and in 1936 the employees of the tobacco manufacturer Dudgeon and Arnell gathered on it for a group photo in front of their then new factory at 153 Palmer Street just a few doors from the River Street corner.
Dudgeon & Arnell operated from this location until 1953 when they were taken over by Dobie, George & Son before that in turn was absorbed into the Phillip Morris conglomerate. With the possible exception of some brick walls incorporated into newer structures there’s nothing left of the pictured Deco factory, but on the River and Murphy Street corner there is still a large Victorian era red brick warehouse now used by Guardian Storage. This is probably of roughly the same design as one used by Dudgeon & Arnell next door and right on the the River and Palmer Street corner. As well as the main entry for the Palmer Street address the directories from this period included an entry for “Dudgeon & Arnell Py Ld (strge)” at 52 River Street. This is almost certainly the peaked roof building at the rear of the group and to the left of the tree.
Why would any of this interest me? Because my great great grandfather Thomas Mitchell Hale was part of this company for most of his life and I don’t really know much about him. I have a couple of photos from around 1900. I know who his family were and where he lived most of his life. I know roughly when he started at Dudgeon & Arnell and that he was there at the time of his death. I have a few documents showing how his role changed over that time. I would like to know more but until recently had just fiddled around gathering a few bits and pieces.
I’d always wondered how he ended up with company. I suspected that his father had had something to do with it. His name was also Thomas Hale and until he fell on hard times in the early 1860s he had been a reasonably successful architect, councillor and businessman. Hoping to find a link to him I looked briefly at the Dudgeon and Arnell behind the company name. but didn’t go much further.
That was where I left it until recently when an email from a tobacco tin collector spurred me to further activity. I now know a lot more about the founders of the company and its growth through the late 1800s. I only know a little bit more about my gg-grandfather but I guess by knowing more about his workplace, bosses and partners it must tell me more about him. This blog is my way of organising what I’ve found and airing it for comment.
Dudgeon & Arnell evolved from a tobacco manufactory started by Gideon Heard in the late 1850s. There are some hints that he may have been involved in the tobacco business even earlier in Sydney or Adelaide (although the Sydney reference is likely to be a confusion with the large American company “Messrs Heard & Co” of Augustine Heard which operated out of China and had a large Asia-Pacific presence at the time). Gideon Heard’s company became “Heard, Owen & Dudgeon” in 1862 and then “Owen, Dudgeon & Arnell” in 1864 before settling on “Dudgeon & Arnell” in 1876.
I plan on starting with the founders. I include amongst these Gideon Heard, John Owen, John Dudgeon and Charles Carty Arnell and where better to begin than with John Dudgeon whose name was associated with tobacco in Melbourne for almost a century.
|1 Best, Alleyn. & Federated Tobacco Workers Union of Australia. Victorian Branch. 1989, The tobacco worker : history of the Federated Tobacco Workers’ Union of Australia, Victorian Branch, 1884-1988 / Alleyn Best Federated Tobacco Workers Union of Australia, Victorian Branch, Cheltenham, Vic. :
2 1936-1955, Sands & McDougall’s directory of Victoria