Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

History Revisited - taking stock of golden opportunity for bank

Have you heard of the Australian Joint Stock Bank? I must admit that I hadn’t until I found reference to it while browsing An Armidale Album, the source for several of my recent columns. .Why is it significant for Armidale? Well, it was our first bank.

Early in 1852, a group of prominent Sydney merchants and citizens met at the Royal Hotel in Sydney to consider the formation of a new bank. The meeting was successful, with the first branch of the Joint Stock bank opening for business in Sydney on 24 January 1853.

Way to the north beyond the old barriers to settlement, the citizens of Armidale were concerned about the lack of local banking facilities. The Armidale Express, worried then as now about the doings of the local citizenry, commented on the large sums of money being realised by the New England working class in general and especially by the diggers at Rocky River. “For the want of a safe place of personal deposit”, the paper observed, “a great portion of this money is being spent on drunkenness, instead of being devoted to purposes alike beneficial to the owners and the best interests of society.”

Whether it was the paper’s call or just the cash being generated on the gold fields, the Armidale branch of the Australian Joint Stock Bank opened on Monday 15 December 1853. The Express was quite pleased. “We regard the opening of the bank as one of the greatest benefits ever conferred on the district”, it declaimed.

Initially the Bank operated from rented premises, but then decided to build its own building on land it had purchased in Beardy Street. By January 1864, the new premises were ready for occupation. 20090515-11-50-40-around-armidale--streets-and-architecture

There seem to have been some maintenance problems with the new building or perhaps it just wasn’t very well built. In any event, by late 1887 it was in such a state of disrepair that the Bank decided to tear it down and start again.

Armidale Album records that Sydney architects Blackmann and John Sulman were commissioned to design a new bank. That may not be quite right, unless Sulman was still using the old partnership name. You see, it appears that Blackmann fled Sydney with a barmaid in 1886, leaving Sulman to pay his debts!

In any event, John Sulman (another of the architects who has had such an impact on Armidale’s built landscape) set to work to design a new building. The new design was in the monumental style .so beloved by banks, a physical assertion of authority and respectability.

By April 1889, the new building was finished. Thereafter it remained a bank building for more than a hundred years, finishing its banking career as the State Bank. Have you guessed which building is it? You see it most times you go down town.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 3 April 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013


Anonymous said...

As the story is of interst to some people who do not know Armidale yet, could you tell what role does the building play now? By the way, the building still has a solid banking apeal. I hope it does not house a MacDonald branch now.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi AC. All banks wanted to show substance! t's a real estate agent now.