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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

History Revisited - Mallaby shared his soap with the world

AUSTRALIAN INFLUENCE: Armidale's renowned soap maker travelled to Paris for the World Exhibition in 1900 
In an earlier column on Armidale industry, I referred to Mallaby’s Soap. Its golden bar soap was perfect for toilets or washing laces, silks and woollens, while scrubbing the table, floors, pots and pans with Mallaby’s pumice stone soap made them much cleaner.

I don’t remember Mallaby’s Soap, production finished by early 1942, but I certainly remember those scrubbed tables that you used to find in country kitchens.

In 1900, George Mallaby attended the World Exhibition in Paris. Held in pavilions stretching from the Eiffel Tower, the Exhibition was not just a display of the miracles of the new, but also a celebration of the wonderful Art Nouveau style, bringing that into public prominence.

The old European order that would be swept away by the Great War was its peak, and countries vied with each other for the grandeur of their exhibits, joined by chambers showcasing science and industry. If you google the Exhibition, you will find early colour photos of the whole show. It was quite something.

It is not clear what Armidale’s George Mallaby made of the whole thing, although I’m sure that he found it interesting. His purpose was more pragmatic, to exhibit his soap for which he apparently won a gold medal. He also took the opportunity, and this was probably the primary purpose of the trip, to visit England after a very long break. His parents had died and he wanted to visit their grave and pay for the cemetery plot. 

We know from John Harvey’s story of his grandfather (New England Lives II) that George Mallaby was born on 13 December 1860 at Osset, West Riding, Yorkshire. On 21 May 1882, George married the twenty year old Faith Furness. Both had been working in the mills.

In August the following year, the young couple set sail for Australia. After a relatively brief stay in Dubbo, the family moved to Armidale around early 1885 to escape the Western Plains heat. There George began making soap in a copper in the backyard.

By the time of George’s visit to England in 1900, he had established a successful business and had also acquired considerable real estate. Just as well, for there were now seven children!

I have written before about the way the new Great Northern Railway reduced many local activities because of the competition from imported goods. In the Mallaby case, George was able to use the railway to gain business, shipping soap south to Werris Creek, north to the Queensland border, thus consolidating his business. Nearby Hillgrove with its gold mines was also a profitable market.

Many of the patterns of life in Armidale and the North more broadly were linked to varying forms of religious observance. The Mallabies were strict Methodists, although Faith and George appear to have mellowed somewhat in later years.

Saturdays were preparation for Sundays, with the boys filling the wood box and polishing shoes. On Sunday, oldest daughter Emma stayed home to prepare the roast while the rest of the family went to church. No embroidering or reading for pleasure was allowed, while music was limited to hymns.

George Mallaby died in 1926, Faith died less than a year later. By then, the young couple from working class England had been able to provide for their now large family, giving them the opportunities they had lacked. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 12 August 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they 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, here for 2014, here for 2015.

No comments: