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JAMES & ROBERT BURNS CUMING, ADELAIDE CHEMICAL WORKS COMPANY

The South Australia purple ONE PENNY postcard is addressed in print to Mr. R. B. Cuming, The Adelaide Chemical Works Company, New Thebarton, (South Australia) and it is cancelled with a duplex G.P.O. ADELAIDE/ AU 25/ 94/ S.A postmark (Figure 1).

The reverse has a short message: Aug 25 1894, Dear Sir, Will be there Monday morning 8 a m sharp, truly yours (initials uncertain), (Figure 2).


James Cuming, businessman, was born at Portland, Maine, USA, second son of James Cuming (1835-1911) and his wife Elizabeth, née Smith, of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, who had migrated first to St John, New Brunswick, Canada. In 1862 the family went to Melbourne and Cuming senior prospered as a farrier. He worked on the construction of acid works, studied chemistry at the public library and in 1872 he joined his brother-in-law George Smith, in purchasing a chemical works at Yarraville, Victoria. In 1875 Cuming Smith & Co. leased adjoining bone-mills and entered the fertiliser trade, manufacturing bone dust and bone and guano superphosphate. In the next twenty-five years they adopted overseas innovations in acid manufacture, substituted rock phosphate for bone in the production of fertiliser, and established a network of distributors in the Victorian wheat-belt. In 1881 George Smith left the partnership.

Cuming senior’s eldest son, Robert Burns (1859-1910) established in 1892 the Adelaide Chemical Works Co., a joint venture with Felton, Grimwade and Campbell. James junior furthered his study of industrial chemistry with a tour of USA, Europe and Britain in 1884 and was admitted to partnership in Cuming Smith & Co, becoming the head Chemist and later manager. James senior retained a keen interest in the business, but much of his time was consumed in local politics, patron of societies and charity, as well as travelling. His three other sons became works managers at other Melbourne plants.

James Junior became general manager of the new amalgamated company in 1897 and by a gentleman’s agreement on prices and marketing with his rival firms he prevented ruinous competition. He became a key man in the fertiliser and chemical associations in Victoria by 1904, and was very active in producing sickness and retirement benefits for his workers. Upon his death in 1920 at the age of 50, James Cuming junior was acknowledged as one of Australia’s foremost industrialists. James junior had married Alice Fehon in 1885, and a daughter and four sons lived to maturity. The oldest William Fehon Cuming (1886-1933) became on his father’s death, general manager of Cuming Smith and Co. and he created an amalgamation with additional companies in Western Australia and Victoria in 1928 and 1929. James junior’s youngest son, Mariannus Adrian, was born in 1901, and became the chairman of the associated fertiliser companies in South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales. The majority of the fertilisers were exported for use on the sugar cane plantations in Mauritius, Java and Fiji. A superphosphate shed at Yarraville, Victoria is seen in Figure 3.

Information on the Cuming family was derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


 
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