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THOMAS BAKER & JOHN ROUSE COMPANY, FORE-RUNNER of KODAK, AUSTRALASIA

Two N.S.W. letter cards to the Baker & Rouse company in Sydney in the late 1890's not only led to information about photography in Australia, but also about philanthropy which led to the formation of one of the premier Victorian medical research and treatment centres.

Both letter cards (with the printed red 1½d stamp) were identical and they were addressed to the company at 375 George Street, Sydney. The first was sent from MANILLA/ JA 13/ 1898/ N.S.W, (the weak Manilla postmark confirmed by a manuscript ‘Manilla’), plus a transit mark of TAMWORTH/ JA 14/ 2-A.M/ 98/ N.S.W (an unusual Type D3 (ii) without the duplex barred numeral) plus a reception mark of SYDNEY/ JA 14/ NOON/ 98/ 18 (Figure 1).

The printed stamp of the second letter card was cancelled with the ‘297' rays of Kelso and there was an additional postmark of KELSO/ FE 24/ 1899/ N.S.W (Figure 2).

Thomas Baker was born on 23 June 1854 at Montacute, Somerset, England, son of the blacksmith, Charles Baker and his wife Ann. The family migrated to Adelaide in 1865 where Charles began business as a blacksmith, wheelwright and coach builder. Thomas joined his father, but left to become a pharmaceutical chemist at Maryborough, QLD in 1876 and he married Alice Shaw in January of the next year. By 1881 they lived in Melbourne and Thomas enrolled in Medicine at the University in 1882, but discontinued studies the next year. He experimented with the production of photographic dry plates and by 1884 he had mastered the technique and went into the photographic business in 1884.

In 1887 he went into partnership with John Joseph Rouse as importers and producers of photographic materials, Rouse attending to sales while Baker directed production and worked in the laboratory. Branches were opened in the other colonies in 1890-92 and Rouse took charge of the Sydney office, and the company grew to become the largest suppliers of photographic material in Australia. In 1908 the firm amalgamated with the London Kodak Co. to form Kodak (Australasia), with Baker and Rouse joint managing directors. In 1924 the firm manufactured the first X-ray film in Australia.

In appearance Baker must have seemed the quintessence of the successful Edwardian businessman, wearing a silver imperial and motoring up to town from his seaside estate in a Rolls-Royce. He remained an approachable man, however, and was distinguished from fellow industrialists by his interest in scientific research and philanthropy. In both he was supported by his wife. Childless, they helped their relations generously and provided their employees. Their greatest benefaction was to the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne and the celebrated Baker Institute. Baker suddenly died at Mornington, Victoria on 4 December 1928. His philanthropy was continued by his wife and Edgar Rouse. Baker’s photo is shown in Figure 3.

Information on John Joseph Rouse, the co-founder of Baker and Rouse Company, is remarkably sparse. It has been stated that he was born in England or Melbourne (date not found), he was an accountant responsible for the setting up of outlets of the firm, was the manager of the Sydney company, and he became the Chairman of Kodak (Australasia) Pty Ltd when Baker died in 1928 until 1938, and was a benefactor and trustee of the Baker Medical Research Institute. John and his wife, Anastasia Margaret (née Elsdon) gave birth to their son Edgar John at Darling Point, Sydney on 24 October 1894, and the son became the manager of the Melbourne Kodak business in 1928 and succeeded his father in 1938 as Chairman of Kodak (Australasia), as well as following his father as a trustee and benefactor of the Baker Institute.

Edgar John Rouse had worked as a radiographer, and he continued his interest in this field. He became an early benefactor of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Radiologists and his generosity led to the establishment of fellowships, professorships and scholarships. Largely due to him the first chair of radiology in Australia was established at the University of Melbourne in 1964, and it was named after him.

Rouse shared the initial gold medal (1961) awarded by the Faculty of Radiologists, Britain. The Australasian college had elected him an associate (1950) and an honorary fellow (1952). Radiographical societies in Britain, Australia and New Zealand accorded him honorary membership, as did the Australian Medical Association. His long-term support for radiological education and medical research enhanced the status of Australasian radiological sciences, strengthened their international ties and contributed to the reputation of the Baker Institute. In 1969 Rouse was appointed a C.B.E. He was survived by his son and daughter, when he died on Christmas Eve 1974 in East Melbourne.

I acknowledge that the majority of this information was derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


 
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