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MICHAEL DONAGHY & SONS, ROPE MAKER, GEELONG, ADELAIDE & SYDNEY

The brown-orange advertising cover for M. Donaghy & Sons Pty Ltd, Geelong, manufacturers of Kangaroo Brand Harvest Twine, Rope and Mats. The illustration showed a man, probably a farmer, who was standing on a ‘deck ‘ of 6 mats, and there was a small kangaroo in the background who waved a baton and appeared to be directing a team of four kangaroos in the foreground. At lower right was printed Makers/ of the/ Celebrated/ Kangaroo Brand. It was franked with a KGV one penny ‘Red Head’ Australian stamp cancelled with a roller postmark and the originating post office was just legible as G(EELON)G/ VICTORIA and the date was legible as 16 FE (?19), but there was no slogan incorporated in the roller cancel. The cover was addressed to Messrs Malcolm & Co, Leadenhall St., London, and the reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

The blue Price List advertising brochure for the same firm had the same basic design with a younger farmer, the same rope mats and the five kangaroos, but the company was now listed at Geelong, Melbourne, Adelaide as well as Sydney (Figure 2).

The Australian Dictionary of Biography described a John Donaghy, businessman and politician, who was born probably on 11 May 1842 at Liverpool, England, son of Michael Donaghy, rope-maker, and his wife Mary. John arrived at Corio Bay, Geelong, with his parents about 1852. In 1854 his father established a rope-making industry in a shed near the Barwon River, at Marnock Vale, Geelong. After a short time on the Ballarat goldfields, John joined his father in the business which was later known as Fairview Ropeworks. In 1864 a second site was bought at Geelong West for larger works, and new machinery was imported from England and America. Later ropeworks were built at Port Adelaide and at Dunedin, New Zealand, and depots were established in Melbourne and Sydney. About 1878 John and his younger brother Michael went into partnership with their father. Before Michael senior died in 1883 the first flat mining ropes in Australia had been made, up-to-date machinery was used and the range of products broadened.

John Donaghy was a justice of the peace. He had long supported the movement for separate councils for Geelong and Geelong West. He became a councillor and was mayor of Geelong West in 1879-80 and 1885-86. He founded the first Geelong West Post and Telegraph Office in 1886. Later he chaired the meeting to form an Electric Tramway and Lighting Co. He helped to establish the first free library in the town, was vice-president of the Gordon Memorial Technical College and served on the hospital committee. At various times he was a member and president of the St Patrick's Society, president of the Geelong Yorick Club and vice-president of the Mechanics' Institute. He also supported the Fire Brigade, assisted at the opening of the mineral springs at Drysdale and presented Geelong West with its town clock. He was an active parishioner of St Mary's Catholic Church.

Donaghy represented Geelong in the Legislative Assembly in 1886-88. A zealous advocate for improvements in his electorate, he also supported the first grant of land to the Chaffey brothers and an extra tariff of 5 per cent to protect native industries. He died at Geelong West on 9 October 1894, survived by his wife Norah, whom he had married in 1867, and by their three sons and two daughters. In 1968 the firm, M. Donaghy & Sons Pty Ltd, merged with another long-established rope and cordage company, James Miller Holdings Ltd.

A paragraph in the Launceston Examiner (Tasmania) 13 January1892 describes Donaghy’s rope trophy which is found at Messrs. M. Donaghy and Co. Fairview Works, Geelong. It is made of several parts: firstly a pyramid of rope made from fibre imported from the Philippine Islands, the second of rope made from New Zealand flax, the third of coir rope and the fourth of Russian tarred bolt and lanyard ropes. There is also an exhibit comprising deep sea lines, sash lines and clothes lines and another showing reaper and binder twine made from Manilla yarn and New Zealand flax respectively. This branch of the business is a very important one, and hundred of tons of reaper and binder twine are turned out annually. The firm’s factory at Geelong covers seven acres and employs over a hundred hands. It has been established for forty years, but has been using machinery for thirty years. The company exports to all the colonies and has sent shipments to Hong Kong and Mauritius, and I am informed by one of the partners they do a nice trade with Tasmania. They make all ropes ranging in size from a fishing line to a ship’s cable, and turn out over a thousand tons of coil per annum.

 

I acknowledge that the information about the Donaghy Family was derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Addendum (May 2011): Gary Vines in his paper on ‘Rope Making in Victoria’ stated that James Miller is given credit (in a company publication) for the introduction of the first machinery for walk laying of rope in Australia. However, as James Miller began operation in the 1860s, Donaghy probably has the greater claim for first mechanised ropemaking in Victoria. Vines has a different birthplace for Michael Donaghy, namely Ireland, but he obtained his experience in the rope-making business in England. He came to Australia in 1852, landed in Melbourne, was assured by his ship’s captain of the urgent need for ship’s rope, and he headed to Geelong to commence its manufacture. The company’s centenary history records that on the eighteenth of May 1852 Michael Donaghy with the aid of a lad, made by hand, the first rope ever to be fashioned in the colony. This was in a small weatherboard factory on the banks of the Barwon River at Marnock Vale, Geelong. Donaghy then took the finished ropes in a hand barrow, along unmade roads from Chilwell to Geelong Port for sale directly to the ships.

 

 
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