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MESSRS. BRISCOE & CO., COLLINS ST. EAST, MELBOURNE, LONDON & N.Z.

The printed-to-private-order cover advertises at top left ‘Formby’s Cement Works Company Limited’, bottom left ‘Domestic/ BBB/ Kerosene Oil’ and bottom right ‘AB/ Galvanized Corrugated Iron’. It has a printed orange 1d orange brown and a printed 1d yellow brown Victorian stamps, both cancelled with a first duplex WARRNAMBOOL / 3/ MY 12/ 93/ VIC plus the barred numeral ‘10'. It had the printed address of Messrs. BRISCOE & Co./ Wholesale/ Ironmonger and Iron Merchants/ MELBOURNE. The reverse had a reception postmark of MELBOURNE/ 5A/ MY 13/ 93.

The birth of the Briscoe’s company dates to the eighteenth century. It was probably William Briscoe who established the firm in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, sometime around 1750. One reference mentions a balance sheet dating from 1756 and another gives the establishment date as about 1768. In 1781 members of the Briscoe family signed a partnership agreement. The headquarters eventually moved to London, with branches established in the West Indies and South America. A Melbourne offshoot was established in about 1854, and New Zealand operations opened in Dunedin as Arthur Briscoe & Co. in 1863. In New Zealand the company operated primarily as wholesale ironmongers and hardware merchants, but with some retail trade.

Arthur Briscoe, one of the company family partners in England, probably never visited New Zealand. The founding manager in Dunedin was Hugh MacNeil, who had begun his working life as an ironmonger in Glasgow before managing Briscoes in Melbourne. He became a partner in the firm in 1880 and gained managerial control of both the New Zealand and Australian operations.
 

This Arthur Briscoe & Co., Dunedin, billhead dated 1st July 1886, shows that different parts of the worldwide organisation were styled in different ways: Wm Briscoe & Son (Wolverhampton and London), Briscoe & Co. (Melbourne), Briscoe, Drysdale & Co. (Sydney), Briscoe Bros (Jamaica), and Arthur Briscoe & Co. (Dunedin). In the 1890s branches were established in Wellington and Auckland as Briscoe, MacNeil & Co.

The billhead features the company’s buildings on the corner of Princes and Jetty Streets, which were designed by R.A. Lawson and opened in 1872. An Otago Daily Times report from that year describes a company importing directly from Europe and America, with an average of 100 tonnes of goods unloaded at Port Chalmers every week. Stock included such diverse items as kitchen stoves, umbrella stands, lamps, and lawn mowers (‘a wonderful little machine of recent invention’). Some goods, such as enamel kitchenware and cooking utensils, were similar to items sold in Briscoes stores today, but linen and soft furnishings have only become staples in recent decades. Much business was directed towards the building trade, and at a separate iron yard in Bond Street there was much in the way of iron bars, piping, and sheet iron, with a supply of up to 150 tonnes of nails in stock at any one time. The company also imported tea for many years. This 1886 handbill is seen in Figures 2 and 3.

 Briscoes moved to new premises in Crawford Street in the 1900s and the old building was later occupied by T. & G. Life. They demolished it in the 1950s to put up the building now known as Upstart House. Briscoes’ head office moved from London to Melbourne in 1958, and then to New Zealand in 1970. The parent company was purchased by Merbank Corporation of Australia in 1973 and transformed from a wholesaler of imported goods to a general merchandise retailer. Briscoes Group Ltd was purchased by the R.A. Duke Trust (of New Zealand) in 1990 and became a public company in 2001. As of 2011 it has 54 Homeware stores and 32 Rebel Sport sporting goods stores throughout New Zealand.
 

The firm of Messrs Briscoe and Co., Limited, was an offshoot of the old house of William Briscoe and Son, which was founded in Wolverhampton about the year 1768. When the colonial houses of the original firm were established, there were five partners. namely Messrs Richard Holt Briscoe, Walter Briscoe. Arthur Briscoe, John Edward Briscoe, and Hugh MacNeil, senior. Of these, three are dead—Messrs W. and J. E. Briscoe, and Mr. MacNeil. The Melbourne house was founded in 1853, the Dunedin business in 1862, and that in Sydney in 1878; the Invercargill house was opened in 1881 as a branch of the Dunedin firm, but owing to increasing business, it was made a separate concern in 1901. The late Mr. Hugh MacNeil, senior, came over to Otago to inaugurate the business in New Zealand, and since then it has practically covered the country.

The large and imposing building occupied by the firm in Princes Street and Jetty Street, Dunedin, is erected on freehold land. There are three fine entrances to the premises from Princes Street, and the ground floor accommodates four departments—wholesale, retail, showroom and offices. In the wholesale department, which is furnished with order desks, a large general stock is maintained; and the packing room is close by, with a cart entrance from Princes Street. A large hydraulic lift communicates from this floor with the basement and upper flat.

The retail department, which is conducted in the portion of the premises nearest the Jetty Street side, contains handsome show cases and stands, extensive counters, and a large and varied stock of general hardware. Behind the retail shop is the showroom, where there is a display of mantels and files, register grates, lamps of all sorts and sizes, and many other lines, including a brilliant variety of electroplated ware, which is shown in splendid glass cases. At the back of the wholesale department there are private rooms for the manager, accountant, and partners' and warehouse and indent offices. A portion of this office is also set apart as a typewriting department, and two typists are kept constantly employed.

The large business conducted from Dunedin by Messrs Briscoe and Co. is confined chiefly to the South Island, where seven travellers are steadily engaged in visiting the customers; but the North Island is left to the Wellington and Auckland houses of the firm. The Melbourne, and Sydney firms maintain a thoroughly well assorted stock. A large indenting business is also transacted by the firm through its London house. Each department in Dunedin has its own specially trained staff. The agencies held by the firm are numerous and varied, and include Wunderlich Patent Ceiling and Roofing Materials; Marseilles Red Roofing Tiles; P. McSkimming and Son's (Benhar) Stoneware Pipes, Ryland's Wire Rope; Kynoch, Limited, High Explosives (Dynamite, Gelignite, etc.), Blasting Powder, and Pellets & Cartridges; Asiatic Petroleum Company, Ltd Limited: Kerosene, Benzine, oils, etc.

A picture of Briscoe and Co., Ironmongers , Collins Street which is painted on its side wall ‘Briscoe & Co., General Ironmongers and Iron Merchants’ is seen in Figure 4.

Messrs. Briscoe & Co. in Little Collins Street, Melbourne was involved in an extensive fire on the morning of 4 March, 1912 which also involved the Stock Exchange, the English Scottish and Australian Bank and the Bank of New South Wales. The total loss was estimated as £40,000.

Much of the text associated with the handbill was found in a blog written by David Murray, Archivist at Hocken.

 

 

 

 

 
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