Royal Reels: Gambling


This multicolored advertising postcard for flour, coffee, tea, custard and plum pudding was posted at Adelaide in 1939 and the green 1d Q.E. Australian stamp was postmarked with a roller cancel (Figure 1).

The reverse listed a variety of Lion Brand foods: “The Finest Groceries are Branded LION” and it was sent by D. & J. Fowler, 14 King William Street, Adelaide in Sep 1939 (Figure 2).

A picture of the Fowler’s “Lion” Factory at North Terrace South Australia is seen in Figure 3.

David (1826-1881) and George Swan Fowler(1839-1896), wholesale grocers, were born near Kilrenny, Scotland, sons of James Fowler, grocer, merchant and Baptist pastor. David worked in his father’s business and in 1854 with his wife Janet, their two children, a servant and goods worth £2300 sailed from London in the Fop Smit and in November arrived at Adelaide. There he joined his eldest brother James and sister Margaret who had arrived in the Anna Maria in November 1850. David promptly opened a retail grocery with James. They had a hard struggle with competitors but by 1857 expanding business enabled them to acquire new headquarters in King William Street, Adelaide and enter the import trade.

After much sickness James died in 1859 and Margaret returned to Scotland. George, who was then working with his father, sailed with Margaret for South Australia in the steamship Indus and arrived in July 1860. In a new agreement David and George pooled their joint assets of nearly £20,000. In 1864 George went to Scotland to marry Catherine Lamb and returned to Adelaide. Next year their retail trade was dropped, they concentrated on the wholesale business, and David visited Britain to set up a buying office in London. He settled there in 1873 to direct the branch, quick to exploit the commercial advantages of the telegraphic link with Australia. Noted for his enterprise, integrity and skill as a commercial statistician, he died aged 55 in London on 11 November 1881. A photo of David Fowler is shown in Figure 4.

By then, despite droughts, depressions and financial crises, D. & J. Fowler had reached ‘the front rank of the commercial houses established in the South Hemisphere’. The firm had branches at London and Fremantle, agencies in the Northern Territory and on the River Murray, large stores in Port Adelaide and other suburbs, big depots for kerosene and factories for jam, condiments, confectionery and preserved fruit. They also ran a large shipping agency, importing foodstuffs and exporting wool, wheat, flour, meat, butter, copper and tanning bark. By 1896 the firm had spread to Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie, and acquired the bankrupt Adelaide Milling Co. and eleven other flour-mills, and won a leading place as dried fruit packers on the Murray irrigation settlements.

Like his brother David, George was an unflinching advocate of free trade. David had contested the East Adelaide seat in the House of Assembly but failed because he rejected protection even of native industry. George was elected for East Adelaide in 1878, represented South Australia at the intercolonial convention on tariffs in 1880 and served as treasurer for two months in Morgan’s ministry in 1881. Moderate on most subjects he opposed protective duties and unbalanced electorates. In 1884 he failed to win re-election because of his temperance views. With David he had been one of the twenty-five founders of Flinders Street Baptist Church in 1861. He died at his home in Glen Osmond on 1 October 1896, survived by his wife and leaving an estate valued at £80,000. A picture of George is seen in Figure 5.

In 1891 his daughter Laura Margaret had been the first woman graduate in medicine at the University of Adelaide; later she became a missionary in Bengal. The eldest son, James Richard, was born on 25 May 1865 at Mitcham and educated at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide. In 1892 he married Esther Tinline Murray and became a director in the family firm. In the University of Adelaide he served as a member of the council in 1901-25 and chairman of the board of commercial studies in 1904-22. He was also a governor of the Public Library Board and a director of the Bank of Adelaide. He died in Adelaide on 17 December 1939.

I acknowledge that the text and figures of David & George Fowler were derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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