William John Adams, Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (London) and later Australia, first came to Australia in 1883 during the closing days of the great railway bonanza in England, the period when it was believed there was a fortune to be made in the colonies.
This cover is an example of the company that Adams built which was celebrated in a book recording William Adams and Company over the years 1884 to 1984. The 1940 cover had an ‘Opened by Censor’ label as well as the usual censor handstamp, and it had 2 ms. ‘Original’ and ‘Steamer Mail via America’. It had a red label ‘URGENT BUSINESS CORRESPONDENCE’ and was addressed to The Barber-Greene Company, Aurora, Illinois, U.S.A. The postage was paid by a red roller cancel SYDNEY/ 25 AUG 40/ N.S.W. with a boxed 3½d. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
Engineering was in the Adams family bloodstream: his grandfather, father and cousin were prominent engineers in England and William was born to William sr. in 1853 in the neighbour- hood of the West India Docks. After completing his education young William was apprenticed to his father, (one of the great locomotive engineering men of England), at the locomotive works of the North London Railway. After 5 years training he became a draughtsman and in 1876 he became an erecting engineer superintending the installation of hydraulic machinery. In 1880 he became manager of the Vacuum Brake Co., London which he stayed with for 4 years and then came to Australia with the agency for the company, in 1883.
From the beginning, when his small engineering agency was housed in a one-room office in Bond Street Sydney, realised the potential for national distribution, even when each of the six colonies were in bitter competition with the others. His brother Alfred was installed as Victorian manager in Melbourne while William in Sydney began to attract and maintain agency agreements wit h a diversified group of leading manufacturers of heavy industrial equipment and products. A picture of William John Adams, his first wife, Alice Mary Slater and their family, is seen in Figure 2.
Socially, William moved in the right circles, but he remained most affable to his increasing staff. The business consisted of engineers’ stores and hardware, lubricating oils, asbestos goods and oils and grease. With their multiple agencies for Vicker’s tyres and axles, buffer springs and rubbers, railway carriage blinds, buffalo hides for seating, hydraulic machineries, folding lavatories, railway carriage ventilators etc., William Adams were well situated to take advantage of the boom in building railways. In addition the company practically monopolised the lagging of marine and stationary boilers.. The company expanded to Western Australia and Adelaide, as well as to Queensland. The company expanded into engineering construction, the installation of steam turbines, steel reinforcement for concrete, etc. The company was known as selling “everything for the engineer’ – from heavy engineering equipment to nuts and bolts. By 1891 the company had moved to 71 Clarence Street Sydney as seen in Figure 3.
William John Adams died in his 83rd year on the 12 June 1935, and the firm’s name carried on from 1884 to 1984 when it was taken over by Tubemakers Australia Limited.
The name of the book “The Bell -Wether” connotes that the Company was a leader in its field. A wether is a sheep, and the one that has a bell around its neck, is the leader of the flock, the bell-wether. The cover was derived from a penned sketch by Livingstone Hopkins (‘Hop”) , cartoonist of The Bulletin, and it shows Bill Adams in 1905 (Figure 4).