Royal Reels: Gambling


This 1900 registered cover had an additional 2d blue N.S.W. stamp affixed to the cover and the printed stamp was postmarked WILCANNIA/ OC 5/ 1900 [Type 1D (i), used between 1884-1906]. It was addressed to Messrs Holden & Frost, Saddlers, Grenfell Street, Adelaide. The reverse, not shown, had an indistinct Adelaide reception postmark (Figure 1).

James Alexander Holden was born in Walsall, Staffordshire England on 1 April 1835, and left in 1850 for South Australia via America, but it was not until 1852 that he arrived in Adelaide, as a 17 year old lad. In 1856, at King William Street, Adelaide he set up his leather and saddlery business, as J.A. Holden & Co. which also manufactured whips. James married Mary Elizabeth Phillips on 24 Sep 1857 and they had nine children of whom only six survived childhood, Henry James being the oldest surviving son.

The company progressed from mainly saddlery work to coach building and repairs. In 1885 Henry Frederick Frost joined as a junior partner and the company was later badged as Holden & Frost Ltd in Grenfell Street, Adelaide. The company was expanded into the production of truck bodies, by Henry James Holden, after his father’s death on 2 Jun 1887, at Semaphore, South Australia. Henry James married Mary Ann Dixon Wheewall on 7 Apr, 1881. They had five children, and Edward Wheewall Holden, the oldest son eventually became the most prominent of the Holdens.

After the death of Henry Frost in 1909, Henry Holden bought his late partner’s shares. In 1913, they began producing motorcycle sidecar bodies, and by the next year they were producing custom car-bodies. Henry joined with Frederick Hack in 1918, and formed what was known as Holden Motor Body Builders. The company was building bodies for Chevrolet, Ford, Buick, Essex and Hupmobile by 1920, and was building more than 500 bodies a month by 1922.

In 1924, Holden Motor Body Builders was contracted to build entire car bodies for all General Motors chassis imported into Australia. This deal ensured at least 10,000 units per year would be produced

Henry James Holden died in 1926 at the age of 67, leaving the company in the hands of his son, Edward Wheewall Holden and the company was producing 36,000 units per year. Edward married Hilda May Lavis on 18 Mar 1908 and they had three children: Margaret Helen, Nancy Ellen and John James.

General Motors set up headquarters in Melbourne, Victoria and installed assembly plants in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. By 1927 over 100,000 units per year were being sold. The 1930s Depression hit this American company particularly hard with huge losses and a growing stockpile of unsold cars. GM director, Graeme Howard, realised that GM had no assets other than unsold cars, whereas Holdens had assets including buildings, land and production equipment to keep the company afloat through the hard times.

Graeme Howard and the now Sir Edward Holden agreed that the merger of both companies would enable them to pool resources and survive the low car sales. Vehicle prices were dropped and by 1934 sales slowly but steadily increased. When the second World War came about, the economic recovery was complete. The new company, GM-H, concentrated on building armaments, engines and ships at Fishermen’s Bend, Melbourne. When the end of the war occurred, General Motors Holden had already been considering plans for the first all Australian car. The car would go under the name of Holden. Designers had to design a car which could be used in Australian environments. It had to have enough power and be able to handle the harsh road and bush conditions. Australia’s first locally produced car (Model FX) rolled off the production line on 29 November 1948 (Figure 2).

“She’s a beauty!” Australia’s Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched the first Holden with those words and nobody could have expressed it better. The Holden rode a wave of national pride into the showrooms and onto the roads of Australia. Unfortunately Sir Edward Holden had died in 1947. The price was set at £733, which represented two years wages for the average worker at the time. Despite this, the car was an immediate success and Holden could not satisfy demand quickly enough. Eighteen thousand people had signed up and paid their deposit without even having seen the vehicle.

Addendum (January 2012):  I have received an email from Graeme Frost:

“The correct name for FROST in your article is Henry Adolphe Frost. He was my great grandfather”.

Categories: Cars