Royal Reels: Gambling


This used printed to private order postal card is said by the vendor to be “very rare, perhaps two exist” and it was sold at auction AUD 1,100. It was listed as a 1928-36 KGV Oval 1½d brown HG K8 on a bluish advice card. It was addressed to ‘Mr V. Hay, Storekeeper Chelsea (Victoria) and was postmarked MORWELL/ 11 FE 31/ VIC. The item was sold AUD100 above the estimate. (Figure 1).

The reverse shows an advertisement for Velvet soap bar, from the above company, with a postal address of Box 759G, Melbourne. The message to the client read: ‘Dear Sir, Our representative, Mr. F.H. Sampson will have the pleasure of calling on you on Tuesday 14th when we hope to be favoured with your orders. Yours very truly, J. Kitchen & Sons Pty. Ltd. Down the left border of the card were listed other products made by the firm (Figure 2).

John Kitchen & Sons started in Melbourne at the height of the gold rush. Instead of looking for a fortune in the ground seeking gold, they sold soap and candles to the miners and later to the rich citizens of the rapidly growing colony. John Ambrose Kitchen was born in Oxfordshire 27 February 1835, and he set sail at the age of 19 from Liverpool in the ‘Champion of the Seas’ and arrived at Port Philip on Christmas Day 1854, after a voyage of 75 days.

He was joined by his father John, and brothers Philip and Theophilus early in 1855. By 1856 they started making tallow candles but ran into trouble in a single story home in South Melbourne on account of the ‘noxious’ fumes, and had to move their premises. John Ambrose was the brains and driving force which spread the name of ‘Kitchen’, but there was a further setback when they lost their first factory to a fire in February 1860 to arson. Within a few months they were up and operating again manufacturing candles, washing blue, soap, soda crystals, glycerine and baking powder (their first entry into food products), and the father and 3 sons set up a legal partnership on the 19 November 1860. Their business started to thrive, and they won a medal in the 1866 International Exhibition in Melbourne for the excellence of their soap.

In the late 1870’s, John Ambrose had acquired land for apple growing, a sideline where refrigeration was brought to the fore, and by the early 1880’s dairy farming was introduced. Within a few years the family had 10,000 acres of grassland with 600 cows. A plant was installed for the manufacture of butter, which was transferred in iced trucks to Richmond for distribution to the biscuit trade. The firm bought Marjarine (margarine) from the Queensland Meat Works, melted it down, churned it with sour milk, salted it and called the product ‘Butterine’, a product was which much in favour with pastry cooks and biscuit makers in Melbourne.

Then bust followed boom, and in 1892 the firm sold all their cattle and dairying ceased. John Ambrose personally lost a large amount of money but the firm weathered the storm, opened up branches in other capital cities in Australia and also in New Zealand, and flourished with acquisitions and amalgamations. The major growth of the company occurred after 1885 when they amalgamated with the Apollo Company. The Kitchens were on good terms with most of their competitors and they bought coconut oil from Levers Bros whose ‘Sunlight’ soap was the only real competition to Kitchen’s ‘Velvet’.

On the 24 May 1922, John Ambrose Kitchen the last surviving member of the family who founded the business died at the age of 87. But for him there would never had been a John Kitchen & Sons in Australia, for he paved the way for his father and 2 brothers, and the many sons who came after the founding four. He was a fine old Victorian gentleman whose kindly personality, honesty and integrity had become part of the Kitchen business. With his death the Kitchen family lost one of their finest sons.