The 1887 Ferguson & Urie Company Dinner

The principals of the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company were known to have held company dinners for their employees in the years 1886, 1887 and 1888. At each of the dinners a reporter from the “North Melbourne Advertiser” was invited to each occasion to document the proceedings. Each occasion was published in extraordinary detail in the tabloid and represents a fantastic insight into the company history and the employees.

This 1887 dinner is one that I consider the most significant because there are photos that still exist that were taken specifically for the dinner and are also mentioned in the reporters newspaper article. On the occasion of the 1887 dinner the employees of the company organised to have a poster made up to be presented to their employers, James Ferguson & James Urie. The poster comprised photographs of the Ferguson & Urie business premises at Yarra Bank South (burnt down 1888), the Collins Street headquarters, and the original stained glass workshops in Curzon Street North Melbourne. Photographs of all 29 employees are depicted in the photo as well as James Ferguson & James Urie in the centre. The dinner was held in the North Melbourne Mechanics Institute in Errol Street North Melbourne which was part of the North Melbourne Town Hall which still exists today.

North Melbourne Advertiser, Saturday 25th June 1887, Page 3

“MESSRS FERGUSON AND URIE’S DINNER TO THEIR EMPLOYEES”.

On Wednesday[1] evening about 40 gentlemen sat down to a dinner given by the above firm to their employees. The table was laid out in Mr. Straker’s[2] well-known style. The Jubilee[3] time lent an additional éclat[4] to the proceedings which passed off capitally and the guests of Mr. Urie[5] heartily enjoyed the firm’s kindness and hospitality. Previous to dinner being served some time was spent inspecting two large framed groups of photographs of the principals of the firm, the employees’ portraits being grouped round those of Messers Ferguson and Urie[6]. One of these handsome gifts it appears was for presentation to the former gentleman and the other the later, while every employee was presented with a smaller duplicate in remembrance of the festive occasion[7]. We should add that among the photographs were those of the Collins street offices[8], the Curzon street works[9] and the Yarra Bank Store[10]. Mr. Urie took the chair about 8 p.m., being supported by Cr. J. Wilson (Mayor of Flemington and Kensington) and Cr. R. Barrett, while the vice chairs were occupied by Messrs Ferguson jun[11]., and Mr. A. Young[12]. After dinner the usual loyal toasts were proposed and honoured, the chairman when proposing that of the Queen, made some very suitable remarks on the Jubilee festivities[13] and pointing out the benefits to those living under Her Majesty’s sway.

Mr. J. Scott sang ‘Bonnie Hills of Scotland’ and Mr. Downy ‘Our Jack’s Come Home to day.’ Cr. Barrett in proposing the Parliament of Victoria said the present Legislature would compare very favourably with any of its predecessors. The natives of the colony were pushing their way to the fore and taking the place of the ‘lime pucer’s,’ and were possessed of the majority of voting power. The Highest offices with the exception of the position of Governor were open to colonials. When the old stock died away the natives would have the destinies of this great colony committed to their hands. (Applause.) Mr. Lillis[14] played a flute solo, and Mr. Troom sang, ‘Red white, and blue’. Mr. Auld[15] in responding for the Parliament said that although not a member of that important body, he quite endorsed all Cr. Barrett had said. Positions in honour of this land were open to all who had the ability and perseverance to win honour and fame.

Mr. Gentles[16] gave with effect ‘The Maid of the Mill,’ while Mr. R. King contributed ‘White Wings,’ and Mr. R. Carberry, ‘Ben Bolt.’ Mr. Alexander Young then said he had on behalf of the employees to present Mr. Urie with a photograph of the employees. It would be seen from the gathering that evening what a cordial relationship existed between the principals of the firm and their employees, and he believed that feeling would be maintained and strengthened. (Applause.) He had much pleasure in making the presentation.

Mr. Urie, who was received with rounds of cheering said he felt very much flattered by what had been said, and he could assure the employees that they could not have made Mr. Ferguson and himself a more suitable present. He saw faces in the frame who had been a long time in the firm, and it was most pleasing to him to see how much the employees enjoyed these reunions. He did not like changing hands (hear, hear,) but liked to have the old friends and faces about him. The picture would always be valued by him because it was the outcome of a generous feeling, and which would awaken cherished recollections. In a newspaper report lately he saw something about a councillor having ‘a den’ and he would assure them this picture would be carefully hung up in his den. (Applause.)

Mr. Ferguson Junr., said that on behalf of his father, who was unable to be present, he begged to thank them all most heartily for this kindness. He was sure the photograph would be valued by the family.

Mr. Urie sang ‘Nelly Bly,’ followed  by Mr hall with ‘Cameron Men.’ Mr Lording[17] in his usually effective style sang ‘Romany Lass,’ The chairman then announced that duplicates of the photographs’ would be handed round to the employees, and our representative was also courteously asked to accept one.

Messrs P. Brennan and H. Hill then sang a comic song each, and after Mr Carberry rendering ‘Mary of Argyle,’ the toast of the ‘Firm’ was proposed by Mr. Young, and responded to in a very happy style by Mr. Urie, who pointed out how the firm had progressed during past years. He could not understand people emigrating to America instead of to a country like Victoria.

Mr Scott[18] proposed the municipalities, Cr. Wilson in responding noticed how the growth of Flemington and Kensington had developed. It was a young but model borough. Cr. Barrett in an interesting speech referred to the progress and prosperity of the northern suburb. After which toasts of the Press, and the ladies were proposed. A few more songs were sung and the company broke up towards the small hours, a very enjoyable evening having been spent”.

Ferguson & Urie employee poster. 22 June 1887 Company Dinner.

See here for ongoing research about the company employees.

Footnotes:

[1] Wednesday 22nd of June 1887.

[2] Charles. D. Straker catering North Melbourne.

[3] Also held in honour of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year.

[4] Brilliant of conspicuous success or effect.

[5] James Urie 1828-1890, one of the principal partners in the firm ‘Ferguson & Urie’ as well as a local Justice of the Peace and councillor in the Borough Council of Flemington and Kensington. He served as a councillor from August 1886 to August 1888, and was Mayor from August 1887 to August 1888.

[6] There are 31 photos of the employees, including James Ferguson & James Urie depicted. Copies of the poster still exist.

[7] The small duplicate photo distributed to the employees was an 8’ x 10’ photo of the larger poster. Only one completely intact copy is known to exist and a digitally enhanced copy is included with this transcription along with a copy of the portrait of the principals of the firm, James Ferguson and James Urie.

[8] The Collins Street building was erected in late 1884 at 10 Collins Street East and later re-numbered as 281-283 Collins Street East. The building was demolished circa 1915.

[9] The Curzon street workshop was the first business premises when the firm began in 1853 and was located diagonally across the road to the extant Union Memorial Church in Curzon Street North Melbourne. The original workshop building still exists and has been converted to apartments.

[10] The Yarra Bank store burnt down on the 31st of January 1888.

[11] James Ferguson Junior 1861-1945, the son of James Ferguson Snr who was a principal partner of the firm.

[12] Alexander Young was James Urie’s brother in law. He and James Urie’s son William travelled to Brisbane to supervise the installation of one of the firms largest stained glass windows the ‘Murphy Memorial’ window in St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral, Elizabeth street Brisbane, in December 1887.

[13] 1887 marked the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne.

[14] J. D. Lillis

[15] Thomas Auld 1838-1913 was James Ferguson Seniors son in law who married his second eldest daughter Janet Kay Ferguson in 1871. Thomas was a ships chandler and grocer and did not work for the firm Ferguson & Urie.

[16] Lauchlane Alexander Gentles 1867-1939 was the brother of Alexander Gentles who married James Ferguson’s daughter Sarah Campbell Ferguson.

[17] Frank Clifford Lording 1860-1944. He was a glass stainer and embosser in the firm. After the firm closed in 1899 he went into partnership with Charles William Hardess (another employee of the firm) to become ‘Hardess & Lording’. Lording was also selected for the Victorian team in the first Intercolonial football match. The Hotham Football club later became the North Melbourne Football Club and he was a state representative in 1879 and 1881.

[18] John Scott 1850-1915 was apprenticed to the firm circa 1866 at about the age of 16.

Related pages:

The 1886 Employee Dinner
The 1888 Employee Dinner


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