Ferguson & Urie
Colonial Victoria’s Premier Stained Glass Window Craftsmen
1853 – 1899
Colonial Victoria’s leading stained glass window firm “Ferguson & Urie” began in North Melbourne in 1853, initially by three men who emigrated from Ayrshire, Scotland in December 1852. These colonial pioneers were the brothers James & David Ferguson, the sons of Master Slater and Glazier, James Ferguson Snr, from Wallacetown, Ayrshire and James Urie, the son of William Urie from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.
In the Scottish Census Records of March 1851, James Urie, age 22, was coincidentally recorded as being a visitor to James Ferguson Jnr’s (age 33) home at John Street Wallacetown. Both men’s professions were listed as Slater and Glaziers and as James Ferguson was 11 years older than Urie, the age difference leads us to believe that Urie may have been an apprentice of Ferguson earlier and possibly a relative as his mother’s maiden name was Ferguson and thought to be from another closely related family line. This relationship theory has not yet been positively established.
The Ferguson brothers and James Urie started their business as Plumbers, Glaziers and Decorators from premises in Curzon Street near the north east corner of the North Melbourne Benevolent Asylum. One of their earliest business advertisements appeared in the Melbourne Argus newspaper in August 1853 advertising lead lattice windows for churches and cottages, as well as for zinc spouting, piping, revolving cowls for chimneys and galvanised roofing products.
In late 1854 they showed some of their workmanship at the Victorian Exhibition and were awarded certificates for plumbers work and stained windows. This appears to be the earliest indication of their foray into stained glass artwork, likely to have been done by James Urie himself. In the years to follow, the company exhibited at many Victorian state and Inter-colonial exhibitions and received many awards which would ultimately lead to their recognition as the leading studio in stained glass in the colony.
In early January 1857, David Ferguson decided to leave the partnership after only four years in the Colony and return to Scotland. On the 30th of January, 1857 a notice was placed in the Victorian Government Gazette advising of the dissolution of his involvement in the partnership of Ferguson & Urie but the business continued under the same name between James Ferguson and James Urie.
By the late 1850’s Ferguson & Urie were concentrating the business solely on glazing, lead light and stained glass windows and had many commissions for windows in churches and other significant public buildings and private mansions. In 1861 they displayed specimens of their ‘Ornamental Glazing in Lead’ at the Victorian Exhibition.
In late 1861 Ferguson & Urie engaged the services of John Lamb Lyon, a fellow Scot living in Maldon in the central Victorian goldfields district who had immigrated to Australia earlier in the year to join his parents. He was an experienced stained glass artist who had been an apprentice of Kearney & Co glass painters in Scotland and later worked with Ward & Hughes London glass painters to Queen Victoria.
In 1858 the Drape diaries indicate that James Ferguson had enticed the English stained glass artist David Relph Drape to Melbourne, but on his arrival in the colony, he found that the promised stained glass workshops had not been built due to the gold rush labour shortage. Drape immediately left for the gold fields and joined the firm on the 8th of November 1863. Drape initially trained as a decorative artist and worked mainly on church restoration projects in England, during which time he developed his architectural skills along with painting and first class work in stained glass art. Drape had been living in Maldon from around 1858 about the same time as the Scottish stained glass artist, John Lamb Lyon, and it is thought that they may have collaborated in the design and manufacture of the two-light window above the entrance to the Holy Trinity church in Maldon in 1863. However its manufacture was likely to have been completed in the Ferguson & Urie workshops in Melbourne. Drape also designed the Holy Trinity church, the Maldon Hospital and the Beehive Chimney in Maldon.
By 1863 it would seem that Ferguson & Urie had the monopoly in the design and manufacture of stained glass windows in the Colony and were admirably competing with the works of English stained glass being imported into the Colony. Possibly the earliest known extant windows designed and manufactured by Ferguson & Urie are the two light window at St. Margaret’s at Eltham commissioned in 1861, the triple-light window in St Pauls Ballarat circa 1861, and the window commissioned in 1862 for George Coppin’s Apollo Music Hall in Bourke Street Melbourne. It was known as the “Shakespeare” window and bequeathed to the State Library of Victoria in 1960 by George Coppin’s daughter Lucy.
The Intercolonial Exhibition in late 1866 is the earliest indication that Lyon had been installed as a partner in the firm and in February 1867 advertisements for Ferguson & Urie began appearing as “Ferguson, Urie, and Lyon”. By this time the company name was very well known and their magnificent workmanship was now in demand as far away as Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.
In August 1873, after just over ten years with Ferguson & Urie, Lyon left the partnership and on the 27th he sold his house and contents at Dudley Street, North Melbourne in preparation for his move to Sydney. On the 29th a notice appeared in the Victorian Government Gazette advising of the official dissolution of the partnership and the business name reverted to Ferguson & Urie. Lyon then took up partnership with an old friend Daniel Cottier to become Lyon, Cottier & Co Sydney.
In 1874 an advertisement appeared in the Argus indicating that Ferguson & Urie now had premises in Collins Street Melbourne and for many years the Argus advertised ‘…Rolled Plate, Cathedral, and coloured glass…Stained glass and lead lights at Curzon Street and 10 Collins Street East’.
In 1875 Ferguson & Urie exhibited their stained glass work at the Inter-colonial Exhibition and were awarded a silver medal and First Prize. The medal is known to be in the possession of a Urie descendant as well as a small photo of a poster presented to the founding partners by the employees. It depicts the images of the principals of the firm, James Ferguson and James Urie, employees, and photos of their business premises at Yarra Bank South, Curzon Street and Collins Street in June 1887. Another photo depicts the principals, James Ferguson & James Urie and an original is contained within the family history collections.
Around 1884, George James Coates was apprenticed to Ferguson & Urie at the age of fifteen. Coates was born in Emerald Hill on 8th August 1869 and studied at the North Melbourne School of Design and attended evening classes at the National Gallery School under Frederick McCubbin. His peers included such names as the Lindsay brothers, Max Meldrum and George Bell. Coates later married accomplished artist Dora Meeson and in April 1919 he became an official war artist to the Australian Government. His photo also appears in the Ferguson & Urie employee poster.
The Colonies appetite for stained glass artwork was by this time reaching its peak and the Ferguson & Urie business had grown considerably. In August 1884 the Melbourne Argus reported “Messrs Ferguson and Urie’s New Premises” was near completion at 10 Collins Street. The new building was seven stories (including basement) and was one of the first in Melbourne to be built with material known as “Hydraulic Freestone” (early concrete). The building was described in the Argus as one for its “bright and cheerful façade” due to the lighter colour and elaborate patterns employed in the freestone moulding.
On the 31st of January 1888 a fire broke out at the Ferguson & Urie Yarra Bank South glass store and workshops destroying the greater part of the premises. The fire was reported in newspapers as far away as Tasmania.
By August 1889 Ferguson & Urie began running advertisements in the Argus advertising the 10 Collins Street premises for sale. Around this time Collins Street was also undergoing a process of re-numbering due to the massive expansion of buildings in the street and the Collins Street building was known at “281 & 283 (Late 10), Collins St East” although simple advertisements continued in the Argus as 10 Collins Street East until 1892.
On the 21st of July 1890 partner James Urie died at the age of 62. Outside of the business he was a Justice of the Peace as well as a Councillor of Flemington and Kensington from August 1886 to August 1888, and Mayor from August 1887 to August 1888. His funeral procession was described as being “the most imposing seen in the borough” with all the employees of the firm marching in front of the hearse followed by mourning coaches and upward of fifty vehicles following. The Hon Alfred Deakin also played the part of a pall bearer at the grave site.
By April the following year Ferguson & Urie had vacated their magnificent Collins Street premises and retreated to their warehouse at 100 Franklin Street, three doors west of Elizabeth Street.
Increasing competition in the stained glass trade along with the stock market crash in 1890 was now undoubtedly taking a toll on the business and advertisements for Ferguson & Urie began to decline in the latter half of 1892 and then ceased to appear altogether.
On the 17th of April 1894, remaining partner James Ferguson died at the age of 76, beginning the final decline in the Ferguson & Urie company history. The business name continued for another five years possibly at the helm of Ferguson & Urie’s eldest sons, James Ferguson Jnr and William Urie until July 1899 when the business’s entire stock in trade at the 100 Franklin premises went up for unreserved sale. In early September the premises were advertised for rent.
On November 14th 1899 the flagship building of the Ferguson and Urie business at No 10 Collins street went under the auctioneers hammer at “12 O’Clock Noon” as reported in the Argus Newspaper. Dividends were declared for the shareholders in the business on the 21st of July 1899, and on the 21st of February 1901 the Citizens Life Assurance Company which was next door to the Ferguson & Urie building, advertised that they had purchased the property for an undisclosed sum. The building was eventually demolished circa 1915.
The Ferguson & Urie stained glass company was no more after a 46 year history.
To this date, the magnificent artistry and workmanship by all the artists and craftsmen in the company who were involved in the complex process of design, art, assembly, manufacture and installation of the stained glass windows has been largely unrecognised.
Throughout the Ferguson & Urie history, thousands of magnificent stained glass windows were created and installed in churches, public buildings and private mansions and homes around Melbourne and regional Victoria and as far as New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and three known instances in New Zealand.
A significant number of these windows can still be seen today in many of the heritage listed buildings and churches of all denominations throughout Victoria and interstate but sadly many were no doubt destroyed over the years as buildings were demolished prior to the establishment of the Victorian Heritage Act.
Identifying which stained glass windows were made by which artists and companies is tricky process as most early stained glass work is unmarked or signed, especially those in churches. Although some companies had artists and specialist glass and lead workers under their employ, many would undoubtedly have gained experience at other companies and no doubt moved on after Ferguson & Urie finally closed.
There are certain Ferguson & Urie traits in their artwork as well as in the construction, assembly, depth of colours used and positioning of the lead work. Some are tell-tale signs and others much harder to define. It’s usually easier to ascertain what is not a Ferguson & Urie window rather than what is, but the extraordinary depth of colours and artistic detail is a significant factor along with elaborate borders and the way the lead-work blends sometimes invisibly within their designs.
James Ferguson and James Urie are buried at the Melbourne General Cemetery along with many members of their immediate families. Their headstones are still in good condition considering they are well over a century old and unlike some of the old buildings that housed some of their magnificent artwork, their family mansions in Parkville and Flemington still exist in remarkable condition and have stories of their own that are yet to be told.
As at December 2016, just over 231 buildings have been located with one or more extant Ferguson & Urie stained glass windows. Some churches, such as St. Georges at Queenscliff and St. Andrew’s at Box Hill in Victoria, have been fortunate enough to have all their windows crafted by Ferguson & Urie.
© Ray Brown 2016 [Updated 28th Dec 2016]