W. H. Burford & Son

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W. H. Burford and Son was a soap and candle-making business founded in Adelaide in 1840 by William Henville Burford (1807–1895), an English butcher who arrived in the new colony in 1838. It was one of the earliest soapmakers in Australia, and up to the 1960s when it closed, the oldest. Its expansion, (in the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, at the hands of son William Burford) accompanied by a number of takeovers, made it the dominant soap manufacturer in South Australia and Western Australia. Its founders were noted public figures in the young city of Adelaide.

W. H. Burford and Son was in turn taken over by J. Kitchen & Sons, who became Lever & Kitchen, part of the British Lever Brothers empire, which in 1930 merged with Dutch Margarine Unie to form the multi-national Unilever.

W. H. Burford and Son[edit]


W. H. Burford's first factory was on the corner of Grenfell Street and East Terrace, later the site of an Adelaide Electric Supply Company's building, (AESC became the Electricity Trust of S.A. – ETSA – in 1946) and in 1989, the Tandanya aboriginal cultural centre. Initially it was little more than a tin shed staffed by half-a-dozen workers. During one of the recessions that faced the colony, Burford was forced to sell the land then lease it back to keep the business running.

The second factory, opened in 1900 at Sturt Street, previously owned by competitor Tidmarsh & Co,[1] occupied 4 acres of floor space ( 19,000 sq yards / 16,000m2 / 1.6 hectares ) and employing over 200 men. Its most salient feature was the brick chimney – 152 ft 4in (46.5m) in height and a flue diameter of 4 ft (1.2m), and still standing (though no longer used). The boiler room housed four boilers, one of which was 27 ft long and 7 ft 6in in diameter (8.2m x 2.3m) and the largest to have been built in South Australia. The still-room had six large stills: four for distillation of stearine and two for glycerine. The building was organised so that manufacture started on the top floor and progressed by chutes or conveyors to the second floor for wrapping and packaging, thence to the ground floor, all with a minimum of handling.[2] The smell emanating from the Sturt Street factory, despite installation of deep drainage, was the source of much complaint from neighbours.[3]

The factory on Adam Street, Hindmarsh which Burford took over from Apollo Soap Ltd (and continued to be called the "Apollo Works"), was the site of work mostly peripheral to the core business of soap and candle making, such as rendering down of animal fats and grinding of corn, bone, starch and blacking. These premises were destroyed by fire on 25 December 1907.

After the Sturt Street premises were destroyed by fire, a new factory was then set up in Dry Creek near the railway station where there had once been a smelter.[4] Manufacture resumed in 1922. Much was made at the time of a model suburb to serve employees of the soap works and the nearby abattoirs. "Burford Garden Suburb" as it was named, was designed by W. J. Earle, the town planner behind Cadbury's model town at Claremont, Tasmania.[5] The Dry Creek lots were snapped up immediately they were offered for sale.[6] The greater part of the Sturt Street property was sold around the same time.[7] "Burford Gardens" as the name of a suburb has since vanished, though its streets remain: Flame Avenue, Gum Avenue, Wattle Avenue, Grevillea Avenue and Bushwood Avenue, all in what is now known as Dry Creek.[6]

In Western Australia, the Victoria Park factory opened in 1897. After taking over the Swan Soap and Candle Company Ltd., the Rocky Bay factory opened in 1899,[8] and Kalgoorlie factories opened later.


Products manufactured during the history of W. H. Burford & Son include:

  • Soaps: "Burford's Prize No 1" soap, "Signal" soap, mottled soap, yellow soap, transparent soap, White Naptha soap, Apollo laundry soap in various sized bars, Borax soap, "Sayso" carbolic family soap, "Snowflakes" extract of soap powder, Dr Bayley's medicated soap, sulphur soap, White Dove soap, and kerosene soap (foliage spray for controlling insects)
  • "Exhibition" candles, carriage candles, bedroom candles, piano candles
  • "Brunswick" stove blacking
  • "Excelsior" blacklead
  • Linoleum polish ("Roylat" brand in Western Australia)
  • Boot polish, boot cream
  • "Swansdown" starch
  • Soda crystals
  • Magic Egg Preserver (waterglass)
  • "Southern Sky" washing blue
  • Snow-white starch
  • Lubricating oils[9]
  • Greases
  • Bone manure

Public nuisance[edit]

When Burford's soapworks and Peacock's tannery were founded on Grenfell Street, there were no residences nearby; nothing but virgin bushland. But as the population grew nearby (and to some extent attracted by the businesses), the number of complaints about smells grew until, in 1866, a case was brought against Burford in the Supreme Court. The jury appeared to be convinced by the argument that the complainants had chosen to build knowing what trades were carried on there so had no right to complain, and found for the defendant.[10]

The Council had other plans. In 1919 it offered Burfords £12,000 as an incentive to move out of the city altogether. The offer was turned down, so the Council amended the Health Act to prohibit such industries,[11] then the fire engulfed the factory and the Dry Creek facility moved a big step towards reality.


In 1885 a fire which started in a timber yard in Grenfell Street and East Terrace spread to Burford's factory, which was destroyed. This led to the establishment of a factory in Sturt Street.[12]

On 25 December 1907, the factory on Adam Street, Hindmarsh, "The Apollo Works" was destroyed in one of the greatest fires in Adelaide's history, along with neighbouring skin dealers Wilcox and Co. in River Street (then Torrens Street). The nearby factory of G. H. Michell & Sons and David Reid's tannery suffered lesser damage.[13]

In 1919 the works bounded by Sturt, Gilbert, Norman and Russell Streets in the city were destroyed by fire and a new factory was then set up in Dry Creek; the office area was rebuilt and the rest sold.


Other early soap and candle makers of South Australia included:

  • J. H. M. Hawkes
  • J. Tidmarsh & Co.
  • Walker Brothers
  • Apollo Soap and Candle factory at Adams Street, Hindmarsh. (est. 1881) was taken over by W. H. Burford.
  • Bunyip Soaps (1898 – ca.1955) had a factory at Winwood Street, Southwark,[14] and became Crompton Bunyip Soaps Ltd. (c. 1955 – c. 1991) It was still trading in 1962 with offices at 49 Flinders Street, Adelaide, and factory at Winwood St, Thebarton.[15]

The other major Australian soap manufacturer was J. Kitchen & Sons of Melbourne, which dominated the Eastern States much as Burfords had dominated South and Western Australia. Lever Brothers of England had a factory in Sydney and one in Wellington, New Zealand.

Merger and Acquisition[edit]

In 1924, Lever and Kitchen and W. H. Burford & Sons formed Australian Producers Partnership Pty Ltd. Burford ordinary shares were held by Lever and Kitchen; around 1962 after a few more takeovers the parent company was renamed Unilever.[16] The Burford's factory was still running profitably in the mid-50s, and the factory at Dry Creek was still listed as such in 1962; the office at 83 Sturt Street still bore the Burford's name, alongside that of its nominal owner J. Kitchen & Sons Ltd, Rexona Pty. Ltd. and Lever Brothers Pty. Ltd.[15]

W. H. Burford[edit]

William Henville Burford – Soap Manufacturer. ca.1890

William Henville Burford (24 January 1807 – 23 October 1895) was an apprenticed butcher with some experience as a tallow merchant and chandler in Cannon Street, St George's East, in the East End of London. In 1838 he emigrated to South Australia for his health's sake with his wife and three daughters on the Pestonjee Bomanjee, arriving at Glenelg on 11 October.[17] Initially he found work as a painter and glazier, and soon had one of the larger businesses in the Colony.[1] In 1840, when a recession had made those trades unprofitable, he was able to start a soap and candle factory in 134 (154?) Grenfell Street.[12] The business failed several times, but revived with the opening of the Burra copper mine in 1848, then the Moonta and Wallaroo mines around 1863.[18]

Burford was an alderman of the Adelaide Town Council for 1840 and 1841. During his second term he earned the nickname of "ninepenny dips" for his proposal to more than double the council rates to that figure (and "dip" being a form of candle), and was reviled for proposing other stringencies.[19] He was not elected the following year and was vindicated when the Council collapsed, bankrupt.

Burford was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly for the seat of City of Adelaide in 1857.[20] He was prominent in debates and a strong supporter of Robert Torrens' Real Property Act, but resigned in 1859.

Burford was a devout churchgoer, worshipping with the Independent Baptists, then Scotch Baptists and finally the Unley Church of Christ.[18]

Family of W. H. Burford[edit]

He married three times:

  • Elizabeth Messent (c. 1814 – 14 July 1858) in May 1833[18]
Elizabeth "Edith" Burford (c.1832 – 28 January 1900)[21]
m. Charles Bowen (c. 1834 – 5 September 1870) on 10 April 1857; their eldest son F. A. "Arthur" Bowen became manager of Burford & Son.
m. Rev. R. K. Finlayson (27 April 1839 – 27 March 1917) on 19 August 1884 (his first wife, also Elizabeth, died 1880[22])
Ann Burford second daughter (c.1837 – 1 April 1852)
Sarah Burford (died 1838 on voyage)
Gertrude Burford (c. 1841 – 18 August 1914) married Robert Eddy 10 September 1885
Benjamin Burford (c. 1843 – 18 May 1905) married Mary Jane Ware (died 24 July 1930) on 24 May 1866. He died, aged 65, from a self-inflicted gunshot after suffering head pains and deafness for seven years.[23] He had only five years previously built a large house "Attunga" on 4.5 acres (1.8ha) at 120 Kensington Road, in what was then Rose Park.[24]
William Burford (11 December 1845 – 6 March 1925) who oversaw the greatest development of the company
  • Mary Ann Messent (c. 1815 – 22 September 1879), (sister of first wife Elizabeth Messent), on 31 October 1861
  • Frances Sarah Ann Hawkes, née Symonds, the widow of John H. M. Hawkes (c. 1827 – 14 October 1858) in 1880.[25]

William Burford[edit]

William Henry Burford 1893
1892 portrait in oil of William Burford by his son, artist Frederick Rumsey Burford (1870–1928)

William Burford (11 December 1845 – 6 March 1925) was born in a cottage at 154 Grenfell Street, Adelaide,[26] adjacent to his father's factory.

He was educated first at the Church of England Grammar School in Pulteney Street then, with brother Benjamin, at J. L. Young's Adelaide Educational Institution in Stephens Place. Leaving school, he joined his father's business. In 1878 he and his brother Benjamin were taken into partnership, but after about eight years the latter withdrew from the enterprise.[12]

In 1868, while on holiday in New Zealand, William visited a soap works which boiled soap using steam rather than fire. On his return to Adelaide he wasted no time in getting his father to adopt this method.[5]

He was chairman of directors of the company from 1895 until his death, in his Belair home (on Sheoak Road) called "Birralee". When he took the reins, the company had 6 employees; at the time of his death it had grown to over 500 spread over several factories, though his time as a hands-on manager had long since passed.[12]

Philanthropy and Public Works[edit]

William Burford's many offices, services and philanthropic deeds included:

Justice of the Peace from 1890 to 1893.
For over 60 years he was a member of the council of the Chamber of Manufactures, and served both as president and vice-president.
For some years he was a member of the Adelaide Hospital Board, resigning in 1913.[27]
He was on the committee of the Home for Incurables.[28]
He was on the board of the Adelaide Licensing Bench from 1902.[29]
For 12 years he served as a member of the Unley Council.
He was alderman and councillor on the Glenelg Council.
He was a vice-president of the Industrial School for the Blind[30] and Royal Institution for the Blind from its foundation, and of the organising committee for its Great Floral Fair.[31]
He was treasurer of Adelaide City Mission until 1902.[32]
He was on the board of the Adelaide Benevolent and Strangers' Friend Society.
He was on the board of the Belair Inebriate Retreat.[33]
He was a life member of the Adelaide Y.M.C.A., and its president from 1914.[34]
He was, like his father, a lifelong member of the Church of Christ, originally with the Grote Street Church, then Unley and Glenelg, which were established largely due to his generosity.
He donated his property in Unley to the Church of Christ, to assist in establishing Ellerslie College, a Church of Christ school for girls at Magill Road, Magill.
For over 30 years he supported Church missions to India and China.
He was a generous supporter of the British and Foreign Bible Society.[12]

Mrs Burford was a prominent member of the Wattle Blossom League (later Wattle Day League) and held an annual function at "Monomeith", the Burfords' summer residence at Ashton.[35]


He was a life member of the South Australian Cricket Association and a member of the East Adelaide Cricket Club.

In his later years he was a serious bowls player.

He was a keen yachtsman, was a member of the Holdfast Bay Sailing Club (and Vice-commodore in 1896)[36] and with son F. R. Burford owned the yacht Empress 1894 – 1896.[37]

Family of William Burford[edit]

William married Mary Richardson (c. 1845 – 12 May 1921) on 11 November 1867. She died at their home "Birralee", in Glenelg. Their 53 year marriage produced eleven children,[38] of whom five sons and four daughters survived childhood. All five sons went into the family business:

  • William Henville Burford II (1 November 1868 – 27 May 1947) married Alice Louise Carr on 17 September 1891
  • Frederick Rumsey Burford (10 or 30 April 1870 – 14 August 1928 at Glenelg) married Elizabeth Genevieve Kellery
  • Hubert Henry Richardson Burford (22 Mar 1872 – 8 Nov 1907 in Sydney, two weeks after wedding) married Annie Morish on 23 October 1907[39]
  • Lillian May Burford – b: 2 March 1874. m: Thomas Eyres 13 October 1899[40]
  • Evaline Sarah Burford (10 February 1876 – 6 Apr 1961, Fullarton) married Horace Cansfield Park[41] on 11 November 1919. Evaline lived in Birralee, Belair in the 1930s
  • Emily Finlayson "Emmie" Burford (10 Jun 1878 – 23 Oct 1953) never married – lived at Birralee, Belair in the 1920s and 1930s.[42]
  • Horace Edgar Colls Burford (11 September 1881 – 24 Jan 1947) married Sibyl Freda Jay on 11 November 1915
  • James Clifford Burford (6 October 1883 – 6 Feb 1970, Fullarton) married Margaret Mary Marshall, who died in 1920s. He was Detective Inspector of Customs. Lived at Birralee, Belair in 1930s.
    • Only daughter Gwenyth Marshall Burford – engaged to Ronald F Angel, 18 February 1936[43] but married Wilfred Douglas Verco, 8 August 1938[44][45]
  • Alice Gertrude Marion "Allie Marian" Burford (30 Jan 1886 – 7 September 1925 at her residence, Birralee, Belair) married Octavius Cyril Beale, eighth son of Octavius Beale of 'Llanarth', Burwood NSW, on 11 November 1914; her parents' wedding anniversary,[47] a tradition followed by several of her siblings
    • Two daughters: Beverley Burford Beale and Megan Beale

After the death of his wife, he sold the Glenelg mansion "Birralee" on Albert Terrace and Seawall, in September 1921,[48] and the summer home "Monomeith", on 3 acres (1.2 ha) at Ashton, South Australia, in 1922.[49] By 1921, both the Monomeith and Birralee Glenelg properties were mostly used by Mrs. Burford and her daughters.

He died on 6 March 1925 at his "Birralee, Belair" home on Sheoak Road in Belair, located next to the National Park and overlooking the Adelaide Plains. He had suffered a heart attack a year previously.[12] At some stage he had married the widow of William Finlayson jun. and she nursed him in his final years.[12]



  1. ^ a b Messrs W. H. Burford & Co's (sic) Jubilee The Advertiser 4 November 1890 p.6 accessed 8 July 2011
  2. ^ An Immense Industrial Concern South Australian Register 9 June 1900 p.4 accessed 5 July 2011
  3. ^ "The Burford Soap-Factory Case". Evening Journal (Adelaide). XV, (4338). South Australia. 6 April 1883. p. 3. Retrieved 5 May 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  4. ^ A Fine New Factory The Advertiser 16 June 1920 p.9 accessed 8 July 2011
  5. ^ a b An Old-Established Business The Register 31 May 1922 p.8 accessed 4 July 2011
  6. ^ a b Burford Gardens – Wonderful Public Enthusiasm The Mail 14 April 1923 p.1 accessed 8 July 2011
  7. ^ Factories, Garages, Foundries and Workshops The Mail 28 April 1923 p.1 accessed 8 July 2011
  8. ^ Popular Laundry Soaps The West Australian 8 June 1933 p.7 accessed 8 July 2011
  9. ^ Manufacture of Oil South Australian Register Tuesday 29 November 1892 p.7 accessed 5 July 2011
  10. ^ Supreme Court South Australian Register 8 September 1866 p.3 accessed 7 July 2011
  11. ^ http://www.adelaidecitycouncil.com.au/adccwr/publications/reports_plans/city_of_adelaide_thematic_history.pdf
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Mr. W. Burford – a Large-Hearted Citizen The Register 7 March 1925 p.13 accessed 4 July 2011
  13. ^ Parsons, Ronald Hindmarsh Town Corporation of the Town of Hindmarsh, South Australia, 1974 ISBN 0-9598793-0-7
  14. ^ "Soapworks at Southwark". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931. 29 July 1890. 
  15. ^ a b Sands & McDougall's Directory, 1962 ed. p.1633
  16. ^ "Lever & Kitchen Pty Ltd, Personal Care Product Manufacturers, Sydney, New South Wales". 
  17. ^ http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/fh/passengerlists/1838PestonjeeBomanjee.htm
  18. ^ a b c Burford, William Henville Taylor, Herbert R. Australian Dictionary of Biography online accessed 8 July 2011
  19. ^ "HINDMARSH WARD—THE VACANT SEAT OF ALDERMAN. - South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900) - 15 Aug 1854". 
  20. ^ The Parliament South Australian Register 6 May 1857 p.4 accessed 7 July 2011
  21. ^ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54419634
  22. ^ Family Notices South Australian Register 16 October 1880 Supplement p.2 accessed 21 July 2011
  23. ^ Death of Mr. Benjamin Burford Kalgoorlie Western Argus Tuesday 23 May 1905 p.30 Accessed 22 August 2011
  24. ^ In 1944, Otto von Reiben donated the 4.5 acre property "Attunga" to the City of Burnside for a hospital now named the Burnside War Memorial Hospital, in what is now known as Toorak Gardens – Darren Young and Chris Marks, Landmarks of Burnside, Celebrating our city – 150 years, City of Burnside, August 2007, page 51
  25. ^ "Obituary". The Chronicle. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 22 February 1902. p. 33. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  26. ^ Death of Mr. W. Burford Barrier Miner (Broken Hill) Saturday 7 March 1925 p.5 accessed 4 July 2011
  27. ^ Adelaide Hospital The Register 11 April 1913 p.6 accessed 8 July 2011
  28. ^ "Labour Bureaus". South Australian Register. Saturday, April 2, 1892.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  29. ^ Concerning People The Register Thursday 27 March 1902 p.5 accessed 8 July 2011
  30. ^ "Cheesemaking Experiments". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931). 3 August 1901. 
  31. ^ "The Committees". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931). 11 April 1903. 
  32. ^ "Adelaide City Mission". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931). 5 December 1902. 
  33. ^ "Belair Inebriate Retreat". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931). 17 September 1902. 
  34. ^ Current Comment The Mail 7 February 1914 p.8 accessed 8 July 2011
  35. ^ Concerning People The Register Friday 13 May 1921 p.8 accessed 8 July 2011
  36. ^ Yachting The Advertiser 15 November 1895 p.6 accessed 10 July 2011
  37. ^ Yachting South Australian Register 26 December 1894 p.7 accessed 5 July 2011
  38. ^ William Burford family tree, www.mypioneerancestors.com.au
  39. ^ Marriages Burford-Morish, The Advertiser, 12 November 1907, p.4
  40. ^ Marriages, South Australian Register, 21 October 1899, p.6
  41. ^ Horace Cansfield Park AAMC AIEF of "Bryndale", West Bridgeford, Nottingham, England – Engagements, The Mail, 13 May 1916, p.4
  42. ^ Party at Birralee, Belair, "Social Notes" conducted by Idra, The Advertiser, Friday 9 December 1932, pg 16
  43. ^ Engagement Announced, The Advertiser, Tuesday 18 February 1936, p.7
  44. ^ Wedding Dates, The Advertiser, 22 July 1938, p.8
  45. ^ Verco—Burford Wedding At St. John's, The Advertiser, 9 August 1938, p.9 – contains guest list which includes many Burford names
  46. ^ Mrs Douglas Verco and her son Richard visited her father Mr J C Burford at American River over Xmas 1950 – Holidays, The Advertister, 26 December 1950, p.6
  47. ^ Weddings Beale-Burford, The Mail, 14 November 1914, p.5
  48. ^ "Birralee" Glenelg The Register 22 September 1921 p.5 accessed 4 July 2011
  49. ^ Home in the Hills (advt.) (Property at Ashton) The Register 30 November 1922 p.5 accessed 8 July 2011