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Gadsden, Jabez (1858–1936)

by A. McLeary

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Jabez Gadsden (1858-1936), businessman, was born on 29 November 1858 at Blisworth, Northamptonshire, England, son of Elijah Gadsden, flour-miller, and his wife Harriet, née Allen. Jabez was employed in London in the boot manufacturing trade, and after migrating to Australia in 1879 he worked for three years for a Melbourne boot manufacturer. He began to keep accounts for Joseph Joyce, who had set up a bag-making business. Bags for rice were cut and sewn at Joyce's home, and sent out to be printed. As business grew, the firm obtained premises in William Street, Melbourne, and later moved to King Street, where the machinery consisted of a sewing-machine and a printing-press for printing the bags.

In 1884 Gadsden was made a partner in the business and, when Joyce moved to Sydney in 1889, became sole proprietor. The company now owned a litho-printing machine, and for a time undertook general printing work. Of an innovative turn of mind and interested in mechanical matters, Gadsden began in 1889 to experiment with the processes of printing on tinplate; it is claimed that he was the first man in Australia to practise the art. In 1896 he imported a flatbed lithographic press from England, and established a tinprinting and decorating works. The company produced the first printed can in Australia—a tea caddy commemorating the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. During the South African War, printed butter tins were supplied to the army, and the increase in trade made it necessary to import a second machine. In 1917 the first rotary machine to be brought to Australia was introduced.

Gadsden took over the business of a local tinsmith, and began to make tin canisters of all descriptions. The company had moved to Lonsdale Street, and in 1927 moved again to larger premises in West Melbourne. As well as textile bags and tin containers, the firm now produced canvas goods, wire mattresses and bedding, blinds and blind-rollers. By 1936 it had twelve factories spread throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Jabez had married Georgina Wilkinson, a milliner, on 24 December 1885 at Richmond, and they had three sons and a daughter. Georgina died in 1900. On 23 July 1902 he married Alice Strickland, principal of a girls' school and daughter of a Geelong clergyman. A member of a Plymouth Brethren sect, Gadsden attended church regularly. Always careful with his money, his philosophy was that every man should earn his keep, but he would help anyone genuinely in need. He took great interest in the well-being of his employees and staff. His interests were medicine, dentistry and biology, and in later years his hobby was making glass slides of insects and other objects, which he studied under his microscope.

Gadsden died at his home at Hawthorn on 12 December 1936 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery; his wife predeceased him. His estate was valued for probate at £62,107. In his will he left money to a number of his staff, to hospitals, charities and technical schools. He made provisions to ensure the preservation of family interest in the company, and although it is now a public company, it still bears his name and is managed by members of the third generation of the family.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Pratt (ed), The National Handbook of Australia's Industries (Melb, 1934)
  • O. White, The Saga of the Canmaking Industry in Australia (Melb, 1956)
  • Age (Melbourne), and Argus (Melbourne), 14 Dec 1936
  • Canberra Times, 7 June 1961
  • R. Gadsden, personal information, and F. Hodge, History of the firm of Gadsden and Company (manuscript, privately held).

Citation details

A. McLeary, 'Gadsden, Jabez (1858–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gadsden-jabez-6267/text10797, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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