Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Jenyns, Sarah Ann (1865–1952)

by Margaret Maynard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

This is a shared entry with Ebenezer Randolphus Jenyns

Ebenezer Randolphus Jenyns (1865-1958) and Sarah Ann Jenyns (1865-1952), surgical instrument makers and corset manufacturers, were husband and wife. Ebenezer was born on 27 July 1865 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, fourth son of English-born parents Joshua Jenyns, grocer, and his wife Betsy, née Willis. As a young man he was employed by Guyatt & Co., surgical instrument makers, Sydney. Sarah was born on 1 March 1865 at Largs, New South Wales, fifth child of Charles Thompson, a builder from Scotland, and his native-born wife Mary, née Bluford. Ebenezer and Sarah were married with Baptist forms on 5 October 1887 at the Burton Street Tabernacle, Woolloomooloo; they moved to Brisbane about 1896 and were to have eight children.

The family was poor, at the start. In 1905 Jenyns worked as a cutler, but by 1907 was also calling himself a surgical instrument maker. With his wife assisting, the business prospered, operating in 1909 from two addresses in Brisbane, one at 321 George Street. Yet the marriage and business partnership was shaky. From 1911 Sarah independently conducted her own business in George Street, making surgical instruments, corsets and belts. In 1910-12 she patented a series of corsets and 'improved' abdominal belts, and travelled abroad to expand her business. In England she contracted to have her corsets manufactured under licence by Symington & Co. of Market Harborough, Leicestershire. She also went to Canada, the United States of America and Germany, seeking to sell her products under licence. By 1915, although still running separate businesses, Sarah and Ebenezer formed the Jenyns Patent Corset Pty Co. to market her reducing, surgical and fashion corsets, accredited by the London Institute of Hygiene. In 1922 the firm (also called The House of Jenyns) was registered as a limited company.

Family relations became extremely acrimonious in the 1920s and remained so. Ebenezer continued to direct his own business, extended his field to include surgical corsets and lodged a patent for 'A Combination Surgical Substitute Corset' on 24 April 1923. That year his son John acquired Ebenezer's business: he traded as Jenyns Truss & Patent Pty Co. at 355 George Street, still using the trade mark of E. R. Jenyns. The split heralded long-term divisions in the family and its businesses.

Ebenezer reactivated his manufacturing in 1925 as the Improved Patent Corset Syndicate. He continued to advertise as a supplier of surgical goods and as a corset-maker in the 1930s and 1940s, though he was not a success in business. An active worker for the Young Women's Christian Association and widely known as an open-air preacher, he was a veritable 'bookworm' and a formidable debater. He eventually retired to Kuraby.

In 1916, having recovered from a stroke, Sarah had built three-storey premises at 327 George Street which remained the core of her business. Her son Herbert, who trained as a surgical instrument maker under Ebenezer during World War I, joined her about 1920. The business was sound and employed fifteen women. She took control of the Jenyns Patent Corset Co. Pty Ltd and in 1925 bought into another building, probably at 309-315 George Street. Sarah continued to patent improvements to her surgical corsets. In 1928 Herbert, by then the manager, branched into the manufacture of foundation garments and underclothing. The firm continued to grow, despite competition in the 1920s from Berlei Ltd (their main rivals), the Gossard Co. and Symington.

Jenyns prospered as a protected industry in World War II, receiving large contracts to supply garments to the army and navy. In 1946 Herbert became managing director of a new Jenyns company. Sarah lapsed into senility and was placed under a protection order in 1948. Three years later, in the Supreme Court, it was alleged that Herbert had unduly influenced his mother to transfer 13,655 shares in the company to him. She died on 29 February 1952 at Huntingtower, her home at Annerley, and was buried with Presbyterian forms in South Brisbane cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at £51,001. Survived by five of his six sons and by one of his two daughters, Ebenezer died on 13 July 1958 at Rocklea and was buried in Toowong cemetery with the forms of the Churches of Christ. Herbert continued to manage the company which expanded extensively in the 1960s; he became a millionaire and a noted yachtsman.

Select Bibliography

  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 15 Mar 1951, 15 July 1958
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15, 20 Mar 1951, 24 June 1967
  • Commonwealth Patent and Trade Marks records (Australian Industrial Property Organization, Canberra)
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Maynard, 'Jenyns, Sarah Ann (1865–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jenyns-sarah-ann-10711/text18881, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014