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Permewan, John (1837–1904)

by Suzanne G. Mellor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

John Permewan (1837-1904), carrier, was born in Penzance, Cornwall, England, son of John Permewan and his wife Grace, née Harvey. He arrived in Ballarat in the early 1850s and soon realized the potential of a carrying service by river and road. In 1854 Browne, Osborne & Co. started in Geelong as carriers and commission agents operating between Geelong and Ballarat; Permewan was an employee until 1861 when he became a partner. In that year Browne and Osborne formed separate companies; Browne, Sons & Co. lapsed, but T. Osborne & Co., with Permewan in association, carried on business until 1869. E. Hunt joined them in 1864 and in 1869 Permewan Hunt & Co. was formed. Hunt retired in 1876, J. E. Wright replaced him and the company became Permewan Wright & Co. It became a limited company in 1879.

By then business had expanded dramatically both in volume and area covered. In July 1875 Permewan Hunt & Co. bought Coghill's and the Wagga Wagga Steam Navigation Co. and within six months had the largest share of the Echuca trade, having run smaller and hitherto effective agents out of business. From Echuca the company expanded up the Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers, consolidating constantly and eliminating competition. By 1888 Permewan Wright had forty-eight branches in Victoria and New South Wales and agencies at almost every railway station; the network extended from Bourke on the Darling through all the principal towns on the Murray and Murrumbidgee, to Geelong and Melbourne. Their London agent, Pickford & Son, linked them to an extensive international trade. Their commission business meant that they sometimes had £50,000 advanced on goods, and the Collins Street three-storied bluestone warehouse was full of produce, especially colonial-grown tobacco and hops often stored for local manufacturers. The company pioneered 'express waggons' which could carry six tons and used teams of relief horses stationed along the roads. It also had two cargo and three passenger steamers constantly running between Geelong and Melbourne. In the 1890s when many agents, particularly river traders, were forced out of business, Permewan Wright & Co. continued and thereby were stronger than competitors after the depression.

John Permewan remained superintendent of the firm until failing health forced him to retire in 1902. He travelled constantly on train and coach through Victoria and New South Wales, seeming only to tire in his last years. He was interested in charities and his unfinished will, by which he had intended to give to charities, was carried out by his family. His only public post was a seat on the Ballarat Hospital Committee. Aged 67 he died at his home in Ballarat on 23 December 1904, survived by his wife Isabelle, née Towers, and by a son and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • S. Priestley, Echuca: A Centenary History (Brisb, 1965)
  • Traveller (Melbourne), 1897
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25 Dec 1904.

Citation details

Suzanne G. Mellor, 'Permewan, John (1837–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/permewan-john-4390/text7151, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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