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Ross, Thomas (Tom) (1866–1936)

by Barrie Dyster

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

This is a shared entry with Joseph Ross

Joseph Ross (c.1836-1909) and Thomas Ross (1866-1936), glassmakers, were father and son. Joseph was born at Sunderland, Durham, England, son of Scottish-born parents. On 7 December 1859 in Edinburgh he married Christina Frazer (c.1841-1914), from Wick. They were to have four children born in Scotland and another ten in Australia. Joseph became a glassblower and about 1865 migrated with his family to Rockhampton, Queensland. In Sydney next year J. A. Brown employed him as a bottle maker. By 1871 Ross occupied his own premises in Australia Street, Camperdown, later named the Perseverance Glass Works. Here his workforce made bottles although, as he was a staunch Methodist and supporter of the temperance movement, apparently not for brewers, distillers and vintners.

In the early 1880s Ross subscribed to the Protection and Political Reform League and was an inaugural committee-member (1885) of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales. Next year he helped to create the Protection Union of New South Wales. In 1887 he was a founding director of the Australian Newspaper Co. Ltd, which launched the protectionist newspaper the Australian Star, and a delegate to the first intercolonial conference of Chambers of Manufactures, in Adelaide. Next year he attended a subsequent conference in Melbourne.

Neighbours at times hauled Ross into court under the Smoke Nuisances Protection Act. In 1885 he had been brought before a parliamentary select committee, established by free traders to enquire into allegations that the protectionist Ninian Melville had corruptly helped Ross to sell land at Newtown to the Department of Railways at an inflated valuation. The committee found the charge 'not proven'.

Glassblowing was a family trade. Christina, at least early in the marriage, made the clay pots and crucibles within which the molten alloy was smelted. Four sons entered the business. When young, the daughters swept the works and shovelled coke into the furnaces; one married a glassblower. In 1894 Ross sold his factory to the Australian Drug Co., which tore it down to end competition with the company's North Botany (Mascot) bottle works. Ross agreed to stay out of business for ten years, but within three months his sons John and Alexander, as Ross Bros, had opened new kilns in Bray Street, Erskineville. Joseph and Christina moved next door to this factory and at times Christina was listed as its owner. Joseph's photograph showed a bold and mischievous face, with a fair curly beard and flourishing moustache. He died at home on 23 July 1909 and was buried in the Methodist section of Rookwood cemetery. His wife, five sons and two daughters survived him. Christina died on 14 June 1914.

Their fifth child Thomas had been born at Dixon Street on 18 August 1866, said to have been the night his father first fashioned a bottle in Sydney. Tom was business manager of the Perseverance works from an early age. On 23 January 1895 at St Paul's Church of England, Redfern, he married Ann Elizabeth Tye, née Mason, a widow. After 1894, instead of joining John and Alexander in Ross Bros, he managed glassworks at Alexandria, where he became associated with the Scottish-born master glassblower David Vance (c.1852-1931). Vance had arrived in Sydney about 1886 with his wife Catherine, née Hutton, whom he had married on 24 April 1885 at Glasgow. He worked for the Australian Drug Co. at its North Botany bottle works and then acquired two small glass-foundries at Waterloo. By 1904 he was in partnership with Thomas Ross. Their Alexandria Glass Works was known particularly for fruit preserving jars and whisky bottles.

A Freemason and a justice of the peace, Thomas had learned his politics in the tight little world of Camperdown and Newtown and followed his father as a committee member of the Chamber of Manufactures. In 1908-09 he was mayor of Waterloo. He was recruited by (Sir) James Joynton Smith as senior vice-president and government nominee on the board of South Sydney Hospital in 1909. His wife Elizabeth joined the board in January 1913. In 1910 Thomas failed to win Liberal pre-selection for the State seat of Botany.

Australian Glass Manufacturers Co. Ltd bought out Vance & Ross in 1915, paying the partners £24,000 in cash. As well, Vance received 9000 A.G.M. shares and Ross 7000. The Alexandria plant was demolished. Ross, in poor health for some years, retired to Burraneer Bay, Cronulla, naming his home Bottles. In the 1920s Vance moved to Glen Nevis, next door, where he died on 25 August 1931. An ardent promoter of Empire Day, Ross had celebrated the end of World War I by creating a large mosaic of three flags from coloured bottle glass set in concrete at his front gate, in honour of and relief at the survival of his sons Flight Lieutenant Frederick and Lance Corporal Thomas (who had won the Military Medal) and of a nephew. Thomas Ross senior died at his home on 27 December 1936, survived by his wife and their two sons.

Both sons worked for the A.G.M. subsidiary Crown Crystal Glass Pty Ltd, set up in 1926 to make cut glass, lighting ware and Pyrex. Young Tom became commercial manager. A stocky, hard-faced man, he presided over the works' cricket team, its golf days and its annual ball and represented the company in court against the trade unions. In 1955, however, the board tried to force his resignation, perhaps because of his ill health, and when he refused dismissed him. He died at his Bellevue Hill home on 18 February 1963. Legends he and his father had elaborated about their family as pioneer glassmakers, into which they had adopted Vance, were accepted by A.G.M. (later Australian Consolidated Industries Ltd) without question as part of its corporate history.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Chubb (ed), Jubilee Souvenir of the Municipality of Newtown (Syd, 1912), p 200
  • C. R. Hall, The Manufacturers (Syd, 1971)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883, vol 1, p 127, vol 3, p 1013, 1885-86, vol 1, p 60, vol 2, pp 113 & 117
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), vol 18, 11 Dec 1885, p 449, 28 Jan 1886, p 603, 24 Feb 1886, p 868
  • South Sydney Hospital, Annual Report, 1910-18
  • Manufacturers’ Journal, 15 July 1910, p 170
  • Royal Australian Historical Society, History, no 77, Sept 2003, p 7
  • Newtown Chronicle, 29 Sept 1894
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 24 July 1909, p 9, 12 Oct 1910, p 8
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 1909, p 12, 16 June 1914, p 8, 26 Aug 1931, p 13
  • Town & Country Journal, 24 June 1914, p 28
  • Hurstville Propeller, 31 Dec 1936, p 1
  • Australian Drug Co records, minute book, 10 Nov 1893 - 1 Nov 1894 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • ACI records (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Barrie Dyster, 'Ross, Thomas (Tom) (1866–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ross-thomas-tom-13281/text23855, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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