Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Alfred Edments (1853–1909)

by Neilma Sidney

This article was published:

Alfred Edments (1853-1909), merchant and philanthropist, was born on 17 October 1853 at Whitechapel, London, son of James Edments, labourer, and his wife Ann, née Lyons. After brief schooling he worked for a firm of cork merchants but in his twentieth year sailed for Sydney, arriving virtually penniless. He joined his brother James, a contractor at Cowra, but soon returned to Sydney and was employed by a wholesale drapery firm for four years. To gain further experience he went to Wellington, New Zealand, to manage a dairy-produce store, but though the business thrived under his direction, in 1880 he went back to Sydney and became an auctioneer and commission agent in the firm of James Walker.

In 1888 Edments established himself as an auctioneer in Melbourne but soon founded the Melbourne Supply Stores at 82 Bourke Street. The firm became noted for its watches, clocks, jewellery, cutlery and fancy goods. Edments's hard work and intelligence brought prosperity and he established branch stores in several Melbourne suburbs and at Geelong; later two shops were opened in Hobart.

Edments made the first of three overseas buying trips in 1891-92 and established a buying office in London. In search of novelties he travelled through Europe and the United States of America and, with an ever-increasing trade, he employed English and Continental buyers to assist him. His fancy goods business was the largest in Victoria and became one of the largest of its kind in the Commonwealth. On 15 September 1896 he married Annie Fennell and they made their home at Goodwood, Canterbury Road, Surrey Hills. Edments was a strong-featured, good-looking man, with wide-apart blue eyes, short-cropped hair and a full moustache, a kind-hearted citizen who, though without a family of his own, loved children. He was also fond of animals, especially horses.

Edments established his main Melbourne store at 309-311 Bourke Street in a three-storied spacious building. He believed in the principle of 'spot cash' and conducted a large cash business through the post, inviting country shopkeepers to inspect his wholesale stock in the upper floors. To him, one satisfied customer was worth a page of advertisements. He trained his staff well and was ahead of his time in his consideration of them. He distributed a proportion of profits half-yearly in the form of staff premiums, and he gave full holiday pay; their salaries, and often their medical bills, were paid when they were ill. He made a substantial donation to the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital and his employees were obliged each to contribute one penny weekly towards its support.

Continual hard work caused Edments's health to deteriorate while he was still in his forties and, in the last nine months of his life, he managed his business from his home. There, on 13 July 1909, he died of heart disease, leaving an estate valued for probate at £107,594 and an enlightened will which enabled his trustees to expand his business should they wish to do so. In 1916 a store was set up in Adelaide and in 1928, also in Adelaide, a chain of stores was created where nothing was priced over 2s. 6d. In the early 1930s there were twenty-three Edments stores, many in the Melbourne suburbs. An outstanding provision of his will was that made for charities in the Melbourne and metropolitan area by the establishment of the Alfred Edments Trust, formed in perpetuity. The splendid benefaction is a memorial to a vigorous yet unassuming merchant who, arriving destitute in Australia, built up a notable business and a considerable fortune.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • J Allan (ed), The Victorian Centenary Book (np, 1936)
  • Australian Storekeepers' Journal, 21 Oct 1904, p 11, 31 July 1909, pp 55, 57, 30 Oct 1909, p 31.

Citation details

Neilma Sidney, 'Edments, Alfred (1853–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 25 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 October, 1853
London, Middlesex, England


13 July, 1909 (aged 55)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.