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Ernest James Theodore (Theo) Mashman (1895–1964)

by E. A. Ungar

This article was published:

Ernest James Theodore (Theo) Mashman (1895-1964), potter, was born on 19 August 1895 at Willoughby, Sydney, elder son of Henry Mashman (1856-1922), potter, and his second wife Elizabeth Simpson, née Wieland, a widow. Theo, as he was known, represented the second generation of Mashmans in Australia. His father and uncles William (1851-1912), John (1858-1918) and George (1869-1951), sons of James Mashman, a potter at Doulton's Lambeth works, and his wife Harriet Frances, née Baker, had been born in London within the smell of Doulton's kilns. Familiar from birth with the business of salt-glazed bottles and jars, drain pipes, conduits, sewers and water pipes, they were apprenticed to various specialities in the firm. William, after his marriage to Charlotte Bundock in 1876, moved to her home at Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, and worked at the small Victoria pottery. Her relatives had been in Victoria during the gold rushes: after her death in 1880, he persuaded Henry to migrate with him to Australia. They reached Sydney on 10 July 1883, worked at the Fieldsend pottery, Maitland, and then, in partnership with James Sandison, took over a pottery at Willoughby in 1885.

Despite primitive equipment, this Victoria pottery flourished, producing hand-thrown household stoneware, pipes, junctions, traps and chimney-pots for the North Shore building boom. In 1887 William's mother, sons and brothers joined them. In 1889 John established a redware plant, the Carrington, at Auburn and in 1892 bought Sandison out of the Victoria. More relatives from Leigh, the Days and the Sachs, all skilled potters, arrived and the family business grew on the solid basis of housebuilding necessaries, although their early venture into art-ware was a commercial failure. Another pottery at Kingsgrove was established in 1910 by William's son, Frederick Albert (1879-1964).

Theo had practically grown up with the business. Trained at Sydney Technical College after schooling at a convent in Archer Street and Chatswood Public School, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 October 1915, joining the Australian Army Medical Corps. Fibrosis of the lungs saw him in and out of hospital during service with the 2nd Field Ambulance in France. He returned to Australia in June 1918, and married Ruby Millicent Eason on 19 May 1922 at St Jude's Church, Randwick.

Henry, the last potter of his generation, died that year and Theo became chairman and managing director of Mashman Bros Ltd. The Victoria works were small and old-fashioned. By 1926 the directors realized the need to restructure them. The firm, therefore, became a limited liability company, although it remained a close-knit family business. Mashman visited the United States of America and in 1927 a new factory with imported American machinery was constructed. He spearheaded the struggle to prevent the substitution of concrete for stoneware pipes for sewerage purposes. He helped to found the Clay Products Association of Australia with branches in every State, to represent pottery interests to the government and to publicize the trade, which it did with some success. In November 1933 Mashman and Thomas Campbell (managing director of R. Fowler Ltd) founded its magazine the Clay Products Journal of Australia (now Australian National Clay). Mashman was president of the association in 1937-38 and remained an outstanding member for most of his life, being largely responsible for expanding the membership which eventually included brick and ceramics manufacturers.

In the 1930s Theo Mashman was presented as the model, go-ahead, Australian manufacturer, patriotic returned serviceman and sportsman, avid motorist and yachtsman. He revived the firm's interest in art-ware with a promotional appeal to 'Australian-made, Australian workmen, Australian artists and Australian clay'. With modern methods and high quality material, the new line of 'Regal Art' ware, including ornamental bowls, vases and jugs, was to provide articles equal to most that could be imported and at a price the average housewife could afford. Artists such as Loma Latour, wife of Raymond Lindsay, were employed to make Art Deco pieces. Profit, however, depended on the production from 1932 of 'Bristol gloss' ware, especially sanitary and lavatory ware, and from 1935 of mass production methods.

In World War II the company received many government contracts for essential items, such as hospital wares, industrial chemical appliances and acid containers. After the war Mashman, as an elder statesman, fought to retain a tariff on sanitary ware, believing the industry required reasonable protection to permit expansion, and opposed government cuts on sewerage expenditure. In 1957 Mashman Bros Ltd was merged with Doulton & Co. Ltd, London, and the new plant officially opened in 1959. Mashman, who had become chairman of directors, retired in June 1960 and on 1 July the business became a fully owned subsidiary of Doultons: Doulton Sanitary Potteries (Australia) Pty Ltd.

Mashman died suddenly at his Newport home of a coronary occlusion on 29 November 1964 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His marriage had been dissolved in 1953; his only child Colleen survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at £94,159.

Select Bibliography

  • Clay Products Journal of Australia, 1 Aug 1934, p 15, 1 Nov 1934, p 11, 13, 1 Jan 1936, p 11, 1 Apr 1937, p 15, 1 Jan 1938, p 7, 14, 1 Aug 1940, p 16, Apr 1948, p 11, Apr 1950, p 11, 17
  • Royal Doulton Review, Mar 1961, p 35
  • Clay Pipe News, Nov 1961, p 11, Feb 1964, p 9, Jan 1965, p 13
  • E. Ungar, ‘The Mashman Bros. pottery’, in Australian Society for Historical Archaeology, Newsletter, 6, no 1, Apr 1976
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1959.

Citation details

E. A. Ungar, 'Mashman, Ernest James Theodore (Theo) (1895–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 August, 1895
Willoughby, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


29 November, 1964 (aged 69)
Newport, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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