Collingwood Notables Database
Ralph Herbert Laver
Fruit and vegetable preserver
Ralph Laver was the youngest of a family of seven talented brothers who made their mark on the world in medicine, music, sport and manufacturing. He established himself in Collingwood in 1893, first as a greengrocer and then as a fruit and vegetable canner with his brother, developing a large trade throughout Australia as well as England and China. Laver Brothers also supplied tinned vegetables and fruit for Mawson’s Antarctic Expedition.
Ralph was born in 1874 in Castlemaine. After his father’s death he went to Germany in 1882 with his widowed mother and was educated in Germany with his brothers Rudolph and William. Ralph returned to Melbourne where, with the help of family friend Otto Jung, he set up a greengrocery and then a preserving factory in Cambridge Street Collingwood in partnership with his brother Frank, who was also a noted cricketer.
The firm developed steadily, and by 1899 was exhibiting at the Royal Agricultural Society Show. The brothers supplied several tons of canned vegetables for the Australasian Antarctic expedition 1911-1914. Douglas Mawson was very concerned about the quality of food needed for this expedition, especially given the risk of scurvy. The company produced 265,000 tins of canned vegetables in 1914, and employed about 50 hands by 1915. When Frank died in 1919 his brother Arthur (1860-1927), a grazier, joined Ralph. Frank had played cricket for Australia against the visiting Englishmen in 1901-02 and toured England in 1899, 1903-04, 1905 and 1909. The brothers shared the family traits of height and leanness.
Laver was not a Collingwood resident, but was never far away from his growing business. He lived with his brother in Carlton, moved to East Melbourne after his marriage in 1907, and a few years later re-located to a charming spot in Kew near Studley Park.
In the 1920s the firm became a public company known as Laver Bros & Co Pty Ltd. However after more than thirty years the business ceased to prosper around the time of the economic depression, and went into voluntary liquidation in 1931. The following year an auction of their preserving machinery was held, and The Kosequilt Company took over the premises. Ralph sold his house Meredith in Studley Park in 1934 and retired to Warrandyte.
Laver’s factory remains in Cambridge Street. He started the business in an existing brick factory (now number 42), expanded in stages over ensuing years. Finally in 1918 architect Edwin J Ruck supervised the construction of extensive additions and alterations, so that the business covered an address then known as 36 to 46 Cambridge Street, having taken over stables, vacant land, and a house. The design of stuccoed lintels and sills against a background of a plain brick gabled façade is characteristic of the period and bears comparison with Charles Trescowthick's Hoddle Street boot factory and Puttifoot’s shoe factory in Noone Street Clifton Hill.
The apparently consistent façade of the twin gable-ended two storey buildings, presumably dating from Ruck’s 1918 work, conceals the fact that the northern section, although modified to match the appearance of the southern half, dates from the nineteenth century: look closely and you will see a bluestone wall at cellar level and different bricks in the upper wall. The single storey section to the south is also matched stylistically.
The building is described in the Northern suburbs factory study (p. 119) as ‘of regional significance as a rare survivor of a middle-sized food preserving factory demonstrative of the beginnings of the vertical integration in the grocery trade; since Laver Bros carried out manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing’
36-42 Cambridge Street
|14 July 1874
|Date of Marriage
|Emmie Grace Saunders
|27 June 1907, St Andrew's Church, Brighton
|Nora born1 October 1908, Ralph died 1918
|Status of Building
|36-42 Cambridge Street
|St Peter's Anglican, Eastern Hill
|24 September 1962
The Argus, The Age, Punch, The Australasian, Weekly Times, Vines, Northern suburbs factory study.
Royal Commission on fruit, vegetables, and jam See pages 303-307