Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

Arthur Whybrow


Boot and shoe manufacturer

Personal Photo 1
C. 1950 ad

Arthur Whybrow built up one of the largest boot and shoe manufacturing businesses in Australia, and became not only a spokesman for the boot industry, but also an active community member. He was a member of the Collingwood Technical School Council and a Board member for the Alfred Hospital. The large Whybrow factory at 200 Hoddle St Abbotsford remains a prominent landmark.

Arthur was born in Geelong in 1862. In the mid 1860s his parents, Jacob and Elizabeth, lived in the active gold mining settlement of Break O’ Day, Rokewood near Geelong, where his mother died in 1868.

As he was growing up, Arthur completed an apprenticeship in the boot trade in Geelong with Strong and Pierce. Then as an ambitious young man in 1884 he came to Melbourne and started working in the boot trade in Collingwood. In 1888 he founded his own boot and shoe manufacturing business, Whybrow and Co.

The Australian Leather Journal in 1902 described Arthur’s success:

A business which has sprung up with meteoric rapidity during recent years in Australia is that of Messrs. Whybrow and Co., boot and shoe manufacturers, Stafford-street, Abbotsford, Melbourne. Although but a modest eleven years since the firm started operations in a small way with a complement of 30 employees, the business has forged ahead with astonishing rapidity, and may now lay claim to being one of the three largest manufactories of boots and shoes in the Southern Hemisphere. The total number of workpeople now employed in the immense building in Abbotsford numbers close on 700.

The company manufactured men’s and women’s medium and fine quality shoes and boots, and traded extensively with New South Wales. The factory in Stafford Street (near Hoddle Street) was described as ‘towering high above the buildings in the immediate vicinity, surmounted by a mighty chimney stack, which is visible many miles away’. The architect of the building was Collingwood City Engineer Henry Edmeades Tolhurst. The company was seen as very progressive in its early introduction of machines, including lasting machines, although the possibility of job losses from this industrialisation worried unions. Nonetheless, many local people found employment at Whybrow and Co, including later notables such as John Wren and Jack Ryder.

While his business was expanding, Arthur married in 1893. He and his wife, Alice Rostron, had five children over the next years, three daughters and two sons. From the mid 1890s the family lived at 207 Gold Street, Clifton Hill opposite the Darling Gardens, but by about 1900 they had moved to Kneen Street, North Fitzroy and soon after moved to Rostrona on the hill of Studley Park Road, Kew (near Raheen and across the road from the mansion home of his former employee John Wren).

In the newspapers of the time Arthur Whybrow’s name appears as a witness giving evidence for the boot trade in various Commissions.  For example, in 1901 he was speaking in favour of the Factory Act (The Age 20 September). In 1910, on the issue of which tasks could be performed by boys and apprentices in the boot factories, he objected to amendments that could open the door to abuse of boy labour (The Herald 14 December). In 1914, he was asking for increased tariffs in the boot and shoe industry because of the increased costs of production (The Argus 14 January).

Both Arthur’s sons went off to fight in the First World War and his daughter Lilian joined the Australian Red Cross in London in 1916. Here she met an Australian army doctor, Cliff Scantlebury, and his sister Dr Vera Scantlebury. Cliff and Lilian married in 1920 and on returning to Melbourne, Lilian played an important role in the growth and development of the Australian Red Cross Society, while Vera became a renowned leader in infant health and welfare.

As a member of the Boot Manufacturers Association, Arthur was connected with initiating boot-clicking training for repatriated soldiers in an Abbotsford factory in 1918. This was a cooperative venture between the Association and the Repatriation Department. He was very interested in technical education and as a member of the Collingwood Technical School council in the 1920s participated in setting up boot and shoe industry training at the Technical School in 1924. Arthur donated equipment and prepared the first syllabus.

In 1919, after the war, an even grander large brick factory was built for Whybrow and Co in Hoddle Street. Whybrow and Co. already owned the Hoddle St block between Stafford and Stanley Streets and demolished an earlier factory and houses to build the new factory. Both the Hoddle Street and Stafford Street factories remain. Whybrow and Co also had factories and warehouses in other states.

A 1926 account of the company noted:

Special consideration has been given for many years to the welfare of the company's employees. The building of luncheon-rooms for employees and the establishment of a factory relief fund subsidised by the company were among the first efforts made in that direction. At the end of the Great War the work was extended. A welfare secretary was appointed, profit-sharing and savings fund systems were introduced, a library established, and physical culture and other social activities encouraged. (The Argus, 9 September 1926).

As well as looking after the welfare of his staff, Arthur was seen as a generous supporter of child welfare organisations and of the Alfred Hospital, of which he was a board member from 1920. He donated money to the Collingwood Creche and Free Kindergarten, of which his wife was President in the 1920s.

In later years he lived in a city apartment building, Lister House, at 61 Collins Street. Arthur died aged 83, still the Chairman of Directors of Whybrow and Co.

Work Photo 1

Clicking room c. 1920

Work Photo 2

200 Hoddle Street

Life Summary

Birth DateBirth Place
30 May 1862Geelong, Victoria
Spouse NameDate of MarriageChildren
Alice Williamina Hook Rostron1893Two sons and three daughters including Lilian Avis Scantlebury (1894-1964)
Home Addresses
Home StreetHome CityStatus of Building
207 Gold StreetClifton HillExtant
Work Addresses
Work StreetWork CityStatus of Building
1-17 Stafford StreetAbbotsfordExtant
200 Hoddle StreetAbbotsfordExtant
Death DateDeath PlaceCemetery
8 November 1945Melbourne, Victoria

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