George Roberts

c. 1816-1879

Coach builder, blacksmith, wheelwright

George Roberts was a partner with John Ferguson in the firm of Roberts and Ferguson, coachbuilders, wheelwrights and blacksmiths. These were occupations which underpinned much of nineteenth century transport and trade; Roberts and Ferguson was one of Collingwood’s earliest manufacturers and may have existed as early as 1851, when industry was the exception in the otherwise semi-rural district. Roberts lived and died in Hoddle Street Collingwood, in a bluestone house neighbouring the company’s workplace near the corner of Victoria Parade and Hoddle Street.

The business had premises in the city as well as the extensive Wheelwright’s Works which can be seen on Surveyor Hodgkinson’s map showing East Collingwood buildings at 1 January 1858. Roberts and his family lived in Dorset Cottage, also shown (but unnamed) on the map. His colleague’s house, Campbelltown Cottage, can be seen marked on the map in Islington Street immediately behind Roberts’ house. Between the works and the two houses, the two men occupied more than half of the block bounded by Victoria Parade, Hoddle Street, Islington Street and Langridge Street (shown on the map as Burlington Street).

Roberts and Ferguson were responsible for the ironwork of the Studley Park Bridge built at the end of Church Street in 1857, and Roberts held shares in the Studley Park Bridge Company until his death. By the mid 1860s Roberts owned four brick cottages in Islington Street, south of Ferguson’s house. These he let to wheelwrights and engineers who were presumably his employees. Another employee, William Harding, who had been with the firm since the 1850s, rented Campbelltown Cottage after Ferguson moved to Oakleigh around 1865.

Roberts’ first wife Eliza died in 1865 but he soon married a widow, Maria Allen. The Roberts family attended St Philip’s Church in Hoddle Street and two daughters married local men at this church: Georgina married widower William Minifie, an oil and colourman in Wellington Street, in 1867; while Charlotte wed John Luxmore, a coach trimmer probably in the employ of the firm, in 1872. Unfortunately, Georgina died in her twenties, after a lingering illness in 1871, Charlotte’s daughter Charlotte Georgina died in infancy in 1875, and that same year saw the death of both eldest daughter Annie, in New Zealand, and Roberts’ stepson.

Disasters were not limited to family matters. When the boiler exploded in 1874, the incident was widely-reported and thus provided some description of the works. William Harding was in charge of the tubular boiler purchased in the late 1850s, of Cornish design, which powered a steam saw-mill and other machinery. It was located towards the Victoria Parade end, protected by two brick walls and a wooden roof. There was also a large number of shingle-roofed wooden buildings. The boiler, about 16 feet by 4 feet in size, shot up bodily 30 feet in the air, crashed through the roof, and fell about 50 feet away, knocking down on its way a brick wall and a high chimney stack, and smashing several sheds or workshops. The whole place appeared to be a wreck but the damage turned out not to be so great, as many of the buildings destroyed were old, and none of the stock was damaged.

In September 1877 the partnership ceased and Roberts took over the business, but within a few months had handed over ownership to his long-standing employee William Harding.

From the beginning of 1878 until July 1880 William Harding regularly advertised in the local Mercury as the ‘Victoria Parade Lorry Factory’, and promoted the legacy of the well-known names and his two decades of experience with them. In 1881 Harding was awarded a silver medal for a lorry at the Melbourne International Exhibition. His sons William Albert and George joined him, and the business continued as the Phoenix Coach and Lorry Factory, moving to Victoria Street in the 1890s under the sons. In the meantime, George Roberts had passed away at the age of 63. His widow remained at Dorset Cottage until the mid 1880s.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
c. 1816
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Eliza Maidment, died 1865 Annie c. 1840 -1875, Georgina c. 1846-1871, Charlotte 1851-1895, Richard 1853-1891
Maria Allen 1866 stepson George Allen c. 1855-1875
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
Dorset Cottage Hoddle Street Collingwood Demolished
Work Addresses
Work Street Work City Status of Building
Hoddle Street Collingwood Demolished
Church Lodge
St Philip's Anglican, Abbotsford
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
29 September 1879 Collingwood MGC

Lovell Chen, Conservation Management Plan Yorkshire Brewery; The Age; The Argus; Mercury and Weekly Courier; Jewish Herald

Online Image links

CHS: 1858 Hodgkinson map