Soul Pattinson – The History Of More Than A Chemist

Island of old residences just south of Y.M.C.A Building on Liverpool Street. Inside block bounded by Liverpool, Elizabeth Street etc.

Island of old residences just south of Y.M.C.A Building on Liverpool Street. Inside block bounded by Liverpool, Elizabeth Street etc.

Sydney has an amazing skyline, which has over the course of the centuries evolved and changed. Over time, buildings have been built and demolished, houses have come and gone and the skyline has evolved to reflect the increasingly tall and modern city. This photo, taken by an unknown photographer in 1936 shows a Sydney skyline which is not only lower than the one we see today, but which includes many buildings and terraces which have now disappeared.

The photo also shows some of the signs which once adorned so many of our buildings, the most dominant of which is that of Washington H. Soul Pattinson Manufacturing Chemists. Although many may recognise the name Soul Pattinson as a popular and well known chemist, the name Washington H. Soul Pattinson may be a little less familiar, yet it is one of Australia’s most successful and historic family run companies.

Caleb Soul arrived in Australia in 1863. He was an Englishman who had experience working in the drug industry not only in his homeland of England, but also in America. He soon realised the potential for a retail chemist which could import drugs and patent medicines from England and America. He opened a pharmacy in Pitt Street in 1872 advertising his products as sold at the same cost they would be found in London and New York. The business, which operated out of a single room, was a great success but he wasn’t trading under his own name. He felt that his sons name, Washington, sounded more honest, so he sold his products under the name Washington H. Soul. Within a year larger premises were needed and the pharmacy moved, though it remained in Pitt Street. In 1886 their current building was destroyed by fire but a replacement, called the Phoenix Building, was built in the same location and this building not only still stands today, but continues to trade as a Soul Pattinson Chemist. By 1890 the pharmacy was operating six stores in Sydney and by 1940 Lewy Pattinson was able to fund the donation of the first aeroplane in the Royal Flying Doctor Service based at Broken Hill.

Today though, Washington H. Soul Pattinson is more than simply the chemist chain we all know so well. Washington H. Soul Pattinson is a highly diversified investment house with holdings not just in pharmacy, but in areas including building materials, natural resources, media and telecommunications and even fund management!

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What’s In A Name – Parsley Bay

Parsley Bay Sydney 2 Front

This week The Past Present is focussing on another of Sydney Harbours beautiful inlets and bays. Sydney Harbour is a spectacular waterway with various hidden gems along its shores. Many of these have a long history and one such area is Parsley Bay.

Parsley Bay is a narrow inlet of Sydney Harbour, located in the suburb of Vaucluse. The Birrabirragal group of Aborigines once called the area, which is rich in rock overhands and caves, home but with the arrival of Europeans Vaucluse and the Parsley Bay area was quickly settled. The first land grant, to a Mr Thomas Laycock, occurred in 1792 and this Grant is also the first reference to the name Parsley Bay. Nobody is entirely certain where the name ‘Parsley Bay’ originated from, though there are two popular theories. The first suggests that the name refers to a hermit named Parsley who once lived in one of the local caves, while the other theory suggests the name is reference to an edible plant which once grew wild around the area. It is even thought this plant may have been used by the first settlers to treat scurvy.

Parsley Bay has a remarkably rich history, far more than is elucidated here and will doubtless by the subject of future posts. It stayed in private ownership for many years, belonging to the Wentworth family of Vaucluse Estate, but there is evidence that despite this it was a popular place for picnics and outings. Parsley Bay officially became a public recreation reserve in 1907.

The Shoe Shine Boys of Park Street

Park Street Sydney Shoe Shines  Front copy

This week, the Past Present is focussing on a form of employment – a service industry in fact – which was once common in Sydney, but which has all but died out. Once shoe shiners were a common sight in Sydney, as shown in the postcard above of Park Street. The postcard is dated to circa 1915 and shows a row of shoe shiners ready for custom. The area of Park Street shown is uncertain, but is probably in the vicinity of Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Building.

Shoe shining has a surprising history, with shoe polish not really available as a purchasable product until after 1906. Before this, shoe polish was often homemade, using tallow, lanolin or beeswax as a base, and often adding lampblack to provide a colour to the shine. People very rarely shone their own shoes though and gradually a business arose around providing a service to people who wanted a high sheen to their shoes. By the mid 19th century shoe shine boys (not always children, but often adult men) were operating in city streets, particularly around areas of high pedestrian movement (such as stations and public buildings). Using a basic form of shoe polish, a brush and polishing cloth, these boys would set up on the street and provide a shine to the shoes of those passing by, in return for a small fee. In the postcard you can also see many of the shoe shine boxes which were favoured by shoe shiners as they provided the customer a place to rest his foot while the shine was taking place, but also provided storage for the polish and other products needed to produce it.

Pitt Street, All Dressed Up For The Prince Of Wales

Pitt Street Prince Of Wales Celebration Front copy

With the Queen’s Birthday Weekend upon us, The Past Present is focusing on royalty. Australia has been the focus of over 50 Royal visits over the years, most recently of course by Prince William and his family. Although today many Australians increasingly support the idea of a republic, throughout Australia’s European history many other Australians have been enthusiastic supporters and followers of the British Monarchy and happy members of the British Empire. Here we focus on the visit of Edward, The Prince Of Wales to Australia in 1920.

Edward arrived in Australia on April 2nd, 1920, beginning his journey in Victoria. He was representing his father, King George V and had a specific role to play during his visit – he was here to thank Australians for their part in World War One. Australians embraced the Royal Visit with great enthusiasm and enormous crowds greeted the Prince wherever he went. In fact the overwhelming enthusiasm of the crowds, combined with his busy agenda while here, meant that he had to take a week long break from official duties before reaching NSW!

The Prince was very popular with Australians who appreciated his modesty and humour. After being involved in a rail accident (where he was unhurt), he even made light of the situation, thanking officials for arranging a ‘harmless little railway accident’. Edward’s nature and the affection of Australians for the prince won him the nickname ‘digger Prince’, a high compliment from Australians indeed!