ADELAIDE'S FIRST CHEMIST
Letters of William Bickford.
'Writing to his sister in England on January 25, 1842, giving her a brief ac count of South Australian conditions, Wil liam Bickford pointed out that since that
time the previous year the colony had changed very much. Then everything was looking prosperous, money was plenti ful and merchants and agricultural labourers had plenty of employment. For the last few months,' he added, every thing has been very dull. Money is scarcely to be obtained, business very dull, and almost every week failures occurring. The merchants and labourers— a great many of them— are obliged to go on Gov ernment works with pay scarcely sufficient to maintain themselves and families; in fact, many families are in want. How long things are to continue in this State it is impossible to say. Many say the worst is past, and we shall soon see things improve again. Harvest is just over; crops have been pretty favourable this season, and the sheep farmers are shipping their wool to England, so that may make it better for a time. But it is my opinion that we must have a little assistance from England before we shall recover from the depressed state we are in at present. The small farmers have spent all their capital in fencing and improving their land. Con sequently what they have spent will be lying dormant unless they can have a little assistance. Without it, it will be several years before some of them will extricate themselves from their difficulties; '£60,000 or £70,000 from the home Gov ernment at small interest would put things straight again, and in a few years, no doubt, it would be all paid back with in terest. With respect to the capabilities of the colony, both as an agricultural and pastoral country, I think there is but little doubt that this year's harvest will prove that the soil is good for agriculture, and nothing more can be required than the good beef and mutton that is seen hang ing in the butchers' shops daily to prove that South Australia is a good grazing colony. 'One of the Fortunates.' 'As for myself,' wrote the young phar macist, ''I have no cause to complain, although times have been bad. I have done a pretty good business, but certainly not so much as I was doing last year at this time. I have paid off all the bills I gave for the business, have made con siderable alterations in my shop, such as having it neatly fitted up, besides have accumulated a good stock of goods, nearly all of which are paid for. I assure you I consider myself one of the fortunates to have been able to do what I have, con sidering I brought only a few pounds into the colony with me.' In this letter William Bickford announced the birth of his son, William, on November 19, 1841. Addressing his mother from Hindley street six months later, William Bickford told her that he was doing well, although certainly not saving much money. There were a great many who were not paying their ex penses, and consequently many failures He did not owe £5 in the colony, which was what he claimed, very few in Ade laide could say. A letter dated August 30, 1843, intimates the birth six months previously of a son, 'whose name is Harry.' Another, dated June 4, 1845, urges his cousin, Harding, to come to South Australia, as he is much distressed for the want of an assistant. Boom in Copper. 'Our copper mines are yielding abun dantly, and fresh mines are being dis covered almost every week.' wrote Wil liam Bickford on November 20, 1845. 'Dur- ing the last week there have been two special surveys purchased of 20,000 acres, each on account of the lodes of copper they contain. Both surveys have boen purchased by persons in thecolony. One has been bought for about two months, and is paying admirably. The one is of the richest description, and there is nearly £100,000 worth already raised; the other has only, been bought a week. There is a great quantity of mineral land still re maining. One or two mining companies are expected out from London almost im mediately. When they come there is an extensive' field for them to work on. In a few years this in all probability will be a rich mining colony.' A year later he wrote:— 'Respecting my adopted coun try we have at present— thanks be to the Great Architect of the universe— a great contrast to you. Provisions in the shape of bread and- meat— the staff of life— are very cheap, and in abundance; bread, 2d. ib.; mutton, 1d. to 2d. lb.; beef, 2d. and 3d.; and as fine quality as you ever have in your markets, all fed on the grass of the Australian wilderness. Vegetables are dear— Potatoes 11/ cwt., peas 1/9 a peck, and cauliflowers 3d. to 9d. each, but very fine ones. Our fruit season will soon come on, and we shall have it in abundance and cheap. South Australia is the place for cheap living, that is plain, good living. This is the place for in dustrious labourers to come to: although provisions are cheap, wages are high. Farm labourers are getting from 24/ to 30/ a week, and shepherds from 12/ to 15/ a week and board and lodging. Wages are likely to keep high so long as the mines go on so prosperously. Business in Adelaide is rather dull this season in con- sequence of last year's clip of wool having sold in London at a very low figure.'' New Home at Glen Osmond. William Bickford went on to say how that winter he had built a house on a block of land of about 16 acres three miles from Adelaide, and how he had sent his wife and children out to it, while he went in and out each day. This, it is learnt, was the site upon which Benacre now stands. The reason for the removal was because Adelaide had become more thickly populated and was 'unhealthy in the sum mer months.' During the previous sum mer they had lost a baby, and therefore he resolved to get his family out of town. A description of the city at that time is not very flattering. 'The streets are in a shockingly filthy state, mud ankle deep on the footpath in many places, and in the middle of the road knee deep.' Gentlemen were obliged to wear mud boots, and ladies could with great diffi culty manage to get from shop to shop. During the previous winter the streets were in this condition for four months. For nearly 12 years subsequent to this William Bickford corresponded with his family with loyal consistency. On Feb ruary 18. 1850, he wrote concerning his small estate at Benacre, how he had built a house, planted an acre of garden and 2½ acres of orchard, and how 'in another two years if all is well we shall be able to sit under our fig tree and walk in our vineyard.' The optimistic young chemist however, did not see the fulfil ment of his ambitions. He was stricken down by brain fever, and after an illness of three days passed away on September 11, 1850, at the early age of 35 - on the threshold of success— leaving a wife and four young children.
A Story of Progress. This short resume of William Bick ford's life and letters forms an interesting link with the past. The subsequent his tory of the firm, thus founded by him, is a story of steady and uninterrupted progress, and may be told in a few words. The young widow, left with her young family, determined to carry on the busi ness for their sakes. Engaging the neces sary qualified assistance, she was enabled to continue and develop it. So soon as the elder boys were old enough, she had them trained to take their place in the man agement of affairs. The second boy, Harry, she sent to England to gain the necessary experience and training as a chemist, while the eldest son, William, was retained here to take charge of the business. In company with her two sons, the firm name became that of the widow and her sons— A. M. Bickford & Sons— the title under which the business is still carried on, although later it was formed into the present limited company. Mean while, the business continued to expand, and the expansion largely developed upon wholesale lines. The wholesale side, in deed, soon became the more important, and eventually the retail business was disposed of, and the firm became purely wholesale in its activities. Continual ex pansion had necessitated two moves to larger premises in Hindley street, but, with the disposal ot the retail side of the business, a large warehouse was built in Currie street on the site now occupied by the firm. The old residential quar ters in Waymouth street were some years ago taken over for the growing needs of the manufacturing department, and the present spacious and modern laboratories and works are now located there. The sons, Messrs. William and Harry Bick ford, continued the business after the death of their mother. About 10 years ago the elder of the two sons, Mr. Wil liam Bickford, died. Mr. Harry Bickford has been in retirement for several years. Their places have in turn been taken
by their sons, and the present manage ment is thus the third generation in line from the founder. A Worthy Name. There are few names in Adelaide so well known, so highly respected, and so venerable in their local lineage as that of Bickford, and it must be pleasing to all to see that this old-established house continues to progress and flourish along the lines so well and surely laid by its worthy founder.