161 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

The text set out by Jill Robertson, shows Isaac Fawcett at this address in 1857 to the 1880s (I am not 100% sure these were in the same location. Robertson has the address as 149, but I have it as 139 in 1886, but they were in the area and they are definitely the tenant from 1893).

Google Image – July 2019

The buildings were rebuilt by the Solomon Bros (who are the owners) in the 1886, the papers say these nice shops replaced ‘shanties’ which also makes me question the below, as the shops shown in the 1861 photo are not shanties.

Another correction, is that the houses built are actually a set of four (not 3 as set out below). After the shops were rebuilt the first lease was actually to Gustave Rosengren as 139 (music warehouse), George Palmer at 141 (Jeweller), JJ Middleton at 143 (Tailor) and in 1886, the fourth one is a bit confusing and maybe why it looked like there were three only (Rate Books 1886). In 1887, Rosengren is gone and Edward McIntryre (Draper) was there and George Palmer was still next door. The numbers are now 161 and 163 respectively (Rate Books 1887). By 1893, Charles and Isaac Fawcett (Tailors) are in 161, George Palmer is still there, now a Goldsmith) at 163, Julius Copeland (Dealer) is operating out of 165-167. Then by 1897, Charles and Isaac are still in 161, and Copeland is operating out of all the remaining three.

Isaac Fawcett (Tailor) 1857-1880s (according to Robertson below), then again from 1893

“In May 1857, Isaac Relph Fawcett established a tailor’s shop at No. 161 Gertrude Street (No. 46 in the 1860s and No. 149 in the 1870s). He named it Westmoreland House after his birthplace, Isaac was 34 years old. The Fawcett tailoring business was to stay in the family for 70 years until a combination of competition (especially from Coles in Smith Street), poor management and a depressed market in the late 4920s forced them to sell. However in the beginning, the store answered a pressing need in the colony.

Image from 1861 – Gertrude Street, Fitzroy by Jill Robertson

Records show that by 1880 the shop was owned by an Esther Solomon; Herbert Solomon owned the furniture shop next door and Fawcett’s daughter Annie had married a Solomon so it is likely the Solomon family bought into the business and built the set of three two storey buildings that still stands today, with the Fawcetts occupying No. 161. By the 1890s Isaac’s son Charles James had taken over, although when Charles decided that selling boiled sweets to the miners on the Western Australian goldfields was more lucrative than being a tailor, his 67-year-old father managed the store for him. Back in Fitzroy in 1905, Charles was advertising a ‘well assorted stock’ with ‘mourning orders at short notice’.” (Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, by Jill Robertson p.7-8).


However, the times were not favourable and eventually the business suffered. One of
Charles’ sons Fitzroy (known as Roy) was the only son interested in haberdashery but he left the Gertrude Street shop to work at the Henderson Emporium in Sydney until he retired. The other sons Charles and Ralph had different careers in mind and did not wish to continue. It was the end of an era.
” (Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, by Jill Robertson p.7-8).

Gustave Rosengren (Piano maker / tuner) 1886

Born approx. 1826, Gustave migrated to Australia in 1853/54. After living in Collingwood he moved to Lonsdale Street, which was the site of his first insolvency in 1859 (The Argus, 18 May 1959 & The Ages, 5 Jul 1859). He is said to have started making his first piano after arriving and finished it in 1862 (Fitzroy City Press, 17 Jul 1886).

Gustave was married twice, first to Julia Hickey in 1861, then Margaret Roy in 1868. He had at least 3 boys with Julia (Oscar, Otto and Francis) and one child with Margaret. While in Lonsdale St, there is much conjecture with his address with newspaper advertising listing addresses at 104 Lonsdale (Jul 1861), 20 Lonsdale (Apr 1864), 25 Lonsdale East (May 1864), 22 Lonsdale (Jan 1866), 29 Lonsdale (Sep 1866), 25 Lonsdale west (Jun 1875) and 21 Lonsdale St West (Nov 1883).  In 1867 he is living in Lonsdale Street, an article (‘Illuminations for the Prince’ in the Age, 27 Nov 1867, p.7) he is said to have had the front of his house gaily decorated with flowers and a full length painting of the Prince.

Gustave again becomes insolvent in 1870/71, declaring that business had been falling, and there had been illness in the family.  He had liabilities of 120 pounds 13 shillings and assets of 16 pounds. (Weekly Times, 1 Oct 1870)

Though there is a bit of conjecture (and perhaps he tried to move away from being known as insolvent (twice)), as he is reported as saying in 1879 that “he had never been out of work since he came here in 1862”.  It was part of Unemployed Board hearings.  Gustave also suggested that 50 per cent (tax) be put on foreign pianos and said “If a man wanted to buy a foreign piano, let him pay through the nose for it, it would serve him right”.  The journalist points at the hypocrisy in this “This precious witness forgets that he is a foreigner who is at this moment, by himself and sons, “who do all his work”, displacing British workmen” (The Gippsland Times 15 Aug 1879).

On 10 Nov 1883, Otto Rosengren, second eldest son of Gustave Rosengren, piano maker, aged 19 years died.  This was at Rosengren’s residence at 21 Lonsdale Street west.  Advertising refers to the house being a factory (The Age 1 Aug 1885).

On 7 Jan 1886 – the 21 Lonsdale Street (west)shop/factory (a two storey building) caught fire in 1886.  Both sons lived upstairs.  The fire was discovered by Oscar (eldest) who woke his brother Francis.  The stairs were on fire, so they shouted into the street.  The crowd held a blanket for Francis who was safely caught, but the blanket was not held tightly enough meaning Oscar struct the ground heavily and he was taken to hospital.  The fire was controlled by the volunteer fire brigades Insurance brigade, Carlton Brewery Brigade and Albion Brigade.  Insurance on the stock and effects was 800 pounds, but it clearly wasn’t enough as Gustav again became insolvent. This time his liabilities were 1847 pounds with assets of 1252 pounds. There was much dispute over the matter as he gave a payment of 130 pounds and goodwill of the factory to Oscar shortly before submitting the order. The Court agrees the payments are suspicious but eventually declare him insolvent in June 1887 (9 months after his initial filing) (The Argus, 9 Jun 1887). I think the suspicions were well founded given it was Gustave’s third insolvency – he had much practice!

Just before he lodged for bankruptcy, in June 1886 an article was run “The improvements in Gertrude-street are worthy of notice, splendid shops being erected where shanties used formerly to stand. These new premises are all let, one of them being occupied by Messrs. Rosengren, as a pianoforte warehouse”  (Mercury and Weekly Courier, 11 Jun 1886, p.2). An excellent article on this occurs in July 1886:

Article from Fitzroy City Press, 17 Jul 1886, p.3, Pianoforte making in Victoria

On 23 April 1889, he passed away aged 63 years.  At this stage he was living at 317 Swanston Street opposite the hospital.  Colonist for 36 years.

One thought on “161 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: