Gardner opens his biography of this hardware manufacturer with the comment that 'The success that has attended the iron and zinc spouting business of Thomas Warburton, 384 Bourke-street, Melbourne, has been perhaps due as much to the enterprise and energy and devotion of his wife, as to the enterprise and push of the man who established it, and I regret that space forbids the inclusion of much that goes to show what a woman imbued with the spirit of independence and determination to reap success and devoted to her husband and children can accomplish'.
The recently married Mr & Mrs Warburton arrived in Melbourne on New Year's Day 1853 on the Birmingham, according to Gardner. Warburton came to Australia on the same ship as Thomas Stokes, the diesinker who struck tokens for him and many other Australian businesses. This is supported by the PROV Index of Immigrants to Victoria, which records that a vessel of that name brought a Mr and Mrs Thos Warburton and a Thomas Stokes to Victoria in January 1854. Gardner states that they came from Altrincham, near Manchester in England.
In the booming times of early 1854 Thomas initially found it hard to get work as an Engineer. Mrs. Warburton, however, was able to earn around a pound a day by making tents, which were then in huge demand because of the gold rush. He soon found work, and entered into a unsuccessful partnership that was soon dissolved, 'Mrs Warburton declaring that there should be no more partnerships, that she alone would be her husband's partner, and she was until his death,' (Gardner).
The first sign of the business that the couple founded comes from the early 1860s. Warburton advertised in the Argus' 'Building Materials' column. His standard text in 1861 was 'Corrugated and Plain Iron all lengths and gauges, zinc 8, 9. Warburton's 11 Little Bourke street west.' Warburton built a machine for producing spouting based on an American design and the company soon became the major supplier of these products for the colonies of Australia and New Zealand. By 1866 they moved into larger premises, buying up the block at 23 Bourke Street West, running from Bourke Street right through to Little Bourke Street. In the Sands and McDougall Melbourne Directory for 1867 he took a quarter page advertisement, describing his business as 'Galvanised Iron and Zinc Spouting Manufacturer, Importer of Plain and Corrugated Iron, Cast Iron, OG, and Ornamental Gutters, &c.'.
About this time Warburton began speculating in salvaged goods obtained from wrecks he purchased, sometimes in combination with other investors. He also began sending ships he had purchased out to Fiji, and when he was informed that one of the Captains had taken a ship as his own, followed him to reclaim it. He traded in the Pacific Islands until 1871. (Gardner)
In that year he was returning to Australia via the Samoan Islands with a number of other traders on a 'blackbirding' ship, the Meva, a vessel bringing Island labourers to Queensland. The labourers mutinied and killed the five Europeans on board and one Fijian man. Gardner records that Mrs. Warburton saw the mutiny in a dream. (Gardner)
Mrs. Warburton managed the business until 1886 when she handed it over to Thomas H. and Ada Warburton. They administered the business until roughly 1908, when Alfred E. Warburton assumed control of it. Mrs. Warburton died in 1896. In the 1880s, when the street numbers were brought into a single sequence rather than being divided in to "East" and "West" sections at Elizabeth Street, 23 Bourke Street West became 384 Bourke Street. John Hope notes that Warburton Lane and Warburton Alley, running off Little Bourke Street, still exist in 2005.
John Hope points out that the business still exists today as Thomas Warburton Pty. Ltd., and is now owned by the multinational Wurth Group. The company is based in Mulgrave, with branches at Sunshine, Kilsyth, Ballarat and Campbellfield. The company's website gives the following description of their history and current business:
'Thomas Warburton Pty. Ltd. was founded in 1858 at 384 Bourke Street, Melbourne where it remained for 108 years. In 1966 the business relocated to Kavanagh Street, Southbank and in 1998 the head office and main warehouse functions were moved to 16-26 Dunlop Road, Mulgrave.'
The company's website describes their current business in the following terms:
'Constant expansion and continuing growth provides greater service to our customers. We now have four branches in Victoria, all connected by one of the most advanced computer systems available. With over 70,000 lines on the shelf at any one time ranging from the smallest screw to the largest ladder available we have everything to cover your industrial needs.' (from Warbutons website 'Company Profile' page)
The seven tokens struck for Thomas Warburton were all issued in 1862, bearing on the obverse his address, 11 Little Bourke Street, and the name of the business. The reverse was a stock reverse made by Thomas Stokes, featuring the Australian arms and the motto 'Advance Victoria/1862.'
Gardner, F. (1910). 'Trade tokens and the firms who issued them.' The Australian Storekeepers and Traders Journal. 30 June, pp.9-10
Public Records Office of Victoria. Internet index to Unassisted Immigrants to Victoria, 1852-1923. VPRS series 7666
Sharples, J.(1993). 'Catalogue of Victorian Trade Tokens.' Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia. Vol. 7. December, pp.67-68.
Advertisement. The Argus. 9 December 1861: p.7
Advertisement. Sands and McDougall Melbourne Directory for 1867. Advertisements section: p. 62
Thomas Warburton Pty. Ltd.. Company website. Http://www.warburtons.com.au/. [accessed 2005]
Hope, John. 'Warburton, T.' (2005). Unpublished MSS, 3pps.