Black and white photograph featuring a view of John Delaney attending a boiler at Alfred Lawrence and Co. factory in Bruce Street Kensington, circa 1950. The Alfred Lawrence and Co. factory made food essences and food colourings, including 'Blue Ark essence'. The factory was located near Macaulay Station, in Kensington, an inner western suburb of Melbourne.

John Delaney worked as a boiler attendant for Alfred Lawrence & Co for about 25 years. He had previously been a farmer and truck driver, and came to Melbourne from Colac in 1948 for work. His family believe the boiler he worked on was a coal fired 'Babcock & Wilcock' boiler, approximately 14 feet high and 20 feet long. It was a 'wet sleeve' boiler, which meant that water flowed around the outside of the firebox to be heated. The shaft coming down from the top left corner is a coal shaft, that fed coal on to the roller, and so into the boiler. The boiler was converted to gas in about 1966.

This photograph was collected as part of Melbourne's Biggest Family Album in 2006.

Description of Content

View of boiler room, showing Babcok & Wilcox 'wrought-iron front' water-tube boiler and Weir feed-water pumps. The chute coming down from the top left corner is feeding fuel from the coal hoppers to the chain-grate which operates like a continous conveyor belt feeding coal into the combustion chamber at the bottom of the boiler and discharging the burnt ash at the rear end. The boiler attendant is adjusting a Weir steam pump supplying feedwater to the boiler.

Physical Description

Digital image file, copied from original black and white print.


A key focus of Museum Victoria's History & Technology Collections is the changing nature of Victorian working lives and workplaces from the earliest years of European settlement in the 1830s through to the present day. While samples of tools and products provide one means of documenting past work practises, collecting images can also provide a powerful insight into the changing nature of workplaces and working life. The images collected through the Melbourne's Biggest Family Album project document the various tasks workers were engaged in, equipment and setting, workplace safety and even who was participating in the workforce in different industries and at different points in time.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, manual labour remained a key part of many workplaces and most non-clerical jobs. Steam power played an increasingly important role in mining and manufacturing from the 1860s, but many tasks still required skilled manual labour.

After 1900, electricity gradually began to replace steam power in manufacturing and would eventually lead to a transformation in the layout and appearance of factories, but steam power continued to play key role in industries that required steam to provide process heat or cooking. Under the Victorian Factories Act, every steam boiler employed in factories had to be supervised at all times it was operating by a qualified boiler attendant. During the early 20th century most factory boilers in Melbourne were fired using black coal for fuel (mostly imported from New South Wales). In country districts and regional towns, wood remained the most common boiler fuel. After the Second World War many of Melbourne's factory boilers were converted to operate on briquettes, produced by the State Electricity Commission from brown coal deposits in the Latrobe Valley. After the development of the Bass Strait oil and gas fields in the late 1960s, many boilers were converted to gas firing which was both cheaper and cleaner.

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