Tanneries of Kedron

Map of the Tanneries of Kedron

This map is a section of the 1946 Aerial Survey of the whole local area and is centred on Gympie Road and Lutwyche Cemetery. The tanneries were built beside creeks for their water supply and four of the five sites in this photo are on the same nameless creek. The fifth is on another nameless creek. (Brisbane City Council Copyright)

You will need a Refidex to follow this photo map.

This aerial photo of 1946 shows five of the tanneries of Kedron four of which are on the one nameless creek. The creek comes from Kitchener Road and curves north to flow past Gallagher's Kedron Tannery in the top left of the photo. The creek on this western side is completely piped today and does not show on any map.

The creek then goes under Gympie Road at Boothby St and circles around to the north befre turning south to pass westward of James Slaney's Tannery at the end of Boothby St. This is a smallest tannery, about the size of a small house.

The creek continues south to pass on the eastern side of Stephen Pill's Cornwall Tannery situated between Boothby and Childers Streets. Next is Paul Maggs' Bristol Tannery between Childers and Kedron Streets.

Paul Maggs had two earlier tanneries one of which was on the family property Avondale which was situated on the north side of the big bend in Edinburgh Castle Road and is now part of the south west corner of Wavell Heights High School.

The other one was named the Edinburgh Tannery and was situated somewhere between Ramsay St and Leckie Rd. Ramsay St bends in such a was as to indicate the presence of a creek which if followed flows north to a large blob opposite Twelfth Avenue and on the north side of Castle Street, which looks like a dirt track on this photo. This was probably the site of the Edinburgh Tannery.

Leather from Hides

Before World War II (1939-45), leather was one of the most frequently used products in society. It could be used as hinges on doors and windows, saddles and harness, suitcases, whips, covering on chairs, lounges, clothing such as overcoats, belts, shoes, hats; in effect it was a universal 'fabric' that had been used for millennia. Then chemists developed the process of making plastics from oil and leather became just another product; however, when oil runs out?

Tanneries were located in the Chermside district from about the 1870s obtaining their hides and skins from the local slaughter yards until these were closed down in 1931 when the government opened the state abattoirs at Cannon Hill; then the abattoirs became the chief source of hides and skins.

Jim Hannah, who worked at Slaney's Tannery in Boothby St, Kedron commented that in addition to the Abattoirs as a source, they used to process Commission Hides when people from out in the bush would send hides from their own cattle for tanning. Slaney's also made whips from hides which had been processed as red hide or yellow lace leather, and they processed a lot of calf skins and hundreds and hundreds of kangaroo hides.

He explained that different breeds of animal produce different types of leather; for example, kangaroo hide produces the toughest type of leather for its thickness.

The men who worked in the tanneries usually lived locally and walked or rode bicycles to work. It was not until the 1950s or 1960s that motor cars began to be used with the workers possibly coming from further afield.

Many of these men spent their entire working life at one or more tanneries, often with their sons joining them when they left school.

Method of Tanning Hides to Make Leather

The process of making leather out of animal hide has three stages:

1. Preparation
Hides would come in folded and salted, they had to be soaked in the lime water pit and drawn backwards and forwards twice a day for 2 days to get the air pockets out and let the lime get at the hide. The hide was then split down the backbone and made into two sides, and most of the hair removed by machine while the remainder was removed by hand using a dull knife. This was called scudding and then the hide was soaked in clean water. A skilled man prepared the hide with a long 18 inch blade, to take off the excess fat and flesh left by the butchers, but this could also be done by a flensing machine. Then the hide had to be made soft by putting it into a drum of 'bait', made from pure bran, which became very putrid but made the hide soft and removed all the lime.

2. Tanning
Tan leather was made using the traditional tanning process. This involved putting the hide into the tan liquor, made from imported wattle bark with some local black wattle bark soaked in water; this process could take up to two months.

Chrome leather was made by the much quicker process of chemical tanning which took only three to seven days. The hides were put into brick lined pits to soak up a solution of water, dichromate (Potassium dichromate), sulphuric acid and sugar, with 'rockers' over the top to work the mixture and stop the dichromate from settling. This process took three days after which the chrome was left to stand for 24 hours before washing it in baking soda to clean off the acid.

3. Finishing
The leather was then put through various machines which shaved it to the thickness required by the buyers who specified the parts of the hide they wanted for the product they were making.

The Curriers did the final finishing and colouring of the leather to make it strong, flexible and waterproof. They stretched the leather and then tacked it onto a frame to dry, after which they applied a mixture of nigrosin (Indian Ink) with milk, blood and water. This was put on with a pad or sprayed on, and then rubbed with a ball of glass to give the leather a glaze. Using pigments, they coloured the leather specifically for the individual buyer.

The Maggs' Family 1868-1884 Pioneer Tanners 1889-1966

The Maggs' story was written by James and Noela (nee Maggs) Gibson after careful research over several years. They also supplied most of the photos used in the presentation.

Paul Maggs arrived in Brisbane with his parents in December 1869. He was three years old. His father, Paul Maggs senior, and his mother Sarah Catherine lived some three years in Brisbane with their children until 1872 when they were able to purchase a 20-acre block at what is now Ellison Road, Aspley. Three years later Paul Maggs senior sold the property to his brother-in-law and bought land fronting Edinburgh Castle Road, in Kedron. He built the family home there and called it 'Avondale' in memory of the Avon River that flowed through his hometown Bristol.

After ten years in the colony, the father Paul died leaving a widow, Sarah Catherine, and five children; Kate was 20, Adelaide 16, Paul 13, Amy 7 and Alfred 4. Kate had married John Morris in 1879, just before the death of her father and was living at Aspley. Sarah Catherine's brother, Benjamin Raymond, came to live with them and the family got by. In 1884, Sarah Catherine married again to William Kerridge when young Paul was 18.

Three tanneries in the Kedron area can be attributed to the early pioneer, Paul Maggs. But it is Bristol Tannery that occupied a large site in Kedron Street for over 70 years; that is his lasting legacy.

First Tannery - The Avondale 1889-1894

This 1946 aerial photo shows the location of the family property, Avondale. It was on the north side of the big bend in Edinburgh Castle Road on the present site of the ends of Colac and Nundah Streets, the south-west corner of Wavell Heights High School near the roundabout. (Brisbane City Council Copyright)

The younger Paul Maggs was still living at 'Avondale' when he first turned his hand to producing leather. In 1889, at age 23, Paul established a small tannery on the family property and started tanning hides. Throughout his lifetime 1889 was acknowledged as the date when Paul Maggs established his career in tanning.

The location of this tannery is not known precisely, but it is believed to have been situated on the banks of the creek that crossed 'Avondale'. Previously the creek on the property had been utilised for making bricks. It is not known if the tannery was given the name 'Avondale' when Paul Maggs established it. It is more likely that it was just associated with the name of the property. However, the tannery is identified as 'Avondale Tannery' in official Postal Directory records some years later.

Opportunity, rather than anything else, probably accounted for Paul's entry into this field. There is no known precedent within the Maggs family that would suggest Paul should take up tanning. Small tanneries were beginning to appear in those northern districts, perhaps because of the availability of suitable tanning bark, perhaps because of the tributary system of the Kedron Brook, the reasons are obscure. Kedron then was not "agriculturally viable because of poor soils, so timber getting, brick making and tanning remained the most important industries."

Paul may have seen the opportunity and grasped it. He may have been exposed to the secrets of the tanning industry through acquaintance with men like L F Schoenheimer who has been identified as an early tanner in the district. Then again, he may have gained motivation and knowledge of the trade from the Beer family, relatives of the Maggs family, who became responsible for tanneries in Ipswich and Toowoomba. Whatever the case, his venture into tanning was to flourish. There is nothing to suggest that Paul ever looked back after that first tentative step into the commercial production of leather.

It is believed that Paul Maggs operated the tannery at 'Avondale' for about five years until he established his second tanning business which he called 'Edinburgh Tannery'.

Apparently that first small tannery on the family's holding continued as a viable operation because in 1897, about three years after Paul ceased working it, his mother leased the family property and the tannery appears to have been reactivated.

The lease of 'Avondale' was taken up by an Edward Cunningham for a period of ten years from 1 October 1897 for an amount of £120 (120 pounds - $240) over the term of the lease; the equivalent of £1 (One Pound - $1.00) per month. Cunningham utilised the leased property to establish his own tannery, or more likely to re-activate the tannery originally established by Paul Maggs. True to its origins, it was referred to as 'Avondale Tannery' and appears in the postal directories of 1901 under that name.

How long Avondale Tannery continued is not known, but the lease expired in 1907 the same year that Paul's mother died and Paul acquired full ownership of 'Avondale'.

Second Tannery - The Edinburgh 1894-1905

Edinburgh Tannery was housed in a large, partly enclosed, partly open shed, supported and framed with bush poles, and sheeted with roughly split horizontal boards. The roof was corrugated galvanised iron over a simple gable. The whole structure appears to have been in the order of 80 feet long by 25 feet wide (24.4m x 7.6m) Paul and his four co-workers, clad in heavy leather aprons, have been captured in a photograph of the new building, presumably commemorating with justified pride, his latest achievement.

In June 1894, Paul Maggs let a contract to a Mr Stokes of Lutwyche for the building of a new tannery. Paul was then aged 28 and it seems that his venture into tanning was meeting with some success, necessitating larger premises.

The site which young Paul chose was located on the creek between present-day Leckie Road and Ramsay Street, neither of which then existed. Unfortunately, no evidence has yet been found to pin-point the location or to indicate if the land were purchased or leased. (The possible location is shown on the aerial map of 1946.)

Two contractors, brothers-in-law Thomas and James Hamilton, were engaged at a rate of £2 (Two pounds - $4) each per week to build a frame for a steam roller, and a currying table. The Hamiltons were Chermside identities who featured prominently in the civic affairs of the developing suburb. Thomas Hamilton was later to be associated with Paul in establishing the Chermside School, and in reinstating the local bus service. He had his own successful coach building business in Gympie Road.

Entries extracted from the diary of T A (Thomas) Hamilton relating to his involvement in the construction of 'Edinburgh Tannery' for Paul Maggs in 1894 include the following:

23.5.1894 A Maggs [Alfred - Paul's brother] called to tell me his brother Paul will buy my engine on time payment
9.6.1894 P Maggs brought a man to look at engine and later told me he liked engine well. Paul Maggs came again after tea and got our price for building shed, he's to give us an answer on Monday
Mon 11.6.1894 Paul Maggs wrote note telling me he had let the building of his shed to
Mr Stokes of Lutwyche and he'd see me tomorrow
12.6.1894 Paul Maggs came in his buggy and took James to look at some steam leather rollers
13.6.1894 James and I went to see Paul Maggs about his roller tables etc
14.6.1894 Paul Maggs came for a chat about engine and had tea with us
15.6.1894 Paul Maggs came and seen (sic) the engine and pump working after night, he was satisfied with them
21.6.1894 Made frame for steam leather roller
24.6.1894 Worked with James
[Diary references kindly supplied by Miss Joan Hamilton of Kedron, one of the Hamilton descendants]

From other diary references it appears that the construction of the "shed" occupied the period 25 June to 23 July 1894. Thomas Hamilton received payment of wages for his involvement on 8 August 1894.

By July that year, Paul's tanning pits were filled with bark, and on 13 July 1894, the first sides of leather were rolled. They called the new tannery 'Edinburgh Tannery', presumably a reference to its location close by Edinburgh Castle Road.

Photo of Edinburgh Tannery and Workers

Back: (L to R) Stephen Pill, Paul Maggs, Alfred Maggs, Front:Bert Burnett, Harry New.

It is an enduring, and an endearing, glimpse into the very earliest days of Paul's long business career. The photos are a valuable insight into the pioneering years of the leather industry, one of the very early photographs of a Queensland working tannery, perhaps among the earliest.

With his younger brother Alfred, who was now 19, and three workmen, Harry New, Bert Burnett and Stephen Pill, Paul worked Edinburgh Tannery for the next ten years, all the while the business improving. Stephen Pill himself was in the process of setting up a tanning business and his career was to follow a parallel path over the coming years.

Third Tannery - The Bristol 1906-1966

The date of this photo of the Bristol Tannery is unknown. On the left is the office which, along with the triple gabled building, faced Kedron Street. The multi gabled (six) roof building faced east towards the creek which was well down beyond the fence.

At the turn of the century, Kedron was developing as a suburb and Brisbane as a city. Land that had been vacant for years was slowly beginning to support new buildings, scattered houses, small businesses, the new, second, Edinburgh Castle Hotel, the creation of streets as subdivisions were made, and an ever increasing number of tanneries and fellmongeries.

Population was steadily increasing. Demand for manufactured products was high, there was a constant need for leather and business was good. Kedron was dotted with tanneries and fellmongeries to the extent that 'fresh country air was a rare commodity out Kedron way."

Paul Maggs was again feeling the need to expand his commercial operation; to stand still was to stagnate and be overtaken by the ever-present competition. In those first few years of the newly dawned twentieth century Paul must have been consciously planning the next step of his expansion. It came in 1904 when Paul sold out to A E Cornell, a leather and bark merchant who operated from an office and warehouse at Kedron Brook, Lutwyche Road, Lutwyche.

Arthur Cornell was not a tanner, but a Fellow of the Queensland Institute of Accountants; by his own description an accountant, auditor, trustee and commission agent. It is quite possible that he was Paul's supplier of bark, maybe his business accountant. Apparently he bought Edinburgh Tannery as an investment and to provide a ready source of product for his marketing business.

But Paul was not yet done with the small tannery. Being short on tanning expertise, Cornell employed Paul to be his manager. It was probably a condition of the sale. So Paul maintained his association there at least through 1904 and into 1905. By 1906, however, Edinburgh Tannery seems to have exited the local scene. It no longer features in the postal directories.

Armed with ready capital from the sale of Edinburgh Tannery, Paul commenced work on his new and greatly expanded venture. A new tannery complex was built on that portion of Paul's land at the lower end of Kedron Street, not very far from the site of the works that had been his first venture into tanning fifteen years earlier.

A large sprawling timber structure of dark stained weatherboard walls and corrugated iron gable roofs, the new tannery was destined to house a flourishing industry in leather production which was to employ family members for the next sixty plus years. It was called Bristol Tannery to commemorate Paul's birthplace in England.

With the sale of Edinburgh Tannery to Cornell, and the building of Paul's new Bristol Tannery in 1904, it became necessary to re-site Alfred's house. Until the new tannery was built, Alfred, Paul's younger brother and right hand man, had lived with his wife Annie, close to Edinburgh Tannery, probably next door, in what was known as the tannery cottage. Apparently part of the tannery property owned by Paul, it seems to have been excluded from the sale and the decision was made to remove it to a new location. So, in the straight-forward manner of those times, it was picked up off its stumps, loaded on to a dray drawn by a team of four hefty horses and moved in its entirety, verandas and all, across the paddocks to its new site in the vicinity of the new tannery.

The tannery cottage remained on that new site, in Kedron Street, adjacent Bristol Tannery for the whole life of the tannery and beyond, and is well remembered by the present generation. It is still there but has been renovated and raised on high stumps.

Bristol Tannery was one of several similar industries in the district, a number being in close proximity. It seems that virtually all the leather production for Brisbane was concentrated in the area drained by the Kedron Brook. From the beginning of the century four tanneries existed almost cheek-by-jowl, all backing on to the little creek that crossed Gympie Road in the vicinity of Boothby Street and meandered down to Kedron Brook.

The Bristol Tannery Continued

This aerial photo shows the four northern tanneries in more detail. While the locations are clearly shown much detail remains to be identified. This is being done as photos are found showing the buildings from various angles. Unfortunately there are very few photos available. (Brisbane City Council Copyright.)

Gallagher's Tannery was located on the western side of Gympie Road in the dip where the creek crossed, but is now piped under, the road; the site is presently occupied by the large George Weston Foods biscuit and cake factory. Across the road, and on the corner of Boothby Street and the future Bristol Road, was the much smaller Slaney's Tannery. Pill's Tannery was nearby fronting on to Childers Street. In the next block, between Childers Street and Kedron Street, was Paul Maggs' Bristol Tannery.

Since the 1860s tanneries and fellmongeries had proliferated in the district, all gravitating towards creeks, the source of their water and the outlet for their effluent. They operated out of ramshackle bush timber buildings processing cattle hides or sheep skins into usable leather. They sprang up like mushrooms, unhindered then by encroaching residential development, unrestricted by regulation, free to use the natural environment to their own ends, an indispensable aid in the process of production. Over the years most fell by the wayside. These four, Gallagher's, Slaney's, Pill's and Maggs', survived along Gympie Road, and with the possible exception of Slaney's, which was taken over by Pill's, became significant contributors to Brisbane's industrial production.

Paul and his family management team of sons Alfred Paul (Alf) and Percival Charles (Percy) marketed the tannery with success, maintaining a prominent place in the competitive arena, keeping their share of the market. They promoted their product with pride, and themselves with enthusiasm. "Leather is best - Maggs' is better" their slogan proclaimed from their letterhead, a philosophy they firmly believed in. It was a philosophy that would maintain a constant flow of leather through their pits, over their loading docks and out into the community from 1889 until 1966, nearly eighty years.

Over time residential development expanded, encroaching on areas that previously had been the sole preserve of the tanneries. And whereas in the early days, pollutants released into the streams and the atmosphere had little adverse effect on the community, now it was a different story. Now, located in the midst of a pollution-conscious suburbia, the tanneries were subject to attitudes that had hardened.

As early as the 1920s the problems of stream pollution were becoming painfully obvious. The once pristine waterways no longer supported fish life, and the State Health Department enforced the installation of filters to all drainage outlets. But of course it would not be enough. In 1935, the three adjacent tanneries - Maggs', Gallagher's and Pill's - put down a dedicated sewer to combat the continuing fouling of the creek and Kedron Brook. Local government planning regulations imposed severe restrictions on the future development of noxious industries in suburban residential areas. It was clear that the industry and suburbia were no longer compatible.

Other factors too, were conspiring to cloud the future of the tannery. By the mid-1950s Paul Maggs was approaching 90 years of age, and sons Alf and Percy were in their early 60s. With no one primed to continue in the Maggs' shoes, the top management was living on borrowed time.

Paul died on Christmas Day, 25 December 1956, aged 90 years and 3 months, active to the end. By then Alf and Percy were in no position to make significant changes in the company structure or its direction.

In 1966, P Maggs and Sons Pty Ltd was bought out by rival tanners, Johnson and Sons, of Chermside. Johnson's had previously bought the neighbouring Pill's Tannery, and were obviously intent on consolidating their position in the market; Pill's had earlier taken over Slaney's. Gallagher's Tannery had closed in 1960. Now Johnson's became the sole producer of leather in the Kedron area.

The Bristol Tannery lived on for a short time as Johnson's kept both Bristol Tannery and Pill's Tannery in production until 1973 when they finally bowed to community pressures and closed, to be reincarnated in a large complex on the northern outskirts of Brisbane well removed from residential development.

In 1975 the bulldozers moved in, clearing the Kedron Street site of the buildings and paraphernalia of two lifetimes, ready for a new housing estate. Today no trace remains to suggest that Maggs' Bristol Tannery, or any of the Kedron tanneries ever existed.

The Maggs Family C1920

This family photo was taken about 1920 and shows: Back (L to R) Percy G, Laura and Aimy Louise Front Laura Annie (nee White), Alfred Paul, Paul Maggs

The Maggs Home - Glenora

The Maggs' home was a landmark on Gympie Road and was referred to as 'the big house'. It was outstanding, built of brick and tile in a 'timber and tin' neighbourhood, as a local landmark.

Paul Maggs had a home in Kedron Street behind this one which was on the corner of Kedron Street and Gympie Road almost opposite Lutwyche Cemetery. On the opposite corner stood Glentanna the home of Michael Gallagher whose tannery fronted Gympie Road. Unfortunately there are no photos of Gallagher's house.

The Bowling Green

Beside Maggs' house was Maggs' three rink bowling green. The house in the background of the photo was the earlier house of Paul Maggs.

The Maggs men were keen bowlers and had their own private bowling green. Each week there would be bowling for friends of the family. It was not uncommon to see backyard tennis courts but this must have been the only 'backyard' bowling green for miles around.

On the other side of the green on the corner of Sport Street stood a house belonging to a member of the Packer family who operated a tannery and felmongery at Chermside.


The many modern cars are a colourful sight on the elevated block which once held a house built on leather. The modern car does not even use leather in its upholstery.

Today Gympie Road Kedron is lined both sides with about 22 car sales yards. One of those car yards takes up the three blocks above. When the Maggs' tannery closed down everything was sold and all the building demolished, including the 'big house' and green.

The same fate befell the other tanneries in north Kedron, all have gone and been replaced with housing or commercial enterprises.

Slaney's Tannery

Jim Hannah, born in 1920 and died in 2010, supplied the following information in an interview with Robert Isdale 16-3-1998.

Located on the corner of Boothby and Bristol Streets with the creek running behind the buildings, it was the smallest of the local tanneries. Jim Hannah began working here at the age of 13 and became the steam engine driver when he obtained his 'steam ticket' at age 17. Fuel for the boiler came from local wood, waste from local sawmills and tallow which was obtained by boiling down the fat and other waste from the tannery. The water was drawn from a dam on the property as it was softer than the town water which used to put scale on the boiler pipes.

The boiler and engine were mobile whereas the other tanneries had stationery engines. It generated 14 horsepower and drove a shaft which went right through the tannery and was connected to the machines by leather belts on pulleys. When the machine operator wanted to power his machine he simply pulled a lever to move the leather belt on to the machine pulley and the machine started.

In later years after electricity was connected each machine had a separate 6 or 10 horsepower motor connected.

Jim gave the following estimates of the workforce at the local tanneries.
No. of Workers in Tanneries:
• Slaney's - 15 to 17
• Pill's - 120
• Maggs' - 45
• Gallagher's - 30 to 35
• Packer's at Chermside - 30+

Rapson and Dutton's workshop shows the overhead shaft system of pullies and leather belts used in the tanneries. The steam engine drove the main shaft in the middle and power was supplied by belts to the side shafts and then to the machines. The tanneries probably only had one shaft rather than three as in this photo. (Courtesy of Isdale Collection)

The Kedron Tanneries - Brisbane Courier 1906

THE KEDRON TANNERIES. Brisbane Courier Friday 2nd February 1906 p.3
(By Our Travelling Correspondent.)

The tanneries on the North Coast (North side of Brisbane) cluster around Kedron. There are tanneries elsewhere, it is true, but this is the hub of the industry in this state. There are eight of them. Some have come into existence since the States federated others run back more than a decade while that of Mr M J Gallagher was in full swing when men, now old, were boys. They are all running up to their full capacity. Inter-colonial barriers have been broken down and leather from Kedron now finds a market in the southern States. Federation has helped than hindered the industry; certainly that is the consensus of opinion among tanners

With one or two exceptions, the buildings are not of that type of architecture which would be expected from the value of the business being carried on. First impressions are that of disappointment but this vanishes when the inside is explored and the mechanical appliances are examined. Powerful labour saving and valuable machinery is found in all the larger tanneries The supply of hides comes from all over Queensland, and with such a demand for leather it seems an anomaly that so many are sent South and then returned to us as leather. For hides which Tanners could purchase years ago for from 3s to 5s now pay 20s and 25s, but the price of leather though higher, has not increased in the same proportion

Figures supplied at some of the tanneries as to the number of hides operated on in twelve months are fair data in estimating the value of the industry. Four tanneries put through 33,000 hides on the average annually. Allowing that the other four are on a smaller scale, the total number of hides that pass through the tan pits maybe set down at 50,000. These are large figures and rather under than over the mark, but they only represent one feature in the business. A large trade is done in sheepskins. For this class of leather there is always a big call and tanners say that they cannot overtake the demand. Mr. J. Slaney until the last few days was putting100 dozen pelts through each week. Mr. Gallagher and Messrs Packer and Knox also deal heavily in this line. It is not an over estimate to set down the number of skins operated on yearly at Kedron at 150,000. Kangaroo skins are getting scarcer every year and there is little dealing in those skins. For high class kid the skins are imported from India.

The bark chiefly used in tanning is from the black and silver Wattle of South Australia. Mr. Gallagher imports to the value of £5000 every year and there are other big importers so that from the Kedron tanners the State receives annually a substantial sum. Local bark is not regarded favourably, and only in one case is that from the mangrove being used. Kedron possesses the largest tannery in Queensland

Tanners say that with the freight added they can enter Southern markets and compete successfully in the best kinds of leather. They have no fear of this market being captured but they complain that boots made of inferior leather in ¡Melbourne are sold in our markets. This appears to be the only disability tanners experience under Federation. The industry all round is in a fairly prosperous condition and there is promise of further expansion.