• Museum of Fire Heritage Team

History Week Special Feature: The Most Recent Addition to the Museum's Collection

History Week continues at the Museum this week and into the weekend. If you haven't already checked out what is on offer then please visit our website https://www.museumoffire.net/history-week-2020

The most recent addition to the Museum
The most recent addition to the Museum

In the meantime we thought we'd share the story behind the most recent addition to our collection.

Thomas James Bown (1810-1872) served as a firefighter in London before arriving in Sydney in 1842, where he became the Colony’s first “professional” firefighter. He was handpicked and brought to Sydney (along with firefighter Edward Harris and two fire appliances) by the Colony’s Mutual Fire Insurance Association which was established in 1841. However, the Mutual Fire Insurance Association only survived for one year, disbanding in 1843. Thomas Bown was then transferred to the City Corporation (Council) Brigade for a short while.

Portrait of Thomas Bown
Portrait of Thomas Bown

In 1843, Bown also set up his own engineering and plumbing business, T. J. Bown & Co., which was positioned on the corner of Bathurst Street and George Street, Sydney. The advertisement below shows that his company specialised in a range of firefighting equipment, from appliances through to individual brass fittings.

In 1851, Thomas Bown was approached to manage the newly formed Sydney Fire Insurance Company (the Insurance Companies Brigade). Part of his factory was used as the fire station while he continued to operate his business from the premises. Thomas Bown retired from his longstanding position as Superintendent of the Sydney Fire Establishment in 1867 and returned to England, with his nephew Charles Bown assuming control of his business.

Charles Bown had arrived in the Colony in 1857 to work at T. J. Bown & Co. and went on to pursue a notable career in firefighting. He first joined the Insurance Companies Brigade of which Thomas Bown was Superintendent at the time. Charles Bown was appointed Assistant Superintendent in 1862 and then took over the position of Superintendent when Thomas Bown retired in 1868. He held this position until 1884, when the Insurance Brigade disbanded. In the same year, he became the first Chairman of the newly formed Fire Brigades Board. Charles Bown remained in this position until 1910, when he became the first President of the Board of Fire Commissioners of New South Wales.

The date and marker are clearly visible
The date and marker are clearly visible

The Museum of Fire recently acquired a hose with attached couplings which can be attributed to the work of the family business, T. J. Bown & Co. While the female coupling on the hose is clearly identified, there is no provenance for the male coupling or the hose itself. It is most likely that these have been renewed for maintenance purposed over the life of the object. The female coupling provides important information for dating this piece of equipment, stamped with the maker and year of manufacture. From this, we can determine that the female coupling was made in 1889, reinforcing its significance as an early piece of firefighting equipment in Sydney.

Museum Curator Laura Anderson with the two most recent acquisitions
Museum Curator Laura Anderson with the two most recent acquisitions

This recent acquisition completely juxtaposes the other recent donation we shared a few weeks ago on this blog (pictured above). For more on that donation please see : https://www.museumoffire.net/post/rpas01-bear-touches-down-at-the-museum-of-fire

This just goes to show the variety of items collected by the Museum.

-Curator, Laura Anderson

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