Historic context

Victoria has developed exponentially since European settlement. Originally timber huts housed a small but growing population. A legacy of the gold rush of the 1850s was an oversupply of underemployed miners. The extensive basalt plains of Victoria were a fertile ground for stonemasons who built the magnificent cities we see in Victoria today. These masons could not keep up with the demand as working basalt is a slow process. Brick makers then filled this gap and brick works popped up all over the colony as the population grew more affluent and wanted a better standard of housing.

This cultural and industrial heritage has largely been lost. The brick kilns are now gone. But the bricks remain. They are everywhere. Australia is now, as has been for a long time, the world’s largest per capita consumer of bricks. Nobody gives them a second thought. Many new arrivals in post-war Australia worked making bricks. Maybe one of your relatives was such a person. Almost nothing has been done in Victoria by the State Government to record this history, except a half-hearted attempt in the early 1980s by the Victoria State Archaeological Survey to record a few brick that came their way at a few sites. What ever became of them? Although some good came of it because a paper on “The Analysis of Bricks from Archaeological Sites in Australia; IAIN STUART” was produced. See it at

Even half the bricks we use today smash like China tea-pots if you drop them from any sort of height. Not like the old Victorian bricks. Oh no, they knew how to build houses in those days.

“Blue Collar”, P16, Danny King

What I want to do here is to show pictures of some of the bricks I have come across in my travels and give a short story about their maker. If you have anything to add, please let me know. PS: I do not collect bricks, only photographs of bricks. If you have some old bricks, let me know and I may come and photograph them and maybe find a story about them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Company Australia Limited

Over the years, a fair bit has been written locally about this company.  I would like to elaborate on what has been produced so far.  There are still a lot of people around who either worked there or had family who did.  If you have any more information, please get in touch. The earliest reference to any works around this location is just prior to the Eureka Rebellion.  The person concerned was Paulo Brentani who arrived in Australia at the age of 26 in April 1853 aboard the “Appleton” He made his way to Ballarat and presumably tried his luck at gold mining.  He was a Ballarat resident in 1854 and the only other Italian mentioned by Raffaelo Carboni in his book “The Eureka Stockade”.

“Once, I had seen him with my mate, Paul Brentani, about manufacturing bricks from the splendid clay of the gravel pits.  Mr. Rede received us as gentlemen, and by way of encouragement, said to Paul, “Je viex bien aider, car tout est encore a batir a Ballaarat, et il nous fait des briques – revenez me voir.”

(The Eureka Stockade” Raffaello Carboni Sunnybrook Press 1942. P60.) 

My High-School French is a little rusty but roughly translated I think this means “I am willing to help because everything is still under construction in Ballarat and we need bricks.  Get back to me.”

(The “Gravel Pits” were described as being adjacent to the Eureka Stockade site.)  (Over the years Raffaello produced a number of literary works but a thing I note about this book was his continuous and excessive display of his classical education.)  There is no record of Paulo getting back to Commissioner Rede, because other events tended to overtake them both.  

The site remained a Crown Allotment until 1915.  In 1857, an application to quarry stone in the vicinity was made to the Ballarat East Council.  There is no evidence that this was proceeded with.  On a map produced in 1861, the site was described nearby as “Cattle Yards.”   The site had remained a Crown Lease for the next fifty years with various lessees occupying the site.  It is worthy of note that many of the lessees are shown as being in Ross Street.  One was John Nedwell who had the one-acre block on the corner of Charlesworth and Stawell streets.  Another was Arnold Heering Holst, (1836 – 1916) a Danish migrant who occupied the block at the other end at Stawell and Eureka streets. Another Holst, Frederick William, held a miners lease over a larger portion of the site.  Frederick Holst was a Stockbroker who had done well in Ballarat. 

There is no evidence that he or his company actually mined the lease, but several leads converged at the top of the lease.  He built a substantial home at 126 Webster Street.  This home later became the Ballarat Teachers College.  As of November 11, 2012, F.W.Holst & Co Pty Ltd. was acquired by E.L. & C.Baillieu Stockbroking Ltd. F.W. Holst & Co Pty Ltd., is a stockbroker, providing financial and investment advisory services for private clients. 

In 1895/1896, Alfred Lugg (1878-1949) transferred ownership to James Croughey.  Alfred had owned the lease since around 1891/1892, prior to that, the land had not been sub-divided, and the nearby Chinese Town was located close by.  In 1902/1903, James Croughey sub-let the land to Lawrence Murphy. It was at this time that the hut is first mentioned in the rate books.  In 1903/1904, August Steinkraus took over from James Croughey.  It is not until 1908/1909 that the site is listed in the rate book as being “ wood hut and pottery”.  It must have been only newly built as the Annual Value was more than double as were the rates.  

 Early site map and map of gold leads in the area.

The document shown below is a copy of the lease on the property granted to Holz & Co.

August (Otto) Edward Steinkraus had arrived in Melbourne at the age of 33, on board the Catania, a passenger/cargo steam ship built in 1881, arriving in Melbourne in July 1883 along with many other German migrants.

Steinkraus is the traditional Middle German for a Potter or Innkeeper.  Stein is stone and Kraus is a jug.  Otto operated a pottery at Lal Lal from 1896 until 1902.  It is likely that he began working for the Knights at the Lal Lal Brickworks as a potter before starting out on his own after the brickworks closed.  He was born in Graudenz, the city of good luck, West Prussia in 1848 to Johann Steinkraus and Caroline (Mielke). 

The city, now in Poland, was then undergoing a turbulent process of “Germanization”.  This unrest may have been why Otto migrated.  Otto first settled in Lal Lal with his wife and his two sisters.  There is still a Steinkraus Lane in Lal Lal, but Otto lived on Clarendon Road.  The property was sold in February 1915 and the house there was then occupied by Ted Enwright, one of the early partners in the nearby Lal Lal Brick works. 

After moving from Lal Lal to Ballarat, they later lived in a small cottage at 15 Princes Street South, Ballarat.  This cottage, that still exists, was not too far from his pottery in Stawell Street.  Initially, Otto worked with another potter, Walter Heggie Troup (1866-1939).  This arrangement was short lived.  August died in Ballarat East in October 1930 at the age of 82.  His wife Florentine (Flora) died in November 1926 at the age of 77.  They are buried together in the Ballarat Cemetery, Lutheran Section 5, Grave 4. 

Otto built what appears to be a medium sized circular kiln on the seven-acre property near to the Lal Lal Brick Works and proceeded to make a wide variety of domestic pottery.  No known examples of his work survive, but he is reported to have made teapots, jugs and milk setting dishes for skimming clotted cream.  I don’t know if he stamped or marked his work.  It is also reported that he used kaolin clays from the area, kaolin is generally used to make china or porcelain but it is uncertain what material he used.  There was excellent clay on the site that he would have used.  The kaolin deposits are a little way out of town.  Polish pottery has been made from a type of white clay found only in the Boleslawiec region.  This pottery is fired at temperatures in excess of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.  They used lead and cadmium free glazes. 

The Remains of Otto’s Kiln in 1951

The photographs of his kiln at Lal Lal, (possibly earlier than 1951) shows a type that may not have been capable of achieving the temperatures needed for porcelain, but I could be wrong.  The terms are sometimes interchangeable; it is different to China, which is softer and fired at a lower temperature.  China is fired at 1,204 degrees Celsius and Porcelain at 1,454 degrees Celsius.  China is opaque and porcelain is translucent.  Fragments obtained on-site show that it is most likely that he made some tin glazed earthenware, popular at the time and giving the appearance of china. 

This appears to be the remnant of a type of what is known as a bottle kiln.  So named because of the shape.  The top section appears to be missing from the photograph.  What you see is the outer section known as a “hovel” which acts as a flue to create air-flow through the kiln and remove smoke.  It also acts as an outer skin to protect the inner chamber from the outside.  There is an inner chamber known as the “dome” that holds the pottery.  

The iron bands, known as “bonts” hold the kiln together during the expansion and contraction caused through firing.  The doorway was sufficiently high to allow Otto to go inside with a “sagger” on his head.  A sagger is a container of pottery.  There were a number of “firemouths” around the kiln.  The number of these is not known.  Inside the kiln, above the firemouth was a “bag”, their purpose is to direct the fire underneath and protect the saggers.  There were also flues underneath the firemouth to direct the heat to the interior of the kiln.  In the centre of the floor was a well hole.  A chimney is placed over the well hole to direct the smoke out of the kiln.  This is known as the “pipe bung.”  

Otto may have been influenced by Johann Gottleib Altman, a Prussian (1801-1885) who began working in the 1830s.  Altman made patterned products applying a clear glaze and firing the work at a high temperature, between 2 & 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  This resulted in a durable product with the white background made by the clay.  Known as Bunzlauerware, it is a form of high-fired earthenware.  Although none of Otto’s pottery is known to exist, the site of his kiln does.  This site is still littered with broken bricks and pottery apparently dating from his day.  Otto made glazed earthenware, including transfer printed ware judging by some of the pieces still lying around. 

Wherever pottery is made, large quantities of broken pottery (wasters) are found.  Broken, distorted and over-fired pottery is always found in great quantities close to the kiln as a large percentage of pottery fired in a kiln ends up unable to be sold.  It seems that some of his output was similar to the dark brown glazed earthenware so common and popular in the day.  Next time you see an old brown jug in an antique store, it may be one of his.  The site at Lal Lal is littered with small pieces of broken white china and earthenware.  The old kiln is long gone, but a circle of bricks in the rear yard may show where it once stood.

The Steinkraus Home, Lal Lal in 1971

Otto was described in the “Courier” on the 27th of May 1964 as “Ballarat’s First Potter.”  This is simply not true.  There were many people operating brick works in Ballarat prior to Otto’s arrival and several of them produced pottery, for example the Ballarat Pottery operated by Robert Smith in Mopoke Gully.  On Thursday the 26th of January 1869, the “Star” had an article listing many of the types of pottery produced there.   (See my post online on Smiths Steam Brick Pipe & Pottery Company.)

Otto and Florentine would sell his pottery door-to-door in and around Ballarat. These trips would often involve overnight stays in Ballarat.  There is a reference to Mr.s Steinkraus sleeping in barns or under the cart.  Sometimes she accepted offers of accommodation. Described in his day as being very courteous and around 5’6” tall with a full figure, Otto drove a long-shaft wagon pulled by a “baldy faced horse.  This describes a horse with a very wide blaze extending to, or past the eyes.  Some, but not all bald face horses also have blue eyes.  Although not recorded, I consider that the wagon would be a two-wheel, straight-shafted type.  He is also recorded as being kind to his horse, coaxing it on with a handful of hay, rather than the whip.

The story of the Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Company really begins when Ballarat Architect, William Miller approached Otto to ask him to make a particular type of chimney pot.  Otto had been producing some pottery products for the building trade.  So far, writers have told Otto’s story but not so much those of his customers.  They were Frederick Sutton, George William Clegg and William Miller.  Clegg and Miller were Architects and Fred was described as an Importer but was a son of the Sutton’s Music Store founder.  

George William Clegg (1870-1958) was an Architect who had an office in the London and Lancashire Chambers in Lydiard Street Ballarat.  He designed the Titanic Memorial Bandstand in Sturt Street in 1915 and the Protestant Hall.  He had previously been in partnership with William Miller and W.G Kell when they designed the second storey to the Council Chambers in 1898, a grandstand and St Patrick’s Hall in 1900.  George later went into partnership with Morrow when they designed additions to the School of Mines in 1914/15 and another bandstand in 1922.  Gilbert and Clegg are credited with designing a residence at 802 Sturt Street, but this is unsubstantiated.  Frederick Sutton (1863 – 1927) lived at “St Hilary, 116 Webster Street and was a member of the Suttons music family.  He is described in the Ballarat and District Directory as being an “Importer.”

(Ballarat A Guide to Buildings and areas 1851 – 1940 Jacobs, Lewis,Vines & Aitken - Hedges and Bell 1981)

(Frederick was the brother of Henry Sutton, one of the great minds of his age and very under appreciated today.)

William Miller asked Otto why he was not making roofing tiles.  Otto replied that although the clay on site was excellent for the purpose, he was too old at age 62 to go into such a large   new business. 

The Architectural firm of Clegg and Miller began in 1905 and was located at 5 Lydiard Street Ballarat.  It was a large practice with clients in Ballarat and throughout the wider district.  Part of their business was the importation of French roofing tiles and English slate for roofing.  After due diligence, the Architects purchased the pottery and engaged Otto as their Works Manager.  The property occupied by the Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Company Limited bounded by Stawell, Charlesworth and Ross Streets Ballarat was not all on the one title.  It was described as being Section “Y”, parts 4, 4a and 5.

The Works in 1930.  The building to the right was their office in Charlesworth Street.  Mr Heathcote is standing on the verandah.  The wooden buildings to the centre-left were destroyed by fire in 1936.  The Works Manager, Mr W.E. Grey is in the centre of the group (the one with the tie).  Very few of the others are identified.

Section 4 was the first and largest parcel to be sold to the Company on the 15th of June 1915, followed by Section 5 on the 26th of June 1838, then Section 4a on the 15th of October 1942.  This was a tiny parcel that appears to have been incorrectly surveyed originally and had been included in Section 6, owned by neighbour Mr. M.A.Feary.  Section 4 had been held by “Miners Right” by the Company Accountant Mr. Frederick George Hook (1886-1959).  Although the company occupied the site, only an individual could hold a Miners Right.

On the 29th of July, 1936, Frederick assigned his right to the Company.  The allotment of 1 acre was later sold to the company in April 1938 for seventy-five pounds.  Although the area remained Crown Land, Council rates were still paid by the occupants.

The equipment purchased and used at Eureka is not recorded.  Steam was the source of power at most works at the time.  A list of equipment used at the Creswick Brick Tile and Pottery Company may be instructive.  It consisted of;

“To tile, brick and pipe manufacturers : important sale by auction of 16-inch cylinder engine, Cornish flue boiler, 7 feet Chilian mill, with perforated bottom; clay mixing machine, pug mill, pipe making machine, pipe trimming machine, 40 lb. and 14 lb. rails, 3 circular brick kilns, several galvanised iron and W.B. buildings, freehold and leasehold land : at the North Creswick Brick, Tile and Pottery works : by order of M. Batkin, Esq. Wednesday, 30th January, 1929, at 2 o'clock sharp.”

The process is the same in any steam powered works.  There are four parts to the process. 
1, A form of combustion, either coal or timber was used to fire the boiler.
2, A boiler full of water to be heated and turned to steam.
3, An engine, consisting of a cylinder and piston.  Steam from the boiler is piped into the cylinder making the piston move up and down along it.  This in and out movement is known as “reciprocating”& used to turn a drive wheel.
4, The machinery attached to the piston.  In the case of the Tile Works, this was the crusher for the clay and the Tile Press.

A “Cornish Flue Boiler” was popular among mining companies in the area.  This was the most common type of internally fired boiler in use at the time, along with the Lancashire Boiler.  They consisted of a cylindrical shell with flat ends, or “heads”.  The boiler is traversed from end to end by a large, often corrugated flue, or fire tube.  The corrugations add to its strength.  The fire burns within the flue on a grate at each end of the boiler and the gasses produced are returned alongside the outside of the shell, imparting more heat to the water in the boiler.  The large flue can also have strengthening rings fixed at intervals.

A Chilean Mill was a device first used in Ballarat to break up gold-bearing rock.  They were originally driven by horse-power.  A poor sad horse would spend its days endlessly walking in circles to turn the rollers.  In the Tile Works, it was steam-powered and was used to crush the clay and shale prior to moulding the tiles.  The device comprised two rotating stone or metal wheels that revolved over a depression filled with clay or shale. 

These rollers are on display at Brickmakers Park, Stamford Road in Oakleigh

Making tiles at the time was dangerous, physical work demanding long hours and hard work for little return, except for volume production.  A single kiln with a single operator could take around two weeks to make a batch, and then set up ready for the next one.  If a fire went out, it was hard to re-start and a batch of tiles could be ruined.  Making tiles was a 24hour per day job and many batches of under fired tiles were made during this period when fires were not maintained and temperatures fell inside the kilns.  Although the workers were paid little and generally considered to be from a lower socio-economic group, the work needed skill and judgment and expert timing to be done properly.  A sole proprietor also needed to have the optimum number of firing cycles from each kiln to maximize output and profit.

Significant deposits of suitable shale/clay were exploited to manufacture bricks, tiles and pipes and the forests and woodlands that previously existed in such abundance were used to fire the kilns.  Little now remains in the area of this now vanished industry, and what does remain receives little, if any recognition.  Throughout Australia, historic brickworks sites generally exist now only through neglect. 

W.H.Rocke & Co first imported “Marseilles” tiles to Australia in 1886.  Originally grey in colour, they were soon being made in the now familiar red terra cotta used in what was called the “Queen Anne” style and after a slow start, became the most prolific roofing material used, first in Sydney, then later Melbourne and the rest of Australia.   Rocke was originally a furniture company, but after early imports dried up during the depression of the 1890s, they were taken over by Wunderlich who began making their own version.

Imports of tiles again dried up in 1915 and local makers looked to local engineers to make machinery to produce roofing tiles.  George Foster & Sons eventually produced the “Foster Pentagon Drum Machine’ capable of churning out 5,000 tiles a day.  It is likely that this is what was in use in Ballarat.  Wunderlich in New South Wales had pioneered the manufacture of the “Marseilles” tile in Australia and by the mid 1930s; they were making them in there millions.  Economies of scale meant that most of the smaller companies could not compete and were soon out of business.

Wunderlich was a family business started by Ernest, Julius and Frederick Wunderlich.  The firm grew into a highly successful company with branches in all Australian States and in Wellington, New Zealand. Wunderlich Ltd was the first Australian firm to introduce a 44-hour week without a pay reduction (1908) and in 1914 started a profit-sharing scheme for employees.

The type of tile they produced was a form of the “Marseilles” tile.  Until World War 1, most roofing tiles were imported, but when imports ceased, local makers filled the void.  First made in France in 1874, they became popular when the moulds and presses were sold as a package deal.  They became the first world standard for roofing tiles and it was this style that Eureka made.  Eureka were an exception, commencing tile production earlier than World War 1

The “Marseilles” tiles can best be described as interlocking tiles with both the top and side locking into another tile.  This improves both wind and water protection and is also a good noise and heat insulator.  This type of tile is the most used today and is what most of us would regard as a standard roof tile.  

This is an example of a Marseilles tile made by The Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Company Ltd.  Like bricks, roof tiles were made close to the source of clay.  Terracotta tiles have been used for millennia because of their ease of manufacture and durability.  Even though concrete tiles are now popular, terracotta retains its reputation as a better product.  Warranties for concrete tiles are around half as long as those for terracotta.

1.   The process of tile making began with the extraction of the clay.  Mixing several types of clay sometimes made tiles, or rock like material but the shale of Ballarat was ideal for roofing tiles.

2.   The mixed clay was stockpiled to age the material.3.  The clay was then blended by an apron feeder, a series of steel pans attached to a chain drive that drew the crushed clay from the stockpile at a controlled speed and thickness.4.   The blended clay was fed into a wet pan where it was extruded through a perforated   floor.5.   The clay was then crushed through differential rollers set about 1.5 metres apart.6.   The clay then went through a second set of rollers about .75 metres apart.7.   The now powdered mixture was then fed into a store mixer.8.   The clay was then extruded through a pug mill and cut into lengths to form batts.9.   The batts were fed into a mechanical press that formed them into the required shape and size.10. These “green” tiles were then stacked in a stillage. (A pallet or skid with a cage or sides or some form of support tailored to the material it is intended to carry.  Some designs are stackable.)11.  Tiles were air-dried until the moisture content was significantly reduced.12.  The downdraught kilns fired the tiles.The fired tiles were sorted and stacked.

The site is now occupied by businesses not involved in tile manufacturing.

Rather than describe the kilns in use at each of the works in Ballarat, it is probably better to generically cover the types of kilns they used, otherwise I would be repeating the same thing over and over.  Brick kilns first started in pits then walls were added.  As mentioned earlier, these are known as “Clamps.” that were ventilated at the top, rather than have a chimney.  Building a tall chimney stack, allowed the fire to burn more efficiently by improving air flow or “draw” through the kiln.  The bricks produced by Clamps were not of high quality.   Variations of the different kilns have been invented over the years with varying degrees of efficiency and cost, but all kilns fall into one, or both, of two categories: Downdraught and Tunnel.  More about Tunnel Kilns later.


As the name implies, these are used to make individual batches one at a time.  Usually these kilns are either clamps or rectangular downdraught kilns that are sealed or “scoved” by smearing wet clay over any openings.  Much like rendering a house, and the internal temperature increased according to a specific process or timetable. After the firing process is complete, both the kiln and tiles are cooled. The kiln is left to cool sufficiently before the tiles can be removed.  Due to the relative ease and cost of construction these are the kilns types were primarily used in one-man operations with low volume output.  No details of the type of works Otto had in Ballarat now exist but it is reasonable to assume that it was initially a type of bottle kiln or a clamp, followed by a Scotch Kiln.

At the time, most of tasks at the Tile Works were performed manually.  From digging the clay, to loading the fired tiles, the work was hot, dirty and physically demanding.  Although no records still exist, it is reasonable to assume that the workers at the tile works may have been paid at fairly low rates.  A leading hand made sure that work continued.  Pitmen were either covered in dust or mud, depending on the weather.

The process began with the Pitmen who dug the clay from the pit.  This was done with pick and shovel into a steel truck.  The truck was then wheeled on a steel rail track to a collection point or tipped into a cart.  Work in the pit was captive to the vagaries of climate.  If the weather was too wet, no work was done and the men did not get paid. At the time, horses pulled carts of clay to an elevator in the pit that took the clay to the top.  Clay was transported the short distance to the works where it was stored under cover until needed for processing.

Clay or shale was originally removed and broken up from the face by using a “spalling hammer.”  Spallers had a high incidence of eye-injury as eye protection in earlier times was not mandatory.  Small trolleys of up to one ton were filled by hand and pushed along narrow-gauge rails to either a “truck hole” where the contents were tipped into a skip that was then hauled up an inclined cable railway to the brick works.  The bottom of the pit may have had a network of rails. 
Other names for pitmen were Quarrymen, Shooters, Jumpermen or Breakers.  They also dug drains and sump-holes to keep the quarry face clear.  The Clay Getter-gets clay and a General Hand did anything else.  Pitmen worked by removing clay from a series of descending horizontal terraces, by digging, filling and wheeling away the clay.  Quarrying soft clay doesn’t need explosives but was done either by hand or mechanical excavator with continuous buckets.  

Clay was stored and left to partially dry before being crushed and fed into a Pugmill.  This was a large wooden vat with a central shaft with paddles attached.  A horse was hitched to a large horizontal pole attached to the shaft.  The horse spent its days walking around and around, mixing the clay and water (pug).

This Pugmill was used at the Ordish Brickworks in Dandenong and is similar to those used at other works.  Some works had their crushers located in the clay pit where the crushed clay was then transported by a conveyor direct to the works.  This had the benefit of separating a very dusty part of the process, and allowing wind to disperse the dust within the pit.

For the purpose of storing and protecting mined clay, a large drying shed would have been built.  This shed would have been a large open sided area with a corrugated iron roof.  The open sides allowed for airflow and the sides could be enclosed if the weather was inclement.  Clay was stored before going into a hopper at one end of the process and “green” (unfired) bricks were stored there for drying for up to a week before being loaded into the kiln.

Drying Shed at Eureka Tiles

A hopper fed the clay into a press and the green tiles were wheeled to the drying shed.  The wheelers then took the “dry” tiles to the kiln.  Wheelers were the people who pushed wooden barrows of tiles to the Setters or from the Draggers.  Generally, the rule of thumb was that the load should not exceed 50kg.  The centre of gravity of the load was the determinant.  Usually it did not go above the height of the wheelbarrow handle when the wheeler was standing upright.

A setter does all the work inside the kilns.  Green tiles are soft and require careful handling during this process. Work is restricted only by the capacity of the tile making machines.  In some works, tiles arrived at the kiln in the form they were placed inside, so the setter just ran them in using an overhead carrier.  This was usually done in a Clamp, (or Scove Kiln) not other types of kiln.  

Tiles were set in rows or “bolts.”  A good setter would arrange the ends of the tiles in the bolts so you could see from the front end of the stack, to the back.  This lets the air flow uninterrupted so the steam in the drying stage and the gasses in the firing stage can pass without staining the tiles.  Tiles are set as close to the roof as possible in an arched kiln to reduce the effects of hot air rising.  As the stack rises, the space between the tiles is reduced.  Setters must keep the rows in line with the flues to ensure proper airflow.  Sometime a Setter will also build flues into the stacks to aid airflow.   Supervision of Setters was essential to ensure the correct positioning of tiles in the kiln.  Even firing results in even tiles.  When the kiln is opened, the fired tiles were then sorted, as they were unloaded.


The most important and specialized job at the works was that of a Burner.  They were responsible for controlling the temperature of the fire.  This job was to ensure that opening and closing the flues allowing heat into the chamber controlled the drying process and shrinkage. 

Controlling the evaporation of moisture from and around the tiles was the first stage of a Burners duties.  As around 20% of the raw tile was water, evaporation was essential.  Initially, the heat of the kiln heated the water in the tile, causing it to expand and turn to steam.  This is the “baking” stage.  Burning is complete when the fired tile does not shrink any more and has a distinct ring when hit with a metal object.  This is where the burner’s skill comes in because if the tiles are fired too long, they begin to distort.  There is not much of a difference between a fired tile and a “blown” tile.   A Burner would judge the firing by the colour of the fire inside the kiln.  Depending on wind direction, smoke would settle over the surrounding area.  This created problems when washing was drying on clothes-lines. 

Unloading a kiln was another specialized job.  In larger companies, the job of loading and unloading was split between the Setters who loaded the tile into the kiln and the Draggers who unloaded them.  This was not a popular job.  Sometimes the Draggers would have their trousers catch fire because of the heat from the tiles.  To combat the effects of heat, Draggers would wear leather or rubber “mits” or “cots.”   They consumed copious quantities of water, along with salt tablets.  Beer was generally an after hours essential.  It was hot, dirty work.  Draggers would load tiles onto a trolley, usually made of wood, with a rubber wheel. 

 The different types of clay around Ballarat produced bricks and tiles of varying colour and quality.  These tiles were produced initially in a “Scotch Kiln.”  In the English-speaking world, this is the term for a kiln used to make a smaller supply of bricks.  It is also known as a Dutch or Scove Kiln.  It is the type of kiln most commonly used in the low volume manufacture of tiles.  

It is a roughly rectangular building, open at the top, and having wide doorways at the ends. The sidewalls are built of old or poorly made tiles set in clay.  There are several openings called fire-holes, or " eyes," made of firebricks and fire clay, opposite one another. 

The naturally occurring minerals that are kiln fired to burn in their colour and strength determined the colour of clay bricks and tiles.  The composition of the raw materials as well as the firing process would cause each batch to differ.  The resultant colour variation was inherent in the process and part of the visual appeal of the tiles.  Usually those tiles contained approximate amounts of the following ingredients:
Silica (sand) between 50% to 60% by weight
Alumina (clay) between 20% to 30% by weight
Lime between 2 to 5% by weight
Iron oxide up to 7% by weight
Magnesia – less than 1% by weight

Colour is not only determined by the colour of the clay and its chemical composition, but also:

The colour of the sand used in the moulding;
The moisture content before firing;
The fuel used to fire the kiln;
The volume of air during firing; and
The temperature in the kiln during firing.

What is a terra cotta tile?  Put simply, they are man-made rocks.  We take sedimentary material and turn it into a metamorphic one by applying heat.  They are small individually moulded rectangular blocks of clay of uniform size that are baked in a kiln until hard and used as a building or paving material.  The first attempt to standardize the size of a brick in England was in 1477.   Much later, Queen Elizabeth 1st granted a charter to brick and tile makers, after which a standard size of 9” x 41/4” x 2 ¼ inches became common, although variations in size continued.  In 1849 the Statute Brick was required to be this size.  Today, they are produced in a standard size; 2 ¼ inches by 3 ¾ inches by 9 inches, or 75mm by 115mm by 230mm. Whatever size, the ratio of 4:2:1 is standard.  Clay bricks and tiles come in several basic types;

The clay for stiff plastic tiles has slightly higher water content (up to 17%).  The clay is forced under pressure from an auger into a mould.  A different machine is needed to make wire-cut tiles. The water content is higher again (up to 25%).  The clay is forced using an auger into a conical tube tapering to a die.  The resulting rectangular sausage of clay is then cut into tiles by a wire or wires. Extruded tiles are usually smooth but can also have a pattern or texture applied.

As an example, these are the Scotch Kilns at Wonthaggi with the brick making plant behind.  Note the timber for fuel stacked around the kiln.

After the dried tiles are loaded into the kiln, the ends or wickets are built up, and plastered over (or scoved) with clay. At first the fires are kept low, simply to drive off the moisture.  After about three days the steam ceases to rise and the fires are allowed to burn up briskly.  The draught is regulated by partially stopping the fire-holes with clay, and by covering the top of the kiln with old bricks, boards, or earth, so as to keep in the heat.

It takes between 48 to 60 hours for the tiles to be sufficiently fired, and they will have shrunk to the appropriate size.  The fire-holes are then completely sealed with clay (scoved) and all air excluded.  The kiln is then allowed to cool gradually.

De-aired tiles made by vacuum extrusion were still in the future and local bricks were fired in a variety of wood and coal fired periodic kilns.  The ability to control temperatures was still more art than science.  High temperatures in the kiln produced high-strength bricks.  Areas in the kiln with lower temperatures produced lower quality bricks.  This resulted in a variety of colour and absorption rates.


Size Of Kiln

Time Of Burning And Production

Tunnel Kiln

About a half-ton of soft coal is required for burning 1000 tiles. The exact quantity depends upon the type of clay, quality of fuel, and the skill in setting the kiln.  Most Scotch Kilns were fired with wood.  This wood was cut into lengths of around 1 metre.  Some Scotch Kilns were fired with half wood, half coal.  Some with just coal, others, just wood, depending on the quality of the coal.

A convenient size for a Scotch kiln is about 60 feet by 11 feet internal dimensions, and 12 feet high. This will contain about 80,000 bricks. The fire-holes are 3 feet apart. These kilns are often made 12 feet wide, but 11 feet is enough to burn through properly.  The existing pictures of the Wonthaggi kiln show a much smaller kiln (or kilns) of around 20 to 30,000 bricks per firing.  This is likely to have been the size of the original kiln at Eureka.

A kiln takes on an average a week to burn, and, including the time required for crowding and emptying, it may be burnt about once every three weeks, or ten times in an average season.  This will produce about 400 to 600,000 bricks or tiles which is about as many as would be turned out by two hand moulders in full work.  The tiles in the centre of the kiln are generally well burnt.  Those at the bottom are likely to be very hard, some clinkered. 

Those at the top are often badly burnt, soft, and unfit for exterior work. It took one week to stack and arrange the bricks or tiles in the kiln.  It took another week to fire them, consisting of three days to dry out the bricks or tiles and four days at 2000 degrees Celsius.  It took another week to unpack.  These kilns usually had metal bracing to prevent them from falling apart during firing.  This sometimes consisted of pieces of old steel railway track buried vertically about one and a half meters into the ground at regular intervals around the kilns.  These posts went to roof height and metal strapping or bars were fixed horizontally around the kiln to brace the brickwork. 

At the time, these kilns were rare in Australia but were quite common in the United States, with over 600 being used.  This was what was in use later at Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Company.  The Commonwealth Brick works in Canberra had two, and one was used in Hobart.  Selkirks in Ballarat had also built a tunnel kiln in the early 1960s.  A tunnel kiln is a type known as a continuous flow kiln.  Tunnel Kilns were a later addition that consisted of a long straight “tunnel” through which the tiles pass on trolleys through the various stages of cooking.  The initial drying stage is first, then warming, firing, and cooling.

A tunnel kiln, as the name implies, is a tunnel of firebricks approximately 4’6” wide, with a 6’ high arched roof.  The firebricks are about 12’ Square and about 6” thick.  The tunnel itself can be up to 300’ long.  The Ballarat kiln was not that long.  The floor of the kiln was fitted with rails along which a series of kiln cars progress.  Sand filled troughs were fitted along the sides of the rails and the space between the rails was used as a cooling and inspection chamber.  Furnace oil was used as a fuel.

Cross Section of a Tunnel Kiln

At the entrance to the kiln, a double lock gate was installed to permit the entrance to be air-tight.  An hydraulic ram pushed the last kiln car into the tunnel.  Because all the cars were connected, this meant that the first car with the fired tiles was pushed out the other end.  The kiln cars were made of metal and had four wheels.  They had metal strips to the side to fit with the side troughs to form a heat seal.  The kiln cars carried firebrick on the bottom to also form a heat seal and provide insulation between the kiln and rails and the metal undercarriage of the cars.  The top of the kiln cars were also covered with refractory material.

There were openings in the roof and sides of the firing zone.  This was a forced-draught system that allowed hot gasses to be directed to the pre-heating and drying zones.  It also removed waste gas from the feeding section.  Rails, trucks and transfer platforms were there to allow transfer from the tile making plant, the unloading section and back to the tile making plant.

Tiles were fed on a conveyor belt from the tile making section onto the kiln cars.  The setting station could raise the kiln cars to simplify the setting of tiles on the cars.  Loaded cars were either loaded into the kiln, or set aside for firing as time permitted, either at night or during quiet times. 

At intervals of about one hour, a car was pushed into the air lock chamber of the kiln.  After the outer door was closed, the green (unfired) tiles were pushed by the hydraulic pusher into the first zone.  This served as a drying zone and was fed with waste gasses.  The tiles were heated to higher temperatures as they progressed through the kiln.  They went through a pre-heating zone before going into the firing zone for a relatively short time.  After being fire, the tiles went through a cooling zone where they cooled sufficiently to be handled.

After firing, the tiles moved to the unloading zone where they were unloaded and stored awaiting loading onto trucks for delivery.  Sometimes they were loaded directly onto trucks.  The kiln cars were then ready for re-use.  

There were many advantages of a tunnel kiln

·        The amount of staff needed was about 30% less than traditional brick making; for example, a kiln attendant could operate the oil firing as well as operating the kiln cars;

·        Fuel costs were significantly lower, being 1/3 less than coal fired kilns;  oil was more expensive, but produced a more uniform heat with less rejects.  Oil was fed automatically and did not need a firer like those at a Hoffman kiln.  Thermal efficiency was much better than coal.  (In the day, this was 18,500 BTUs for oil and 13,500 to 14,500 BTUs for black coal.)

·        Heat was constant and did not fluctuate like other continuous kilns.

·        Maintenance and upkeep costs were lower because there was not the constant expansion and contraction experienced in Hoffman kilns.

·        Heat control means better firing and product uniformity.  

The Firing Area of a Tunnel Kiln Installed at the Colac Brickworks

Bricks being loaded into a Tunnel Kiln at the Colac Brick Works in the 1950s.  Note the metal skirt under the kiln car, the brick insulation under and over the bricks.  The outer gate is visible at the top of the picture.

Brick, Tile and Pottery Workers

There are many different tasks undertaken at a brick or tile works.  These depend on the type of work and the type of kiln.  Modern automated works have caused the loss of many of these occupations, having only quarrymen at the beginning of the process and unloaders at the other.  Until the 1970s, there were different employment categories for men, women and juniors.  Female rates were about 1/3 less than the rate for males and the junior rate was about 1/3 of the adult rate.  The following is a list of categories from the Department of Labour and Industry Pottery Board in September 1968.

These many skills were developed and employed at a brick, tile or pipe works.  As plant became larger and more sophisticated, so too was the division of labour.  Because most  works are now almost fully automated.  These skills are no longer performed.  Sometimes when special orders for hand made bricks at one of the few surviving smaller specialist works comes in, some of the skills are still used.
Leading Hand

A leading hand that was a person who assumes any responsibility other than that customarily done by an ordinary employee usually controlled the manual work in the works.  They were usually men of long experience in most, if not all facets of brick making who would assume the responsibility of training all the other workers in their tasks.  An additional wage loading was paid to a Leading Hand.


Quarrymen, Shooters or Jumpermen worked in the pit and were also known as pitmen or breakers.  They also dug drains and sump-holes to keep the quarry face clear.  The Clay Getter-gets clay and a General Hand do anything else.  Pitmen worked by removing clay from a series of descending horizontal terraces, by digging, filling and wheeling away the clay.  Quarrying soft clay doesn’t need explosives but was done either by hand or mechanical excavator with continuous buckets.  Later dragline excavators or power shovels were used.  This does not leave loose material on the face as it leaves a smooth surface.


A Setter or Stacker does all the work inside the kilns.  Green bricks and tiles are soft and require careful handling during this process. Work is restricted only by the capacity of the  machines.  Up to 3 setters could work in a kiln.  Bricks or tiles were brought to the door of the kiln and the setters would place them inside.  In some works, bricks or tiles arrived at the kiln in the form they were placed inside, so the setter just ran them in using an overhead carrier.  This was usually done in a Clamp, not other types of kiln.  A good Setter could place up to 70,000 bricks per day.  

For this rate to be achieved, a conveyor delivered the bricks or tiles to the Setter and could be adjusted to the height of the stack as it became progressively higher. 

Bricks or tiles are set in rows or “bolts.”  A good setter would arrange the ends of the bricks in the bolts so you could see from the front end of the stack, to the back.  This lets the air flow uninterrupted so the steam in the drying stage and the gasses in the firing stage can pass without staining the bricks.  Bricks or tiles are set as close to the roof as possible in an arched kiln to reduce the effects of hot air rising.  As the stack rises, the space between the bricks is reduced. 

Setters must keep the rows in line with the flues to ensure proper airflow.  Sometime a Setter will also build flues into the stacks to aid airflow.  Setters placed the bricks or tiles  in rows called “blades.”  Each blade was made up of 1000 bricks or tiles, 50 long and 20 high.  Usually, to make a stack, two blades were made together and supported at heights of 5, 10 and 15 bricks high.  Supervision of Setters was essential to ensure the correct positioning of bricks or tiles  in the kiln.  Even firing results in even bricks or tiles.  When the kiln is opened, the fired bricks and tiles were then sorted, as they were unloaded, usually into “firsts”, “seconds” and “clinkers.”   Salary was dependent on the type of kiln.


Unloading a kiln was another specialized job.  In larger companies, the job of loading and unloading was split between the Setters who loaded the bricks or tiles into the kiln and the Draggers who unloaded them.  This was not a popular job.  Sometimes the Draggers would have their trousers catch fire because of the heat from the bricks.  This sometimes happened on Fridays when the fire would catch up with the bricks or tiles .  To combat the effects of heat, Draggers would wear leather or rubber “mits” or “cots.”   Draggers consumed copious quantities of water, along with salt tablets.  It was hot, dirty work.  Draggers would load bricks or tiles onto a trolley, usually made of wood. 


Wheelers were the people who pushed the wooden barrows of bricks or tiles to the Setters or from the Draggers.  Generally, the rule of thumb was that the load should not exceed 50kg.  The centre of gravity of the load was the determinant.  Usually it did not go above the height of the wheelbarrow handle when the wheeler was standing upright.

Automatic Extruder Operator (i.e. a man operating extrusion, dressing and loading machinery)
Automatic Machine Loader and Unloader Assistant
Bitumen Jointer
Clayhole Men (Employer to provide tools)
Drawer (i.e. drawing inside kiln)
Drawer, other
Drying Room Attendant
Feeder of Pipe Machine
Greenware Sorter
Grinding Attendant
Hand Feeder of Raw or Burnt Clay into crusher or grinding pan
Junction Sticker and/or Knocker Operator
Junction Repairer of Burnt Ware
Kiln Labourer (i.e. a person whose duties comprise assisting a Placer, Drawer Setter or Tunnel Kiln Operator and/or the cleaning of fire holes and/or flues)
Machine Rigger
Mandril Operator
Man carrying or wheeling into or out of kiln or to or away from kiln
Man in charge of Pug or Mixer Machine
Man operating or taking off machine making Siphons, D traps, inlets and the like
Man taking off Pipe Machine
Man sorting pipes
Man working Pipe Flanging Machine
Man boring or using explosives
Packer of goods into Railway Trucks
Pipe or bend dresser
Pipe Cutter of burnt ware
Setter (i.e. setting inside kiln)
Setter, other
Tunnel Kiln Operator
Hand Dipper and/or Spray Operator
Kiln Placer and/or Unloader
Man Hand Pressing dust tiles or working semi-automatic tile press
Slip House Attendant
Tunnel Kiln Operator

Automatic Glazing Machine Attendant, including Feeder and/or Cranker
Boxer, including Tile Sorters
Hand Dipper and/or Spray Operator

Burnt Ware Sorter
Clay Shaper
Driller and/or Grinder of unburn ware
Greenware Sorter
Grinder of burnt ware required using calipers
Grinder of burnt ware other, 1st six months experience
Jolly Hand and/or Profiler (including semi-automatic machines) 1st six months experience
Jug Cutter
Kiln Car Placer and/or other Unloader
Male Machine Operator
Man cementing and/or leading insulators
Man sanding insulators
Mill Room Hand
Mould Maker
Presser (screw and lever type inclusive)
Presser (automatic)
Pug Mill Hand
Sagger Maker
Sagger Maker’s Assistant
Setter inside kiln
Thrower-1st six months experience
Tunnel Kiln Operator
Turner (required to use calipers) 1st six months experience
Turner other 1st six months experience
Bitumen Sprayer
Cleaners and Finishers
Glazer’s Attendant
Glazing Machine Attendant (Automatic)
Jug Trimmer
Packer of Fired Ware
Machine Operator
Presser (screw or lever type)
Press Operator (Automatic)
Spray Operator
Test Room Hand
Turner (required to use calipers) 1st six months experience
Turner, other 1st six months experience
Dipper and/or Spray Operator
Jigger Hand (including semi-automatic machine)
Jolly Hand (including semi-automatic machine)
Placer and/or Drawer
Polisher of Glazed Ware
Slip House Attendant
Tunnel Kiln Operator
Cup and Caster Sponger
Fixing handles and/or spouts
Gilder on glaze, Gilder, Bander, Stamper
Handle Maker
Handle Trimmer and/or Cutter
Jigger Hand (including semi-automatic machine)
Jolly Hand (including semi-automatic machine)
Packer/ Carton Packer
Polisher of glazed ware
Transferer-slide on
Caster-Sanitary Ware
Dipper and/or Spray Operator
Grader of Glazed Ware
Green Ware Inspector
Grinder of Burnt Ware
Hand Feeder of raw or burnt clay into crusher or grinding pan
Kiln Car Placer and/or Unloader and/or other Placer
Man fixing handles or spouts
Mouldmaker  (blocks and cases)
Mouldmaker (other)
Slip House Attendant
Tunnel Kiln Operator
Turner, Jolly Hand and Jigger Hand (including semi automatic machine)

Caster-Sanitary Ware
Dipper and/or Spray Operator
Fixer of Handles or Spouts
Jug Trimmer
Turner, Jolly Hand and Jigger Hand (including semi automatic machine)

Dipper and/or Spray Operator
Placer and/or Unloader
Slip House Attendant

Dipper and/or Spray Operator
Examiner and/or Finisher of Green Ware
Placer and/or Drawer

One of the most productive areas often overlooked when reporting on brick or tile making is the use of explosives to loosen the clay or shale.  In the end, it was explosives that caused the closure of a number of quarries close to populated areas.  Councils, including Ballarat passed by-laws prohibiting the use of explosives. 

Using explosives for blasting is sometimes necessary for the recovery of clay or shale in many quarries. Blasting can cause noise and vibration that have an impact on the surrounding environment. Proper security of explosives and control of blasting practices is necessary to ensure the safety of employees and the protection of the community and environment from adverse effects.

Blasting will result in both ground and airborne vibration. The latter commonly includes both audible noise and vibration known as air blast, that causes objects to rattle and make noise. At the levels experienced from blasting associated with quarrying, structural damage to adjoining properties is unlikely to occur. In addition, the noise levels experienced from blasting at a quarry site, are unlikely to cause any hearing damage to anyone outside the worksite.  Duties include;

check blasting areas to make sure that safety regulations are met
cut channels under working faces
check borehole depths and ensure that they are clean
decide quantity of explosives required
insert detonators and charges into holes
connect and test or inspect the blasting circuit
fire charges
inspect the area to make sure all explosives have been detonated
check site safety after blasting (falling rock hazards, underground mine roof supports and harmful fumes, for example), and declare the area safe

Annoyance and discomfort from blasting can occur when noise startles individuals or when air blast or ground vibration causes vibration of windows or other items at a sensitive Site. The degree of annoyance will therefore be influenced by the level of air blast and vibration as well as factors such as the time of day, the frequency of occurrence and the sensitivity of individuals.

In most cases, a competent operator can reasonably predict the level of air blast and ground vibration.  However the generation and transmission of air blast and ground vibration is affected by a number of factors including blast design, meteorology (particularly wind speed and direction and temperature inversions), topography, geology and soil water content.  It is possible that on some occasions the level of air blast and/or ground vibration will exceed the predicted levels.  These days, several people are involved when once, only a Shot Firer was used.  Shot firers assemble, position and detonate explosives to break or dislodge rock and soil or to demolish structures. 

Security of explosives was viewed somewhat flexibly in former days.  Some were stored in sheds secured with a bolt and padlock.  Sometimes, the explosives were stored in a dugout in the quarry with a loose fitting door.  There were several thefts of explosives and detonators from often poorly secured stores.

Creswick Powder Magazine

Hand operated jumper bars were used in most pits until the introduction of electric rotary rock drills.  Explosives are now electrically fired, making the process safer.  This is now the only method used in pits today.  The use of a “cuddy” or safety shield is also mandatory.  The dangerous practice of “bulling”, or dropping explosives with the fuse lit into a hole by hand or using a tamping rod has now thankfully passed into history.

Following an explosion, “barring down”, or manually clearing loose clay or shale from the face was done.  An early safety device was to tie a rope around the waist of the worker in case of a collapse on the face.  Even hard-hats were not worn.  Later, safety belts and hard hats were made mandatory.   Softer clay was loosened by hand or mechanically.  Shale was then removed using a power shovel or excavator.

This image shows a quarry worker gently pushing an explosive charge down a hole bored in the rock. The reel next to his right foot contains a cable to permit detonation from a safe distance. The work is hot, dirty and dangerous.  As well as the obvious trauma hazard, this procedure (shot-blasting) can generate large concentrations of silica dust.

Silicosis is a serious and progressive disease. The term mixed dust fibrosis describes the pulmonary disorder caused by the inhalation of silica dust simultaneously with another non-fibrogenic dust.  Most dust particles in a brick works settled quickly as they were large and were stopped by the nasal passages.  Finer particles of less than.0002” were dangerous, but Government testing found no particles that exceeded the minimum standard.  To reduce dust inside the works, grinding was done outside where the wind dispersed the dust.  Good in summer but quite cold in winter.

Clay or shale was originally removed and broken up from the face by using a “spalling hammer.”  Spallers had a high incidence of eye-injury as eye protection in earlier times was not mandatory.  Small trolleys of up to one ton were filled by hand and pushed along narrow-gauge rails to either a “truck hole” where the contents were tipped into a skip that was then hauled up an inclined cable railway to the brick works.  The bottom of the pit may have had a network of rails.  Later, bulldozers were used to push the clay to the conveyor.  This is many times more efficient than by hand.

Some brick and tile works had their crushers located in the clay pit where the crushed clay was then transported by a conveyor direct to the works.  This had the benefit of separating a very dusty part of the process, and allowing wind to disperse the dust within the pit. 

Clay came originally quarried from the pit nearby and brought to the works by conveyor.  It was milled while still moist and went through a pug mill where it emerged as a continuous mass onto a roller table where it was cut into blocks.  These blocks were transported into a double-sided press where they were shaped into tiles.  Excess water was expelled during pressing.  At the Eureka Tile Works, the green tiles moved from the press onto a conveyor belt where they were trimmed by hand of any surplus clay.  

Tiles were then put onto trays and moved to the drying racks where they dried for up to two weeks.  They then moved to the drying floor where they were placed on racks to dry.  After drying, they were packed onto a barrow that was placed onto a lift and lowered to where they were loaded into the kiln.  The dried tiles were fired in stages at up to 1100C.  After cooling, the fired tiles were removed, graded and stored ready for shipping. Drying was done upstairs where the heat from the kiln was ducted to aid the process.  They dried for up to two weeks. 

Evans Brothers Tile Works, Oakleigh, Late 1940s

 Tile Cleaning, Evans Brothers Oakleigh 1947

As seen here, bricks and tiles had there rough edges trimmed.  Here, workers use their hands. but often a wire called a “bow” was used on the soft clay in the moulds.

The following information was given to me by Pauline Holloway who had obtained it from Max Phillips.  Max has done an excellent job compiling it.  I have modified it somewhat to make it more current.  As discussed previously, the Architectural firm of Messrs George W Clegg and William Miller of 5 Lydiard St, established in 1905, was enjoying a very extensive practice throughout Ballarat and country districts and was engaged in importing French terra cotta tiles and English slates for roof construction.

William Miller approached a potter, August E (Otto) Steinkraus, who owned and operated a pottery on the site adjacent to the Eureka Stockade Reserve where the former Eureka Tiles Pty Ltd office and factory still stand, to enquire about a special chimney pot and asked the potter why he did not make roofing tiles. The potter replied he had excellent clays for the purpose but was too old to be launching out into an extensive industry.  Otto Steinkraus would have been 62 years of age at the time.

After some investigations Messrs Clegg and Miller purchased the pottery and started the first roof tile manufacturing factory in the State. The business started off in a small way in a building about 100 ft long by 30 ft wide with one small kiln, and according to an article in the edition of the Ballarat Courier on the 27th of October 1911, they engaged the potter Steinkraus as manager. The article read:-  "An industry which is likely to give a large amount of employment in the near future has been thoroughly established in Ballarat East.  We refer to the Eureka pottery, established under the management of Mr. A E Steinkraus.  Machinery has been installed for all kinds of pottery ware; but the chief product will be roofing tiles and fancy terra cotta ware.  An interesting exhibit of terra cotta ware is now on show at Gordon Bros".

An early photograph of the works from around 1930

The first batches of tiles were made with the machinery imported from England only to discover that the clay was not entirely suitable which necessitated research for a suitable deposit of clay. From investigations, it was discovered that the clay deposits from certain abandoned sluicing and dredging claims proved on analysis to contain pure terra cotta clays. These were possibly more valuable than the gold extracted from them previously, being in readily workable form. Immediate steps were taken to secure the clay to last the Company in excess of fifty years, and at the inaugural meeting held on the 12 th of April 1913, the proprietary company “Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Co Pty Ltd, came into being with a working capital of 10,000 pounds. This amount was expended during the next 12 months building workshops to cover an area of over half an-acre, with two modern kilns and machinery to produce 5000 tiles per day.

Early success in firing roof tiles prompted further expansion and it was decided to float the venture into a public company. Even at this early stage, over 100 separate items were being fired by the company, including chimney pots, fancy ridging and hips; besides many attractive gable finials.  Capital of 100,000 pounds in shares of one pound each was sought in a prospectus drawn up by the promoters. Provisional directors of the new company were :- 
Frederick Sutton, Esq; (Suttons Pty Ltd., of Melbourne, Ballarat, Bendigo and
Geelong), chairman.
Frank Hermarn Esq. (Goller and Co Pty Ltd., Ballarat);
John Robertson Wotherspoorq Esq. (Wotherspoon and Co., Merchants, Beaufort);
George William Clegg, Esq. (Clegg and Miller, Architects, Ballarat);

Hugh Victor McKay (Manufacturer, Sunshine) who was to join the board after the company' s incorporation.  The first secretary and one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the company was architect William Miller and works manager, Matthew Kemp.

The public company, named the “Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Co of Australia Ltd.", was duly formed in May 1914, and took over the existing factory and plant of the proprietary company, together with the lease of some 100 acres of valuable terra cotta clay deposits around Ballarat, Creswick and Castlemaine. These creamy, non-adhesive clays proved to be almost grit free and an enormous asset to the company.  The free flowing character of this material enabled the Eureka factory to mould its Marseilles tiles direct from iron dies; a far more efficient method than the plaster of paris dies employed by French manufacturers at the time. Also it appeared that no other area in Australia could offer such a concentration of suitable clays as Ballarat.

The park at Lake Esmond in Ballarat was once a quarry used by The Eureka Tile Company, as was a large area of land now intersected by the freeway to the north of Ballarat at what was then between Haynes and Lofven streets.

After the successful floatation and registration of the company, the factory was developed on a much larger scale.  A further six kilns were added to total eight kilns, and the output capacity of the company was in excess of 3,000,000 tiles per annum. The factory covered nearly three acres of ground and was situated on six and a half acres, in the vicinity of the Eureka Stockade Reserve.  At this stage the paid up capital was 52,250 pounds.

The result was the production of terra cotta articles of such high finish colour, texture and durability as to command a market far outside the Ballarat district. Melbourne and Geelong and other centers were soon seeking supplies from the new company that never looked back. The interest shown by Melbourne architects in the company's products was such that an office was established in South Melbourne.

A controversial railway spur line which was to be constructed through the Eureka Stockade Reserve was eventually passed by council on 30th of June 1916, after considering the many objections by local organizations and residents, it was built through the works to bring in fuel and raw materials, and around the company's yard to give easy access for the loading of the company's products to be transported to Melbourne and Geelong.

This is the loading area of the spur line installed in 1916/1917 at the works.

It was the Board's policy to update with more modern and efficient machinery as the plant needed to be replaced, and in 1919  they decided to send William Miller to America to investigate the latest development in plant for the production of clay products for the building industry.  On his return considerable improvements were made to the plant.  The company, through the introduction of other varieties of tiles, such as English shingle, Spanish “Cordova” and the “Hughes Armstrong " tile for which Eureka Tile Co held the patent rights, was then recognized by leading architects as the most enterprising tile manufacturer in Australia.

From the mid 1920's through to the early 1930's there was a severe down turn in the building industry and the supply from the roofing tile industry, which by this time had increased to 20 manufacturers, greatly exceeded demand. The Eureka Tile Company however, under the works management of Mr. F W (Fred) Hammer and later Mr. W (Billy) Guy, an unorthodox cricketer of note, had been able to maintain its position due to ihe special goods manufactured to suit architects requirements, and had undoubtedly built up a great goodwill for the future.

An industrial chemist, Mr. Norm Grifiiths, a graduate from the Perth University, was employed by the company to test the properties of clay and, with the assistance of management, develop new products. One of the products developed was the company's registered “tapestry brick” which was produced in multi colours from the wide range of clays available and from firing and glazing techniques. The tapestry bricks, with a range of textured faces, were used for decorative fireplaces and special features etc and commanded a large market.

Orders were coming in from different parts of Victoria and Australia, including Canberra.  The factory was working at full capacity with sufficient orders for months ahead, when on the 6th of October 1934, the factory buildings and plant were completely destroyed by fire.

Many predicted that the fire was the death knell of this promising industry but the Directors, Messrs J Wotherspoon (chairman), F Herman and W Carthew, held a meeting on the afternoon of the fire and, with an estimated loss of 25,000 pounds and insurance coverage of 15,000 pounds (the insurance coverage was reduced during the depression years), decided that as far as possible activities would carry on and it would be "business as usual". At this time Mr. W R (Bill) Lewis was secretary/manager and Mr. A E (Sonny) Mark, a well known Ballarat sportsman, was Works Manager.

After much discussion as to whether the factory should be relocated to Melbourne where the principal market existed, the Board decided to rebuild on the existing site because of the availability of the Ballarat clays which were far superior than clays available elsewhere.  The factory was replaced by a modern steel girder construction and the latest tile making equipment purchased from overseas.  The clay grinders and extruders were of Australian manufacture.  Fortunately, the kilns and their contents survived the fire but all other work in progress along with 200,000 pine drying trays was destroyed.

The tile pressing machines in use before the fire left excess clay at the edges of the tiles that was trimmed off by female employees after the tiles were dried.  The imported machines were fitted with trimming knives that resulted in tiles free from excess clay at the edges thus eliminating the need for female labour. Some of the ladies employed worked for a few weeks after the fire to assist with the re-establishment of the factory after which it became an all male environment.

The companies products continued to be in demand after the rebuilding of the factory and management launched into an extensive development program to satisfy architects requirements, such as an extended range of coloured roofing tiles to give an alternative to the red tiles normally produced, accessories such as ridging and valleys for the English shingle tile, extended range of texture bricks, terra cotta lumber for high rise buildings (hollow ware), quarry tiles, pavement tiles, heeler bricks and other decorative articles made from clay which were used in buildings.

The market continued to expand during the latter half of the 1930's to the Western District and the Wimmera and interest was shown from architects in Adelaide. The Melbourne market remained strong and some of the buildings that Eureka supplied materials for were the Royal College of Surgeons, Comedy Theatre, Commonwealth buildings, eight buildings for the Bank of New South Wales, hospitals and numerous residences in Toorak.

One of the most prestigious buildings for which Eureka supplied most of the materials was the Littlejohn Memorial Chapel at Scotch College, Melbourne. The three young architects who designed the building made personal enquiries before they completed their specifications, as they were anxious to include special features and were looking for a manufacturer who could supply them. The product was “Rippletex” bricks with many shapes manually made on a specially designed table with a perpendicular wire supported from its center. A template for the required shape would be placed on the extruded "green' brick and passed around the wire. Mi H R (Bert) Parsons, works foreman in the 50's and 60's, stated that winning the Scotch College contract pre-war provided the company with much needed work when building activity was low and resulted in maintaining the workforce;

Littlejohn Memorial Chapel

as many of the key personnel joined the services. Eureka contributed by supplying acid resistant ceramic rings for vats that were used at the Ballarat Gun-Cotton factory. Acid-resistant ceramic rings are widely used in refineries, chemical engineering, acid plants, gas plants, oxygen plants, steel plants and pharmaceutical plants. They are mainly used as linings of reaction vessel in washing towers, cooling towers, reclaiming towers, desulphurization towers, drying towers and absorbing towers. They can also be used as lining bricks in anti-corrosion pools and channels.

 These are two segments of an Acid Resistant Ceramic ring made by Eureka during the 2nd World War for making Gun-Cotton.  This also known as Nitrocellulose which is a highly flammable compound formed by treating cotton wool (cellulose) with a mixture of concentrated nitric acid and sulphuric acid. The resulting material looks like ordinary cotton wool but it burns much more fiercely, in a sudden flash. Only gaseous products are formed, so the combustion is ashless. 

After the war years and into the early 1950's the demand for roofing tiles was such that clients who were seeking a quotation were told that it would be a nine months wait and that they should look for an alternative.

Another initiative taken by the Board in 1949 was to apply for an allocation of timber from the Forest Commission and establish the company's own sawmill to produce hardwood battens for the construction of tile roofs, as it was company policy to install the complete roof to new buildings with the specialized staff employed for that purpose.  The demand for hardwood timber for house framing from the sawmills was such that 2" x 1" battens were in short supply. The mill was built, commissioned and managed by Cr A E (Alex) Mills who became sales manager in 1959.

The Board of Directors, under the chairmanship of Mr. L H Vernon, continued to increase the capacity of the plant and in 1959 extended the building, and installed two additional oil fired kilns, each with a capacity of 25,000 tiles, tile making equipment and a larger capacity extruder for building accessories with a major update of the clay grinding and screening plant.  At this time, the manager Mr. W R Lewis, who commenced with tile company in 1923, resigned through ill health.  Mr. L T (Len) Izard was appointed general manager in 1960.

The severe recession in the early 60's, (known as the “credit squeeze”) and the competition from concrete roof tiles resulted in a build up of stock and it was at this stage, as suggested by Mr. Vernon, products for the domestic market were designed. These included sill tiles as an alternative to bricks on edge for window-sills in brick veneers, and capping blocks and capping bricks for brick fence construction. These products were sought-after as brick manufacturers turned from pressing solid bricks to extruding perforated bricks, a technology which had been mastered and used by the Eureka Tile Company more than 30 years previous.

Under the management of Mr. lzard to combat the increasing acceptance of the cheaper concrete roof tile long-term employee Mr. Alex McNeiI was given the task of visiting builders in country Victoria to promote the company's product, as the company never had the need for such representation in the past. The company streamlined the production to meet the sales forecast and introduced a bonus scheme based on volume and quality.

Unfortunately the use of the railway for delivering the company's products to intra and inter state became too expensive because of the double handling and was dispensed with in favour of road transport which could deliver direct to the building sites.  Palletization of the products and forklift truck loading of transports followed. Further improvements were made with the installation of an “humidity dryer”, using the latest technology of heating the products through in a humid atmosphere before-extracting moisture.   With this method the tiles could be dried from the time of pressing and racking in 36 hours compared to the previous time of up to seven days, depending on climatic conditions.

The latest method developed in Europe for the production of "quarry 'tiles” for floors was to extrude the tiles in pairs, back to back cut to length automatically by a machine developed in Switzerland for that purpose, and separated after firing as part of the grading process.  The Eureka Tile Company was one of the first to purchase the extrusion dies from Germany and introduced the "split tile" as an Australian made tile for the Australian market.

To keep abreast of the-latest developments in the clay industry a de-airing extruder was installed in 1967 for the production of building accessories, Mr. Gratton Shiel, the Chief manager of Brick and Pipe Industries, Melbourne was appointed to the Board and on his recommendation two gas fired shuttle kilns were installed in 1969/70 for the firing of floor tiles etc, and two additional de-airing extruders in 1970/7.  The grinding equipment was up-dated with the latest technology in "multi-deck"' screening to double the prepared raw material output.  

The Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Company Pty Ltd still maintained its position with the best-equipped factory in Australia for the production of all types of clay roof tiles and clay building accessories with the further ability to manufacture world-class floor tiles.  In 1970, Mr. Izard resigned his position as Manager to return to the Country Roads Board in his position as a Civil Engineer.  The installation and commissioning of the new plant was left in the hands of factory management headed by Works Manager Mr. S A (Syd) Robinson, who retired in 1971 after fifty-one years service.

A modern equivalent of the de-airing extruder produced by the same company that made the machine in 1967.

After this time, things started to change.  This article appeared in the Melbourne “AGE” newspaper on the 7th of March 1973.

This article appeared in the Melbourne “AGE” on the 30th of November 1972.

Hebrides Equities was a company registered in Gibraltar No 01594) now defunct.  Soon after this takeover, the new owners began to sell off the assets.  On the 2nd of April 1973, PGH Industries Ltd purchased the property and equipment and began trading as “Eureka Ceramics.”  In 1974, Eureka Ceramics and PGH Quarry Tile were merged and combined with their Sydney PGH works at the outer suburb of Woodcroft.  This new entity was named “PGH Eureka Ceramics.” 

The next act in this part of the story took place on the second of May 1974 when the Eureka Terra Cotta and Tile Company of Australia Limited was de-listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.  The name was changed to Eureka Australian Assets Limited.  This company was also de-listed, this time on the 30th of June 1976.  P.G.H. Eureka Ceramics was deregistered as a business on the 5th of November 1985.

In 1982, their parent company was taken over by ACI (Australia) Ltd who were taken over in 1989 by the English company, BTR Nylex Ltd.  They sold off most of the ACI holdings but kept PGH Eureka Ceramics.  On the 3rd of July 1991,a notice appeared in the Victorian Government Gazette stating that Eureka Ceramics had abandoned their application for a mining lease.

In 1992, the Woodcroft plant closed and was their bathroom products division was relocated to Ballarat where Eureka Tiles Pty Ltd once again became a privately owned company.  Eureka Tiles was majority owned by an Australian private equity company, Catalyst, following a management buyout in 1997.  Eureka Tiles, which had two plants in Ballarat employing about 90 people, was Australia's largest tile producer.

This continued until May 2002 when the company was bought out by Brickworks Limited.  They combined with the Austral Tile Company and continued under the name “Eureka Tiles Australia.”   Austral Tiles Pty Ltd, wholly owned by Brickworks, paid $12.75 million for Eureka, which has an annual production capacity of one million square metres of unglazed and glazed floor tiles and more than 200,000 units of bathroom fittings.  The acquisition includes $9.6 million in land, plant and equipment and $4.7 million in inventories. 

Eureka Tiles Australia Limited closed on the 23rd of December 2009 citing cheap Asian imports and the strong Australian Dollar as reasons for the closure.  There were 24 employees at that time, an indication of how automation had impacted the industry. 



  1. Monumental work, "Rameking". Incredible detail.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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