Charles Davis Ltd.
Charles Davis was caught robbing a till at the age of 17; as a first offender he was dealt with reasonably leniantly, and served three months in gaol.  Following his release he was caught stealing a silk handkerchief.  In the eyes of authorities he was now a habitual petty thief, and on the 5th of April 1841, he was sentenced to transportation for ten years in the Central Criminal Court, Middlesex.  While waiting for his sentence to be carried out, Charles spent ten months in a hulk, a ship moored offshore and used as a gaol  (Picture).  On the 2nd of April 1842 the "Candahar" set sail from Spithead and arrived in Hobart Town, VDL on the 20th of July 1842 with 249 male convicts.  This is where the story of Charles Davis really begins.....
The 'Candahar' was rigged as a Barque, of 642 tons, built at Shields in 1840, Class A1. The Master was Jn P Ridley and the Surgeon Ptr Leonard.  She embarked 250 male convicts, of whom 1 died, and landed 249 convicts at Hobart.  (Ref: Shipslog Website)  Charles had been taught the rudiments of the three R's (Ref: Charles' Convict Record states that he could read and write) and was trained in the crafts of the tinsmith and coppersmith, so he was put to work as a tinsmith at Oyster Cove and Bridgewater.

After receiving his Ticket-of-Leave in September 1847, Charles Davis set up a small tinsmithing workshop in Bathurst Street, Hobart with John Semple.  This was "Davis & Semple" of Bathurst Street, Hobart Town.  Tinware was in high demand in the fast growing town and water tanks, farm equipment and household utensils were among the many needs of the local people.  Whaling was in its heyday and many foreign whalers came to Hobart Town for refitment.  The following story demonstrates young Charles' ingenuity and determination.  He had an order for some ship's lanterns and the shipment of lamp lenses had not arrived from England.  So that the order could be filled, he used the glass bottoms of bottles as lenses.  The lamps were made - and accepted.  Here was a young man who could use his imagination and was growing into an able businessman.  His attention to detail was widely known and orders continued to pour in, for Hobart Town was at one of its peaks of prosperity.

Charles married Emma Hurst on the 11th of September 1848 in Hobart.  Emma was the sixteen year old daughter of William Hurst and Mary Keep of Green Point.  In October 1848, having "only three records of a trifling nature made against him", Charles Davis was recommended for the Conditional Pardon which he received in December 1849.  Charles and Emma's first child, George Thomas b1849 lived only to the age of ten years, when he died from Sow Fever in March, 1859.  Their second child, Ann Martha b1850, only lived for 15 1/2 months, dying from diarrhoea in February, 1852.  The Victorian gold rush beckoned in 1851, and Charles "set forth to try his luck.  He was not successful and soon returned to Hobart Town and took his place in the business as before".  By 1862, Charles and Emma were parents to Emma b1854, Caroline Ann b1856, Mary Elizabeth b1858 and Frances Eliza b1860.

"Davis and Semple" moved to larger premises in Cat and Fiddle Alley, taking over the premises of Mr.William Brodribb, which consisted of a shop and house, having the shop windows on Elizabeth Street.  About forty yards along the alley they had a two storey shed, the first floor for a workshop and the ground floor for storage.  Soon "Davis and Semple" also rented the small shop next door to the Elizabeth Street shop and opened a general retail store.   

Meanwhile, the Davis family had also continued to grow.  Martha was born in 1862 and Charles Davis jnr. was born in 1865.  Sadly, the death of Charles' wife Emma occurred on the 27th of July 1867.  Emma was only thirty-five.  With a motherless, large young family and a burgeoning business, it is not surprising to find that Charles Davis remarried in April of the following year.  However, fate was to deal him another cruel blow and his second wife, also Emma (formerly Emma Cheshire Bolter), died in December 1868 at the age of thirty-one.

In 1867 the firm of "Davis and Semple" split and Charles bought Semple's interest in the successful ironmongery business.  From then onwards the firm was known as "Charles Davis".  A wholesale department was incorporated and with the aid of an enlarged workshop, now catered for the wholesale ironmongery trade in Tasmania.  By hard work and astute management, this grew into a hardware empire, selling items made in the greatly expanded workshops, and importing goods from all round the world.

Charles' daughter, Caroline died in September 1869 from typhoid fever, ulceration of the ilium and haemorrage, a cruel death at the age of fourteen.  Charles married again in January 1870 to Keziah Cheshire Bolter, the sister of his second wife, Emma.  Four more children were born from this marriage - Lillian Gertrude, Amy Keziah, Alfred Thomas and William Lyndon.  Keziah sadly died in February 1883 at the age of thirty-seven.  Once again, Charles was a widower with nine children whose ages ranged from seven to nineteen years.  He married again in July 1884 to Sarah Ann Blackmore, a widowed school teacher.  Sarah passed away in 1896 at the age of fifty-nine.  By this time, five of the children had married - Frances (Mrs White), Emma (Mrs Fuller), Lillian (Mrs Duckett), Amy Keziah (Mrs Crisp), and Charles jnr. had married Margaret Rait.  Charles jnr. had been apprenticed in the retail store in 1880 and later went to Melbourne to gain further experience.  Alfred also joined the firm in the 1880's and was "apprenticed to the Household and ironmongery departments, this experience stood him in very good stead when he later took charge of the business".  In 1899 Charles Davis snr. married his fifth wife, Mary.  She was the widow of a master mariner and was forty-nine years old.  Charles was now seventy-four.

Charles Davis was a decon of the Memorial Congregational Church in Hobart from 1888 to 1891 and again from 1892 to 1895 and was also a founding member of the YMCA.  Charles gave the YMCA the rent from his Murray Street building, which formed a large part of the YMCA's revenue and in 1904 he gave them a site for a building and donated 1,000 pounds towards its construction.
Charles' generosity to those in need was well documented.
"He was always ready to forward any worthy object, and...was the means of doing an immense amount of good in an unostentatious manner", ran one obituary.  'Unconditional Surrender' was his favourite Tract and on Saturday mornings he used to distribute money to poor children, who would wait for him in Elizabeth Lane.  With his pockets full of silver, he would emerge from the store and give money to each child.  In the afternoon he would give money to adults, though any sign of drink brought a firm and pointed, 'Not today - some other time'.

Charles Davis snr. had become one of the leaders of Tasmanian commerce.  He was a quiet retiring man who preferred to help the community in a quiet manner.  Deserving people who came for money were never turned away.  An excellent employer, he paid good wages and attracted better craftsmen.  Wage awards were unknown and he always paid the staff personally.  He never forgot a face and never forgot how much that man earned.

"Although still active and alert, Charles decided the time had come to hand over the reins to his two sons, Charles jnr. and Alfred, and a Board of Directors".  His business had become too large to be run by one man and the time had come when he could no longer pay his employees from his own pocket with no reference to his books.  So, in 1911 the firm was listed on the Hobart Stock Exchange as "Charles Davis Limited".  Charles Davis became Chairman and Charles jnr and Alfred, Managing Directors....the other Directors elected were H.G.Gray and A.H.Ashbolt; R.T.White (Frances' Husband) was appointed Secretary.  Over the next few years Charles continued his involvement with the store, "Every day his coachman harnessed the horse, and drove the 'grand old man' down Elizabeth Street to the store".  At the age of eighty-nine however, he finally gave up the management of the firm, and in 1913 resigned as Chairman of the Board, though he remained a Director.  His son Charles Davis jnr became the new Chairman and at a meeting in early December the Board decided to discontinue the traditional Christmas gifts to the staff.  This was obviously kept from the old man, and on Christmas Eve he visited the store to see the usual sovreigns being handed out.  He discovered that the bonuses were not being paid, and his reaction was swift.
"They must be paid", he said, and asked for some money.  It was after 9pm, but some cash was found, and once more 'the Govenor', as his staff called him, made his way through the store, paying out the bonuses himself.  Even though he was eighty-nine and no longer technically in control, nobody dared to suggest that the orders of the new Chairman should be carried out instead of those of Charles Davis snr.

By 1911, Charles Davis owned or occupied:
In Elizabeth Street, Hobart:-
Cuthbertson's and Beattie's shops - worth 8,400 pounds,
House and shop (owned by John Elliot),
House and shop (owned by David Kelly),
Shop and warehouse (owned by A.Ray).

In Elizabeth Lane, Hobart:-
Warehouse and stables - 700 pounds,
Warehouse - 2,000 pounds,
Warehouse (owned by G.Adams),
Workshop and warehouse - 2,000 pounds.

In Murray Sreet:- (All four worth 6,875 pounds)
Shop and warehouse,
Shop and warehouse occupied by Johnston and Miller.

He also owned his 44 houses, one schoolroom, a smithy and several blocks of land.  The total value of the buidings owned by Charles Davis was over 40,000 pounds, and there was also his home 'Blendon' in Warwick Street.

Charles Davis jnr retired from the firm and Alfred Thomas became sole Managing Director.  Upon his death in Melbourne in 1943, his son Noel Bertrand Davis became Managing Director.  Sadly at the very young age of fifty-seven, Noel Davis died and Charles Lyndon Davis became Managing Director at the age of fifty-eight.  It was during this period that Charles Davis Limited constructed the Cat and Fiddle Arcade (a project which had been in planning for several years) .  The grand opening of the arcade was in July 1962, performed by the Lord Mayor and Charles Davis Ltd. employee, Sir Basil Osborne.  The CAT AND FIDDLE ARCADE  an update-Charles Davis is in the news again, as the grand opening of the refurbished Cat and FiddIn Arcade opens in 2013.  In 1963 Noel's son Geoffrey Bertrand Davis became Managing Director at the age of thirty-two with Charles Lyndon remaining Chairman of the Board.  In 1971, on Charles Lyndon's retirement, Geoff also became Chairman of the Board.

On the morning of the Annual General Meeting, on the 26th of October 1971 at 1am at Hobart's "Ball and Chain" restaurant, Sir Donald Trescowthick, who had been slowly buying shares in the Company, now bought Dick Investments' shares.  With the shares he already owned he now held 38% of the Company's shares.  Later that same day Sir Donald was appointed Chairman of the Board and Geoff Davis remained as Managing Director.

The Davis family had lost contol of the Company after 124 years.
The Company was sill making a profit and paying a dividend when it was taken over.  The problem was the Davis family owned only about 3% of the Company in 1971.  In 1911 the shares had been divided among dozens of Charles Davis' descendants and over the years most had been sold.  Today Charles Davis Ltd is part of Harris Scarfe Holdings Limited.*

Charles Davis was a remarkable man, described by those who knew him as 'a man of indomitable courage and determination'.  He was not a complicated man, but someone trying to his job to the best of his ability, believing that hard work and honesty would be repaid by success.  He had his share of sadness and troubled times, the deaths of four wives and four children, and his convict past.  However, he had lived to see his ironmongery business grow beyond all expectations, his achievements a record in Australian commerce. (Ref: Charles Davis 150 Years - Alison Alexander)  He had seen Hobart grow from a small town to a famous city and had played a part in this growth and enjoyed the company of his surviving children and grandchildren immensely. 

Charles Davis passed away on the 21st of April 1914, at his home "Blendon" in Warwick Street, Hobart at the grand age of ninety.  Marrying five times, he fathered twelve children, had thirty-two grandchildren, sixty-two great-grandchildren and founded a business which was to become one of Australia's oldest and most successful companies.  Newspapers printed fulsome obituaries, praising him for his fine and flourishing store and his generosity generally.  His funeral at Holy Trinity Anglican Church was well-attended.  'An impressive service was held, at which many of the late gentleman's elderly friends, who were unable to proceed to the cemetery, attended', ran the description.  The congregation sang 'Rock of Ages' and 'Abide with Me', then the cortege proceeded slowly to the Cornelian Bay cemetery.  'The deep love and esteem in which the deceased had always been held was responsible for an exceptionally large cortege, and no less han 35 or 40 cabs followed the remains to the grave.'  Two large char-a-bancs and seven cab carried Charles Davis' employees, and his own carriage followed the hearse, which was 'beautifully draped in purple and black'.  At the gates of the cemetery, '86 sorrowing employees' drew up on either side as the coffin was drawn from the hearse and carried to its final resting place.  The pall-bearers were the heads of the five departments in the firm of Charles Davis Ltd, and the chief mourners were Mrs Mary Anne Davis, the sons Charles junior and Alfred, and Charles Davis' secretary and son-in-law, Robert White.  A large number of friends followed on foot, and at the grave some forty floral tributes were dispalyed.  The employees formed a circle around the graveside, and the body of Charles Davis was lowered to its last resting place.  It was the end of an era.  (Ref. Daily Post 23 April 1914, Critic 24 April 1914, Tasmanian Mail 23 april 1914)
Charles Davis' grave can be visited at the Cornelian Bay Cemetery and is included in the guided tour of Cornelian Bay.

Back to top of page
Back to top
of page
Back to top of page
Back to top of page
Back to top of page
* On the 6th of April 2001, Harris Scarfe Holdings Limited went into receivership.