Situated 160km northwest of Melbourne CBD, at Epsom in Bendigo, Bendigo Pottery is the oldest working pottery in Australia. The pottery was first established in 1858, closed for some time, then re-established at the current site in 1863.
The Kilns at the pottery are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. There are 10 wood fired Kilns at the facility, which are part of the interpretive Museum but nonoperational.
The factory continues to make pottery products using natural gas fire kilns. The site comprises of artist studios, interpretive Museum, shop selling pottery, antiques and collectible centre and has workshops providing hands on activities on different stages of pottery making.
On 22nd Sept 1910, the mortal remains of George Duncan Guthrie left his home ‘Kilburnie’ at Epsom in Bendigo, to the final resting place at Bendigo Cemetery. His was a life that took many interesting turns, but perseverance made him one of the most successful businessmen at the rural town of Bendigo. Born in Scotland in 1828, at the age of 22, in December 1851, Guthrie bought a passage in ship Washington, heading for Australia.The ship was stranded off Cape Troubridge, but the passengers were rescued by South Australian Government ship Yatala. Lost all his belongings, but Guthrie managed to reach Sydney, where he found employment at a pottery making business, as he was apprenticed in the pottery trade in Scotland. He also tried his luck as digger in the Peel River district, without much success, before establishing a Kiln at Camperdown in Sydney. A market downturn prompted him to pack up his bags and move to Melbourne, where he worked as a Wharf clerk for Willis, Merry and Co. Some months later, a tobacco merchant named Hugh Dickson entrusted Guthrie with the sale of Manila Cigarettes, he imported. From the profits he gained, Guthrie established himself as an intercolonial exporter and importer. Eventually he lost all his money in this business.
Guthrie moved from Melbourne to Sandhurst (Old name for Bendigo). Having made the discovery that the white clay found in Bendigo is superior in quality, he established a pottery there in 1857. But with poor transportation facilities and small local population finding a suitable market became a hard task, which resulted in the closure of the business in 1861.
He became a digger once again working at the Michell Creek, Macquarie, Turon and Lachlan Rivers, which gave him fine returns.
In 1862, Melbourne to Bendigo double track railway line was built by The Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway Company, which opened up possibilities for entrepreneurs like Guthrie. In 1863, Guthrie re-established the business at Epsom. Within a decade, Bendigo Pottery was employing 40 people at their facility. At the Melbourne Exhibition of 1866, Guthrie won a medal for his collection of stoneware, and in particular ginger beer bottles. In 1866 Guthrie had opened a depot in Melbourne to distribute the Pottery’s products.
In its early years, Bendigo Pottery was specialising in flowerpots, Jars and Chimney tops. Majolica was added in 1879. Soon after, they produced Bristol glazed stoneware and Rockingham glazed earthenware.
Guthrie sold the business in 1886, for £20,000 to a company established by Sir John McIntyre, keeping some shareholding. Guthrie left for England and stayed there for around 10 months. The pottery business was in decline and when Guthrie returned to Bendigo he continued as its Managing Director. In 1898, the partnership of E. J. Hartley and George Guthrie, purchased Bendigo Pottery and from the 1st of January 1899 the business was carried on under the name of ” The G.D. Guthrie Bendigo Pottery Company (Limited)” and Mr. Guthrie managed the company.
In May 1900, much of the factory was destroyed in a fire but the business was insured for £10,000 and was rebuilt, though the workforce was stood down for some time.
The joint ownership of the company continued until 1909 when Guthrie retired, and E.J. Hartley took sole control of the firm. Guthrie’s died in 1910, at the age of 83. The business changed hands a few times since then. Within a couple of years of Guthrie’s death, a company of 24 share holders took over the company. Two of the share holders became councillors at the Bendigo Town Council, and there were allegations at that time of conflict of interest in awarding tenders for the manufacture of sewage pipes to Bendigo Pottery.
By 1915, Bendigo Pottery began producing Langley Ware; in 1930s Waverley Ware; and in the 1940s Marble Ware. In 1941, another fire destroyed a large portion of the factory and the damage at that time was estimated at £20,000. The factory was rebuilt. After the World War II, Bendigo Pottery discontinued the manufacture of Langley and Waverly ware and focused on producing mainly tiles, pipes, fire bricks and a limited range of Bristol Ware. By early 1950s business was in decline as cheap imports from overseas and the widespread use of plastic eroded its market.
In 1968, after Bill Derham took charge of the company, it was revived by the initiatives he undertook. It became a tourism complex in 1971. Bill Derham is also credited with reviving the production of salt-glazed Epsom ware.
From 1999 onwards, Bendigo Pottery is owned by Sally and Rod Thomson.
Address: 146 Midland Highway, Epsom, VIC 3551 Australia
Telephone: +61 3 5448 4404
Facsimile: +61 3 5448 4873
There is a café on site