Leather Tanning in Concord NSW

as compiled by Colin S Dodds, last General Manager of the Company

In 1864 two Jewish migrants, Edwin Michaelis and Isaac Hallenstein, settled in Melbourne and commenced business in 441-445 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, as merchants importing into the new colony, cotton drill, threads and leather, mainly for footwear production.

It was not long before they bought land on the banks of the Maribyrnong River in Footscray and built a tannery producing sole leather to meet the strong demand for solid boots and shoes by the increasing number of footwear manufacturers The tannery grew quickly and the two partners felt it was time to start business in Sydney. So they sent two of their reliable employees, John Farleigh, son of an English migrant, and Cosmann Nettheim, nephew of Isaac Hallenstein, to start as importing merchants in Sydney, their office being in 80 Clarence Street, Sydney.

The company, a partnership at the time, was called Farleigh Nettheim & Co., importing similar products as their counterpart. These two energetic young men could foresee the expanding market in Sydney for both leather and grindery (hardware, nails, threads, cotton drill, etc.) used in shoe making.

It was not long before John Farleigh, who had the technical knowledge and experience in tanning leather, with the financial acumen of Cosmann Nettheim, and some financial assistance from the Michaelis Hallenstein families, sought a suitable site for a tannery. In 1880 they found a rather dilapidated few sheds and some tanning pits in Stanley Street, Concord – or Longbottom, as it was called in those days. They bought the property and adjacent land, amounting to 7¼ acres adjoining the mangrove swamps of Canada Bay, at the bottom of Stanley Street.

In those days Concord was considered a distant suburb of Sydney, but was sufficiently close to the bullock trail of Parramatta Road for transport to and from Port Sydney wharves for shipping.

The growth of the business, after demolishing the old sheds on the site, necessitated the building of a modern tannery in its day. The pits were made from local hardwood, twelve inches by 2 inches, and were puddled in with pure white pipe clay, abundant underneath the mangrove swamps at the time. Twelve inches of clay separated the pits and the four inch by four inch square timber underground pipes carried the tanning liquor into wells, which was then pumped from pit to pit. It is interesting to note that from the early 1880’s until the tannery closed in 1967 the pits and underground drainage system were still in perfect condition.

It was the custom in the early days of Sydney for many industries to be located on waterfront sites for two reasons – firstly, both goods in and out of the factories were by barge and, secondly, all the factories discharged their industrial waste into the waterway. The tannery was no different from the other industrial concerns and it was not until the sewerage pumphouse was built in Cintra Park that the tannery discharged its effluent into Sydney’s sewerage system.

It is interesting to note that even up to the 1960’s the writer found that, after heavy rainfall, householders discharged stormwater into the sewerage system. Cintra Park Pumphouse could not cope, so most of the householders’, as well as the tannery effluent was discharged into the Parramatta River.

The tannery’s water supply in the earlier years was by means of a dam half way between Burwood Road and the mangroves near Stanley Street.

John Farleigh was the mainspring of the new tannery in the early 1880’s but, unfortunately, he died in 1885 and John Lawson, a Tasmanian well versed in the technicalities of making sole leather, afforded the company the reputation to become known worldwide as “King of Mimosa” Brand. John Lawson lived and worked in Concord and died at the age of 90 years. On his death the management of the tannery was under the control of his son, Alfred Lawson, who served in the First World War and did not return.

One of the original founders, John Farleigh died in 1884 and was succeeded by his nephew, John Gibson Farleigh, who later became a member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales. He had joined the company in 1877. He, together with Cosmann Nettheim, ran the company after becoming quite prominent in the financial affairs of the State. John Gibson Farleigh, with his commitments in government, appointed his son, Howard Farleigh, as the Tannery Manager. Cosmann Nettheim remained active in the business until his death in 1907 and Ernest Baruch was sent from Melbourne to assist John Gibson Farleigh in the management of the company. These two gentlemen developed the business at a great rate and encouraged young active members of their staff to managerial positions.

Charles Dodds, who joined the company in 1909 as an office boy, became Sales Manager of the company in the early 1920’s, developed extensive export sales of sole leather to China and Hong Kong. In 1981 John Gibson Farleigh died and Ernest Baruch became Managing Director of the company, comprising both the merchandising and tanning aspects of the business. Howard Farleigh continued as tannery Manager.

In 1947 Ernest Baruch died and Charles Dodds was appointed Managing Director of the company. The business prospered during his term, in both the merchandising and wholesaling of a variety of products, some not necessarily associated with the footwear industry. In 1950 Howard Farleigh retired as Manager of the Concord tannery and Ron Ashby was sent from Melbourne to manage the tannery for a short period.

Charles Dodds’ son, Colin Dodds, who was a trainee industrial chemist at the then B.A.L.M. Paint Laboratory for four years after leaving school and subsequently spent nine years at the Footscray tannery in Melbourne, where he was Factory Manager, was appointed as Director and Tannery Manager of the Concord tannery.

He served in this role, developing in addition to tanning sole leather amounting to 1000 hides per week, to tanning in excess of 1000 kangaroo skins per week for both the garment and toy industries and in 1965, on the retirement of Charles Dodds, was appointed as Director and Ceneral Manager of the whole Farleigh Nettheim Company.

In 1967 the major shareholders of the company, including the Michaelis Hallenstein Company, Farleigh Nettheim and companies in Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Dunedin, acquired J. Bayley & Sons, the second largest tanning and merchandising group in Australia. Consequently, it was found more practical to move the tanning operation of the Concord tannery to Botany. Colin Dodds then negotiated with the N.S.W. Valuer General, who had the responsibility of purchasing property for the N.S.W. Education Department, and the Concord tannery property was sold in 1967 for the future construction of the Concord High School.

(There is a painting of the tannery at Concord High School. This was painted by Pat Smyth and given to Colin Dodds, who consequently presented it to the school.)

6 Comments

  1. Hi I would like any photos from the tannery. I spent a number of years working for the tannery from washing Colin Dodds New Holden EH station wagon 1964 to Industrial chemist,trade cert leather industry to plant mechanic. I have now retired actually 66 years today 26/02/1948

    Regards Les Oldroyd

    PO Box 322 Guyra 2365 NSW

    1. Les, I wondered if you knew my grandfather Lindsay Thompson, who worked At Farleigh Nettheim up to the 1960s.

      1. Hi Lyn
        I think I started with them maybe 1963 started With Keith Stapleton in the store & Industrial Chemist & completed Tanning Foreman Trade! I did know Thompson’s in Stanley St & Brays Rd

  2. I found this article most enlightening especially as I am one of Cosmann Nettheim’s grandchildren. Our mother would take us to Farleigh Nettheim’s during the school holidays to buy our new school shoes and travel suitcases. Two of our uncles worked there at the time and my brother John’s future father in law, Percy Spriggs, also worked there.

  3. I knew the Farleigh Nettheim tannery at Concord during my childhood days. I was born in 1935 and lived with my family at No. 6 Finch Avenue. Our back gate opened onto the eastern end of Crane Street which we always referred to as “the back lane” since it was an unpaved dirt road that started at Burwood Road and ended at the edge of what we always referred to as “the swamp”. The swamp was at the centre of most of my boyhood adventures. We would walk out along the top of the cast iron stormwater pipe at the very bottom of Crane Street and then through brackish water to the canal that emptied into Hen and Chicken Bay, and often through the mangroves with mud up to our thighs. My dog, Buff, always went with us. We often used to play in the clay pits that were on the edge of the swamp and next to the eastern fence of the tannery. The tannery was a really imposing building, quite unique in the area, like a concrete and brick cube, and on the eastern side I recall there were huge centrifugal fans on the outdoor side of the eastern wall. My mates and I would sometimes climb over the tannery fence opposite our home and scurry into the factory building where we would hide from the caretaker in a shed that was stacked with masses of bags, I think full of bark. The centre of the bark bags formed a hollow where we would hide. We were never found by the caretaker even though we could hear him walking past the shed. Exciting times for a ten-year old! The area of land occupied by the tannery on our side was huge. There was a stand of swamp oaks (casuarina trees) near the fence on our side half way up the “back lane”, and on Christmas Eve my two brothers and I would climb the fence and saw off a branch of one of the trees which we dragged across the back lane to our house where we trimmed it to became a Christmas tree. Inside our house, after a day or two the tree gave off a faint but very pleasant scent. Some time I think in the early fifties a fire broke out in the long grass between the fence and the factory, but it was put out with the help of my next door neighbour, George Rigby and one other (my family members were out at the time) and they were later rewarded in some small way by the tannery manager. The strangest thing of all I think is that for all the time I lived at Finch Avenue and walked virtually every day up or down the back lane, I never once saw the front entrance of the tannery which was in Stanley Street. I still have a small photograph of the tannery taken circa 1956 from our back lane (Crane Street east). I am happy to make a copy for anyone who is interested. And thank you for such an excellent piece of research on the industrial history of Concord!

  4. This article brought back happy memories of my father taking my sister and me to their storehouse (I think in Fovaux Street). He was a shoe repairer and bought his leather and grindery from Farleigh’s, so took us along when we needed school cases (Globite from memory), new raincoat (made from some sort of rubbery material) and lots of other exciting objects! I still remember the smell – of him and this warehouse – I love it. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

We moderate ALL comments. Please do not be concerned if your comment does not show up immediately. Please do not hit the "Post Comment" button multiple times. Thank you.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *