FOWLER POTTERIES: Enduring the Times

A collection of premier pottery and Fowler Ware vessels and boxes, Circa 1930 - Photo by Sotheby's Australia

Fowler’s Pottery was set up in 1837 and is known as the oldest pottery still in operation in Australia. They were mostly known for producing bottles, jars, and pipes. It was located at Abercrombie Place on Parramatta Street, Chippendale, before moving to Glebe and then to Camperdown. The founder, Enoch Fowler, was an Irish immigrant who arrived in Sydney from Ireland in 1837 and made use of local raw materials to manufacture domestic pottery in his business in Glebe and later manufactured building materials such as tiles, pipes and chimney pots. As the business grew, they moved to Parramatta in the 1850s. The factory at Thomastown, Melbourne was opened in 1927. Fowler also owned a Pottery somewhere near Lithgow, where they produced clay pipes that look like salt-glazed Earthware pipes. The company is still in operation but is now owned by Caroma Industries Ltd, manufacturing only sanitary fixtures.

Enoch Fowler

FOWLER Convict ginger beer pottery bottle, straight impressed mark on the shoulder. c1840s – Photo by Find Lots Online Pty Ltd

Enoch Fowler was born in 1807 in Ireland. Growing up into an enterprising young man, he decided to migrate to Australia to found a pottery business. Arriving on the ‘Adam Lodge’ in 1836 from Londonderry, Ireland, he changed his age to 26 (as people over 30 were not qualified), just so he can get the government-assisted passage for skilled migrants. He lost his family (wife and son) during the 4 months voyage.

Fowler remarried in 1838 and by then, he had registered the company officially to produce ginger beer bottles, jars, and clay pipes at Parramatta Street. In 1848, the pottery was moved to Glebe, and by the 1850s the business relocated to a large site at the corner of Parramatta Road and Australia Street, Camperdown where they now additionally produced drain pipes and bricks. The firm then had 25 employees who were producing 800 meters of drainpipe every week using a new type of machine, which was displayed at the Parramatta Agricultural Society Show. The business expanded as rapidly as the city grew, also producing chimney pots, fire bricks, tiles and all manner of pottery items.

Fowler Potteries

Fowlers Pottery Kiln – Photo by City of Sydney Archives

There were quite a lot of small potteries in Marrickville in the 19th century. Fowler Potteries was, however, one of the most successful and enduring. Enoch Fowler had established this small Kiln in Broadway Street (formally Parramatta Street) in 1837 and started producing a variety of items which included earthenware drain pipes and storage containers.

In June 1844, Fowler’s pottery grounds were auctioned and Enoch bought an allotment 208 x 100 ft (68 x 30 metres) at £10 17s. 6d. a foot. In 1848, the pottery was moved to the Glebe, first in Queen Street and then in Bay Street, where the staff, a man and four boys made beer bottles and kitchenware. From Glebe, they occupied a two-hectare land in Camperdown in the 1850s, which in the present day Australia covers Denison and Derby Streets.


Jug by R Fowler Ltd – Photo by Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences | NSW Government

He was encouraged by Arthur Holroyd to purchase a machine that is useful for making four-inch drainpipes, which before then, was exhibited at the Agricultural Society’s show in Parramatta. The manufacturing of drainpipes gradually became the mainstay of the company’s works. It was a new big start for the firm as they now had twenty-five employees, who were turning out half a mile (.8 km) of pipes each week, which rapidly increased in the weeks that followed.

The business expanded rapidly as the demand increased. The salt-glazed drainpipes and plain bricks, as well as the chequered and bordered tiles, works made fire bricks, chimney pots and all types of pottery were not left out.

Management Change and Expansion

Robert Fowler, 1840-1906 – Photo by City of Sydney Archives

Fowler Potteries soon began to mass produce and made products that included edging tiles, bricks, stoneware containers, chimney pots, and laundry tubs. After he died in 1879, his son Robert began to run Fowler Potteries. The new management further purchased a 6.9-hectare site in Fitzroy Street Marrickville and even moved to get listed as a public company, R. Fowler Ltd. Enoch’s son, Robert Fowler, also went into politics and became Lord Mayor of Sydney in 1880. He built a large home at 14 Australia Street, Camperdown, using the substantial estate left to him. The new house was opposite his father’s house ‘Cranbrook’ and still stands today.

The company, on May 1, 1919, employed 400 people and maintained large staff strength over the next 40 years. But the great depression soon happened in the 1930s and as with most commercial enterprises of the time, Fowler’s was negatively affected.

Post-Depression Exploits

Fowler Ware Kitchen Canisters c1936 – Photo by Etsy, Inc.

However, their fortunes were substantially restored with the release of their kitchen accessories called ‘Fowlerware’ which happened around Christmas of 1936. This included accessories that are painted in striking shades of blue, green and white. Many of these designs can still be found in many kitchens across Australia today. In 1968, Fowler’s was bought over by a refectory company, who demolished the pottery site and subdivided the company in 1982.

The company is now a subsidiary of James Hardie, producers of bathroom ware. Today, the 19th and 20th century Fowler Pottery ware have become highly collectable.