John McHugh, the brain behind McHugh Pottery business, was born in 1831. In 1857, he married Janet McLean at Launceston and they had five Children – John, Hugh, James, Edward, and Janet. Janet, John’s wife died on October 16, 1867, and John remarried, this time to a widow named Elizabeth Jackson.
The Founding of the McHugh Pottery
John started McHugh pottery in 1873 at Launceston. He particularly established his pottery at the Sandhill to take advantage of the abundant source of clay. While John is always mentioned when referring to his pottery business, it would be fair to mention that his sons were most likely running the pottery with him since the oldest ones were in their teens by the time the pottery was established.
The Wares Produced in McHugh’s Pottery
John produced a wide range of wares in his pottery. These include flower pots, pipes as well as other household items. An article published in the ‘Examiner’ in the year 1876 points out that John produced wide selections of earthenware with the joint efforts of his three oldest sons.
According to the details on a Deed of Partnership dated 1st January 1890, John McHugh’s sons – James, Hugh, and Edward were listed as partners, alongside their step-brother James Jackson.
McHugh Pottery Became Both a Notable Household name and a Thriving Pottery Business
The McHugh Pottery became a household name to reckon with, as well as an innovative and thriving pottery business that made a giant contribution to Tasmania’s growing prosperity.
Under John, the McHugh’s pottery business produced pipes, tiles, bricks, flower pots, and different types of utility pottery that include kitchenware and sanitary products. John passed his pottery business to his sons Hugh and James in 1891. And, in 1892, John passed away.
Although the McHugh Pottery was established in 1873, a vast selection of McHugh’s pottery wares collected presently emanate from the mid-1920s-1930s art deco.
John McHugh and John Campbell – Friendly Rivals in the Pottery Business
John McHugh and John Campbell were friendly rivals in the pottery business. Their pottery sites were located only two blocks away from each other, in South Launceston’s Sandhill area. The duo found a rich source of clay in this location, which is the main reason for the close location of their pottery businesses.
Amazingly, rather than indulge in a fierce competition against each other, the duo, McHugh and Campbell cooperated so well. Both agreed in 1883 to take turns in providing the lowest quotes for drainage and sewage pipes to the council tenders.
The cooperation between the McHugh’s pottery and Campbell’s pottery was so strong that they shared workers as well as resources in challenging times. In essence, one would come to the other’s help when more hands are needed for faster production, or when there is a need to supplement existing resources.
This friendly competition and cooperation lingered between the two for years. As a result, both the McHugh’s pottery and the Campbell’s pottery became the dominant and most renowned potteries in Tasmania. Their fame was also heard abroad.
In fact, it was told by McHugh’s great-great-granddaughter that Campbell devoted time to help run and sustain McHugh’s pottery after his death. He left when McHugh’s family was able to make other arrangements for the continuity of the business.
It’s also worth mentioning that both McHugh and Campbell contributed immensely in raising a standard for pottery in Tasmania. And, they championed and inspired the establishment of other Tasmanian potteries.
Unique Marking and Identification on McHugh’s and Campbell’s
McHugh’s and Campbell’s practiced the custom of marking their wares with features such as their name, the year of production, the word ‘Tasmania’, as well as a shape letter or identification number – this was at the beginning of the 1930s. As a result, the pottery wares manufactured during this period were easily recognised. Both potteries’ wares were advertised and showcased as “Autographed pottery”.
The World War 2 Affected McHugh Pottery
During the World War 2, decorative pottery production became suspended; it was never commenced again in the case of McHugh’s. During the war period until the pottery’s closure towards the end of the 60s, production in the McHugh’s pottery factory was completely pipework and agricultural wares.
Again, varieties of utilitarian, household items were produced in the McHugh’s pottery business and would include hot-water bottles, baking dishes, jugs, foot warmers, mixing bowls, crock pots, demi-johns and more.
The McHugh’s Pottery Wares Have Become Astonishing Collectables
Today, the above mentioned McHugh’s potteries have become astonishing and desirable collectibles. From the junctions to the pipe ware, chimney pots, gullies and other wares, people are collecting McHugh’s potteries at good prices. You will find both McHugh’s and Campbell’s potteries at Auctions and many Antique Shops across Australia.
The golden years of the McHugh’s Pottery were the 1930s. During this time, the pottery employed a lot of notable potters. As a result, the art pottery output during this period is characterised by its drip glazes in pinks, blues and yellows – features popularly known as “fancy wares” in the company. McHugh discontinued art pottery making in the mid-40s, but never stopped making domestic, agricultural and pipe wares.
McHugh’s Pottery Wares are Highly Valued
Just like the Campbell Pottery, McHugh’s pottery wares are highly valued then and till this moment. In fact, as popularly collected pottery wares presently, the McHugh’s decorative and even household wares seem to have more monetary value now than then.
John McHugh died at the age of 61 in Launceston on April 8, 1892. He was buried two days after (April 10, 1892), at the Charles Street Cemetery – the cemetery is now known as Ockerby Gardens. While McHugh was always believed to have originated from Scotland, the record in his death certificate shows that his birthplace was Ireland.
According to a reliable source, McHugh officially handed over the McHugh Pottery to his sons two days before passing away. Thereafter, his sons continued to run the business.