The Cox and Reedman brickworks in South Australia

During the 19th century, members of the wider Cole family emigrated to Australia, taking their brickmaking and pottery skills with them. The article on this page is on the history of brickmaking in South Australia. It covers the Cox Brothers' establishment at St. Peters, which was approximately 5 kms from where Henry Cox and Edward John Reedman had their brickworks in Gilberton. As both Henry and Edward had worked in the Cox Bros. yard at St. Peters for several years, we can assume that they used the same process in their own yard. (The Cox and Reedman links with the Cole family are through two of the granddaughters of Daniel Cole: daughters of Catherine Cole married into the Cox family, and Mary Ann Cole married into the Reedman family.)

The following article is courtesy of John Cole Reedman II. At the time he contributed it, its source was unknown and he was no longer contactable. Two source materials have now been identified by Christine Scotland as in The South Australian Register of 1859. Probablt John Cole Reedman II inherited the original cuttings and based his article on them.

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Brickmaking in South Australia

As brickmaking is one of the oldest trades in the world, our readers will no doubt be interested to know that this branch of industry is carried out with the same vigour now in the young country of South Australia, as it was thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt. Indeed the difficulties of the trade at the present day may be said to have greatly diminished, for although our manufacturers have still "to make bricks without straw" it is for the very good reason, that they have found more lasting materials suited to the purpose, and that they can now do better without straw than with it. In order however to give the reader an idea of the brick making business as at present conducted, and to enable him to judge the progress which it has made in this colony, we subjoin a description of our most extensive, and one our longest established yards, the particulars of which will of course to a great extent apply to other establishments in the neighbourhood of Adelaide.

The brickyards of Messrs Cox Bros. of Norwood, are situated on 7 acres of ground, which lie between the north end of Sydenham Road and Osmond Terrace. Here the whole process of converting natural soil of the ground into hard bricks has been for the last 10 years actively carried on, so that many of the best buildings in Adelaide may be said to have been dug out of Norwood a city sprung from its own suburbs. On entering Messrs Cox yard, the first thing that arrests your attention is a yawning chasm, in the midst of which, the first process of brickmaking is going on. In this valley which is 20 feet in depth, and half an acre in extent, churches, chapels and dwelling houses beyond number have no doubt taken their origin, and fresh material for other structures is still being raised from the same spot. This material in the first place is mixed with a due proportion of wood or coal ashes, and the mixture having been saturated with water, is shovelled into the 'pug mill' a machine worked by a horse, and the effect of whose action it is to thoroughly knead the soil and ashes together, and turn them out from an aperture near the ground in the form of a thick paste. When this is done, the first step in making of a brick is accomplished, and this step is a very important one, for by the process of burning bricks adapted in this yard, unless the same proportion of ashes is always mixed with the earth, the bricks are liable to be over burnt and injured. This will be explained more fully when the kilns are spoken of, but the mixing operation belongs to this, the first stage of the work, and so great is the care exercised in the process that every brick made is said to have as nearly as possible the same quantity of ash in it. To show this, a brick or two not yet dried were broken, and the black ashes were seen scattered equally through each, like plums in a well regulated Christmas pudding.

But before leaving the pug mill and following the mixture up to the moulding sheds the question must naturally occur, what is to be done with the huge excavations out of which Adelaide is now getting most of its long streets of houses, when they are no longer convenient for brickmaking. On Messrs Cox's ground there is about an acre of this excavation altogether, and from its situation, as well as from the fact that the soil and water are both excellent, it is not difficult to imagine that some years hence the grounds that now form a brickyard may be famous tea gardens the Rosherville of South Australia. At present these artificial valleys, in one of the which are Messrs Cox's stables, are delightfully cool, and in their shaded corners vegetables are found to grow with a luxuriance generally unknown on the plains.

We must return however, from the tea gardens to the brickyards. The process of moulding bricks is a very simple one, but a great deal of dexterity is required in shifting them about whilst in a soft state. From the sheds the bricks are carried, completely made so far as their share is concerned, to the drying yards, where they are placed on boards, and exposed to the sun and air. There they remain at this period of the year about eight or nine days, during which time it is necessary to protect them both from rain and hot winds. The next and final process which the bricks have to go through is that of being burnt, and this operation is performed in a somewhat peculiar manner. Instead of there being a kiln with a large wood fire blazing in it whilst the bricks are drying, they are simply made into a great stack, there being a small hole about the size of an ordinary fire place left at some part of the stack near the ground. In this hole a fire is lit, and is allowed to burn for one day, when the opening is closed up and the bricks left to carry on their own burning. This, on account of the ashes contained in them, they do by conveying the fire from one to another, and in a very short time the stack becomes too hot to be touched. Of course the self burning process thus followed would not answer with bricks made without ashes, but with that ingredient in them, so readily do they burn that a fresh stack piled by the side of the first heated would gradually receive sufficient warmth to become thoroughly dried without the assistance of any additional fire.

The means of this one establishment for supplying the colony with bricks will be indicated by the following facts. On the 7 acre of land are two pug mills and four moulding sheds, and the drying ground enough for 150,000 bricks at once. The number of hands employed on the average throughout the year is twenty, and the number of horses six. To keep these in full operation the quantity of work passing through the yard may be judged by the following particulars. The materials generally on hand as stock are two hundred chaldrons of firing stuff mixed up, sufficient for 100,000 bricks, and bricks ready for sale 300,000. Whilst, with regard to the capacity of the ground for future supplies it is estimated that the land not used would give enough stuff for 100,000 bricks per week over a period of 10 years. For the carrying on of this trade, there are of course but few covered buildings required, as all the operations of brickmaking take place in the open air. Messrs Cox Bros. however are well provided with fuel sheds and stabling, the former being 50 feet long by 20 feet wide, and the later which is well pitch paved with hard bricks, being adapted to accommodate seven horses, beside have excellent store room attached. Another point which is worth noticing in connection with these yards is that all hands employed there are with one or two exceptions staunch tea totallers, and as the trade is one of the hardest and dustiest to be met with, the testimony of these brickmakers in favour of water as the most refreshing drink for general purposes deserves to carry some weight with it.

The next largest brickyard in the colony are those of Mr Coombs and Mr Dungey at Bowden, and Mr Westrop of Stepney. It is impossible however to give any particulars of interest about one establishment of this kind which do no apply generally to others. Brickmaking everywhere is pretty alike, and the chief difference between manufactures in this country is that whilst some burn their bricks in a regular kiln, others follow this plan described above, of making them of such material as will enable them to burn themselves.

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This website Potteries and brickyards worked by the Cole family is Pat Cryer. For applications to reproduce text or images, click here.