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Family History & Genealogy
Mostly Coombe - Coombe Brothers: John Lean, James and Thomas
The surviving three sons of James Coombe and Jane Lean - John, James and Thomas - all married and had children.
The Coombe Brothers
The brothers’ lives were closely connected in the iron, timber, building and merchant businesses. Although their father was a mason, the brothers weren't builders (except James in Broken Hill), but were suppliers to the building industry.
John is recorded as a merchant's clerk at the time of his marriage in 1869. But the first indication of the brothers’ own businesses occurs in 1874 when the youngest brother Thomas was a storekeeper in Gladstone. Thomas is said to have ‘built and lived in the first house in Gladstone at the time of the rush for the new wheat-growing areas then opened up’ in 1872.
Enter the Coombe Brothers.
1875-1884: Port Pirie, Jamestown
In 1876 Coombe Brothers are wine and spirit merchants in Lipson St, Port Adelaide (the same residential address as John). The wine and spirit business seems short-lived, as the brothers and their families moved to Port Pirie.
"Arriving in Pirie in about 1875, they began a small wholesale and retail business. Seeing the need for building supplies for both the Port and its hinterland, they developed a flourishing trade by importing timber, coal, ironmongery and groceries from other colonies. James, meanwhile, went off to open a branch business in Jamestown, leaving the other two brothers to manage at the seaboard end." (Reluctant Harbour: the Romance of Pirie, by Nancy Robinson, published: Nadjuri Australia, 1976)
James operated initially as the Coombe Bros' Jamestown branch, but soon separated from John and Thomas in April 1877 to run his individually identified business as a merchant in Jamestown and then Port Augusta. A year later James' business is advertised as "Coombe & Naismith - Jamestown Timber Yard, Steam Saw and Chaff Mills".
Two of the Coombe sisters, Ann Lean Birt and Eliza Beevor, were also in Jamestown at the same time as James. In Later years James transferred licenses for two separate Quorn hotels to two sisters: to Ellen in 1884 the Grand Junction Hotel and to Eliza in 1888 the Transcontinental Hotel.)
"In 1877 Coombe Bros sold (part of) their business to Prest Bros, the former retaining their partnership and operating as a Timber Yard and Steam Saw Mill. They meanwhile took what must have seemed a daring business risk: they chartered a 363-ton barque, the Flensborg, direct from London. When the vessel arrived at Port Pirie in January 1878, there was general rejoicing. The Coombes gave a champagne luncheon on board, for this was the first cargo direct from overseas to Port Pirie..." (Reluctant Harbour)
"Long before the Flensborg arrived, Coombe Bros had speculated on other direct overseas shipments, chartering another general cargo from London and two timber shipments one from the Baltic and the other from Oregon State, America." (Reluctant Harbour)
Captain B.H. Evans was commanding Coombe Bros ships, including the Prospero, and was commissioned by them to bring back a new trading vessel from England, that being the Sedwell Jane in 1883.
Thomas Coombe left Port Pirie for Port Augusta in 1882. John Lean Coombe remained longer and was Port Pirie's fourth mayor, 1883-1884.
For more on these early days of the three Coombe brothers, see PORT PIRIE. THE TOWN AS IT WAS. By A. T. Saunders.
John sold the remaining timber business to Charles Geddes and Henry Prest in July 1884, before departing Pirie six months later. Their time in Port Pirie coincided with the residence there of the founder of the Port Pirie Gazette and Areas News, Tom C.S. Anthony, brother of Mrs J.L. Coombe.
I have collated Coombe-related newspaper items from the Port Pirie Gazette and Areas News, published 1876-84. Mentions are made of the three brothers and families and also: Tom C.S. Anthony (newspaper editor); Captain B.H. Evans; John Coumbe maker of farm implements in Georgetown and later Kilkenny; William Wood; Charles A. Ring; Miss Chinnick; Mr Morrish.
The brothers seem to operate independently from the company after 1883. In 1883, as well as a company entry (merchants, Port Pirie) the brothers have separate Directory entries (Coombe, John L, timber merchant, Pt Pirie; Coombe, James, timber merchant, Pt Augusta; Coombe, T & Co, timber merchant, Pt Augusta; and Coombe, T, agent, Lipson St, Pt Adelaide).
According to the 1885 directory:
· John partnered Charles Ring of Silverton NSW (near Broken Hill) and together, Coombe & Ring are timber, iron and coal merchants; auctioneers; and customs and general agents in Port Pirie and Silverton.
· Coombe, James & Co supplied “every requisite for building" from East Terrace.
· Thomas was with James.
East Terrace Fire 1885 and Burford’s Soap Factory
Unfortunately on 16 December that year, a fire destroyed the East Terrace business along with Burford’s soap factory. According to the newspaper interviews, Thomas Coombe stated he was the sole proprietor of the yard, on lease from Asmus CLAUSEN. James Coombe, unconnected with the business but living in the house adjoining the yard, was inside talking with John Lean Coombe when the fire alarm was raised. James managed to rescue all the book work. Interestingly it places all three brothers there at the time.
The fire was immense, especially when combined with Burford's. "Much alarm was occasioned by the streams of boiling resin and tallow which flowed in one torrent down the watertable in Grenfell-street and in another down a drain into East-terrace, finally finding their way into the Park Lands."
After the Fire
Thomas would look towards Broken Hill the next year and John would soon become a book-keeper / accountant. James became a hotel licensee and then built the Australian Club Hotel, Broken Hill in 1888 (now Argent House) at the same time that Thomas was in Broken Hill. ‘Coombe T. & Co., ironmongers’ is listed in the 1891 Barrier Miner Business Directory for Carrington Chambers.
In the 1890s, John’s occupation was given as book-keeper or accountant but from about 1901 to 1910 he ran a store and post office in Forest Av, Forestville, while his eldest son, John Anthony took up accounting at the same location.
Thomas Coombe and Sons
Thomas seems to have had the highest public profile. Thomas frequently moved: Adelaide, Gladstone, Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Adelaide (again), Broken Hill, Adelaide (again) and Perth. His pattern seems to be of moving into these new areas in the first two years of their settlement and setting up an ironmonger and timber merchant business a pattern that the Coombe brothers favoured. Thomas’ business made him a wealthy man, a newspaper saying that in his time at Broken Hill, he ‘amassed a fortune’ and the ANU Biographical Register saying that he retired rich aged 46.
Thomas was the third mayor of Broken Hill, holding the office in 1890. He ran unsuccessfully for state politics in South Australia in 1884 and New South Wales in 1894.
Thomas' first son was Sir Thomas Melrose Coombe, a moving picture pioneer and philanthropist. He was known as the ‘picture king of Perth’ in the 1920s. In the tradition of brothers in business together, two of Thomas’ sons were in the cinema business in Perth and endowed scholarships in Western Australia, the ‘Sir Thomas Melrose Coombe’ and ‘James and Rose Coombe’ scholarships.
I have read the excellent articles on Thomas Coombe (and son) by both Jack Honniball (Royal Western Australian Historical Society journal "Early Days", 2004) and Rodney I. Francis (South Australian Genealogist, October 1988). See also Australian Dictionary of Biography (Online Edition) on Sir T.M. Coombe.
Thomas Coombe at Kapunda, Moonta, Belvidere, Gladstone, etc in Advertiser Obituary.
James Coombe Obituary
To add, contribute, comment, contact David Coombe
Updated on: 7 Jun 2012