Oriental Tea Company, 144-146 Little Flinders Street West, Melbourne, c. 1886 : composite of drawings showing façade of main building, blending room, packing room, boxing room and unpacking room; reproduced from The Jubilee History of Victoria and Melbourne (TWH Leavitt, editor with W.D Lilburn, historian; Duffus Bros; printers; 1888), Vol I, Part III, after p. 12 [RHSV Collection : BK009-0021]

Little Flinders Street (alternatively Flinders Lane or ‘the Lane’), one of Melbourne’s east-west ‘little streets’, has a strong association with the city’s wholesale trade.

Here, from 1878, the Oriental Tea Company imported and landed tea, mainly Indian, on a large scale and then blended it and packed it for sale in grocery shops around Australia. The company’s labels included: Royal, Universal, Victory, Oriental and Standard brands. In this year, the Oriental Tea Company was awarded a prize-medal at the International Exhibition at Paris for the superiority and purity of their blends of tea. [The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 19 September 1878] More locally, another exhibition, The International Exhibition (1880-1881) at the Exhibition Buildings, provided an opportunity to promote the company. Its exhibit, resembling a glassed-in oriental pagoda within which was displayed a tier of tea-packages, was crowned by a griffin (gryphon) – the company’s logo (The Illustrated Australian News,31 December, 1880). This was hand-carved by a Chinese employee of the company.

James Price Goulstone, who had been associated with the India and China Tea Company (39 Queen Street, Melbourne) in mid-1875, joined the Oriental Tea Company in January 1877. As ‘company manager’, on 14 June 1880, he conducted some thirty members of the Victorian Manufacturers Association around the substantial brick and bluestone warehouse pictured here. Association members received a guided tour of each floor displaying the company’s different processes (unpacking the imported tea, blending, packing and boxing) with Goulstone giving much detail regarding the progress of his company in the three years since its foundation. Presentations, such as a report of a government analysis on the chemical content of his tea, as well as toasts concluded the tour. Transport between its floors (or ‘flats’) was by hydraulic lift. Some thirty of the Oriental Tea Company’s forty-five staff members were women – who packaged the tea. [See an extremely comprehensive article of the visit and the company’s operations in the Launceston Examiner, Saturday 19 June 1880 – reprinted from the Melbourne Daily Telegraph, June 14 1880.]

Further resources and an exhibition :

Oriental Tea Company, Melbourne : The Jubilee History of Victoria and Melbourne (T.W.H. Leavitt, editor with W.D. Lilburn, historian; Duffus Bros; printers; 1888)

Oriental Tea Company, Melbourne – posters lithographed by Troedel & Co. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/299210 and http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/56234

James and John Griffiths, Griffith Bros., tea merchants, Melbourne : http://www.auspostalhistory.com/articles/1611.php

Flinders Lane and the lanes of Melbourne : http://www.emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM00586b.htm

Exhibition : ‘Portraits of a Tea Cosy’ at the RHSV – 7 April –14 May 2015 : https://www.historyvictoria.org.au/whats-on/exhibitions