David Jones’ Criterion Store

Discover the history of David Jones’ Criterion Store which is recreated alongside other businesses on Sovereign Hill’s Main Street

By 1859, the gold mining city of Ballarat had matured economically and socially. The flourishing of numerous ‘draperies’ and dress shops signalled both the ‘civilising’ effect of women, and the fact that Ballarat was now beginning to be an established society which could afford to pay for every kind of imported commodity.

Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, 1850
(Sovereign Hill Museums Association, accession no 2017.0598)

In the Victorian era, clothes – and the ability to purchase them – were an important indicator of social standing; they were an outward sign of the achievement of wealth, respectability, and social status. In the northern hemisphere, the advent of the Singer Sewing Machine meant that a wide range of ready-to-wear clothes (‘off the rack’, so to speak) was available by at least 1857.

The Criterion Store in Ballarat exemplified the arrival in Australia of the trending European and British concept of the department store. Criterion Store advertisements in Ballarat newspapers proclaimed the latest and finest quality of merchandise obtainable, including ready-made garments, and praised the high-quality staff employed to satisfy eager customers.

The products sold in the original Criterion Store indicated a growing preoccupation with the finer points of life – good table and bed linen, as well as clothes and accessories for every occasion. The latest fashions were shipped to the colonial ports, and from thence to the goldfields, and local proprietors were advised by buyers working from the heart of the fashion worlds of Paris and London. This meant that Ballarat customers (remote from the fashion centres of the northern hemisphere) could be delighted and impressed by the wide range of goods ‘newly arrived’ from Europe and displayed for their convenience and edification.

Token issued by David Jones Criterion Store, 1850s
(Ballarat Historical Society collection, accession no 78.0458)

The wealth generated by the gold rush ensured that Ballarat was part of new world-wide developments in shopping and retailing trends, and the appearance and prosperity of David Jones’ Criterion Store strongly embodies this international trend.

The owner of the original Criterion Store, Mr. David Jones, was born in 1832 in Barmouth, Wales, the son of David Jones, of Cei newydd, a butcher. We know that he arrived in Australia some time before 1853, and in that year set up a drapery store in Ballarat, in partnership with a gentleman named Samuel Hemingway: the Criterion Store was presented as “the oldest and largest Drapery establishment in the colonies”.

In 1857 David Jones dissolved his partnership with Hemingway and continued alone in his Main Road store. In 1859 Francois Cogné, commissioned by the Ballarat Star to draw a series of lithographs of Main Road, depicted David Jones’ Criterion Store as a large and splendid establishment, boasting plate glass windows one quarter of an inch thick, with vast quantities of merchandise on display. These window panes were imported from Britain, and would, almost unbelievably, have travelled by clipper ship and bullock dray to reach Ballarat!

Yet even as Main Road prospered, retailers were looking ahead, and shrewdly determining that the fires and floods of Main Road could be avoided by a move up on to the more salubrious and secure plateau of Ballarat West. David Jones moved his business onto Sturt Street in December 1859, and was located in the Criterion House, on the corner of Armstrong and Sturt Street. In 1861 the Main Road Criterion Store was destroyed by fire.

In the 1870s, David Jones sold his Criterion House for £103,000, and returned to England, where he retired and died.

Written by Dr Jan Croggon, Historian, Sovereign Hill Museums Association

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