The original business name York, Schmidt & Co was dissolved and the Sheffield store became The River Don Trading Co Store #8, but, as in other towns, locals shortened it to ‘The Don Co’. This second article continues the store’s history from last issue.
1913–1921 Wm Lord – Sheffield’s new Manager
Lord had been with ‘the Don Co’ since 1899 when he was brought in to manage the newly opened branch at Wynyard. At Sheffield during WW1 years Wm Lord had about 40 staff, with Tom Cruickshank in charge of the grocery department, Irvine Glenn (from Bendigo) in charge of drapery and Miss Maggie Robson in charge of dressmaking. The huge building had no heating, and in winter it became so cold that staff wore overcoats and mitts to keep warm. The building had two different shopping areas – grocery and drapery – on two different floor levels, with each floor having its own front entrance off Main St. An internal brick wall separated the two sections with an archway halfway along it, allowing customers to take two steps up or down to move between the grocery and drapery departments.
Upstairs on the second floor the dressmaking department was above the drapery side, while bulk stores were kept above the grocery side. Most food products came in bulk, either in wooden barrels, tea-chests or pine packing cases. They were hauled up outside the rear of the building by pulleys and rope to the small, elevated entrance. Biscuits and boiled sweets came in large square tins. Sides of bacon were suspended from hooks in the ceiling. Cheese came in large 50lb rounds bound by a thick skin of rind and had to be kept in rat-proof cupboards. Cereals and flours were checked for weevils, while barrels of mutton birds had the dead maggots floating on top of the brine scooped off. Almost everything customers required had to be weighed out on huge scales, poured into brown paper bags, neatly folded, and tied with string. The Don Co also sold hardware and homeware. Their imported English Royal Doulton dining sets and ‘canteens’ (wooden boxes) of cutlery from Sheffield England were always popular. Many aspiring young ladies would fill their ‘glory boxes’ or ‘hope chests’ with such items purchased from the Don Co.
Early each week an employee travelled by pony-trap to collect orders from farmhouses throughout the country districts. These were delivered later in the week by the Company’s specially built van, pulled by four horses. Negotiating a sharp corner on the Old Paradise Rd in May 1914, driver George Miller’s horses and van went over the bank. What a mess! During Wm Lord’s time as manager, the pony-trap was upgraded to a motorbike and the horse van to a motor lorry. Town orders were collected by another employee on a bicycle and delivered later in a large cane basket mounted over the push bike’s smaller front wheel. If you weren’t home when he returned with your groceries, he simply opened the back door, walked inside, unpacked them on the kitchen table and left.
In the early 1920s, Wm Lord decided to move to the mainland to open his own business. At his farewell function in Aug 1921, Don Co directors thanked him for his ‘most efficient and loyal service over the last 22 years.’ He was not related to the Lord families living in the Kentish area.
1921-1959 LW Tankard’s contribution to Kentish
The longest serving manager at Sheffield was Louis Tankard who had charge of the store for 38 years. Born 1881 in Melbourne, Louis Wilson Tankard was left with three small girls following his first wife’s tragic death. In 1909 he married again and moved to Tasmania to work for the Wynyard branch of the Don Co. His second marriage produced five more daughters – making eight girls in all.
In 1921 Louis Tankard (40) was transferred to Sheffield to replace Wm Lord. At Wynyard, the rector of St Stephen’s Church of England said at the family’s farewell, ‘Mr Tankard gave his best to the church, being a regular worshiper and an enthusiastic lay reader. The older Miss Tankards will be missed in the church choir and as Sunday school teachers.’ In Sheffield, his large family filled the manager’s house built on the site of the present Turnbull’s Pharmacy.
Tankard advertised some special attractions in his store for Christmas 1922. Toys included seesaws and merry-go-rounds that worked mechanically, trains running on rails, and other novelties to delight children. For parents there were elegant displays of exquisite chinaware & glassware, special wrapped gifts for the festive season including McRobertson’s Old Gold chocolates in fancy boxes. In 1924 Louis Tankard began a practice of impersonating Santa Claus and making surprise visits to most schools in Kentish to distribute free sweets on behalf of the Don store. He kept up this annual practice for years. But with 40-50 staff, ‘Santa’ was also a ‘no-nonsense’ manager, with a reputation for sacking employees over quite trivial things.
Tankard became heavily involved in local activities and over the decades made a huge contribution to the Kentish community. Keenly interested in all sports, he participated in many, but excelled in rifle shooting and golf. He strongly supported the establishment of a miniature rifle range next to the Drill Hall in King George Park. During his time at Sheffield, he was President of the Golf Club, Badminton Club, Football Club, Cricket Club and Vice President of the Homing Pigeon Club. He was also a JP, chairman of the Court of Petty Sessions, local coroner, chairman of the Fire Brigade Board and on the Advisory Board of the RSSILA.
In 1926 Louis & Julia Tankard were in a party that Gustav Weindorfer led to the top of Cradle Mt. From this time onward Tankard became a close friend of Gustav Weindorfer, with The Don Co supplying most of the provisions he needed for his Waldheim chalet. When Weindorfer was snowed in at Cradle Mountain, Louis Tankard and Herb Tredennick would drive Tankard’s 1926 Chevrolet and the Don Co’s truck out to Bob Quaile’s home at Daisy Dell, usually on a Saturday afternoon when the store closed, then use packhorses to carry his supplies into Waldheim. ‘Tank’, as they called Louis Tankard, worked hard to promote tourism in Kentish and Cradle Mt. Weindorfer was a frequent visitor to Tankard’s home in Sheffield where he used their bathroom as a darkroom to develop his photographs. After Weindorfer’s death, the Don Co’s truck went to Waldheim to retrieve Weindorfer’s possessions.
In July 1947 Kentish Council nominated Louis Tankard as the municipal representative on the newly formed Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park Board. Interestingly, Tankard’s 1926 Chevrolet Tourer is still around. Nearing 100 years old, it was bought by Major Ronald Smith, who continued to take it on trips to Cradle Mt. Eventually ex-Cradle Mt park-ranger Eddie Firth of Port Sorell purchased it and usually drives it to the annual Weindorfer’s Memorial Services, now held at Wilmot.
Tankard’s Role during WW2.
In the aftermath of Japan’s surprise attack on Darwin and other centres on 16 June 1942, the Government appointed Director of Civil Evacuation put Louis Tankard in charge of establishing emergency accommodation in the Kentish Municipality should mothers and children need to be evacuated from Devonport and Latrobe. He was responsible for arranging billeting and erecting ten long timber huts, each capable of housing 60 people, at Gowrie Park. He was also to ensure basic emergency food supplies were held in several local country stores – flour at Roland, matches at West Kentish, and flour and sugar at the Don Co in Sheffield. In addition, he was made Chief Air Raid Warden. Zig-zag trenches were dug in the schoolyard and a siren horn mounted on top of the Don Co building had its eerie wail tested each day at noon.
Once the threat of invasion had passed, Tankard pushed for Gowrie Park to become the ideal campsite for training army cadets from all secondary schools throughout the state. In 1947 he inaugurated the Tankard Cup, awarded annually to the high school cadet corp that won their miniature rifle shooting contest. Tankard’s second wife died in April 1955 and was cremated at Carr Villa, Launceston. In 1959 Louis Tankard (73) retired from business and with several unmarried daughters moved to 36 Pomona Rd, Riverside, where he died 8 July 1967 aged 81. Daughters from his first marriage were Lorna (Mrs T Doe), Marjorie, Dorothy (Mrs Dan Green); his second marriage: Jessie b1912 (Mrs H B Paton), Joy b1914, Gwen b1917, Ailsa b1919 (Mrs Herbert Paton) & Phyllis b1923.
Of the hundreds of Don Co employees during Tankard’s tenure, there’s space to comment on just one. Born 1902 in Zeehan, R.C. (Bob) Gibson’s first job was with Don Co in Zeehan. In 1923 he was transferred to Sheffield where he became head draper for 28 years. Sadly, his first wife died from the birth of their first child. Later Bob married Rita Butler and had four children. In 1951 Bob Gibson purchased the Sheffield Newsagency and ran it until 1970. Like Tankard, he was a great contributor to all local sports.
1959-80 Managers Ken Blyth & Ken Hope
In 1959 Ken Blyth (63) replaced Tankard at Sheffield. Born in 1896 down the coast, Ken enlisted in 1915 and was assigned to Aus. Artillery division as a gunner. Wounded in Belgium, Blyth was repatriated to England where he married his wife Alice. Arriving back in Tasmania in 1919, Blyth worked for the Don Co, Wynyard, for many years before becoming manager at Sheffield. His time coincided with the beginning of the Mersey-Forth Hydro Scheme. Blyth retired about 1967 and died Sept 1969 in Wynyard aged 73. He was the last manager to occupy the Don Co’s manager’s residence on the corner of Main & High St.
Kentish-born Ken Hope (49) followed Blyth as the next manager at Sheffield. Son of Norman Hope, and grandson of Hon John Hope, Ken b1918 never married. His two younger brothers Dave Hope and Reg Hope OAM both lived in Devonport. Ken and his widowed mother purchased The Elms in Main St previously owned by Joseph & Charlotte Schmidt, now part of the RSL. Ken suffered from an injury received years ago when a wheel of a dray ran over him. He died 10 Aug 1976 aged 58. During Ken’s time, the vacant manager’s residence was rented out, then demolished to become a carpark before Turnbull’s pharmacy was built there.
Don Co sold to Private Owners
Several generations of the Henry family inherited the River Don Trading Co, which in their early days had become the largest retail business along the coast. But they didn’t have the vision nor inclination to move with the times and eventually went into voluntary receivership. All their branches were sold off to the private owners, leaving behind in many coastal towns some very impressive buildings as monuments to their founders’ glory days. Today their ornate premises in Sheffield is heritage listed.
1980-1984 B A Brown P/L (Barry & Val Brown)
In 1978 long-term employee Barry Brown was made Sheffield’s last manager. The company directors in Devonport encouraged Barry & Val to form their own company B A Brown P/L and lease the big brick premises while buying the retail business over a period of years. About the same time, Max & Judy Smith requested to rent the empty drapery section to set up their own retail business. The Henry family wanted to preserve the specially crafted shop-fittings their company had installed in the ladies showroom. The enormous 13ft x 20ft mirror was donated to Launceston Museum, the carved counter sold to Taswegia Historical Printery, Devonport and the chest of drawers and millinery cabinet given to the Sheffield Museum. After 3 years, Max Smith sold his clothing business to Des & Gwen Jordan who sold it to Rodney & Maureen Baker. In 1979 Ken Turnbull purchased the Don Co’s vacant corner block and erected a small pharmacy, which in 1995 he made three times larger.
1984-Oct 88 – Bill & Judy Maddox
Having been forced to sell the Sheffield Hotel, Bill Maddox was able to purchase not only Barry Brown’s grocery business, but the brick building as well. This ended almost 100 years involvement of the River Don Trading Co in Sheffield. Bill joined a buying group and expanded the hardware business into the other side of the shop. With Sheffield becoming a tourist town, Bill spent a significant amount repairing the store’s front façade and repainting it in heritage colours, which restored much of its former glory.
Oct 1988 – Apr 1994 Carl & Jean Cox with son Drew
Jean and son Drew Cox made several internal changes that gave the store more of a supermarket look. During the World Rowing Championships in 1990, they organised an art exhibition of John Lendis’s paintings upstairs, where they also held Christmas parties for customers. Making plans to live upstairs, they added an exterior steel fire-escape staircase. Drew rowed with the ‘Tasmanian eights’ in several King Cups.
Apr 1994 – 2009 Denis & Nancy Crosswell with son Jason
With son Jason, the Crosswells spent $60,000 raising the floor of the old drapery side
to the same height as the grocery side, effectively doubling the floorspace of their ‘Cut Price Sam’s Supermarket’. They added new shelving, lighting and refrigerators, and began trading 7 days a week. Jason Crosswell took over the business from his parents in 2009 and today operates one of the busiest IGA stores in the state.