Suttons House of Music Warehouse was first built in 1891, at the time of construction Ballarat’s tallest commercial building. It quickly became more than just a landmark, it was a glowing attraction in the centre of Ballarat that became a hive of culture and music, every bit as grand as the main room adorned with gas-lit chandeliers and leadlight windows celebrating five great German composers.

The main room was filled with 37 different brands of pianos and, and, as technology changed with the coming of the 20th century, pianolas – the latest in automated musical technology for the home! – while a giant timber wall cabinet kept all manner of stringed, percussion and brass instruments.

Richard Sutton and the Sutton family had already gained a reputation for music and bringing ‘the latest thing’ to town – starting with his playing of the concertina at the front of his tent to crowds of miners, and humble beginnings as the first goldfields music store, to the original store and workshop on Main Road (site of today’s Joyce’s Junkatique) where he had previously installed Ballarat’s first ever plate glass window.

After Richard’s untimely death in 1876 at the age of 47 it was Mary who assumed financial control of the business, with elder son Alfred in charge of the day-to-day running of the stores. Through Mary’s shrewd business acumen Sutton’s prospered all through the 1880s, and by 1886 Mary Sutton dreamed of building Australia’s first purpose built Music Emporium. On the 20 May, 1891, Mary Sutton purchased the land at number 33 Sturt Street for £4125 – at the time a record price per square foot of land in Ballarat.

The old wooden store that stood on the site was immediately demolished and the grand three storey Victorian building was erected. The building which was designed by the Architects, Charles n. Gilbert and George William Clegg was Mary’s dream and no expense was spared in the design and construction of the building.

Exquisite woodworked fittings of cedar, kauri pine and blackwood complemented the towering ceilings and plasterwork, lit by sunlight streaming through leadlight windows celebrating Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bach and Brahms during the day, and by ornate Welsbach gas lit chandeliers hanging far above at night. The giant two storey-high words “Suttons, Pianos, Organs & Music” painted on the side of the building looked down upon Ballarat’s busy Sturt Street and Bridge Street precinct. The grand building lays testament even today to Mary Sutton’s grand vision as there is no other building left in Australia like it.

All of this combined to create a place to visit both for the locals and those who were ‘coming to town’ from the local district and further afield, with people coming to the store just to ride in the city’s very first hydraulic elevator, designed and installed by Mary Sutton’s son, Henry with the help of the Austral Otis Elevator Company.

Mark Twain would have come here when he visited Ballarat in 1895, as did Alexander Graham Bell when he came to visit Henry Sutton in 1910 – but that’s another story…

While crowds gathered in the main room downstairs, Henry Sutton had been going about pioneering some Australian firsts on the upper floors and in the basement – most notably Australia’s first telephone network, joining this building to the central fire up Sturt Street and his office/lab at the School of Mines, a couple of hundred metres away up the hill; and Ballarat’s first hydraulic elevator, built after his mother had a stroke and moved in to the top floor of the building.

Mary Sutton

Henry Sutton

Australia’s forgotten pioneer and inventor

Henry Sutton was Richard and Mary’s first son, and was born in a tent on the Ballarat goldfields in 1855. He was an extremely gifted child, he was schooled by his mother until age 10 and by age 14 he had spent many long hours in the Ballarat Mechanics Institute reading all the books on science. From age 10 to 14 he studied the flight of birds and developed his theory of flight and by 1878 his two papers on the subject were published by the Royal aeronautical Society of Great Britain. During his teenage years he invented the first continuous current dynamo, this was 3 years before Gramme. Other inventions followed including a torpedo. Henry was a gifted musician and composer and went on to study art at the Ballarat school of Design and enrolled as student at the Ballarat School of Mines.

By his 20’s Henry had constructed Australia’s first telephone and telephone system in his family’s music stores. He then went on to invent a light globe 16 days after Edison had announced his light globe. Other inventions quickly followed including various vacuum pumps, and many other inventions, which he donated, to the School of Mines. He also invented a lead acid battery which bought him world acclaim and on the strength of his fame was invited to become a lecturer at the Ballarat School of Mines. It was during this time that he came up with his idea of the Telephane, which was the first feasible television system. In later years he invented a combustion engine and carburettor system and made a number of Australia’s first cars. In 1903 Henry co-founded the RACV and was responsible for writing the motion that officially formed the club. Today the RACV has over 2 million members.

In 1908 Henry was once again honoured with world acclaim when he invented a new wireless system and made the world’s first portable radio, many of his wireless inventions were used by navies all over the world. Henry Sutton died in 1912 at the age of 56 of chronic nephritis and heart failure.

Henry Sutton

The Sutton’s Shield

Sutton’s House of Music made a major contribution to the music culture of Ballarat, both supplying the best and latest instruments and selling sheet music to further the love for playing and performing great tunes from the world’s greatest composers. For many years Sutton’s sponsored the Sutton’s Shield at the South Street Eisteddfod, held less than a block away at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Lydiard Street, with the last Sutton’s Shield presented in 1906.

Text and images supplied by: Lorayne Branch and Jarrod Watt

Images copyright by Lorayne Branch

For any further information regarding The Sutton Family please contact Lorayne Branch email: lorayne.branch@gmail.com