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Hordern family behind largest department store worldwide

The name Hordern in Australia is synonymous with retail and department stores. The first of the family to arrive on our shores was Anthony Hordern, who came from a banking family in Staffordshire, England in 1788.


By 1823 he and wife Anna (nee Woodhead) and their four children had arrived in Sydney where he set up a 'coachmaker, wheelwright and smith' business while his wife opened a drapery shop called Mrs Hordern's at 12 King Street. By 1839 he had bought land in Melbourne and moved there, later dying in 1869. He was survived by his four sons and two daughters.


Inside Anthony Hordern & Sons retail store. Courtesy State Library of NSW


His son Anthony Hordern Junior, born in London in 1819, followed in his mother's footsteps by returning to Sydney and opening a drapery. He speculated in city real estate and in 1869 won Phillip ward in the city council. He died at Sydney in 1876 and was buried at Rookwood cemetery, survived by two sons and two daughters. His two sons Anthony and Samuel went into partnership, establishing Anthony Hordern & Sons, where they 'fairly ruled the retail trade of the metropolis and the colony in general' for the next 30 years.


Their logo was a mature oak tree with the motto "While I live, I'll grow." And grow they did, becoming the largest department store in the world. The brothers continued to expand their business by opening the Palace Warehouse and the Palace Emporium in the Haymarket in 1879. By the early 1880s the business had gone international with offices in Britain, Europe, America and China.


When Anthony died at sea from a brain fever in 1886, Samuel paid £158,252 for his brother's share in the business, becoming the sole proprietor of Anthony Hordern & Sons. A fire destroyed the Haymarket complex in 1901, but Samuel leased the Exhibition building and opened the next day. By 1905 he had new premises at Brickfield Hill.


Anthony Hordern & Sons at Brickfield Hill. Courtesy State Library of NSW.


At his death in 1909, he was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood Cemetery with a grand headstone of four columns surrounding his grave. His estate was worth £2,925,925 and his eldest son Samuel, later Sir Samuel Hordern, became governing director of Anthony Hordern & Sons when it was made a private company in 1912.


By the 1960s the heyday of Horderns was waning and making annual losses rather than profits. After being taken over by Waltons, the Brickfield Hill site was sold off and eventually the building was demolished to make way for the World Square development.


Samuel Hordern's grave in Rookwood cemetery. Courtesy Findagrave


References

  • Ruth Teale, 'Hordern, Anthony (1819–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hordern-anthony-3796/text6009, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 11 February 2023.

  • 'Anthony Hordern & Sons', Wikipedia, accessed 11th February, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Hordern_%26_Sons

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