Have you ever stopped to appreciate the craftsmanship of a good quality umbrella? In Queensland where the weather is usually fine and sunny, most of us these days tend to wear hats to keep the sun off our heads which leaves our beloved umbrellas safely tucked away for those occasional – yet not uncommon – heavy rainfall seasons.
The Queensland Museum recently acquired this old umbrella which was manufactured in c. 1901 by Reid & Todd; a travel and leather goods store located in Glasgow, Scotland. It is an earlier example of what we today regard as a ‘modern day’ umbrella. Prior to the mid nineteenth century, ‘brollies’ were traditionally crafted from whalebone and/or wood, and silk was commonly used for the canopy. This resulted in them being a tad on the heavy side and somewhat delicate – probably a bit of a nuisance if you’re getting about in heavy rain all the time.
The clever design of the modern day umbrella frame is owed to Mr Samuel Fox who was an industrialist and steelworker from Sheffield, England. In 1851, he developed “U-shaped” stainless steel ribs which gave form to the famous ‘Paragon’ frame – that lovely rounded “U” shape we are all familiar with when we think of umbrellas. The design became superior to anything available on the market resulting in a unique, stronger and lighter umbrella. During the turn of the nineteenth century, Samuel Fox became the largest umbrella frame maker in the world.
This particular umbrella in the museum’s collection belonged to Mr George Randall who was Immigration Officer for the Queensland government from 1881 until 1902. Mr Randall frequently travelled abroad on long stints to Britain on recruiting campaigns with a view to attracting new settlers to the colony. He became very well known for his lectures which promoted Queensland. In 1901, towards the end of his career, he took up the position of Court Manager for the Queensland section of the Glasgow International Exhibition. The umbrella was either purchased or given to Mr Randall as a souvenir while he was in Glasgow for this momentous event. The umbrella is made of a wood stick, a rounded ivory handle and dons the famous ‘Paragon’ steel frame. It has a brass collar fixed to the stick with ‘Reid & Todd Glasgow’ engraved onto it. The ivory handle contains George Randall’s initials inscribed in black indicating the personal aspect of the object.
This umbrella is a great addition to the social history collection here at Queensland Museum. It allows us to explore the individual story of George Randall and to understand his contributions both personal and professional to building a colony of people who would come to work, live and love Queensland as he so did. George Randall was an avid lover of literature and took to poetry as a way of appealing to his fellow countrymen. In a pamphlet that he published titled The Emigrant: his Thoughts, Feelings and Aspirations, he writes in the very first verse:
I am going, I am going to a land beyond the sea,
And I ask my fellow-countrymen, “Will any follow me?”
I am going – not in search of gold, or buoyed by hopes of wealth,
But where maybe hard toil there’ll be, though toil that belongs to good health.
No fairy-dreams of fortune won to give luxurious ease,
No castles in the air are mine, I harbour none of these;
But what I long for is a home – my own, my own, and free –
And I feel that I shall gain it in in the land beyond the sea.
This poem which goes on for another seven pages demonstrates Randall’s enthusiasm and passion for newcomers to consider Queensland as their new home. The pamphlet is one of a small group of items held in the museum’s collection relating to George Randall. The other items include a business card for George Randall’s son, Richard Randall who was a painter, a black and white printed photographic portrait of George Randall taken by the world famous Lafayette Ltd. photographic studio, a copy of the ‘Scottish Trader’ Vol. V., No.34, September 21, 1901, Glasgow which was a registered Glasgow newspaper with a focus on grocery and allied trades, containing mostly advertisements for various foods as well as a feature article on page 11 about Queensland and it’s food products and a highlight on George Randall and his role as Manager of the Queensland Court at the Glasgow International Exhibition, 1901. Alongside these items are three small printed souvenir pictures showing exterior scenes of the Glasgow International Exhibition buildings and an official invitation to George Randall to attend the Reception of the same event.
Carmen Burton, Assistant Curator Queensland Stories