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William Froomes, Draper, Castlemaine

By Museums Victoria    |   Tuesday, 26 January 2021

William Froomes was born at the George Inn, Hounslow, England. His father was the innkeeper, and he kept change horses for the royal coach as it travelled between London and Windsor. William was apprenticed to Mr Bartholomew Calaway, a London draper, and after completing his indenture he migrated to South Australia and found work at the copper mining town of Burra Burra in the employ of Mr. Carrington Smedley. After the discovery of gold at Forest Creek (Castlemaine) his employer sent him to the new diggings via Port Fairy, with a load of goods to sell.

William Froomes - Draper

He established a business in a canvas and iron structure at the corner of Barker and Mostyn Streets, one of the corners of the Market Square. In 1853 Froomes purchased the business and the land from his employer, and made substantial improvements to them over the years. He was joined in Castlemaine by his parents and siblings after the railway made the privilege of keeping horses for royal coaches a redundant occupation (Gardner). William Senior is listed in a number of Castlemaine directories as the owner of a Boot and Shoe Dealer next door to his son's Drapery store in Market Square.

An 1861 advertisement in The Mount Alexander Mail gives a good indication of the range of Froomes' stock, and the discounted prices for his clearing out the winter stock sale. He advertised items ranging through both men's and women's clothing, but not surprisingly (given his father's business), excluding boots and shoes.

In 1865 William Junior's failing eyesight led him to take his brother Henry into partnership while he went to England to seek treatment. The Castlemaine directory for that year held by the State Library of Victoria lists the firm as W. & H. Froomes, Drapers, Market Square. The treatment was not successful and he lost his sight completely before he returned to Australia. On his return he sold the business to his brother and a partner, Mr Walters, who then traded under the name H. Froomes & Co. (Gardner). The business continued in the hands of a John McKenna and then Robinson and Halford before being wound up, sometime before 1910. In that year W. Froomes' son, A.W. Froomes, was a draper in Mansfield.

Arriving as he did, so early in the life of the town, and enjoying such success, it is not surprising that William was very active in the community. He was a member of the Roads Board between 1857 and 1862, including three terms as Chairman; a director of the Gas Company; a trustee of the Campbell Creek Cemetery; and an officer in the Castlemaine Greys volunteer force. In 1863 he was a member of the twenty-two man Australian squad that played Cricket against the first All-England team to tour Australia. He was joined in this team by two of the Butterworth brothers, Tom and Ben, who were partners in T. Butterworth & Co.'s Grocery, 1 Forest Street (where it meets Market Square), Castlemaine.

Mr. Froomes died in East Melbourne in 1873 and was buried in Campbell's Creek Cemetery, Castlemaine. He was survived by his widow (his second marriage), three daughters and a son. Today his influence in early Castlemaine is remembered by Froomes Road.

His token was one of the very large number struck by Thomas Stokes in 1862 and bears the details of his store on the obverse, with the Australian Arms on the reverse, along with the motto 'Advance Victoria'.

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