Fremantle Stuff > Arthur Head > See also the powerhouse.

The Box Factory


Poised right on the shore end of the south mole of the Fremantle Harbor is the old, discarded power station of the Tramway Board—a fine, imposing-looking building, even now, though for years placed in the discard for its original purpose by sound economic reasons. The chimney stack no longer belches forth the volumes of smoke that indicated the progress of industry within. Yet industry there is, and that of a most encouraging and heartening kind in the commodious premises from which used to emanate the current generated for the light and power services of the town and suburbs. It is now the manufacturing centre of a concern started in a small way in a much smaller building only about eight years ago—the Fremantle Safety Box Factory.

It was in 1921 that Messrs. M. J. and F. Simper—names already boldly writ in the primary and secondary development of Fremantle and district—adventured on this undertaking. With Mr. F. Simper as manager a start was made by the firm in box and case making in a workshop in Essex-street, where the full working complement was but four hands. From this modest beginning the development has been so rapid that the present factory represents the third home of the industry—first from Essex-street, thence to a site in Beach-street adjoining the railway line, to its present most excellent position, with railway siding to the doors and the wharf at hand. The position is ideal.
When the Messrs. Simper took over the old power house it was in a parlous condition of neglect, if not a menace to the town as a refuge for undesirables. It is four and a half years since operations were transferred to these commodious quarters, and that the bold move was amply justified is fully demonstrated by the fact that even now there is no room to spare in the building and the rate of progress indicates the likelihood of further extensions at no very remote date.
Mr. R. H. Ellis, the foreman of the factory, is the original inventor of the safety box which is one of the exclusive products of tills firm. Mr. Ellis has for his lieutenant Mr. W. Pearce (for many years chairman of the Fremantle Roads Board), whose benign influence among the workmen is manifested by the good fellowship and helpful co-ordination existing among the employees of the factory.
The Ellis patent receptacle is used extensively throughout the State. Its outstanding advantages have already been widely recognised in the East and overseas, as is daily demonstrated by the demands being made for it from all quarters. The box is so constructed that it may be safely described as pillage-proof, for any attempt upon it at ullage would be impossible to disguise. Yet this is but one line in the factory's output, though a great and growing one. The firm's patent butter boxes and cases of every description are turned out there. The output to date totals the stout figure of half-a-million. Testimonials received by the firm on the merits of their manufactures are so numerous as to fill up a weighty pamphlet, for almost without exception first users of the goods are prompt in expressing their satisfaction, unsolicited, quite.
The products of the factory are principally used in the package of fruit, eggs, liquors, potatoes, onions, and all kinds of merchandise and articles demanding careful transport. Thirty-five thousand patent butter boxes were manufactured at the works last season and railed from the siding there to the factories at Bunbury, Busselton, Manjimup, Northam, Albany and Perth. The rapid growth of the dairying industry in this State carries with it immense possibilities for this one alone of Messrs. Simpers' enterprises in this State. How great may this development be is to some degree indicated by the fact that tor next season, the firm has already in hand an order for 45,000 boxes from one butter company alone, and conservatively estimate the output in this one line for next season at 60,000 boxes, all having the firm's patent features.
The firm employs a considerable number of hands, and a visit to the factory discloses a veritable hive of industry. Pile upon pile of neatly stacked white wood of all descriptions—mostly Baltic—reaches right up to the lofty roof. Though informed that the present is by no means the busy period of the year, yet there were many men and youths proceeding with allotted tasks in a cheerful, buoyant, manner indicative of their interest in their work and contentment, with the conditions under which they labor—wages based on liberal awards and conditions that seem almost ideal.
This particular Fremantle industry, as has been attempted to show, it one of the most promising now operating in Western Australia, and taking into consideration its co-relation to the export trade of primary products is one that is bound to expand in greater ratio than any other secondary industry we can at the moment call to mind. All the factors to success are in the first place basic. In the second place one at least of the products of the firm for which there is an ever-increasing demand is covered by patent rights. Thirdly, the Messrs. Simper are men of substance, high commercial character and business foresight, men who are pioneers of industry whose record in industrial as well as primary development in this State stamps them well and truly as captains of industry indeed.
The Safety Box Factory, therefore, may safely be regarded as one of the greatest avenues for the future employment of our people provided by any one private commercial undertaking in the district. Persons interested in the export trade of the State would find it a great and heartening lesson were they to pay a visit to this factory. The view from the factory site alone will be found reward sufficient, and the working of the wonderful plant within a stimulating experience and a guide to future planning.

West Australian, Saturday 15 July 1939, p. 19:


Large Chimney Cracked. A few moments of panic occurred about 11.45 a.m. yesterday at the Safety Box Factory near the South Mole, Fremantle, when there was a loud explosion in the main incinerator, which is surmounted by a massive brick chimney, about 100 feet in height. Flame and dust were forced out of the incinerator door and out of the chimney, the top of which was split by the explosion for a considerable distance, causing bricks to fall on to adjoining buildings. No one was in jured, although several workmen had narrow escapes from the falling bricks. People in the district were startled by the noise. It is not known what caused the explosion, but it is thought that it was due to the ignition of an accumulation of gases from the burning sawdust. The factory is managed by Messrs. H. J. and F. Simper, Ltd., and it is understood that a similar explosion occurred about two months ago, when two workmen received burns and were taken to hospital. West Australian, Saturday 15 July 1939, p. 19.

A previous box factory in Ellen Street had burnt down in 1916:


At 11.40 a,m. to-day the Fremantle Fire Brigade received a call to a fire whlch had broken out in the box making factory situated in Ellen-street, Fremantle, and occupied by a man named Roy Collins. A hose cart and curricle with 11 men was promptly turned out, and on arrival on the scene it was found that the premises were well alight. The building was owned by George Leake, and was totally destroyed, but it is not yet known If it was insured. The contents which were severely damaged were partly covered by insurance in the West Australian Insurance Co. The brigade were hampered by the poor water supply and their efforts had to be confined to preventing the flames from spreading, and in this they were successful. The origin of the outbreak is unknown. Daily News, Wednesday 5 January 1916, p. 8.

References and Links

Daily News, Wednesday 5 January 1916, p. 8.

Fremantle Advocate, Thursday 4 April 1929, p. 2.

West Australian, Saturday 15 July 1939, p. 19.

Image: AWM 028714.

Garry Gillard | New: 25 June, 2020 | Now: 27 June, 2020