Fremantle Stuff > people > Herbert Gilbert Baker 1876-1951

Herbert Baker


Herbert Baker, despite his name, had a large butchery on George, Hubble and Glyde Streets - where Glasson Park is now. After a disastrous fire there in 1933, Herb started another, much smaller business 'opposite' the site of the burnt business. Source doesn't state whether it was across George Street or across Hubble Street, but 44 Hubble St is thought to have been a butcher's shop, so perhaps it was there.

Family document

14th July, 1876 - 12 May, 1951

BAKER BROS - butchers - 1902-1933

Herbert Gilbert BAKER was born on the 14th July, 1876 at Two Wells, South Australia, the eldest son of John James BAKER and Mary Dorothy nee SMITH.

Herb, as he became known, had four sisters and three brothers. They had a farm out of Mallala and it was while travelling between Mallala and Two Wells in 1892 that his father was killed. As far as is known Herbert Gilbert remained on the farm until his mother's marriage to another Mallala farmer, Benjamin MARSHMAN, a widower with two daughters, in 1896.

No doubt the BAKER children would have seen quite a lot of their SMITH cousins who farmed at REEVES PLAINS, not far from TWO WELLS, and it is quite probable that when Herbert Gilbert decided to come to Western Australia he was accompanied, not only by his brothers Horace and Percival, but also by his cousin Joseph SMITH, all of whom were involved with him in the early days of his butchering business. The exact date of their arrival is not known, but would probably have been in the latter part of 1896.

1897 was a momentous year for Herbert Gilbert.

On 14th. July, 1897, his twenty-first birthday at Beaconsfield, Western Australia, he married Matilda Louisa FERRES, second eldest daughter of Frederick Alexander FERRES and Johanna Paulina Emilie nee MOM. Later that year a son, Gilbert Harold, was born but sadly died six days later.

It was also the year when we find the first official mention of his butchering business. An entry in the Post Office Directories for that year reads:

BAKER & FEIST - butcher, Hubble St., PLYMPTON

FEIST was the maiden name of Johanna Emilie's mother and an Augult [sic; August?] FEIST witnessed her marriage to Frederick Alexander in CLARE, South Australia in 1876. Augult arrived in South Australia some years after Johanna Emilie's family but it can be assumed that he was related in some way. He was a widower and as far as I know had no children but he must have thought a lot of Matilda Louisa because he travelled to Western Australia and witnessed her marriage to Herbert Gilbert. It is most likely that he would have helped finance the young couple's early business endeavours. Augult FEIST died in Perth on the 9th. January, 1900.

1899 saw the birth of their first daughter, Linda Mavis Dorothy and a change of name for the business in Hubble Street.

From 1899-1902, it was BAKER & SMITH.

During that time his cousin Joseph SMITH was working for him as his book-keeper. By then there were other members of his mother‘s family in Western Australia and whether they contributed financially to the business is not known.

After 1902 the business known as BAKER BROS. carried on at PLYMPTON and BUCKLAND HILL until 1904 when the following notice appeared in the Government Gazette, dated 7th. Oct,, 1904.

Notice is hereby given that the Partnership which has for sometime past been carried on by HERBERT GILBERT BAKER and PERCIVAL JOHN BAKER under the name of "BAKER BROS." at the corner of George and Hubble Streets, EAST FREMANTLE, on the Mandurah Road, at Beaconsfield, and on the Perth-Fremantle Road, at Cottesloe Beach, in the trade or business of Butchers, and at Brookton, in the said State, as farmers, was dissolved as from the thirtieth day of June last, by mutual consent. All debts will be paid and received by the said HERBERT GILBERT BAKER, who will continue to carry on the old business under the style of "BAKER BROTHERS". As witness our hands H.G. Baker P.J. Baker

By 1911, BAKER BROS. had expanded its butchering business with branches at 145 High Street, Fremantle, Mason Street (now Stirling Highway) Mosman Park, and Mandurah Road, Beaconsfield.

BAKER BROS butchering business was the first chain of retail outlets in the State and they also developed the first small goods wholesale business and was the forerunner of firms such as Gordons, Watsons and Johnstons.

By 1913 when they moved to 142 Canning Highway, EAST FREMANTLE, the family had grown with the birth of Maxwell John in 1900; Gladys Florence 1903; Gilbert Allan 1905; twins Gordon Leslie and Sylvia Pearl 1908 and in 1911 Elsie Winifred. In 1917 a son, Raymond Neil was born but died soon after birth.

In the early 1900s Herbert Gilbert had bought virgin land at Brookton, no doubt impressed by the undulating hills and rich pastures after the flat plains around Two Wells. In the Post Office Directories of 1904 he is listed as a farmer at Brookton and in 1907 as a fruit grower at Brookton.

In 1917 "Brookdale" was built and for many years the farm became a focal point, not only for the family, but also for their young visitors.

The noted West Australian historian and writer, Rica Erickson's late husband and his brother were frequent visitors to the house at Canning Highway and also at Brookton.

The following is an extract from a letter received from Mrs. Erickson in 1991.

Bert and Syd had become acquainted with the Bakers through the Glyde St., Church and on many occasions were among the young folk who gathered at the Baker's home of a weekend as well as for birthdays, etc., I think that Bert was occasionally a nuisance among the elder members of the Baker children during their courtships. Bert was an outrageous tease and prankster, but I gathered that Syd's quieter manners were much more appealing - and I think that he enjoyed more invitations to stay at the Brookton farm, which he always spoke of with great delight.

There was always a crowd there at holidays - and Mr. Baker made sure they were fully occupied during weekdays - either at helping with the hay carting or other chores at other times of the year. They rode horses to visit neighbours and one holiday they piled into car/truck? and went down to Pumphries Bridge for swimming and tennis - picnic style and high jinks - I think there was a near tragedy - a child of another party saved from drowning?

Syd helped with milking cows, feeding pigs, mustering sheep and picking fruit, etc. There was a sense of hard work and also a lot of good play after. The children had to earn their holidays.

I hope this few notes are of use. It's a pity my husband and his brother are not here to enjoy relating their own stories about the Bakers - they spoke of them often.

During this time another farm was also bought at Boyagin Valley.

These were good years for Baker Bros, with the establishment of ice works in conjunction with the butchering business in George Street, East Fremantle. Cattle were brought in from the farm at Brookton and run on land at Bicton known as Bakers Paddocks, and a slaughterhouse was built close to the river. After a hard week pulling butcher carts and ice-carts, the horses enjoyed a well-earned rest in the paddocks. Not all the horses were kept in Bakers Paddocks, some were housed in stables in George St., and some were kept in the old polo grounds - more recently known as Richmond Raceway.

The business also included a subsidiary organisation - Poultry Farmer Sales Ltd. They were also involved in the exporting of fruit and, during the 1st World War, troop-ships were serviced with meat transported in the business's own launch. Matilda Louisa BAKER died on the 17th. March, 1928 - a tragic loss not only for her husband and family but also for her many friends.

In 1932, Herbert Gilbert married Evelyn Lillian WRIGHT nee BROOKS, a widow with a young daughter Phyllis Noelle. The marriage was also blessed with two more daughters - Patricia Anne, 1933 and Yvonne Lisbeth, 1934.

Unfortunately by this time Herbert Gilbert's fortunes had started to decline. In the early 1930s during the depression, he was forced to sell both the Brookton farms and in 1933 a most devastating event occurred with caused the eventual end of Baker Bros.

At the beginning of February, 1933 began a week of intense heat. Monday, 6th. February, the maximum temperature reached 39.9c after temperatures of 36.7 and 38.8 the two previous days. Along with the temperature the newspaper reported that ice manufacturers had sold more than 200 tons of ice that day. Beer, ice cream and soft drinks were selling equally well.

On Tuesday, Perth sweltered in 44.3c - with temperatures over the century for eight hours - from just after 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. That night, with a temperature of 29.9c. at midnight, was the hottest in recorded history.

But there were other problems - Baker Bros. butchering and ice-making plant caught fire and was gutted. Damage was estimated at 20,000 pounds. Firemen had tried vainly to coax pressure from mains water reduced to almost a trickle by people using water to keep cool. Finally, but too late to save the building, fire authorities cut off domestic water from surrounding areas to increase the mains pressure.

In the West Australian on February 8th. a detailed report on the fire was given. See attached.

The optimism shown in the report in the interview with Herbert Gilbert was not realised. The business was never able to be re-established and in his later years he had to go back to the "chopping block" in a small shop in George St., opposite the site of the business he had worked so hard to establish.

Herbert Gilbert BAKER died on the 12th. May, 1951, at the age of 74 years.

The following newspaper notice from the Australian Master Butchers Asscn. (W.A. Division) shows the esteem with which he was regarded.


One of the most respected members of the butchering fraternity passed away on Saturday, May 12th. in the person of Mr. H.G. Baker.

"Herb" as he was known to most of his friends, was, in his younger days, one of the biggest men ever in the game. Many will remember his shop and factory in George St., East Fremantle, particularly during the first world war. Then came a disastrous fire that completely demolished the whole plant. Undaunted, Herb again commenced business on the opposite corner to his factory, and was very successful, selling out a few years ago to member E.H. Smith.

It would be safe in saying that more than half the present master butchers in and around Fremantle, at some time or other, worked and learned with Baker Bros.

To his relatives, the president and members of this Division extend their deepest sympathy.

The Division was represented at the funeral by Mr. W. Sweeney the State Treasurer and Mr. A. Wynn.

His wife Evelyn died in 1984.

Submitted by his grand-daughter Claire Jones (daughter of Gladys Baker) with love and sincere admiration for all he achieved.


West Australian Newspapers - dated 8th. February, 1933 - Page 9, Col. 1.

In a spectacular fire which destroyed the large butchering and ice-making plant of Baker Bros., at East Fremantle, late yesterday afternoon, damage estimated at £20,000 was caused within an hour. The fire brigades were handicapped by an inadequate supply of water, probably due to the unprecedented demand on the mains following the abnormal heat of the day. Many of the fire hoses could not be filled, and others delivered only small streams of water until Water Supply Department workmen cut off certain mains to increase the pressure.

Detonations of bursting oil drums which shot showers of sparks and burning material into the air, the temporary engulfing of surrounding premises under a pall of acrid black smoke, the destruction of a lofty condenser tower, which was converted into a mammoth torch, and the crashing of a 60ft. steel smoke stack above the engineroom, were features of the conflagration which was watched by big crowds.

The block occupied by Baker Bros. is bounded on three sides by Hubble Street, George Street, and Glyde Street, and is one block south of Canning Road in the business section of East Fremantle. The alarm was given about 5.25 p.m. when smoke was seen rising from behind the shop and office fronting George Street. A few of the employees were then on the premises. Flames quickly burst through the roof and the fire spread with incredible rapidity to other portions of the extensive buildings which had street frontages of several hundreds of feet. Other business premises occupied the remaining three corners at the intersection of George Street and Hubble Street, and as the hot wind, laden with sparks, was blowing towards the river, the outbreak threatened to assume dangerous proportions. Firemen from the Fremantle station were soon at work and, though long lines of hoses were run out, it was soon evident that the water pressure was insufficient for more than a couple of hoses. These were brought into play near the seat of the fire to check the onrush of the flames towards the offices and the shop. In that work the firemen had great success. It was realised that, once the fire broke out on the George Street frontage nothing could have saved the business and other premises on the opposite side of the narrow street. The area is a thickly populated one.

Petrol Tank Endangered.

The Fremantle detachment of firemen was augmented with crews from two other stations and efforts were concentrated on confining the flames to the premises occupied by Baker Bros. Stores of meat, fat, oil and other inflammable material fed the fire, which spread throughout the building. On the George Street frontage an underground tank containing petrol was surrounded by flames for some time, and the police kept back the spectators from the danger zone.

As the fire spread against the wind to private houses on the south, and to the firm's large stables, containing more than a dozen vehicles, on the west, the flame licked the base of the high wooden condenser tower, which was soon burning fiercely until it crashed about the guys of the smoke stack, which survived only another 15 minutes. Shouts of warning preceded the collapse of the stack, which toppled over on the red-hot base and crashed over portion of the office roof, leaving a few feet of the stack protruding over the George Street footpath. The engine room was in the centre of the inferno , and the hiss of escaping steam from the boiler was heard above the roar of the flames. Once the pressure of water was increased the firemen soon mastered the outbreak but, by that time , the whole block with the exception of the offices and portion of the firm's retail premises and stables, had been gutted.

Access to the burning storerooms and refrigerating chambers on the western end of the premises was gained over the roof of a dwelling, volunteers assisting the firemen to drag a hose into position. For a log time, however, the firemen were handicapped and could only project a stream of water three yards from the nozzle of the hose. When portion of the roof of the top storey collapsed into the backyard of the dwelling, one of the volunteers (Mr. R. Nelson), ran for safety in the nick of time, a charred beam striking him on one of his legs.

Incidents of the Outbreak.

Before the fire brigades had assembled their forces it seemed inevitable that the fire would spread. Westwards along George Street, the flames began to overwhelm a wood and iron shed occupied by the Poultry Farmers‘ Sales Ltd., subsidiary organisation of Baker Bros., and to threaten a brick residence occupied by Mr. Herbert Baker, one of the principals of the firm. Next door was the first of a block of two shops. To the southward only a narrow garden separated the flames from a wooden and asbestos residence, the first of a row of dwellings, mostly wooden, that stretched up Hubble Street. The horses and vehicles were lodged in a stable that had an exit to Glyde Street. This contained vehicles with wooden bodies and several tons of bailed hay.

Desperate efforts were made to save the brick residence fronting George Street. There were scores of volunteers to assist in the removal from the house of the furniture, which was piled in the street. At the same time another squad of volunteer workers, under the directions of employers of the firm, took the horses out of the stables and ran the vehicles out into the street. One man dashed into the flames to save a large motor truck. Only a trickle of water was being delivered at the end of the hose that was being directed on to the residence. On the footpath close to the house was a pump standing over a 200 gallon tank of petrol. There was a roar of an explosion from the heart of the fire, followed by an ominous hissing noise that grew in volume. Fearing that the petrol tank was about to explode the crowd became panic stricken and fled from the dangerous locality. Realising the danger of the stored petrol, the firemen concentrated on that spot and when the water pressure improved, soon had that section of the outbreak under control.

The vital point then became the western extremity of the stables. The fire had attacked the eastern portion of the stables and portion of the roof had collapsed. The flames roared through the shed and then it seemed that the fire would extend through to Glyde Street. Occupiers of houses in Glyde Street hastily carried their movable property into the street, but timely action by the firemen, by that time helped by a strong pressure of water drawn from a big main in Canning Road, forced the flames back. It was a quarter of an hour before the firemen made any impression on the roaring inferno within the shed, but once that section was under control, the danger of the fire's spreading was past.

Narrow Escapes.

About this time the long chimney stack fell with a resounding crash. Two firemen and three volunteer workers had a narrow escape. They were working in the path of the falling stack when they were warned of the danger by the screams of a woman. They rushed away from the spot, the end of the stack falling directly behind them. But for a brick parapet, one of the firemen must have been struck down.

The firemen received willing assistance from scores of volunteers, and everyone seemed eager to help the residents whose houses were endangered. One young man, at the height of the fire, exposed himself to danger by climbing up to the roof of a residence in George Street to rescue a cat that seemed petrified with fright. Another youth dashed into a pall of black smoke and emerged with a cockatoo that was screaming with terror. There was a mild cheer for the youth, but it changed to laughter when the cockatoo, set down at a safe distance from the fire, called out loudly, "Cocky wants a drink".

Firemen's Efforts.

The first information of the outbreak was received at the Fremantle Fire Station at 5.25 p.m. from a telephone call and from two street alarms. District Officer W. Flynn and Station Officer Turnbull turned out with two crews and the North Fremantle and the Central Fire Station were notified. Mr. Flynn commanded the crews until the arrival of Acting Chief Officer A.J. Connolly with the Perth detachment.

"When I arrived there," said Mr. Flynn, "the back portion of the building was well alight and I realised that my main object would be to save the main administrative block at the corner of Hubble and George Streets. A line of hose was run from a plug in Hubble Street, another from George Street and a third from the 8 inch main in East Street.

One of the hoses was used to attack the fire from the Hubble Street side, the second was used in George Street, where a petrol pump was threatened and the third in Glyde Street, where the stables were situated. When the Perth crew arrived the 8 inch main in Canning Road was tapped and, with the extra pressure, the fire at the rear of the building was attacked. At this time there were four hoses playing on the fire and the blaze was quelled to such an extent that men could enter the offices and salvage a few articles. The surrounding houses were safe by this time, although one in George Street was damaged by water and falling iron.

Discussing the water pressure, Mr. Flynn said that good pressures were obtained from the East Street and Canning Road mains, but they were 1,000 ft. away and required that length of hose. The pressure from the mains in George, Hubble and Glyde Streets were poor. In all, 4,300 ft. of hose were used by the four crews.

A detail from the Fremantle brigade kept watch over the smouldering ruins through the night.

Mr. H.G. Baker interviewed.

Mr. H.G. Baker, a principal of the firm of Baker Bros., estimated the damage at between £15,000 and £20,000. He said the damage was not fully covered by insurance, the bulk of which was with Bennie S. Cohen and Son (W.A.) Ltd., the local representative of Lloyds. He would not be able to ascertain until he had made an inspection what account books and documents had been lost. Those books were usually kept in the strong-room, which was fireproof, but he was not sure what books were in his private office when the fire broke out. Approximately 30 tons of meat, and a quantity of grapes awaiting export which had been in the refrigerators had been lost, together with 200 tons of stored ice and a quantity of ammonia. Most of the vehicles belonging to the firm had been on the road, and those that were in the stables had been saved by the prompt action of the employees who were on the premises at the time. The horses had all been removed from the stables as soon as it was apparent that the flames were out of hand.

Questioned as to the cause of the out-break, Mr. Baker said that he had been informed by his men that the fire had started in the engine room and that they had given it as their opinion that the engine had back-fired and ignited some oil. A son, Mr. H. Baker, said that he had noticed a fire in the engine room, had rushed to telephone the fire brigade, and had returned to find the room a mass of flames and the fire spreading rapidly.

Mr. Baker paid a tribute to the work of his employees in saving what they could from the flames. He said that there were about 40 men in his employ, but the majority of them were delivering ice, and only about 10 were on the premises. Headed by Mr. H. Baker they saved what papers they could from the front office before the heat of the flames became too great to approach the building. As soon as the flames were under control they entered the retail portion of the building to remove furniture and office fittings untouched by the fire. He added that he hoped that ice would be delivered by his firm as usual today, and that his wholesale butchering business would be operating within a few days.

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Typed document courtesy of family members

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