Kedron: A 19th-Century Hub for the ‘Skin Trade’

In the late 19th century, Kedron was a hub for tanneries, skin traders, and slaughter yards, which were clustered around it. Do you know what made the area so ideal for the ‘skin trade?’

Kedron’s tanneries played a pivotal role in shaping Queensland’s leather industry during the late 19th century.

Among the pioneering tanneries that emerged during this era were Gallagher’s Kedron Tannery and the Edinburgh Tannery.

Kedron Tanneries
Photo Credit: Kedron Tanneries Locations – Lost Brisbane/Facebook

Gallagher’s Kedron Tannery

Established in 1886 by Michael Joseph Gallagher, the Kedron Tannery quickly earned a reputation for producing high-quality leather products. Situated on the western side of Gympie Road and upstream from other tanneries along the creek, the success of this business reached nationwide recognition, thanks to Mr Gallagher’s business acumen and the effectiveness of his tanning methods.

Mr Gallagher’s efforts contributed significantly to the growth of Kedron as a thriving leather industry centre until its closure in the 1960s or two decades after he retired at 84 years old.

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Maggs Family’s Edinburgh Tannery 

In the same period, Paul Maggs and his family settled in the area, and in 1889, he founded the Edinburgh Tannery at the end of Nundah Street, adjacent to Kedron Creek.

The Edinburgh Tannery, like Gallagher’s, experienced remarkable success, becoming another well-known name in Australia’s leather trade. With its strategic location alongside the creek, the tannery benefited from easy access to water, a crucial resource for the tanning process.

Mr Maggs was a prominent figure in the tanning industry, and apart from the Edinburgh Tannery, he owned two other tanneries in the region. The Avondale Tannery, established in 1889, was the first of his ventures, but it was later sold in 1894. The larger Edinburgh Tannery, established in the same year as the Avondale Tannery’s sale, operated until 1904 before Mr Maggs embarked on a new venture.

In 1906, he built the Bristol Tannery downstream, which would ultimately become the last and largest of his three tanneries. The Bristol Tannery thrived under his ownership for six decades, leaving a significant mark on the history of the local leather industry. It became a prominent landmark along Kedron Creek and contributed to the economic prosperity of the region.

Tannery Placed Kedron on the Map

The region’s abundant water flow, particularly in the catchment area of Kedron Brook, provided an ideal environment for tanneries, skin traders, and slaughter yards to flourish. 

As the tanneries flourished, Kedron became the centre of the industry on the North Coast. At that time,tanneries were all running at full capacity, and their leather found its way to markets in the southern states, as inter-colonial barriers had been broken down.

Kedron’s tanners contributed substantially to the state’s economy through their importation of materials and their leather exports.

Inside the tanneries, powerful and efficient machinery aided in labour-saving processes. The supply of hides came from various locations across Queensland, amounting to tens of thousands of hides processed annually.

In addition to hides, there was also a substantial trade in sheepskins, with a high demand that the tanners struggled to keep up with. Kangaroo skins, on the other hand, were becoming scarcer each year, leading to a decrease in their trade.

The primary bark used for tanning came from the black and silver Wattle of South Australia, and tanneries imported significant quantities of it annually.

Kedron Tanneries
Photo Credit: State Library of Queensland

However, as the tanneries continued to prosper, concerns from local residents regarding pollution increased. This led to early legislation targeting the tannery trade in the area.

Despite the challenges posed by such regulations, the industry persisted, adapting to changing times and demands. Both Gallagher’s Kedron Tannery and Edinburgh Tannery continued to thrive in their respective locations.

As time passed, the tanning industry faced further transformations. In 1966, Johnsons & Sons of Chermside acquired Paul Maggs’ tanneries, including the Bristol Tannery, marking a new chapter in the tanning business.

The tanneries remained operational until 1973, when Johnsons & Sons made the decision to sell the properties for housing development. They relocated their operations to the northern outskirts of Brisbane, an area with a long-standing tradition of hosting the tanning industry.

Published 24-July-2023