When George Melville Milne died at West Maitland, New South Wales, a fortnight before Christmas in 1889, the local newspaper had little to say about his current circumstances or his past life. It was mentioned that he had died suddenly of a heart attack, that he was the active partner in the local brewing company, and that he had lived in Maitland for some years.
The revelation that he had formerly been a resident of Melbourne was the only clue to his brewing career before and beyond its most recent episode at Maitland. Whether this indicated a lack of interest in the deceased, or a lack of knowledge, is not known; he may have been a private man, preferring to keep his remarkable past to himself.
Milne had come to Maitland in 1879 as the managing partner of G. M. Milne and Co., the new owners of the Maitland Brewery.
The partnership included Henry John Adams, of Maitland, and Thomas Morrow, a Bendigo stock and station agent and auctioneer, in addition to Milne. The reasons for Milne’s interest in the Maitland Brewery are not known precisely, although they are undoubtedly related to the fact that the young, insolvent, previous owner of the brewery, John Milne (born 1855), was his nephew.
Milne’s greatest contribution to the Maitland Brewery during his ten years in charge was to oversee its relocation from near the Belmore Bridge where it had been started in 1875, to larger premises—the former Northumberland flour mill—higher up the main street, in 1887. The capacity of the new brewery was vastly greater, an ice-making department was added to allow the beer to be kept cool in hot weather, and the taller building allowed the gravitation scheme to be adopted for more efficient brewing.
Sadly, Milne did not live long enough to witness the full benefits of these changes.
In 1890, after George’s death, the brewing business of G. M. Milne and Co. was reformed, and became known as the Maitland Brewing Company. The new firm comprised Adams, one of the original partners, and newcomer Arthur Wall. Wall, who had married Milne’s only daughter at Maitland in 1882, became the managing partner in place of his father-in-law. Morrow, the other of the original partners, retired. He later married Milne’s widow, in Sydney in 1893.
Resuming the story at the beginning, George Melville Milne was born in Glasgow, Scotland, probably in 1829, the son of William Milne, a merchant. He came to Adelaide as a young man, probably in 1850, and worked briefly in a wine and spirit business in which his elder brother, William, was a partner. William was an early settler in South Australia, having arrived on the barque Palmyra in 1839, only three years after the colony had been proclaimed.
George moved to the new colony of Victoria in 1852 and started his own business as a wine merchant in Flinders Lane, Melbourne. For a brief time he also operated from the same premises as a gold agent, in association with his brother’s firm, Disher and Milne, in Adelaide. He became insolvent in 1854, and after his discharge moved to Ballarat, where he restarted in the wine and spirit trade. He soon returned to Melbourne, where in August 1859 he married Helen Irene Turnley West, the daughter of a merchant in Bristol, England. Their only child, a daughter, was born in 1860.
Insolvency stalled Milne’s career again in the early 1860s, but in 1865 he formed a partnership with Edward Latham and bought the Carlton Brewery in Bouverie Street from the estate of John Bellman. Bellman, who had previously owned the Wharf Brewery in Flinders Street West, had relocated his business from there to the newer Carlton Brewery early in 1865, but had failed to make a success of it.
Milne worked for Bellman as an accountant at the Wharf Brewery before its closure, and moved with Bellman to the new premises. Latham, who arrived in Melbourne from England early in 1863, went to Hobart after about a year. He married there in February 1865, but returned to Melbourne later the same year. He seems to have worked briefly for Bellman at the Carlton Brewery in 1864. Both he and Milne, therefore, had first-hand knowledge of the business before buying it.
Milne and Latham ran the Carlton Brewery successfully together for several years, first as The Carlton Brewery Company, and subsequently as Edward Latham and Co. They employed an experienced and astute brewer in Alfred Terry, and it was largely through Terry’s skill that Edward Latham and Co. were awarded the first prize for bulk ale at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition in 1867. The firm was similarly awarded at the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition in 1870.
The partnership between Latham and Milne was dissolved in 1871, after which the Carlton Brewery was run by Latham alone. The reason for the dissolution is not known, but it may have been family-related rather than business-related. Milne’s wife and eleven-year-old daughter had departed from Melbourne for London in February 1871 on the magnificent new Glasgow-built iron steamship Queen of the Thames. When near the Cape of Good Hope in March, the vessel struck a reef and was completely wrecked. All the passengers were landed safely, and were soon conveyed to Cape Town, where they were provided with alternative passage to England.
News of the wreck reached Melbourne early in June, Milne withdrew from the Carlton Brewery partnership in September, and in February 1872 he left for England to join his wife and daughter. After a sojourn of about two years, the Milne family left London in January 1874 on another new Clyde-built steamship, Cyphrenes, disembarking in Adelaide in March.
Little has yet been discovered about Milne’s activities from the time of his return to the colonies in 1874 until his move to Maitland. Presumably he spent some time in South Australia with his brother, William, who was a man of considerable influence and social standing in that colony. After more than a decade as a member of the House of Assembly, William was elected to the Legislative Council in 1869, and was knighted for his services to South Australia in 1876. It was Sir William’s son, and George’s nephew, John Milne, who had gone to Maitland in 1876 to conduct the brewery that George rescued so effectively in 1879.