Who: George Arthur Bayard (1866–1933) was a drapery salesman who became a prominent businessman, creating the Bayards department store chain. In his later years, he was member of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce and Queensland Chamber of Manufacturers, and at one stage, a Stephens Shire Councillor. His four sons were all involved in running the business, and took the reins of Bayards after George Bayard died in the 1930s. They passed on the responsibilities to the next generation of Bayards, with three grandsons of George Bayard carrying on the business up until it closed.
What: Like many department stores of its time, Bayards started as a combined drapers, tailors, milliners, and dressmakers. By the early 20th century, they had expanded into clothing manufacture, footwear and soft furnishings. With a strong metropolitan and regional foundation, Bayards grew into an expansive family-run department store that gave interstate competition a run for their money right up until the 1980s—surpassing the legacy of many Queensland family retailers.
Where: Bayards had a central business in Brisbane, but like most department stores in late-19th century Queensland, they knew that regional infiltration was key to their success. Bayards set about dominating the regions with great fervour, capturing custom in small and large towns—north, south, east and west—through a number of branch stores and extensive regional sales reps on horse-drawn buggies, armed with samples, and later, stock. Bayards branches existed as far and wide as Roma, Taroom, St George, Kingaroy, Murgon, Toogoolawah, and Lowood.
Though George Bayard had a wandering eye for state-wide business opportunities, he was loyal to the retail precinct of South Brisbane and helped to rebuild it as a centre of trade after it was devastated by floods in 1893. It was there he established ‘Bayard’s Corner’ at the prominent intersection of Melbourne and Grey Streets. The ‘Bayard’s Corner’ concept was replicated in Nambour decades later.
The 20th century saw the flagship Brisbane store relocate to Queen Street, as well as substantial new Bayards stores at Ipswich and Maryborough, and a string of suburban outlets around Brisbane.
Why: George Arthur Bayard started in a typical manner for a Queensland draper, working in sales for prominent local businesses. Arriving in Brisbane from Victoria as a young man in 1887, Bayard took up work as a salesman for M. D. Pigott & T. C. Beirne in their South Brisbane drapery, ‘Pigott & Beirne’. After Pigott & Beirne dissolved their partnership in 1891, Bayard followed Pigott into his next South Brisbane business. Floods badly damaged South Brisbane trade in 1893, causing Pigott to move into the flourishing retail precinct of Fortitude Valley, but by this time Bayard had ventured out on his own. In partnership with E. Harris, he established the ‘Harris & Bayard’ drapery firm in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane. They managed to endure the impact of the floods for a time, but ended the partnership in 1894. Harris went on to establish his own successful store in Rockhampton, while Bayard set up west of Brisbane in the rural town of Roma.
Most accounts of what happened next have Bayard abandoning Roma shortly thereafter to return to trade in South Brisbane, but it appears as though he may actually have traded in both locations simultaneously, with possibly a third branch at St George. Advertising suggests his Melbourne Street, South Brisbane business opens in 1898 at the latest. In 1899, George Bayard went into partnership with John Robert Bayard and Thomas Douglas Wright. The latter two had been clerks in Bayard’s stores. The arrangement didn’t seem entirely equitable, with the partnership agreement giving all control over buying goods and hiring to George Arthur Bayard. Wright managed and later bought the Roma business, and eventually John Bayard moved to Melbourne to start his own manufacturing business.
In 1903, Bayards promoted their new South Brisbane building, which featured inviting display windows, and a focus on womenswear: “The ladies’ showroom contains a tasty display of ladies’ and children’s summer goods, fancy umbrellas and all the other charming et ceteras that contribute to the comfort and adornment of the fair sex”.1
The next key moment of business expansion occurred in 1925, when Bayards became registered as a limited company. After twelve months of negotiation and one of the biggest cash transactions in Ipswich’s history, a large new branch was opened in Ipswich, taking up the premises, staff, and stock of a prominent local draper. It was a match for the scale of the Brisbane store. Women’s fashion was an important part of the store’s new identity, and it hosted fashion parades showing the latest styles from Paris and London, paraded by models from Melbourne. Their adverts assured the modern women of Ipswich that flappers were catered for.
In this decade, Bayards advertising boasted that 90% of their stock was purchased direct from Queensland factories. However, the company’s purchase books don’t necessarily support this claim. Or at least, the books show that manufacturers supplying the pretty printed cotton and rayon fabrics sold and used by Bayards were both locally sourced and imported, primarily from Manchester, the English city once known as ‘Cottonopolis’.
Indeed, the books represent the last gasp of Manchester’s reign as the international centre of textiles manufacture and cotton milling. Overseas imports were so frequent that Bayards contracted W. H. Milsted & Son Ltd (softgoods buyers and shippers) to act as buying agents in London. Bayards also purchased a great deal from Brisbane agents and distributors for larger English or Australian companies.
The connection to the south side of the river was dropped after George Bayard died in 1933. Eldest son Harry, who had started working for the company in 1907 at the Roma branch, was put in charge as managing director. Shortly thereafter, he purchased prime property in Queen Street in 1934. Here, he set up a new company, Hartleys Pty Ltd (managed by his brother Reginald Bayard), to construct a modern four-storey development, ‘Hartleys’ Buildings’, on the site. Prompted by the need for growth and an even more central location, Bayards made the big move into the newly built Queen Street store in 1939. It would become another landmark store seen in postcards of Brisbane.
The onset of World War II created great difficulties in obtaining overseas goods. In 1942, their London agents signalled a struggle to fulfil Bayard’s purchase orders, and informed that the “cotton position, as previously reported, is getting hopeless”. Order slips from a variety of manufacturers were riddled with disclaimers that goods were subject to change in price and quality. Some indicated the Commonwealth Price Commissioner’s approved maximum retail prices on fabrics and haberdashery.
Import issues weren’t the only difficulty Bayards faced during this period. The entire fleet of Bayards’ trucks went into WWII service, and coupled with stock shortages and pricing controls, the regional branches at Kingaroy, Murgon, and Lowood became unsustainable and were promptly closed. Immediately after the war, another regional branch, at Toogoolawah, was sold.
Though it took a while to recover from the upheaval of war, Bayards set about rebuilding its empire. In 1957, they opened a new store at the bayside Brisbane suburb of Wynnum, which had been relatively untapped for modern retail. In 1962, it relocated to a new building (the first air-conditioned building in Wynnum) on an adjoining block, reportedly modelled on the latest in Sydney retailing layouts.
By the early 1960s, Bayards had six stores, totalling a staff of 240: Brisbane, Wynnum, Sandgate, Maryborough, Ipswich, and Nambour. They were overseen by three Bayards cousins, all grandsons of George Arthur, with Jack Bayard as managing director. Their reputation as family-owned was important, and probably made the expansion of their franchise more palatable than that of their interstate rivals.
In 1967, Westfield, a growing Sydney-based retail developer that had its sights set on Queensland as part of its interstate strategy, opened a new drive-in shopping centre in the outer Brisbane suburb of Toombul. It was direct competition for the very successful drive-in shopping centre at Chermside—originally developed by Allan & Stark, but at this time owned by Myer Emporium. However, Toombul’s close proximity to the flourishing Chermside Shopping Centre made it difficult to choose a department store that could withstand competition from Chermside’s Myer. Bayards was selected to share the bill of department store anchor with Barry & Roberts. Ultimately, the Queensland-owned Bayards only lasted there until the early 1970s, making way for interstate rival, David Jones, to open at Toombul in 1972.
Less than a decade after the short-lived Toombul store had closed, Bayards’ major Queen Street store closed in 1981. It had been purchased by developers, Kern Corporation, who at the time claimed it wasn’t part of their proposed Wintergarden redevelopment. Ultimately, it was. Commenting on the closure of the long-running Queen Street Bayards store, the Shop Assistants Union surmised that it was another example of Queensland having too many retail outlets. Following the loss of the iconic Brisbane store, Bayards focussed on its suburban and regional branches in Wynnum and Sandgate (supplied by a warehouse at Spring Hill), and Ipswich and Nambour.
Despite having four strong stores, the closure of the Brisbane store effectively signalled the end of Bayards. After close to nine decades (though not ninety-nine years as was reported in some newspapers), and three generations as a family business, in 1982 the doors closed on all of the remaining Bayards stores. Principal Jack Bayard commented that although Bayards was still a profitable company, “business had become too frustrating”.2 Perhaps the frustration lay in the fact that the traditional, straightforward practice of retail that the Bayards had known so well had been lost in the rise of 1980s corporate culture.
- 1893 ‘Shop Early.’, Worker (Brisbane, Qld. : 1890 – 1955), 16 December, p. 3, viewed 28 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70861943
- 1894 ‘Advertising.’, Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld. : 1875 – 1948), 28 April, p. 3, viewed 28 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97526785
- 1898 – 1982. Bayards Pty Ltd Records [and] H.G. Bayard Papers (R 184). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- 1899 ‘Christmastide in Roma.’, Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld. : 1875 – 1948), 23 December, p. 3, viewed 28 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97490538
- 1905 ‘Advertising.’, Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld. : 1875 – 1948), 7 January, p. 3, viewed 28 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97406166
- 1925 ‘BAYARDS LTD.’, Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 20 March, p. 6 Edition: DAILY., viewed 28 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121947412
- 1927 ‘SEASON’S FASHIONS.’, Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 7 April, p. 11 Edition: DAILY., viewed 22 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article117011458
- 1929 ‘Bayards’ Limited.’, Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 11 May, p. 19 Edition: DAILY., viewed 22 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118472558
- 1929 ‘BAYARDS’ SHOWING.’, Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 21 March, p. 6 Edition: DAILY., viewed 22 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118467329
- 1933 ‘Mr. G. A. Bayard.’, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 28 August, p. 24, viewed 22 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1112497
- 1933 ‘Classified Advertising.’, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 23 September, p. 23, viewed 28 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112252
- 1946 ‘MR. J. R. BAYARD DEAD.’, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 5 November, p. 5, viewed 28 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49360412