Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

William Lipscombe - Maitland Apothecary

West Maitland - The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser 2 May 1906
High St. West Maitland in 1906 showing location of Lipscomb's Chemist Shop

William Lipscomb arrived in Australia in the 1830's. After working in Sydney, he moved to the Maitland area in 1834. He married Caroline, the daughter of Benjamin Pitt Griffin in 1838. A son William was born in 1839 and another, Benjamin in 1841. Their daughter Winifred Jane was born in 1843, Rose in 1846, Mary Louisa in 1848 and Walter in 1851.

Maitland Steam Navigation Company

William Lipscomb was Provisional Director of the Maitland Steam Navigation Company in 1840 and as well as being on many committees in the township of Maitland, contributed to nearly every fund raising effort including subscriptions for repairing the bridge, dredging the river, the Irish and Scottish Relief Fund, Testimonial for Rev. William Stack, Testimonial for Caroline Chisholm, Presbyterian Church and School House and Fire Engine for West Maitland.

Financial Difficulties

He was in financial difficulties in 1841, and the trustees of his estate, in consequence of the number of outstanding debts, many extending over a period of two years, resolved to sue immediately all persons whose accounts were overdue unless paid immediately.

Circulating Library

In October 1843 his business was located next door to Mr. Cashmore's Wine and Spirit store in West Maitland and about this time it was decided to open a circulating library and reading room to supply standard and recently published works, British and Australian periodicals etc. (Maitland's first?) William hoped to obtain 100 subscribers each to pay £1 per annum for the circulating library; 10/- per annum for the reading room or £1/5/- for the circulating library and reading room. From Sydney he purchased reading material and in August 1844 added 200 volumes to the collection including Guy Fawkes, The Playfair Papers, Charles Chesterfield and the Memoirs of Liet. John Shipp. The library was managed by William's younger brother Benjamin Lipscomb.

In 1845 the Library was situated in High Street West Maitland next door to Solomon Cohen's stores, was described as splendid and extensive. On 11th January 1845 William's brother Benjamin died after a short illness. He was twenty years old and was buried in the Glebe Cemetery, East Maitland.


Readers of the newspapers were kept amused by William's attention grabbing advertisements. When residents felt the pinch of the depression in the 1840's, the following advertisement was placed in the Maitland Mercury:

'To Peripatetic Philosophers - Having noticed that many persons from a laudable feeling of economy, have ceased riding, it occurred to the undersigned that a few Walking sticks would be a good speculation, therefore purchased a parcel in Sydney, which he has now on Sale, at his Book Shop; from 1/6d to 2/6d each'

and to advertise his Ginger Beer:

'Ginger Beer, OR THE Moral and Domestic Champagne Powders, Under the Patronage of the Ladies, the Presidents, Vice Presidents and Secretaries of the Hunter River Teetotal Societies. In Packages containing one dozen Powders. Price 1/-

Closure of the Library

Following the death of his brother Benjamin, he closed the Library :

'Death from Consumption,
Brought on by ill usage and want of proper nourishment -
W. Lipscomb's Circulating Library
THE remains of the deceased, consisting of 800 Volumes, are now for sale at reduced prices

In the following edition he advertised over 100 books including political, historical and scientific works, British essayists, standard novels, Lardner's Cyclopedia, and classical works. He still sold some books however as he advertised The Australian Medical Journal, newly published, for 2/- in 1846.


He was often called on to make speeches at town meetings and dinners. He delivered a speech at the St. John's Total Abstinence Society tea party in 1845. Members had formed themselves into a procession with school children, band and members marching to Wallis's Creek Bridge and then to the Long Bridge returning to the Temple of Concord. William Lipscomb joined 300 other townsfolk at the meeting before giving his speech to the assembled crowd.

William Lipscomb was on the committee of the Agricultural Society and a judge in the wine section of the 2nd Show held in Maitland in April 1845. Later that night he gave a speech at the Society's dinner. He thought there had been a great apathy shown to the advancement of the society principally amongst the agriculturalists rather than the townspeople. The latter, he thought were wise enough to see that what would improve agriculture would also give a stimulus to commerce. The following year he was a Steward at the Society dinner held at the Albion Inn.


By 1846 the business was well established and the year started off well enough for William and Caroline. Their daughter Rose was born early in the year. The business continued to prosper and on offer was a diverse assortment of goods including St. Valentines Day letters, however later that year their daughter Rose passed away aged just 11 months. She was buried in Glebe cemetery as William's brother had been 18 months previously.

Maitland Hospital

William Lipscomb was a member of the General Committee of the Maitland Hospital and he provided medicine for the Hospital as well. In 1847 he received £9/8/1- in payment. This was the largest expense for the hospital on this occasion. In January 1848 he was paid £22/10/4- for supplying medicines to the hospital and in 1849 £24/4/4d.

Goods Available at Lipscomb's

In December 1847 he advertised his superior currants and raisins and other delicacies to 'enable a person to keep up Christmas in the kind and hospitable way our forefathers used to do'. He advertised that he provided the best Port, Sherry, old Madeira, brandy, rum, gin and porter although 'it would be impertinent to remind the ladies what is necessary besides currants and raisins to make a good pudding'.

Perhaps the chemists were overrun with inquiries in 1847 when it was recorded in the Chronicle that sweet oil would give relief from Mosquitoes. Those travelling in the bush were advised that a little vial of sweet oil should always form part of the equipage of a traveller in warm climates. If they were in the bush or sleeping under shelter where there were no doors or windows they should rub a little oil over their hands and face. Oil to all insects, was said to be a deadly poison and no mosquito would ever attempt to penetrate skin so anointed!

William Lipscomb was a wholesale as well as retail dealer and also provided medicine for horses and cattle. In November he placed an advertisement listing the goods he had received on the ship 'Achilles' and in December another advertisement appeared with a long list of recently arrived medications:

Sulph: Quinine, in 1oz bottles, Strychnine, Brucine, Jalapine, Hydrocyanic Acid (Scheele's), in 1oz bottles, Kreosote, Gum Oppi Pulv: Oppii, Pulv: digitalis Pulv: colchici, Pulv. Sabinae, Zinc Oxide Zinc Acet, Extract Gentian in 1/2lb pots, Extract: Colocynth in 1/2 lb pots, Extract Sarsae in 11/2 lb potsm, Extract: Belladon, A large supply of sarsparilla, Calcined Magnesia in 1lb bottles, Plasters, various, Spatulas, Lint, Pill and willow boxes. The above arrived in excellent order according to Lipscomb, no expense having been spared in securing them in small and air tight packages.

Gold Rush

The Gold Rush of 1849 left some businesses in difficulty as men deserted farms and towns in search of elusive riches overseas. By the end of the year some storekeepers had begun to refuse credit and had called for accounts to be paid. William Lipscombe also had a bad year:

'I should feel very much obliged to anyone who has cash to spend to ease me of my stock, being rather short of cash. I overheard a person remark as I was going along the street, that Gentleman's Hat has seen better days, which may be freely translated in colonial: 'What a shocking bad hat that cove wears.' The worthy who made the remark at the same time was wearing a hat that cost him five and sixpence; and I recollect when I was a boy the drivers of broad wheel stage wagons used to wear them, and cost only half a crown. Should I have a good Christmas Sale I intend to sport a New Beaver.'

In 1869 a correspondent to the Maitland Mercury visited Maitland from Sydney as he had done thirty years before around the time William Lipscombe was in business........High up on the side of yon modern built house is a name as familiar to me as an old friend - though I do not remember that I ever spoke to its owner. I feel half inclined to walk into his shop and shake hands with him; but I reflected again, that as he does not know me, he may think I have come to rob him; for rogues are often very polite. Many times, about a quarter of a century ago, I have enjoyed a refreshing laugh at that gentleman's pure fun. He used to advertise his drugs and books - physic for the body and food for the mind - in a genuine, racy style, worthy of Punch's Christmas number. I wonder if he is funny now? Perhaps he flashes off his wit in advertisements, as in days of yore, but I do not see the Maitland Mercury so often as I formerly did, when it did not take half as much time to read it through as it would take to do now.

The correspondent described a well-known auctioneer of the day, probably Jeremiah Ledsam........As I go along I look out for the name of another gentleman, whose uncommon advertisements used to strike me with amazement. I hope he has also grown rich, for he was a worthy man, though his style was a sublime contrast to the humorous vein of his neighbour, just alluded to. His announcements of 'adipose pigs' or 'ligneous houses' for sale, have doubtless set man of the honest rustics around wondering what was the breed of the pigs or material of the houses. One auctioneer naturally suggests another, as like begets like; and as I glance across the street at the site of the old Hunter River Auction company's Mart, I can imagine I see the ruddy countenance of the great auctioneer of the district, standing at the front door, with his white uther hat slightly inclined towards his left ear. Yes, with fancy's eye, I can behold the portly *Thomas V....looking down with dignified pride at his top boots. -
Maitland Mercury 21 December 1869

William Lipscombe died in July 1873 aged 62 and his wife Caroline died on 30th December 1891 and is buried in the Campbell's Hill Burial Ground.

Notes and Links

1). Obituary of William Lipscombe's grandson William Griffin Lipscombe 1947 - British Medical Journal

2). *possibly Thomas Vawser