The story of the Davis company

Davis's hard-won medal in Australian shoot out

DAVIS, LIKE most other early makers, boasted its share of medals awarded for "excellence" at various shows and exhibitions.

But few can have been more hard won that Davis's triumph at the Great Australian Exhibition of 1879.

The sewing-machine category of the exhibition was well supported with most of the world's major makers taking show places and putting their machines forward to the prize jury.

The procedure was meant to be fairly simple. The jury would examine the machine, listen to the sales pitch from the maker and then decide on the winner.

But it wasn't quite that simple in Melbourne in the closing days of the 1870 decade.

The jury's rather cursory examination resulted in a win for Davis, a relative newcomer to the Australian market.

The established makers were less than impressed and according to contemporary reports "hurled such a mass of objections at the heads of the exhibition commission" that the report was sent back to the jury with the request for a more thorough examination.

Stung by the allegations, the jury ordered all machines from the exhibition stands and secreted them away in a special "test room" at the exhibition headquarters.

Each manufacturer was invited into the test area and required to demonstrate its machines. The jury retained the machines for an extra week, testing them and, according to reports, even trying the hardness of the metals used by attempting to score the various working parts with a file.

Eventually the report came back: "we award the first order of merit, as being pre-eminent for simplicity, convenience, efficiency and rapidity, to the Davis machine". It was signed by W C Kernon, Chairman, Jury No.37.

This should have been the end of the matter but the doubly-defeated losing, manufacturers quickly shifted their ground.

In a joint statement they declared the jury in toto as "utterly incompetent" and demand that a fresh jury of acknowledged experts be appointed.

The exhibition organisers, although stung by the accusation that their judges were not up to the job, were anxious to avoid adverse publicity, and after much considerations bowed to the pressure from the big names and eventually agreed that a new jury should be set up.

This time they were careful to pick experts and wisely took the precaution of having the judging panel approved by all the manufacturers before the third examination took place

So, for the third time, the various machines were judged.

The new "approved" jury took its time and it wasn't until three weeks later that its report was complete.

Machines involved were Bradbury, Wertheim, Grimme Natalis, Wheeler & Wilson, Jones, Johnson Clark and Davis.

This time the jury not only came up with a winner, but placed the machines in order of merit from first to last, something, perhaps, not anticipated by the various entrants.

The published results were as follows:-

Treadle machines: 1st, Davis; 2nd, Johnson Clark. The rest were placed equal 3rd.

Hand machines: 1st Davis; equal 2nd Johnson Clark and Wertheim. The rest trailed in as poor thirds.

A total exoneration of the original decision, a triumph for Davis, and a total embarrassment for the other makers

All avenues exhausted, the runners up swallowed their pride and headed home.

Graham Forsdyke


ISMACS is an organization totally independent of all sewing-machine manufacturers, past or present and is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in these pages.  Please Note: Do not contact any ISMACS official in an attempt to solicit a valuation - it is not possible other than by hands-on assessment and your request will be ignored.