Cement by the Barrel and Cask


Cement by the Barrel and Cask (Referenced Version)

by D. Patrick JAMES1 and Hubert CHANSON2.


The history of the development of Portland cement3 has been well documented. An overview of the period 1824-1924 is provided by A. C. Davis4 (1924), while A. J. Francis (1977) gives an in depth review of the industry in Britain. Cement was introduced in two stages in Australia. Firstly as an import and secondly as a locally manufactured material (Geological Survey 1969, McKay 1977). Historical details are scant concerning the introduction of cement as an engineering material to the Australian market. These details are necessary to appreciate the development of Australian concrete construction during the period 1870 to 1920. This period saw the rapid development of technology in general and cement and concrete technology in particular.

In early Australia, concrete was a convenient construction material because engineering structures could be built with simple tools, unskilled labour and, except for cement, with local materials (de Burgh 1908, 1917, Dobson 1879, Harper 1998). Imported cement was used in the fortifications of Sydney Harbour and Bare Island, Botany Bay in 1881-1885 (RHS 1966). There were sufficient problems with the concrete in the Bare Island fortifications to warrant inquiry by a Royal Commission. The cost of cement together with greed, woeful supervision and the “slovenly and dishonest manner of the contractor” severely minimised the quantity of cement used in the construction so that “the concrete…was so inferior in quality as to hardly deserve the name concrete at all” (Daily Telegraph 1891, quotes from the Royal Commission 18925). Thus cement quality alone did not guarantee a quality finished project.

In a paper to the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1900, C. W. Darley (1900 p 54) commented that English, German and local cements had been used for concrete dams, and that “an effort is alway made to have each dam carried out in one brand (of cement)”. Darley further comments that “of late Rock brand cement manufactured near Sydney by Messrs Goodlet and Smith has been almost exclusively used”. For the Cataract dam near Sydney, L. A. B. Wade reported in 1909 that locally-made cement was used (Wade 1909, p 17). German cement supplied in 180 kg wooden casks was used in the Beetaloo dam in South Australia, when it was constructed in 1888-1890 (Good, in Lewis 1988). Meina No. 2 dam on the Great Lakes in Tasmania (Figure 16) was constructed in 1922 with cements from Denmark, England, Japan, Java and Sweden (Bastow 1926). In this instance, Australian cements although available, were not used.

Origins of Portland Cement

The discovery of Portland cement is attributed to Joseph Aspdin7 in 1823 (Davis 1923, Francis 1977, p 79). Portland cement was a replacement for “Roman” cement named and invented by James Parker in 17968 which in turn was a replacement for natural cements made by grinding pozzolans used by the Romans. The UK cement industry expanded rapidly after 1850, particularly in the Thames and Medway regions near London (Rickards 1989). In 1900, 24 producers merged to form the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (1900) Limited (APCM), which dominated the SE England market. A second merger of 33 cement manufacturers to form the British Portland Cement Manufacturers, a subsidiary of APCM was formed in 1912. APCM, in 1977, controlled 75% of the total capacity of the UK industry (Francis 1977).

Australian Import of Cement.

Cements were imported into Australia from America, Asia and Europe. Later when local production of cement started, Australian manufacturers claimed that overseas cements were imported as ballast and therefore had an unfair trade advantage in the form of subsidised freight over local manufacture. In the decade 1880 to 1889 in New South Wales, the annual average cement import was 31,000 tons at a landed price of about £5 per ton (Henson 1891), twice the price of cement in Britain. This market was sufficient to prompt the manufacture of cement in Australia.

Australian Manufacture of Cement.

Cement manufacture in Australia commenced in 1882 with the establishment by William Lewis of the Brighton Cement works in South Australia. In 1889 the Australian Portland Cement Company commenced production at Fyanford, near Geelong in Victoria and the Cullen Bullen Lime and Cement Co. Ltd., was registered to manufacture Portland cement at Cullen Bullen, NSW (Cullen Bullen 1895). Goodlet & Smith commenced production near Sydney in 1891. By 1920 cement works had been established in all States and the annual Australian production from nine major cement companies was 420,000 tons (Rickards 1989). Historically local production was characterised by companies and partnerships forming and reforming, by liquidation and under capitalisation. Table 1 gives the chronology of highlights in the history of Portland cement in Australian.

In 1914 the federal government held an inquiry into the establishment of a plant to produce cement for the federal capital and other Commonwealth purposes (Federal 1915). A similar inquiry was held by the New South Wales Government (NSW 1915, see also Carne & Jones 1919, Jones 1921, 1925). In both cases the proposed cements works did not proceed.

Australian Trade Marks & Brand Names.

Australian commerce in the period 1850 to 1910 was characterised by small, local or regional manufacturers and suppliers of goods. An easily recognisable trade mark and/or brand name was required for successfully competition. A second factor favouring the use of trade marks might have been the low level of literacy in the community. A trade mark and/or brand name would have been recognisable to most. A 1907 New South Wales Public Works Department report on cements (PWD 1907a, b, 1908) refers to Australian and imported cements simply by brand name suggesting that such a reference was sufficient to fully identify a product. Cements were further described as being either imported or colonial (local).

After federation in 1901, trade marks and brand names became a federal responsibility with the introduction of the Trade Marks Act in 1906 and Regulation under the Act in 19069. Matters dealing with trade marks and brand names were published in The Australian Official Journal of Trade Marks. Under the Act, Portland cement and hydraulic cement were placed in Class 17: manufactures from mineral and other substances for building or decoration. Interstate trading agreements allowed companies to manufacture and market their own products as well as interstate products.

Specifications & Quality.

Up to about 1900 cement quality was variable because cements were made to recipes without a full understanding of cement chemistry (Butler 1913, Davis 1924, Henson 1891, Meade 1911). Strength testing of standardised sand/cement cubes was the principal means of quality control. Other tests were also used. The disadvantage with strength testing was the delay between product manufacture and test result. Density was also used as a quality test. Density variation was due to raw materials mix, calcining temperature and product fineness. Cement for use in the London sewers ca. 1858 had to have a density of 112 pounds per bushel (1395 kg/cubic metre). A decade later densities were typically 113 to 120 pounds per bushel (1408-1495 kg/cubic metre) (Francis 1977, p 140). The density of cement specified in 1886 for City of Sydney use was 112 to 113 pounds per bushel (Mountain 1886).

In 1886, A. C. Mountain (1886), city surveyor for the City of Sydney, initiated quality acceptance testing for cement. Mountain claimed that a label on a cask of cement was no guarantee of quality, as casks, labels and contents could be readily changed10. He also decried the practice of specifying a particular brand of cement and of “approved” brands, although this remained common practice as given in the 1907 and 1908 Public Works Department annual reports (PWD 1907a, b, 1908).

The variations in manufacture led to variable amounts of free lime in the finished cement. Mixed into concrete, free lime caused blowing or cracking. The problem was overcome by maturing the cement in sheds, turning the material daily with shovels until the lime had been slaked with atmospheric moisture. Imported cements were found to have matured in the cask during the long sea voyage. In 1907 the New South Wales Public Works Department carried out a series of tests on locally manufactured cement which included testing cements before and after sending them on a round trip to England (PWD 1907b).

Australian Standard A2 for Portland Cement was issued in 1925. In comparison, by 1924 Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States had specifications for Portland cement (Davis 1924, p 191).

Packaging of Cement.

Imported cement was packaged in wooden casks11, each containing 3 bushels12, about 4 to 4.25 cubic feet (about 170 kg net) depending upon the fineness of the cement. Cement produced in Australia was initially supplied in similar sized wooden casks (C&CA 1928). Later cement was supplied in jute bags of 125lb.(56.7 kg) (Penn 1977), as well as wooden casks and light gauge steel drums of 400 lbs gross (375 lb. net) for export (Commonwealth 1904). In 1906, steel drums, semi-circular in cross section and equal to half a normal drum, were designed to supply remote areas by camel transport (Penn 1977, p 69). The jute bags proved to be too dusty leading to a docker strike13 (Beasley 1996) . Paper lined jute bags were developed which led to the present multi-walled paper bag. When cement in paper bags was introduced, it sold at 127 pounds gross and 125 pounds (56.7 kg) net per bag.


Concrete from imported and locally produced cement provided a material for the construction of essential engineering structures in remote locations essential for the development of Australia. Some structures, for example concrete dams for water supply, are still in service over 100 years later. The concrete problems with the Bare Island fortifications may have been a good lesson for the expanding construction industry. Fortunately the guns of Bare Island never fired in anger and the impact strength of the concrete fortifications remains untested.

As trade developed the choice of imported Portland cements available in Australia increased from just British products to include other European, American and Asian products with a wide range of qualities, and each with its own trade mark and/or brand name. Quality variability was the result of product sourced from different manufacturers using different raw materials and produced to different specifications. Australian produced cements were comparable to imported cements with respect to quality. The development of the Australian cement industry has been similar to the British cement industry with many small local cement works being replaced by a few large manufacturers demonstrating the economy and product uniformity of large scale production.

Delivery of imported and locally produced cement was a problem. Imported cement had the problem of long and expensive transport by sea. Both imported and locally produced cement had the further problem of delivery to remote locations in Australia. The time and cost associated with imported cement was an incentive to local production. Imported cements matured during the long sea voyage to Australia to eliminate the free lime problem. Local manufacturers claimed that some imported cements had been landed in Australia as ships’ ballast equivalent to subsidised transport costs thus giving unfair price competition.

Packaging developed to suit market conditions, from heavy wooden and steel drums to eventually paper lined jute bags, the precursor of the current multi-walled paper bag. The decrease in both the cost and mass of packing containers represented a reduction in the delivered price to the consumer. The use of semi-circular steel drums for delivery by camel was a unique Australian development to suit local conditions.


The authors express their thanks to the library staff, Cement & Concrete Association for bibliographic assistance, to Hydro-Electric Corporation, Tasmania for the use of Figure 1 and to Dr H. Roper, School of Civil & Mining Engineering, Sydney University for discussion.

Figure 1 Meina No. 2 dam, Shannon River, the Great Lakes, Tasmania constructed in 1922 with cements from Denmark, England, Japan, Java and Sweden. (Photo: March 1956, from archives, Hydro-Electric Corporation, Tasmania)

Table 1 Chronology of highlights in the Australian Cement Industry to ca. 1955.

6 October1882

Goslings Portland Cement Company at Gawler

12 December 1882

William Lewis, Brighton Cement Works, South Australian commenced


Cullen Bullen Lime & Cement Company at Cullen Bullen, NSW,


Maris Island Company formed: A D Bernacchi and M H Davis,


Australian Portland Cement Co, (Arc brand) formed to manufacture cement at Fyansford, Victoria


Cullen Bullen Lime and Cement Co. Ltd.,(Emu brand) registered to manufacture Portland cement.


Victorian Cement Works, Vic., (Kangaroo brand) established by David Mitchell


Goodlet & Smith, NSW (Rock brand) commenced


7 April 1892

W Shearing, William Lewis and R D Langley floated Shearing's Portland Cement Company, to become South Australian Portland Cement Company

1 March 1892

the land and works of Brighton Cement Works sold to Shearing's Portland Cement Co. Ltd.

6 March 1892

Shearing's Portland Cement sold cement plant to South Australian Portland Cement Co. Ltd.


Cullen Bullen Lime and Cement Co. Ltd. wound up, works passed to George Raffan, and became Ivanhoe Lime & Cement Works


South Australian Portland Cement Co. in liquidation, assets brought by The South Australian Portland Cement Company Partnership


Ivanhoe Lime and Cement Works and Colliery, sold to New Zealand Mines Trust Limited.


New Zealand Mines Trust Limited formed The Commonwealth Portland Cement Co. Ltd.,


1896 Partnership became the South Australian Portland Cement Company Pty. Ltd.

6 September 1902

Commonwealth Portland Cement Company (Union brand), report in The Sydney Mail (1902)


Australian Portland Cement Co in liquidation, then reformed in April 1905


Australian Portland Cement Co sold, continued trading under the same name


voluntary liquidation of the South Australian Portland Cement Company Pty. Ltd.


a new South Australian Portland Cement Company Pty. Ltd. formed


Adelaide Cement Company formed to exploit limestone deposits Stansbury, Yorke Peninsula.


New South Wales Cement, Lime and Coal Company formed at Kandos, New South Wales

ca 1914

Commonwealth Portland Cement held about 45% of the Australian market

June 1914

Queensland Cement & Lime, at Darra near Brisbane

October 1914

Adelaide Cement Co. Ltd., commenced operations close to Birken­head Wharf, Port Adelaide


first production of cement by New South Wales Cement, Lime and Coal Company


West Australian Portland Cement Co. Ltd., 1920 production started at Rivervale, Perth,


Goodlet & Smith, NSW ceased trading


liquidation of New South Wales Cement, Lime and Coal Company, reformed as the Kandos Cement Company Limited and Kandos Collieries Limited


National Cement company on Maria Island, Tasmania


Queensland Cement & Lime, operating to capacity


Tasmanian Cement Pty. Ltd., formed to exploit limestone at Berriedale, Hobart


Australian Cement. Pty. Ltd. converted to Australian Cement Ltd.


Australian Standard A2 for Portland Cement

ca 1925

Victorian Cement Works withdrew from production


cement manufacture at Tasmanian Cement Pty. Ltd.

November 1926

Standard Portland Cement Co. Ltd. produced cement at Charbon, on the Mudgee line, NSW.


in liquidation: West Australian Portland Cement,


Western Australian Swan Portland Cement Ltd. formed


National Cement on Maria Island sold out to Australian Portland Cement Co, Vic


Goliath Portland Cement Co. Ltd. formed from Tasmanian Cement Pty. Ltd., at Railton,


Australian Portland Cement Pty. Ltd. registered in Victoria


Australian Portland Cement Co, Vic. purchased the operating assets of Australian Cement Ltd., Fyansford, Geelong, Victoria, and Kandos Cement Co. Ltd. and Kandos Collieries Ltd.


Southern Portland Cement Co Ltd, formed, located at Berrima, NSW

March 1929

Goliath Portland Cement Co, formed to take over Tasmanian Cement Co. plant at Ralton


North Australia Cement formed, located at Stuart, near Townsville, Qld


Cockburn Cement Pty. Ltd., at Spearwood, near Perth

December 1952

South Australian Portland Cement Company Pty. Ltd. new works at Angaston

April 1953

Gippsland Industries Ltd. and subsidiary Gippsland Cement and Lime Co. Pty. Ltd. formed

January 1954

Gipsland Cement & Lime Co Pty Ltd. started producing Portland cement at Traralgon

August 1955

cement production started at Cockburn Cement Pty. Ltd.,


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1 Environmental Consultant, Patrick James & Associates, 5/2 Hardie Street, Neutral Bay NSW 2089.

2 Senior Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland, Brisbane QLD 4072.

3 In this paper cement and Portland cement are used synonymously.

4 An un-referenced version of this paper was submitted for publication in Concrete in Australia, September 2000.

5 Royal Commission appointed 14 July 1890 with C W Darley (president), G A Mansfield and W W Wardell as commissioners.

6 Supplied by Mr B Knoop, Senior Investigations Engineer, Civil Engineering Department, Hydro-Electric Corporation Tasmania.

7 British Patent 5022 dated 21 October 1824 to Joseph Aspdin for “An Improvement in the Modes of Producing an Artifical Stone”.

8 British Patent 2120, dated 27 July 1796 to James Parker of Northfleet (Francis 1977, p 26).

9 Prior to 1906 the control of trade marks and brand names had been a colonial responsibility. South Australia: Copyright Act, 1878; Queensland: Patents, Designs & Trade Marks Act, 1884-1890; Victoria: Trade Marks Act, 1890; NSW: Trade Marks Act, 1900: Western Australia: Patents, Designs & Trade Marks Act Amendment Act 1894; Tasmania: Patents, Designs & Trade Marks Act, 1893.

10 In view of the trouble with the Bare Island concrete, and that Mountain considered it necessary to comment, tampering with cement was probably not unusual.

11 Cask (UK usage) and barrel (US usage) are the generic names for wooden containers made from staves and bound with hoops. Barrels, kegs, etc. are casks of a specific size and/or purpose. With the advent of aluminium, stainless steel and plastic containers the coopers’ trade has dwindled to a fraction of what it was at its prime about 100 years ago. In the UK, the branches of coopering were wet, dry and white coopering. In the USA coopering branches were tight (wet) and slack (dry). Dry/slack coopering made casks for dry goods such as cement (Hankerson 1947, Kilby 1971). Both terms, cask and barrel, were used in Australia for cement containers. Barrel remains as the unit of volume for oil production.

12 1 bushel = 4 pecks = 8 gallons = 36.4 litres = 1.284 cubic feet = 0.0364 cubic metres,

13 A stevedores’ dispute lasting three months in 1911 about dust from cement packaged in jute bags, which led to dust-proof cement bags.

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