Historical information

The beginning of standardised weights and measures began In Victoria when the Melbourne Observatory received sets of standard weights and measures, which had been tested in Britain against the then British Imperial standards. These included the primary standard yard and pound for the Colony of Victoria. Other standards of weights and measure held by shires and the administrative body's within the colony could then be compared to these primary standards.
A Weights and Measures Act was passed in Victoria in 1862, establishing local inspectors throughout the colony. By the 1870s each local council and shire in Victoria held a set of standards that were used to test scales, weights and dry measures used by wholesalers, factories and shops. Every ten years the councils’ standards would themselves need to be rechecked against the Victorian Standards.
The checking was done by the Victorian Customs Department in the 19th century, but with the transfer of responsibility for customs to the Federal Government in 1901, weights and measures function was retained by the Victorian Government and was shifted to the Melbourne Observatory. In 1904, a new building was erected at the south end of the Great Melbourne Telescope House, where the standard weights and measures and testing equipment was installed. This room had a large whirling apparatus for testing air meters and became known as the Whirling Room. When the Melbourne Observatory closed in 1944, the Weights and Measures Branch was formed to continue and this branch remained at the Observatory site unit until 1995.

J & M Ewan History:
J&M Ewan was a Melbourne firm that began by selling retail furniture and wholesale ironmongery. They had substantial warehouses situated at the intersection of 81-83 Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets, the business was established by James M Ewan in 1852. Shortly afterwards he went into partnership with William Kerr Thomson and Samuel Renwick. When Ewan died in 1868 his partners carried on and expanded the business under his name J & M Ewan.

The business was expanded to provide a retail shop, counting-house and private offices. Wholesale warehouses adjoined these premises at 4, 6 and 10 Little Collins Street, West. This company provided and sold a large and varied amount of imported goods into the colony that consisted of agriculture equipment, building materials, mining items as well as steam engines, tools of all types and marble fireplaces. They also supplied the Bronze measuring containers in the Flagstaff Hill collection and the probability is that these containers were obtained by the local Melbourne authority that monitored weights and measures in the mid to late 19th century. The company grew to employ over 150 people in Melbourne and opened offices at 27 Lombard St London as well as in New Zealand and Fiji. The company also serviced the Mauritius islands and the pacific area with their steamship the Suva and a brig the Shannon.

Robert Bate History:
Robert Brettell Bate (1782-1847) was born in Stourbridge, England, one of four sons of Overs Bate, a mercer (a dealer in textile fabrics, especially silks, velvet's, and other fine materials)and banker. Bate moved to London, and in 1813 was noticed for his scientific instrument making ability through the authority of the “Clockmakers Company”. Sometime in the year 1813 it was discovered that one Robert Brettell Bate, regarded as a foreigner in London had opened a premises in the Poultry selling area of London. He was a Mathematical Instrument maker selling sundials and other various instruments of the clock making.
In 1824, Bate, in preparation for his work on standards and weights, leased larger premises at 20 and 21 Poultry, London, at a rental of four hundred pounds per annum. It was there that Bate produced quality metrological instruments, which afforded him the recognition as one of one of the finest and principal English metrological instrument-makers of the nineteenth century.

English standards at this time were generally in a muddle, with local standards varying from shire to shire. On 17 June 1824, an Act of Parliament was passed making a universal range of weights, measures, and lengths for the United Kingdom, and Bate was given the job of crafting many of the metrological artifacts. He was under instruction from the renown physicist Henry Kater F.R.S. (1777-1835) to make standards and to have them deposited in the principal cities throughout the United Kingdom and colonies. Bate experimented with tin-copper alloys to find the best combination for these items and by October 1824, he had provided Kater with prototypes to test troy and avoirdupois pounds, and samples with which to divide the troy into grams. Bate also cast the standard for the bushel, and by February 1825, had provided all the standards required of him by the Exchequer, Guildhalls of Edinburgh, and Dublin. In 1824, he also made a troy pound standard weight for the United States, which was certified for its accuracy by Kater and deposited with the US Mint in 1827. Kater, in his address to the Royal Society of London, acknowledged Bate's outstanding experimentation and craftsmanship in producing standards of weights, measures, and lengths.


An example of a dry Bronze measuring container made specifically for J & M Ewan by possibly the most important makers of measurement artefacts that gives us today a snapshot of how imperial weights and measures were used and how a standard of measurement for merchants was developed in the Australian colonies based on the Imperial British measurement system. The container has social significance as an item retailed by J & M Ewan and used in Victoria by the authorities who were given legal responsibility to ensure that wholesalers and retailers of dry goods sold in Victoria were correct. The container was a legal standard measure so was also used to test merchants containers to ensure that their distribution of dry goods to a customer was correct.Maker Possibly Robert Brettell Blake or De Grave, Short & Co Ltd both of London

Physical description

Container brass round for measuring quantities- Has brass handles & is a 'Bushel' measurement. 'Imperial Standard Bushel Victoria' engraved around container.
Container bronze round shape for measuring dry quantities has brass handles & is a 'Bushel' measurement

Inscriptions & markings

"IMPERIAL STANDARD BUSHEL" engraved around the top of the container. VICTORIA engraved under "J & M Ewan & Co London and Melbourne" engraved around the bottom of the container.