During the 1880s secondary industry in New South Wales became
almost as well developed as in the colony of Victoria. In 1890 New
South Wales had over 2,500 factories which employed about 41,500
male and 4,500 female workers; machinery of the capacity of 24,662
horsepower was employed and the value of plant and machinery
estimated at over ?4.5 m. Victoria had passed factory acts in 1873 and
1885 but the mother state was much slower in taking steps for the
regulation and inspection of factories. However, in December 1890 a
Census and Industrial Returns Act [54 Vic. No. 31] was passed which
empowered the Government Statistician (T. A. Coghlan) to enquire
into 'the industrial condition of the people, the hours of labour, the
regularity of employment, the wages of workers, the accommodation
afforded by employers for their work people, the employment of children
and females, the displacement of labour by machinery, the return upon
capital invested, the variation in prices, and any other subject on which
the Colonial Secretary may deem it expedient to have inquiry made.'
(Part II, s. 11.) Among other things proprietors of factories were
required to make returns concerning the power used, the value of
factory plant, lands and buildings, and the kind, quantity and value of
goods manufactured. In 1891 and 1892 an examination was made of a
large number of workshops and factories in New South Wales. The
chief abuse found to exist was the almost uniform absence of proper
sanitation. Working conditions and wages were poor in many cases,
but sweating, not surprisingly, was not detected to any great extent.
Home workers were, as a rule, grossly underpaid and it was found that
large numbers of apprentices and learners were not paid at all. No
immediate action followed on Coghlan's reports but in 1896 a Factory
Act on the lines of the Victorian Act of 1885 was passed.
The document which follows is the report concerning the boot
making trade. Though necessarily brief it provides us with an excellent
picture of an important manufacturing industry.