George Duncan Guthrie was born in Johnson, Scotland in May 1928. He left school aged 12 years and was sent to Glasgow to be apprenticed as a potter with his Uncle George Duncan. It took 6 years to learn the trade and another three to complete his apprenticeship in England.
After a disagreement, presumably with his Uncle, the next year he “determined to leave the British Empire,” so, in 1850, bought a ticket on the ship “Washington.” After 150 days at sea the ship was stranded on shoals off the coast of South Australia. The passengers and crew went in life boats to shore, taking some sails to erect a shelter and wait for help. After a few days they were found and taken to Adelaide. Guthrie had only the clothes on his back as his possessions were at the bottom of the sea. He approached Sir Thomas Elder, whom he had never met, and asked for 50 pounds. Now financial, Guthrie proceeded to Sydney via Melbourne.
The day after arrival in Sydney he was employed at a pottery, making ginger-beer bottles. After saving his money for three months he went digging for gold. Returning to Sydney after a few months with enough funds to establish a small pottery and, employing two boys, manufactured ginger-beer bottles. He made a big profit until trade in NSW went slack.
Guthrie took a large stock of bottles to sell in Melbourne and met Hugh Dickson (who was later to become his brother-in-law). Dickson was a tobacco merchant with a large shipment of Manilla cigars which he sold to Guthrie, who made enough profit to open and international import/export business in 1852. This was a great success, trading in produce such as maize, flour and wheat, to many parts of the colonies. With 6-8 vessels each week, it proved to be profitable. He closed that business in 1858 and went to Bendigo, where at Pottery Flat he founded a small pottery; but it failed through lack of transit facilities, so he went to the NSW goldfields and won a fair share of gold.
With the opening of the railway from Melbourne in 1862, Guthrie returned to Bendigo and opened a pottery at Epsom, on its current site. In the beginning it was Guthrie, a boy and a wheelbarrow. But Epsom was excellent for pottery clay which he exported in quantity, and as he was thoroughly acquainted with the pottery trade, this had a positive result and carried him to success.
In 1886, twenty years after establishment, Guthrie sold the pottery to a company formed for the purpose, for 20,000 pounds, as well as retaining an interest in it. Now a wealthy man of importance, Guthrie returned to his native Scotland and England, but after 10 months returned to make Bendigo his home.
The Bendigo Pottery Directors were not satisfied with the management and induced Guthrie to become Managing Director. He had a courteous and considerate manner which won him many friends and admirers. Guthrie was elected to the Municipal Council, was on committees of philanthropic institutions, and held interests in mining companies – acting as director of many. When he retired in 1909, the employees of the pottery commissioned his portrait in oils which was to be hung in the Bendigo Art Gallery.
George Duncan Guthrie died in 1910. He was interred in the Presbyterian Section E2 of the Bendigo Cemetery on the 23rd September, to be with father Adam Guthrie who had predeceased him in 1874.
Research – Greta Balsillie