Mary Sutton married Richard Henry Sutton who founded a music firm in a tent on the Ballarat goldfield in 1854. After a short stint as a miner he had found that playing a homemade concertina in his tent at night attracted crowds and he began to make them for his friends. Persuaded by the astute Mary to buy a dray-load of musical instruments in Melbourne, he sold them in a few days. He bought land on Plank Road and built a music warehouse of brick and wood with a plate glass window. Mary educated her five children including her son Henry, who would go on to be one of Australia’s most remarkable inventors.
After Richard’s untimely death in 1876 at the age of 47 it was Mary who assumed financial control of the business, with elder son Alfred in charge of the day-to-day running of the stores. Alfred opened a music store in Elizabeth Street in 1884 and the firm became Suttons Pty Ltd in 1894. Through Mary’s shrewd business acumen Sutton’s prospered all through the 1880s, and by 1886 Mary Sutton dreamed of building Australia’s first purpose built Music Emporium.
On the 20 May 1891, Mary Sutton purchased the land at number 33 Sturt Street for £4125 – at the time a record price per square foot of land in Ballarat. Suttons House of Music Warehouse was then built and at the time of construction was Ballarat’s tallest commercial building. It quickly became more than just a landmark, it was a glowing attraction in the centre of Ballarat that became a hive of culture and music, every bit as grand as the main room adorned with gas-lit chandeliers and leadlight windows celebrating five great German composers.
The main room was filled with 37 different brands of pianos and, and, as technology changed with the coming of the 20th century, pianolas – the latest in automated musical technology for the home! – while a giant timber wall cabinet kept all manner of stringed, percussion and brass instruments.
All of this combined to create a place to visit both for the locals and those who were ‘coming to town’ from the local district and further afield, with people coming to the store just to ride in the city’s very first hydraulic elevator, designed and installed by Mary Sutton’s son, Henry with the help of the Austral Otis Elevator Company.
While crowds gathered in the main room downstairs, Henry pioneered Australian firsts on the upper floors and in the basement – most notably Australia’s first telephone network, joining this building to the central fire up Sturt Street and his office/lab at the School of Mines, a couple of hundred meters away up the hill; and Ballarat’s first hydraulic elevator