Fast Furniture

Steam-powered Manufacturing at J G White’s, Morpeth

The steam engine hummed and clanged to a steady beat and the machines buzzed and whizzed. Fine sawdust scented the air and coated every surface. From the 1860s, J.G. White’s furniture factory in Morpeth was equipped with all the newly invented, thoroughly modern power tools, saving countless hours of laborious hand sawing and carving.

It is no wonder that White and his staff so efficiently and expertly produced a wide range of furniture and bedding, including this dining table and chairs, elaborately carved foot stool, folding chair, side table and upholstered armchairs. Many pieces of furniture were passed down to Paulene White, fourth-generation daughter of J G White, who donated a large selection to Morpeth Museum.

English-born craftsman Joseph George White (1822-1912) established the business in 1845, supplying products to customers around the Hunter region and beyond. Continued by White’s sons until 1968, it was the longest running family business in Australia. 

Workshop visitors were wowed by White’s steam-powered machines including a circular saw table, a band saw, a lathe for making broom handles, an American planing machine, a jigsaw, and a morticing and tenoning machine. In 1892, White proudly boasted that he had ‘the Best and Most Complete Plant of Machinery in the Colony.’

But the fast production of this beautiful furniture came at a price for White. In 1888, a piece of wood flew out of the circular saw and struck him below the eyes, cutting him to the bone. Eight years later, the revolving knife on the planing machine cut off his thumb and two fingers.