Anthony Hordern’s firec 1901

by Cecelia Maclellan

Anthony Hordern & Sons grew from a drapery shop into the largest department store in Sydney, and substantial mail order business. They advertised as the ‘only universal providers’ and claimed to stock everything ‘from a needle to an anchor’.

At 8.15 am, on 10 July 1901, ‘one of the greatest fires yet experienced in Australia’ quickly took hold in the Haymarket premises of the Anthony Hordern & Sons Palace Emporium. By 9 am, as the flames shot into the air, traffic in George Street was paralysed and thousands of people watched the ‘awful spectacle’ with ‘terror-stricken faces’ as a storeman leapt to his death.

One eyewitness recorded the scene in a tiny oil sketch. Cecelia Maclellan, a student of Antonio Dattilo Rubbo and Julian Ashton, was later described as a ‘clever Sydney miniature painter’. Hers is the only known painting of this devastating fire which quickly destroyed property worth a million pounds.