In 1885 Alfred Lawrence, as an adventurous junior clerk, became Australian representative for the giant British General Electric Company and was soon to found the electrical company which would bear his name for a century and more. Lawrence had been asked to go to Australia soon after joining the company. The British General Electric Company had asked for a volunteer from among the company’s staff but it seems no-one was keen to travel Down Under. Alfred Lawrence was not exactly press-ganged into taking the post but was told that such an opportunity might only be presented to a man once in a lifetime; he took the job. On arrival, Lawrence tramped the streets of Melbourne taking orders for BGE and relaying them back to London via telegraph but it was arduous work and failed to satisfy his ambition.
In 1886, Lawrence moved to Sydney and opened the doors of ‘Alfred Lawrence, Electrical Merchants, Engineers & Importers’ for trading on 19 November in Wynyard Street. Lawrence had only been in business for little more than a year and was incredulous as the much sought after lighting goods literally came in the back door from the wharves and were carried out the front by willing customers.
Canny Lawrence saw what was about to happen – Sydney was about to run out of lighting. Backing his judgement and using his own capital plus some from close friends, Lawrence cabled a rush order to England for several thousand pounds worth of lighting equipment – lamps, cable and fittings, and by the time it arrived some weeks later, young Alfred virtually held the only substantial stocks of lighting equipment in the city. It was a tremendous windfall and greatly helped establish the business which had struggled.
The year was 1889 and that electric lighting pioneer Sir Henry Parkes was making his first passionate plea for ‘a great national government for all Australia’ during an address at Tenterfield, NSW. A mutual friend, Arthur Cox, introduced Alfred Lawrence to Arthur ‘Jerry’ Hanson, suggesting the two men form a partnership. Both men could immediately see the advantages – Lawrence was both snowed under with work and short of capital to do anything about it. Arthur Hanson brought a much-needed energy and acute accounting and business acumen to complement Lawrence’s practical knowledge of all things electric. That year ‘The Lawrence & Hanson Electrical Company’ went up on the shingle in Wynyard Street for the very first time.
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