Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Jesse Wallace

Jesse Wallace

Years ago when I visited my Great Aunt (the same one I helped confirm Lake Street) I asked her about her grandfather, Jesse Wallace. He’d died in 1909 when her mother, Grace, was only nine years old and (obviously) my Aunt never had the opportunity to know him. Grace herself (being a young girl when he passed) would’ve also grown up with a limited memory of her father.

Stories of Jesse’s early years managed to survive in the family and my Aunt wrote me a letter telling me that he left England and then travelled to Canada, America, Sydney and finally, South Australia. He worked throughout the time he travelled and one sentence stood out; he’d managed a soap factory.

A boilermaker by trade, Jesse had lived in Balaklava and then Norwood (in South Australia) throughout the 1880s and early 1890s. In 1893 he turned his occupation around on its head when he began working as a ‘soap manufacturer’.

It is not known if Jesse had any knowledge of soap manufacturing when he started but perhaps this wasn’t his part in the business. While I’m not going to go into a detailed description on how to make soap, what I have found is that there is both a cold and a hot method for making it. The hot method involves the use of boilers. Perhaps Jesse didn’t stray too far from his original occupation after all.

He formed a partnership with Albert Edward Johnson and together they established the Kangaroo Soap Company in Hindmarsh.


They developed a product named ‘The Champion Spray Cleanser’ and on 14 July 1893 they lodged an application with the Commissioner of Trade Marks to have their trade mark registered. They claimed exclusive use of the words ‘Champion Spray’ and disclaimed “any exclusive right to the use of the word “Cleanser”“.

By early September, the product was advertised within The Express and Telegraph (South Australia) and (in reference to the name of the Company) featured an image of a kangaroo.

Champion Cleanser

The release of the product appears to have been carefully timed. The month of September also happened to coincide with the Adelaide Show and the Kangaroo Soap Company was one of the exhibitors.

The Kangaroo Soap Company have an accumulation of bars of their soap which, designated as a “champion cleanser,” is said to have signal virtues either for washing or for the toilet, or for spraying trees as a preventative of aphis.

The soap was no ordinary soap. Not only was it used for everyday tasks such as washing, it was also noted as being useful in pest control (which makes one wonder what was in it).

Pest Control

By November 1893, advertisements took a slightly different approach and began to particularly target housewives who hated washing day.

Washing Day

Business continued and seemingly did well with cases of soap occasionally listed on the shipping lists as being exported to Albany.

Jesse’s foray in soap manufacturing however did not last long. Less than a year later, on 31 May 1894, the partnership was dissolved due to Jesse choosing to retire from the business.

We Jesse Wallace of Adelaide in the province of South Australia Soapmaker and Albert Edward Johnson of Hindmarsh in the said province Soapmaker hereby request that you will enter the name of the said Albert Edward Johnson in the Register of Trade Marks as proprietor of the Trade Mark No. 1629 in Class 47 the said Albert Edward Johnson is entitled to the said Trade Mark and to the goodwill of the business concerned in the goods with respect to which the said Trade Mark is registered.


Unfortunately the documents within the trade mark application provide only the legal facts and statements with regards to the dissolution of the partnership. No feelings or reasons are given. Was there a falling out between the pair? Had Jesse simply had enough of being a soap manufacturer? Such questions may never be answered but it may have been around this point in time that Jesse considered moving to Western Australia with his family. With such a move on the cards, his continued involvement in the business would’ve been too difficult.

And what became of the Company? Albert Edward Johnson continued to run the Kangaroo Soap Company for decades after Jesse left. His sons also all worked for the Company and by all appearances the Johnson family owned it up until 1954 when it was sold. Though he left very early, it is still nice to know that Jesse played even the smallest of parts in helping to establish a family business in South Australia.


The Kangaroo Soap Company in 1905. Albert Edward Johnson is standing next to the dray. The other men pictured are his sons. Courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.


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