A fine type of sand found at Fishermans Bend was highly sought after by Melbourne glass manufacturers from the 1860s and 1870s. Though the presence of impurities in the Fishermans Bend sand gave a greenish tinge to the finished product, this sand was used to make tens of thousands of glass medicine bottles produced by the drug manufacturers Felton Grimwade & Co., based at Fishermans Bend, who operated the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works Co. from 1872. The Melbourne Glass Bottle Works had been established at Emerald Hill by Edward Henry M. Mount in the 1860s. A relative, Francis Mount of the Victoria Flint Glass Works, also manufactured fine glassware using Fishermans Bend sand, examples of which were displayed at the Victorian Exhibition of 1875.
The sandy landscape of Sandridge, as depicted in a painting of 1853 by artist Edmund Thomas (source: Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria)
The Melbourne Glass Bottle Works obtained a lease to routinely extract sand from the designated sand reserve, and the company contracted a sand-carter, Stephen Costello, to transport the sand from Fishermans Bend to the glass works factory in South Melbourne. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Costello removed unusually large quantities of sand per month, under instructions from his employer. From December 1889 to May 1890, he carted away a staggering 180 loads of sand. The Crown Lands Bailiff Mr Simins was suspicious as to whether all the sand had been taken from the same reserve as there were complaints from the public about a number of new holes in the ground. Costello testified that the sand he had taken was all from the one place.
The capacity of Fishermans Bend to provide large quantities of sand was limited, but the sand removal continued unabated. When the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works opened a new factory at Spotswood in 1890 it sought permission to deviate from the assigned sand reserve and instead to use another site closer to their factory at Spotswood for their own sole use.
With the promise of new industrial development at Fishermans Bend in the 1920s, many sand mining sites were restored through land reclamation and these areas formed the foundation of new industrial sites. Sand from Fishermans Bend has been spread far and wide — surviving in an altered form in antique bottle collections and as the mortar of some of Melbourne’s nineteenth-century buildings, and dumped as ballast more than 100 years ago in ports as distant as China.