1912 - 1928

Chapter 2

A business is launched

The Maughan Thiem Motor Company Pty. Ltd. was formally inaugurated by an indenture dated 2 July 1912 containing the Articles of Partnership between Hubert Andrew Behrens and Eric Myles Marshall. The partnership was for an initial period of four years and nine months dating from the first day of July 1912.

The Maughan Thiem Motor Company Pty. Ltd. was formally inaugurated by an indenture dated 2 July 1912 containing the Articles of Partnership between Hubert Andrew Behrens and Eric Myles Marshall. The partnership was for an initial period of four years and nine months dating from the first day of July 1912. The firm, it was noted, traded under the name Behrens & Marshall, and the first article of partnership stated that

The partnership business shall be that of Motor and Cycle Builders and Electricians and Importers of Motor and Electrical goods and Appliances and shall be carried on at Flinders Street Adelaide, aforesaid upon the Leasehold premises acquired by the said partners or at such other place or places as the partners may from time to time agree upon.

From the beginning of the partnership provision was made for the inclusion of Alfred Ross Thiem as a third partner; this was stipulated in a further agreement, also dated 2 July 1912, to which later reference will be made. It was with this intention in mind that the partners made provision for the firm’s capital, which was set at £300. Of this amount the partners themselves contributed £150 in equal shares, their fathers each lent £50 for the duration of the partnership, and Alfred Ross Thiem lent £50 for one year. It was anticipated that within that year he would become a partner and convert the loan into an equal share of the capital.

In all probability Behrens was the prime mover in forming the business. An American journal later described him as ‘an antipodean live-wire… chock full of vim and vigor’, and others remember him as outgoing, intensely enthusiastic about anything that appealed to him, accustomed to getting his own way, and ambitious. In 1912 he was 24 years old. He was born 8 February 1888 at Norwood, a suburb of Adelaide, where he lived all his life, and from early school days was known as Johnnie Behrens. His father, Theodor Louis Joseph Behrens, was a bank clerk and his mother Mary Marguerite, nee Eickhoff, was closely associated with  St Ignatius Catholic Church at Norwood. Johnnie Behrens  was  a  keen  motor  cyclist. He became a member of the Automobile Club of South Australia, and from 1906 or earlier took part in the various hill-climbing events  and speed  trials run by the club.

By profession he was an engineer. In a newspaper interview in 1919 he said that he had been connected with the motoring trade for the past fourteen years, that is, since about 1906 when he was 18 years old. Three years of that time had been spent with Duncan & Fraser, where he gained a sound knowledge of the Ford car. An early photograph, which shows a young Johnnie Behrens with his mother and father outside the parental home at 113 William Street Norwood, reflects some aspects of the early history of the firm. Johnnie Behrens appears in the picture with a cycle. In notes which he wrote in 1964 Mr Ross Thiem recollected that he and Johnnie Behrens started the business by working together at the home of Behrens’ parents at Norwood. Apparently they worked together on motor cycle engines in Behrens’ back yard or on their verandah. This informal motor cycle business lasted for a year or so before the firm was formally set up and moved to Flinders Street, and Ross Thiem waited until later to join the partnership. A few years later a newspaper article briefly recalled those days:

Seven years or so ago, when a small business was launched at Norwood, the aspirations of the young men did not soar so high as their integrity and resourcefulness compelled.

But they obviously did have aspirations. It is recalled that they used to joke about having to expand their business and that they did so into the kitchen, until Behrens’ long-suffering mother kicked them out.  By July 1912 the ambitions were formally realised.

There is no surviving information to tell how Eric Myles Marshall entered the partnership in July 1912. He may have known the other two socially or through common interests. Perhaps Ross Thiem was the catalyst, for the Marshall and Thiem families lived within short distance of each other at East Adelaide when the partnership was formed and the two young men may have known each other. Eric Marshall’s skills certainly complemented those of Johnnie Behrens and made him very suitable for the partnership. He was an electrical engineer, and Behrens regarded him as a very talented technician. He was born 23 August 1888 and was about Behrens’ own age. His father, Alfred Witter Marshall, was a well-­known Adelaide personality. His business ‘The Old Music Shop’ at 49A Gawler Place, two doors from Rundle Street, was familiar to buyers of music and musical instruments and concert tickets, and Alfred Marshall was a prominent Freemason, was active in local politics, and was a justice of the peace. Eric Marshall, his youngest son, is remembered as a quiet, sensitive, even unassertive person. Perhaps in the early days of the partnership he found it hard to fit in with Johnnie Behrens’ extrovert enthusiasms, and he may have felt somewhat isolated when Behrens’ close friend Ross Thiem formally joined the partnership in April 1913. At  all events his effective connections with the firm did not last long.

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By September 1915 he was working for the British government on aeroplane engines at the Gnome Engine Company at Walthamstow in Essex, about six miles from London. It was an anxious year for him. His brother Percy took part in the Gallipoli landing, and his father died at the end of the year. By the beginning of November 1917 Eric Marshall was back in Adelaide, and he resigned from Behrens & Marshall as from 7 February 1918. In February 1918 he enlisted in the Australian army at Adelaide, and on 8 May 1918 embarked at Sydney for England with the Australian Flying Corps. On 12 October 1918 he transferred to the Australian Service Corps as a driver and served in France with the 1st and 3rd Motor Transport Company until disembarking again in England on 19 June 1919. On 30 August 1919 he arrived back in Adelaide where he was discharged 16 September 1919. On 17 April of the following year he married Dorothy Martin at St Agnes Church, Grange, and died of acute appendicitis on 17 June 1927. In effect, Marshall’s connections with the firm ceased when he first left for England in 1915.

Before Marshall left the firm Ross Thiem on 10 April 1913 gave formal notice of his desire to enter the partnership. He had delayed joining Behrens in the partnership so that he could give his employer Duncan & Fraser up to twelve months’ notice. It has already been mentioned that from the beginning provision had been made for him to join Behrens and Marshall in the new firm. An agreement between Hubert Behrens, Eric Marshall and Ross Thiem was signed on 2 July 1912, the date on which the original partnership was established. In this document it was agreed that Ross Thiem would be taken into the partnership within the first twelve months, provided certain conditions were met. These were, firstly, that he increase his loan by a further £25 to match the £75 paid into the partnership by each of the other two; that, secondly, he promise ‘to use his best endeavours from henceforth to introduce business to the said partnership firm and to benefit the said firm to the best of his ability’; and, thirdly, that he give one calendar month’s notice in writing of desire to enter the partnership on equal terms with the other two partners. By indenture dated 21 April 1913 Ross Thiem became an equal partner in the firm.

Ross Thiem brought his own particular skills into the business. He was described as a clerk in the indenture of 21 April 1913 and as an accountant a few years later. He rapidly developed administrative and managerial aptitudes which served the company well; and, further, like Johnnie Behrens he spent some years with Duncan & Fraser and, as The Mail later noted, it was soon apparent that he had the ability and qualifications to be regarded as a motor expert. He was born 22 March 1891 near Kadina, and was 22 years old when he entered the partnership. His father, John Frederick Thiem, was a farmer when Ross was born,and he later moved to East Adelaide and became manager of the Farm Implement Department at Duncan & Fraser. Ross Thiem was educated at St Peter’s College, and in 1908 he followed his father’s footsteps to Duncan & Fraser where he did the clerical work and met Johnnie Behrens. The two remained close friends long after Behrens left the partnership. Behrens’ son Mr Alan Behrens still remembers with affection the short stocky figure of Ross Thiem, often with a chest-warmer pipe in his mouth, whose shrewd common sense often restored peace when the partners disagreed. He was also later well-known as the owner of the Sunnyside home at Beaumont and as the owner of a property at Mount Osmond which was subsequently subdivided to become a housing estate. When the Maughan Thiem Motor Company became a limited company in 1928 Ross Thiem became Joint Managing Director. He was Chairman of Directors for many years, and he retained an interest in the company until he died 4 September 1971.

In the same year that Ross Thiem formally entered the partnership a further indenture was drawn up which introduced a fourth partner into the firm. On 24 December 1913 an agreement was signed admitting Frederick Milton Maughan of Parkside, Engineer, into the partnership from 2 January 1914 upon equal terms with the other three. By this date the share of each of the existing three partners in the business, capital, good will, stock in trade, assets and profits was estimated at £320. Behrens, Marshall and Thiem under the new agreement increased their share to £350, paying the difference into the partnership banking account, and Maughan also paid £350 as his share. In addition he was required to pay to the other three the sum of £33:6:8 for one quarter interest in the good will of the business. Moreover John Frederick Thiem, the father of Ross Thiem, and Milton Moss Maughan, the father of Fred Maughan, were each to lend £125 at 5 per cent interest.

Frederick Milton Maughan was a son of Milton Moss Maughan, who became Director of Education 21 August 1913, about the time Fred Maughan was admitted into the firm, and a grandson of the Reverend James Maughan whose name is associated with the Maughan Methodist Church. He was born 5 June 1887 at Moonta, where his father was then teaching, and was therefore the oldest of the four partners. He was educated at Sturt Street school and Way College and then did his apprenticeship in engineering with J.S. Bagshaw & Sons. He then went on to the School of Mines and completed a four-year associate diploma course in mechanical and electrical engineering; the award was conferred at the end of 1912. Fred Maughan – Moggie Maughan to his friends – was technically and socially suitable for the partnership, and the papers were signed a year after the diploma was conferred. In 1920 and for a few years after that date it was advertised that Mr F. M. Maughan  A.S.A.S.M., of Behrens & Marshall and in due course of Maughan-Thiem Motor Co. was conducting short courses in motor car mechanism at the School of Mines on Tuesday evenings. The fee was £1:1:0 and half rates for apprentices.

Some eighteen months after Fred Maughan entered the partnership Eric Marshall left for England, where he took up work in the aeroplane engine factory. For the three partners who remained in control they were, in many respects, good years. As is told elsewhere the business  flourished and expanded; and, moreover, there were many rich and satisfying social occasions, tours and times of relaxation. Nevertheless the energetic enterprising qualities which the three partners brought to the business and ensured its success also contributed to occasional disagreements. For  a short time these became more serious and resulted in the dissolution of the partnership.

On 23 June 1919 Behrens left for an extended overseas tour which took him to the United States and Canada. It was a tour taken on behalf of the firm, and included visits to Ford in Canada, the Sterling Truck Company in Milwaukee, and other similar places. He arrived back in South Australia late in February 1920, and one journal noted that he was ‘full of enthusiasm about American “hurry-up” business methods. Perhaps his partners found this uncomfortable; but, more to the point, he also brought back a number of agencies, some of which had nothing to do with the motor vehicle business. To the other two partners these agencies seemed a departure from established policy and inconsistent with the business developments which had proved highly successful; they were a dissipation of energy which might prove detrimental to their concentration on the motor trade. For his part, Johnnie Behrens possibly thought that they were being unduly conservative about his new agencies. In 1916, when he was on the committee of the Motor Traders’ Association, the press noted that ‘Full of new ideas, Mr H.A. Behrens, a young member of the trade, is said to be chief spokesman at meetings of the South Australian Motor Traders’ Association’; and on his return from overseas the same paper reported that he had come back with ‘more modern ideas of business.

The solution to the disagreement which followed seemed to be the formation of another company to handle these agencies, and this was tried, On 15 March 1920 a new firm, Behrens-Thiem Company, commenced business as factory representative throughout Australia and New Zealand. Although it bore only the names of Behrens and Thiem, in fact Hubert Andrew Behrens, Alfred Ross Thiem, and Frederick Milton Maughan were registered as the persons carrying on the business.The temporary address was given as 150 Flinders Street, the premises of Behrens & Marshall.Shortly afterwards an office was taken in Pirie Street.

For a while this arrangement appeared to have resolved the issue. The Behrens-Thiem Company advertised and sold its various lines, and Johnnie Behrens and Ross Thiem made interstate promotional trips. Nevertheless the partners had been divided by the new agencies and the company which had been formed to handle them. Although F. M. Maughan was formally a partner in the Behrens-Thiem Company his name was not included in that of the company. He took over sole management of Behrens & Marshall, and in reporting this the press added that the policy of Behrens & Marshall would remain unchanged. The Behrens & Marshall letterhead printed about this time included the line: ‘President: F.M. Maughan A.S.A.S.M.’ By 21 August 1920, five months after the establishment of the Behrens-Thiem Company, the three decided to dissolve their partnership. There was some dispute about certain financial arrangements connected with Behrens’ overseas tour, and this was submitted to arbitration. A month later, on 30 September 1920, H.A. Behrens retired from Behrens & Marshall and F.M. Maughan retired from the Behrens-Thiem Company.

For the following three months the firm Behrens & Marshall continued to operate under this name, although its advertising added the names of F.M. Maughan and AR. Thiem after the company name. However, by 23 December 1920 Maughan and Thiem had decided to change the name of the firm, and on that date the Registrar of Companies signed a certificate of the Original Registration Of A Firm. The registered firm was given the name Maughan-Thiem Motor Company, its business was given as motor traders and importers, and the persons carrying on the business were Alfred Ross Thiem and Frederick Milton Maughan. The firm commenced business under the new name in December 1920. It advertised in the press over the name Maughan -Thiem Motor Company (superseding Behrens & Marshall), and news items drew attention to the change. A further agreement of 28 July 1922 confirmed and renewed the partnership.

Since the establishment of the Behrens-Thiem Company in March 1920 Ross Thiem had retained his membership in both firms. That ended with the formation of the Maughan-Thiem Motor Company. A few days after this, on 10 January 1921, he retired from the Behrens-Thiem Company. For a while his place was taken by a mechanic from Maughan-Thiem, Harry Esmond Wadham, but on 11 July 1921 he too retired from Behrens-Thiem. The disagreement of 1920 was finally resolved by the formation of two quite independent companies carrying on their own distinctive business. The Behrens-Thiem Company retained Ross Thiem’s name, perhaps in the hope that he might re-join it; but after a brief closure during the depression years it was re-constituted as H.A. Behrens & Company. Understandably, both firms saw themselves as descendants of Behrens & Marshall. The letterhead of H.A. Behrens Pty Ltd stated that it was established in 1912, and Maughan-Thiem Motor Company similarly saw itself as a continuation of the Behrens & Marshall partnership of July 1912.

Soon after the partnership was dissolved Ross Thiem’s brother, Bruce Mayoh Thiem, started work with the Maughan-Thiem company. Bruce Thiem was about ten years Ross’s junior and, like his brother, he was educated at St Peter’s College. At the age of 17 he went to work with E. Laughton & Co, stock and station agents, of Currie Street, and about two years later he went to Wilcox Mofflin,  Limited,  wool,  skin  and  hide merchants, also of Currie Street. Then followed about six months with the coach and motor body building firm of John Dawson, after which he went to Maughan-Thiem Motor Company. Bruce Thiem was about 20 years old when he joined the firm in about 1921. Five years later, on 1 April 1926, he was admitted as a partner. When the firm became a limited company in 1928 he became a director, and he was later secretary, managing director, and chairman of the board of directors.