The Hunters of “Hunters on the Hill”

‘Hunters’ is one of Wagga’s most well known and longest lasting businesses, having been in the same premises since 1872.

William Cowan Hunter was born on the December 3, 1823 in Newtown of Limavady, in the County of Derry, Ireland. Once he had completed his education, he initially worked for his father and then moved on to Derry, Belfast, Limerick, Dublin, and then Manchester and London, before moving to St. Louis in Missouri, in the United States of America.

By the time William was 26 years old, he had joined the Mounted Volunteers of California, Mariposa Battalion, under the command of Major James D. Savage. Around that time, he moved to California to work in the goldmines until 1852, when he left America for the Victorian goldfields. He lived in the new township of Chiltern and opened a bookstore there. He took great interest in the progression of the town and was popular enough to be elected to the first Borough Council.

The Move to Wagga

In 1866, William moved to Wagga with his wife, Emily, and established a new business. His store was located in newly constructed brick buildings at what is now 110 Fitzmaurice Street. He initially advertised the following items for sale: books, stationery, seeds, toys fancy goods, patent medicines, tobacco, snuff, and cigars.

An early advertisement for William Cowan Hunter's Wagga store [Wagga Wagga Express, 15 December 1866]
An early advertisement for William Cowan Hunter’s Wagga store [Wagga Wagga Express, 15 December 1866].
In 1870, the lower end of Fitzmaurice Street was inundated with flood waters which cost William around one hundred pounds in damage. This event is the attributed reason for his relocation to new premises, 68 Fitzmaurice Street, opposite the Court House, in 1872, which is exactly where Hunters is still located today.

William was involved in many community organisations and associations. He was a trustee of the Building Society, the Postal Reform Committee, the Church of England Finance Committee, the Progress Committee, the Murrumbidgee Land Tax Association, and the Agricultural and Horticultural Society. He was involved with the opening of the Hampden Bridge and with advocating this part of the colony for the Federal Capital.

The Wagga Wagga Advertiser described him as a “staunch and uncompromising free trader” who was heavily involved with the Wagga branch of the Free Trade Association. He was also the founder of the Wagga Wagga Literacy Club and was President of that Club until he died. William was extremely fond of this club, and even asked for members to be pall bearers at his funeral. He was elected an alderman of the Wagga Council from 1889 to 1893 and was reportedly the first to suggest the establishment of a Chamber of Commerce.

On 6 February 1896, Hunter advised the public that due to continued ill-health he was “disposing of his business” to his sons Winthrop and Robert and to his daughter Muriel. William Cowan Hunter died a month later on 17 March 1896, aged 73 years.

Interior view of Hunters on the Hill (from the CSU Regional Archives Collection).
In this wonderful photograph you can get a glimpse of just some of the amazing variety of items in WC Hunter’s store (CSURA RW1150/5).

Hunter Bros.

Winthrop and Robert continued their father’s business together, under the name ‘Hunter Brothers’. In the early 1900’s, Robert left to establish a business known as ‘Hunter the Stationer’ in Hunter Street, Newcastle.

A historical publication, ‘The Progress of Wagga Wagga and District,’ lists many of the widely varying items Hunter Brothers had for sale in 1914. These included firearms, sewing machines, musical instruments, phonographs, gramophones, records, toilet requisites, crockery and cutlery, jewellery, clocks, silverware, fancy glassware, toys, flowers, electroplate, basketware, leatherwear, travelling bags, pictures, picture frames, hampers, flower and vegetable seeds. The newspaper department had “all daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, and ladies’ journals” and a wide range of historical, scientific and fictional books were also available to the public. The publication also advised that Hunter’s had sporting goods for every requirement, “There is not an article that the athlete can require that will not be found at Hunters, except a rowing boat, perhaps.”

Hunters on the Hill, from 'The Progess of Wagga Wagga" 1914.
These images showing the interior of ‘Hunters on the Hill’ were included in “The Progress of Wagga Wagga” in 1914.

Winthrop continued to manage the business and even lived above the shop, with his living room directly above a spiral staircase through which he could observe the goings-on within the shop. Winthrop did not have any children and so brought his nephew Lendon Hunter Shaw into the business in 1919. He passed the management of ‘Hunters’ over to Shaw in 1935.

In 1967, the business was acquired by Mr. Graham Irons, which was the first time ‘Hunters’ had been owned by someone outside the Hunter family. During the 1970s, Irons expanded the business and created the ‘Hunters on the Hill Office Supply Centre’ at 10 Gurwood Street, which provided the public with wholesale stationery, office stationery and furniture. A little later, Irons also opened a specialist card shop in the Sturt Mall, called ‘The Card Cage.’

References: Hunters Newsagency Collection (CSU Regional Archives – RW356); “A History of Wagga Wagga” by Keith Swan; “Wagga Wagga: A History” by Sherry Morris; “The Progress of Wagga Wagga and District”; “Biographical Index of Wagga Wagga” compiled by Sherry Morris; The Wagga Wagga Express – December 1 & 15, 1866; The Wagga Wagga Advertiser – February 6, 1896; March 19, 1896; October 10, 1938.

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