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Ada Caroline Sherington (1852–1936)

by Barbara Dawson

Ada Caroline Sherington, entrepreneur and businesswoman, was born in London, England, on 18 September 1852, second child and first daughter of Henry Banfield, accountant, and his wife Jane, born Wilcox. On 10 September 1873, at St Paul’s Church, Penge, she married William Charles Sherington, merchant, aged 30, from Central Hill, Upper Norwood. She and her husband lived at Underhill Road, Dulwich East in the wider suburb of Camberwell. Ada and William had three sons: William Henry (born 25 September 1874), Arthur Charles (1876) and John Guy (1878).

In November 1879, Ada filed for divorce from William Snr because of his ‘intemperate habits’ and his ‘violence and cruelty’. A judicial separation was decreed in April 1880. Ada was granted the costs of proceedings and custody of the children, but no alimony. In the short term, she moved to live with her sister.

By 1885, William had moved to the United States of America and had in 1887–88 arrived in the Lake County region, near San Francisco. He was working in the gold mines in northern California by 1890. After the murder of his sister and brother-in-law by an intruder in their saloon bar in ‘Camper’s Retreat’, William remained in the United States. He died in San Francisco on 18 March 1897.

On 3 April 1889, Ada left London on the Taroba with her sons, bound for Queensland. Ada’s two younger sisters had previously emigrated to that colony. William was now aged 14, Arthur, 12 years and Guy, 10 years-old. The family disembarked on 24 May 1889.

Federation in 1901 had opened up a national market for goods, and transport systems had developed to meet the need. With better lines of communication, commercial and passenger travel increased, requiring more ‘travel goods’. During the first decade of the twentieth century, Australian manufacturing, including the use of leather, would outstrip agriculture. It was into this field that Ada, with a family background in retail, launched her business. Her aim was to provide her sons with work.

Moving with her two sisters to Sydney, in 1892 Ada was living in Woolloomooloo. William Sherington found work at a metal trunk manufacturing company, owned by Alfred Ford–the future husband of Ada’s sister, Clara. Because the business was having financial difficulties, Ada raised money, partly through insurance policies, to foresee its future. In 1896 William became Ford’s accountant and, in effect, Ford’s ‘junior’ partner. Ada had profited from family support from England in the way of advice and financial assistance to expedite her plans for the future.

The trunk manufacturing company thrived. By 1897 there were 15 employees at the factory in Harris St, Ultimo, and was now making leather suitcases, footballs and handbags. Ada and her sons lived above the factory. In 1898, Ada bought land in Park Ave, Manly, for £200, possibly planning to build a home near Clara and Alfred Ford. However, in 1901 she and her sons had moved to ‘Sandlina’, Ocean St, Bondi and, soon after, to ‘Bon Accord’ in Bon Accord Ave, Waverley.

By 1902 the three Sherington brothers had joined Alfred Ford. Ada (with her eldest son) now began to negotiate a full partnership with Ford, and purchased machinery to increase the production of leather goods. Again, financial support came from the boys’ English uncle, William Pretty, who provided a guarantee with the Sherington family’s bankers for £800. The Company’s capital had risen to £1,326,14.0; Ada Sherington and Alfred Ford forged a formal partnership, Ada’s land at Manly serving as the Bank’s surety.

The Company moved and expanded. Now located at 278-280 Elizabeth St, Sydney, it had become a small factory (rather than a large workshop), with different production methods. At the end of 1903, the workforce had grown to 32. The Sherington brothers became increasingly more active in the manufacturing and the management of the business. They and Ada began to receive a majority of the profits. In December 1910, Alfred Ford’s company was sold to the new Company, named Ford Sherington Ltd, registered under the Companies Act 1874 (NSW). Its products were listed as ‘travelling requisites’ and ‘sheet metal goods sports goods motor accessories fancy leather goods’. Perhaps its most well known product was to be the ubiquitous Globite suitcase, used by Australian school children over many decades and, later, the Regal line of leather suitcases, both items produced in the Ford Sherington factory in Kippax St, Surry Hills.

Survived by her second son Arthur, Ada died at Manly on 11 April 1936. Small in stature, she had been the founder of a new family enterprise in Australia. By the end of the nineteenth century, she had acquired the reputation as the woman who rescued Alfred Ford; this view endured in the Sydney business community into the next generation.

by Barbara Dawson, great-granddaughter of Ada Caroline Sherington, 11 May 2017

Source: Geoffrey Edgar Sherington and Bruce Banfield Sherington, Sheringtons: A History, Sydney University Press, 2014.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Barbara Dawson, 'Sherington, Ada Caroline (1852–1936)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Banfield, Ada Caroline

18 September, 1852
London, Middlesex, England


11 April, 1936 (aged 83)
Manly, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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