The Roberts family
The Roberts were a coach building family from Ipswich who expanded their trade and interest into all areas of transport. Three generations of the Roberts family are represented in the Queensland Museum Collection. Items donated by the family include blacksmithing tools, Aboriginal artefacts and a remarkable photographic collection.
The Roberts family’s donations of blacksmithing and mechanical objects made or used by the family reflect their keen interest in engineering. This enthusiasm was passed down through the generations. Together the photographs and artefacts complete a story about the natural and built environments of the Ipswich region in the early 20th century.
Albert Edward Roberts (born 1855) served an apprenticeship as a coachbuilder in Swansea, Wales. He went on to work with some of Britain’s best known coachworks, including the carriage workshop of Buckingham Palace. Roberts migrated to Brisbane in 1881 and in 1886 purchased the West Moreton Coach Works in upper Brisbane Street, Ipswich. The workshop made every kind of vehicle, from sulkies and delivery carts to high class carriages, hearses and omnibuses.
Railway Carriage and Motor Car Builder
Roberts’ sons entered the trade, and Albert Edwin (Bert) Roberts (born 1878) went on to build railway carriages in Townsville and railway rolling stock in Ipswich. He later toured and worked, before touring and worked in England, the United States and Canada. Bert noted that motor car bodies were being built in some overseas coachworks. On his return to Ipswich in 1905, the AE Roberts Carriage Works moved into building motor car bodies while continuing with horse drawn vehicles. A car sales division of the Carriage Works commenced operations in 1908. Bert added a Ford dealership to the business in 1913.
Photographer and Collector
Bert was also an accomplished amateur photographer and one of the earliest members of the Ipswich Photographic Society. Queensland Museum holds over 1000 glass plate negatives and photos from his collection. He also collected many Aboriginal objects from the local area and these too, are held at the Museum.
The Flying Flea
Bert’s sons Norm (born 1907) and George (born 1909), grew up in the family business, turning their hands to all facets of the carriage and motor trades. They were also air enthusiasts and built the ‘Flying Flea’ which hangs in the Queensland Museum. The Flea was a French-designed plane for hobby builders, made of plywood and fabric. The Roberts example dates to 1935. Although not officially permitted to fly, the Flying Flea enjoyed one test flight before being stored at the Roberts family home. It remained there until the family donated it to Queensland Museum. The brothers both worked for QANTAS as engineers. See the Flying Flea in our online collection.
Motor Racing and Vintage Cars
The younger brother of Norm and George, John (known as ‘Don’, born 1916), carried on the Roberts’ Motor Garage business and took part in motor racing and vintage car restoration.
Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.