In 1853, John Sands and Thomas Kenny bought a stationery business and set up in Collins Street, Melbourne. The firm became Sands and McDougall in 1861. (That spelling has been retained, although the key figure in the firm’s expansion from the 1870s was James MacDougall, who joined the firm around 1862.) The firm competed with imports by printing all types of stationery, with an emphasis on quality. It opened a branch in London in 1875 and in Adelaide in 1882.
The company’s Adelaide headquarters on King William Street was run by a new partner, Robert Brown Fraser. In common with other businesses the firm chose a less central site for its warehouse, but still within the limits of the city.
In the late 1880s, James MacDougall travelled to Europe and the US to assess the stationery market and came back to Australia with plans for an ambitious building program for the company. As a result, it built the massive six-storey building in Spencer Street, Melbourne. A similar but smaller-scale building, designed by D. Garlick & Son and built by W. Rogers, was erected in Light Square, Adelaide.
The mayor’s report of 1889 noted that the premises were almost fire resistant, as each floor was “separated by arches turned in cement concrete and resting upon iron joists”. It was a prominent feature of the city and the design was described as “bold and substantial”. It features bold brick and rendered detailing, with giant order pilasters linking first and second floors, and paired pilasters on the top floor. String courses articulate and give a sense of proportion to the Light Square and Waymouth Street facades. The exterior remains largely original.