In 1904 there were two makers of WB corsets in South Australia. The English firm William Pretty and Sons made the WB Correct Form Corset for an American firm, Warner Brothers. This was a cheaper corset than the WB Erect Form Corset made by Weingarten Brothers of New York. Weingarten Brothers claimed that by importing and selling the cheaper version in South Australia, G & R Wills were passing off, or misrepresenting, an inferior product as Erect Form Corsets (A.J. Hannan, The life of Chief Justice Way, 1960, pp. 208-210).
The William Pretty and Sons brand had been on the market in South Australia for at least nine years while Weingarten Brothers had only recently begun importing and selling their corsets.
The Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Way, tried the case and three Kings Counsels and a number of other lawyers were involved including Sir Josiah Symon, Paris Nesbit and EE Cleland for the plaintiffs, and Sir John Downer and GJR Murray for defendants.
Chief Justice Way complained of the length of time taken by the hearing and preparation of his judgement. His letters talk about the abominable corset case and said the hearing took 52 days and cost £20,000. There must be more money in corsets than in law, literature, or the Gospel.
There was no evidence that G & R Wills were engaged in misrepresentation and Way's judgment exonerated the firm. His judgement took nearly four hours to read.
The corset in the G & R Wills records has a label attached saying it was provided as evidence in England so it is probably a William Pretty and Sons Correct Form Corset.
George Wills founded G & R Wills, importers and warehousemen in 1849. George and Richard Wills expanded the business to include clothing and footwear manufacture. In 1858 the business created its own buying organisation in London. A separate firm, George Wills & Co was created in 1881 to handle shipping. G & R Wills and George Wills & Co became limited companies in 1913 and G & R Wills a public company in 1946. It was taken over by Industrial Equity ca.1983, then on-sold to Southern Farmers which was taken over by Independent Holdings Ltd ca.1989. Records of G & R Wills were given to the State Library in 1999, take a look at the G & R Wills collection SLSA: BRG 304.
Written by Mark Gilbert, Curator Engagement and Media