The struggle over shop trading hours is a significant but neglected component of the nineteenth century working-hours debate. This struggle involved a wide array of workers and their organisations, including journeymen bakers and butchers as well as shop assistants (such as drapers’ assistants and grocers’ assistants). For these workers, hours of labour were dictated by the trading hours of establishments they worked in, alternate sources of supply (in the case of self-employed meat, bread and milk carters) and the lowest common denominator of retailer competition. This study focuses on shop assistants, by far the largest group involved in the early-closing movement, in the colony of Victoria. The study highlights the failure of self-regulation or voluntarism advocated by the Early Closing Movement, the close intersection of commercial controls with social protection and divisions within capital/employers (especially between small and large firms). The repeated and conspicuous failure of the voluntary compliance or persuasion-based approach over 30 years set the scene for a campaign to regulate trading hours in the early 1880s. This campaign yielded success with the enactment of early-closing provisions within the Victorian Factories and Shops Act in 1885 — a pioneering piece of legislation within the British Empire.