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Biscuits, puddings, cakes and more: Swallow & Ariell in Port Melbourne

This week’s post has got to be about Swallow & Ariell.  The Age Epicure devoted this week’s edition  to iconic Australian biscuits without mentioning Swallow & Ariell.

Swallow & Ariell operated continuously in Port Melbourne from 1858 to 1991.  PMHPS feels the need to talk biscuits. The former Swallow & Ariell’s factory buildings, now The Anchorage, continue to add interest and pleasure along Stokes, Rouse and Princes Streets.

An unusually pink moment in late afternoon

Thomas Swallow, born in Reading, traveled to California and Ballarat before setting up a business making ships biscuits in Port Melbourne.  His business partner Thomas Ariell died in 1877. He then went into partnership with Frederick Derham, his son in law.  This piece is not to dwell on the great civic contribution of both men, but the significant industry they presided over.

The scale of the operation was remarkable. From an early stage, the factory’s operations were ‘mechanised to an impressive degree’.  Strategically located next to Port’s piers and the railway, Swallow & Ariell was a fully integrated business. Company farms around Shepparton provided much of its wheat, and after 1889 most was ground into flour on the Port Melbourne premises. The company sourced fruit and vegetables for canning from farms in Mildura, Mooroopna, Kyabram and Wandin.
‘take  for instance their Mildura apricots and peaches. What a luscious fragrance meets you as the tin is opened and how rich is its glorious colour and how it glistens with the cold white syrup.’
From 1881, Swallow & Ariell owned sugar plantations in Cairns. The sugar was refined into treacle and golden syrup.
For the year ending 1 May 1920, the factory used 51 tons of butter, 2,740 eggs and produced more than 66 lines of biscuits. They also made puddings, elaborate cakes and icecream. S & A was a significant employer – locally referred to as S & A College. At the height of the South African war it employed 1900 workers but even in 1991 it employed 450 people.
Stokes St, Port Melbourne 1987
Alison Kelly collection
Australian Screen Online holds a promotional film about a (glamourised) day in the life of the Swallow & Ariell factory. It describes the sweet biscuits as ‘the daintiest morsels’, ‘gorgeously coloured’ while the Uneeda biscuit is ‘dried biscuit perfection’. The smell of baking biscuits is a sensory memory many Port Melbourne people share.
Got more information or stories to add? Comment below.
Sources and further information
Conservation Plan for the Swallow & Ariell Site, Port Melbourne, prepared for the City of Port Melbourne, 1991
Australian Screen Online, search by ‘A day in a Biscuit Factory

Port Phillip Heritage website images, search by Swallow and Ariell
They Can Carry Me Out: Memories of Port Melbourne, available from the PMHPS (see publications tab)


  • des
    Posted December 2, 2014 1.28 pm 0Likes

    Hello, my great uncle was on one of the swallow & Arial biscuit tins around 1920.
    He was the little boy on the rocking horse.
    My uncle would be 96 now, he sadly passed away at 94 years of age.

    • Janet Bolitho
      Posted December 2, 2014 1.43 pm 0Likes

      What a wonderful detail to know. Might you have a photograph of the tin?

  • ken anderson
    Posted August 3, 2015 1.18 pm 0Likes

    My Grandfather Reg Lane worked at S&A as a deliveryman, not sure when but I was told that the deliveries made by him were by horse and cart.
    congratulations on a wonderful site, it brings back many memories.

    • Janet Bolitho
      Posted August 3, 2015 1.54 pm 0Likes

      Both grandparents from Port and working with the big employers. Thanks for leaving a comment Kenn

  • Jim
    Posted January 9, 2017 9.23 pm 0Likes

    Walking out the front door to school and a sudden mild gust filled the nostrils with baking biscuits. They say the sense of smell is closely linked with memory and I must say, I can ‘smell’ those biscuits as I type.

    • David Thompson
      Posted January 9, 2017 9.28 pm 0Likes

      A lovely memory Jim. I too think that smell brings back vivid memories and memories bring smells back to life. I can smell those baking biscuits too!

  • Kathryn Hartley
    Posted July 4, 2018 9.23 pm 0Likes

    Kathryn Hartley – My Maternal Grandfather, Gordon Burns PEDDIE, was employed by Swallow & Ariell Pty. Ltd. He had qualified as an Industrial Chemist at the Working Man’s College (later named R.M.I.T) He was promoted to Factory Manager and held his position for 30 years – In 1934, Gordon was sent to Europe, the U.K. and America to observe Biscuit Design, Factory Management and Oven Design. He wrote many recipies for biscuits. He and his family lived in Princes Street as they were given a home there by The Management for many years. Unfortunately, the house has been demolished. I remember many different biscuit tins in their pantry later in East Brighton, where I would visit them (my Grandmother and Grandfather) every day after school. Gordon had suffered a stroke in 1952 and was confined to a wheelchair. Dorothy did not drive, so they were reliant on our Mother, Laurys Flora Hartley (nee Peddie) for everything. When Arnott’s amalgamated Swallows in 1962 and several other biscuit companies in Melbourne and Victoria, they continued to they continued to “look after” Gordon until he died in 1965 aged 62.

    • David Thompson
      Posted July 5, 2018 9.31 am 0Likes

      Thanks for sharing Gordon and Dorothy’s story. We’ve heard many stories of Swallow’s being good employers including keeping people’s jobs for them when they enlisted for WWI and even making up the difference between the army pay and what they would have earned if they had not enlisted.

  • Francis Kocass
    Posted March 11, 2019 8.13 pm 0Likes

    Thank you for the history of S&A. In researching our family history, it is suggested my great grandfather worked there around 1878. He was Greek and arrived in port melbourne around that time, he later married and moved to Sydney. Is there any information/ names of employees from that era?

    • David Thompson
      Posted March 12, 2019 10.54 am 0Likes

      Hi Francis,
      S&A were a large employer in the area and unfortunately it is rare to see the names of employees listed. Occasionally there are reports in the paper if an employee has been presented with a long service award like 50 years but otherwise they are mostly anonymous.

  • Francis Kocass
    Posted March 12, 2019 6.01 pm 0Likes

    Thank you David, if we uncover any information we will share it with you, cheers Frank

  • Chris Tancik
    Posted September 30, 2019 7.51 pm 0Likes

    My mother has shared many stories of stopping by the factory and knocking on the door at the rear asking the workers if there were any broken biscuits, the replay was usually “wait right here”. Moments later they would return with a bag full of
    Broke. Biscuits for my mother and her school mates to enjoy. She’s also mentioned having fond memories of walking through the factory towards the end of shift and seeing the biscuits being produced. Love hearing of her stories growing up in Port Melbourne during the 50’s and 60’s.

    • Janet Bolitho
      Posted October 8, 2019 9.09 am 0Likes

      So pleased your mother has passed on these stories to you and you in turn shared them with us.

  • Graeme Congues
    Posted January 6, 2020 7.19 pm 0Likes

    Hi Janet, Just found your article after trolling for information about my ancestors from France. What we know is that 2 brothers came from the South of France near Oloron – St – Marie in Pyrenees during the 1800s. We have been lead to believe they came as master bakers for Swallow & Ariell (one for the biscuit line and the other for the cakes line). One of the brothers Vincent was my Great, Great Grandfather. My grandfather and many of his siblings (he was one of 12) worked there as tinsmiths making the biscuit tins. The information we have is scarce and even with the wonders of the internet,isn’t easy to find. I’m wondering in your research did you come across any details of the staff over the years? Cheers, Graeme

    • Janet Bolitho
      Posted January 7, 2020 9.05 am 0Likes

      Thank you for this information Graeme. There are likely to be others in the Society who know more about Swallows than I do, and I will pass on your inquiry to them. All the best.

  • Coralene Berkeley
    Posted July 11, 2020 5.12 pm 0Likes

    I’m looking into my ancestors for the 1st time. I’ve read in a story my nan wrote Gladys Isabella Berkeley (Warden), that her father (my great grandfather) worked at this factory during 1920 and for a number of years. His name was Charlie Warden. A Welsh gentleman. A cook. I’m trying to find out more about him. Records are scarce. Is there a way you can access any records regarding staff? I can’t believe this connection! What a beautiful building… and with so much history. Thank-you.

  • Jennie Billson
    Posted September 25, 2020 8.58 pm 0Likes

    My Grandmother Mary (Molly) Bride worked at Swallows from a young girl till she retired at 65. She was 77 when she passed away in 1985. Very happy memories of the Xmas parties for the children, She would take me and 3 siblings her 4 grandchildren every year. From 1955 till 1965. Fond memories. I’m not 100% but think she worked there for 50 years. She weighed the biscuit. I am doing her life story at the moment. I’m looking for any information about her time at Swallows. Thank you.

    • David Thompson
      Posted September 26, 2020 10.35 am 0Likes

      Thank Jennie
      If anyone has any information to pass on to Jennie regarding Mary (Molly) Bride and her time at Swallow & Ariell please let us know at pmhps@localhost and we’ll pass it on.

  • Mary Middleton
    Posted September 29, 2020 2.47 pm 0Likes

    My relative Ronald Sloane was apparently on the lid of the biscuit tin in the 1925-25 years.
    Do you know where i could go to find out anymore information please. Or even see a copy of the photo on the tin.

    Thank You

    • David Thompson
      Posted September 29, 2020 7.53 pm 0Likes

      Thanks for you comment Mary.

      I’m not sure what advice to give you. Swallow & Ariell tins are very popular and the centenary tin from 1954 is relatively common. I’m not sure what the 1925 – 25 years tin would be. The 25 year anniversary of the company would have been in 1879 not 1925. I know some of the company records are held by the University of Melbourne in their archives so it may be worth contacting them.
      David Thompson

  • Antony Denahy
    Posted December 3, 2020 8.59 pm 0Likes

    It is so interesting to hear these stories. I and some friends just chanced upon the still retained Swallow and Ariel entrance to the current apartments a few days ago, and it sparked memories of the biscuits from my childhood in the 60s. My mother in-law remembers selling them at the Tumbarrumba grocery store.
    Such an important place in so many people’s lives, over generations – it is sad there is such scant information now.

    • David Thompson
      Posted December 4, 2020 10.21 am 0Likes

      Talks for sharing your chance discovery. Swallows is one of those companies that many people remember because they produced some iconic biscuits and who doesn’t love biscuits.

  • Val Bartholomeusz
    Posted February 27, 2021 10.05 am 0Likes

    My parents met at Swallows Dad John Grenfell was a delivery driver and Mum Matilda Jorgensen worked in the factory, they were married in 1915 and lived in Albert Park. About 1927 the family moved to Ballarat where Dad delivered Swallows biscuits to all the country towns in the area. My brother tells me the biscuits came up from Melbourne by train and would pick them up from the station I think once a week and take them to a warehouse near the station and from there would load up for his daily deliveries, he was the only one who did this so not many would know. 1937 when I was a year old the family moved back to Melbourne.
    Another part of the story mums sister worked at Swallows and her husband was a chauffeur to one of the bosses, she was widowed young and worked in the tea rooms at the factory doing teas and lunches, and lived in one of Swallows houses at 34 Princes Street, after my Dad died Mum went to live with her there and I lived there for 2 years before I was married and would get up by the swallows whistle at 7.30.

  • Kevin Meacham
    Posted June 20, 2021 12.25 pm 0Likes

    Just found an old rectangle tin from S & A which my father or grandfather had with a very “rusted” label which states it contained Compressed mixed vegetables. 1/4 lb tablets packed in 1 ib tins. Am wondering aprox how old it would be ? Maybe war rations ?. Any clues

    • David Thompson
      Posted June 21, 2021 9.59 am 0Likes

      Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for visiting. It’s very hard to date these things as Swallow’s was formed in the 1850s so there is a long history of products to cover. Maybe there is someone reading this who is familiar with the product and can shed some light on it.

  • Margo Robinson
    Posted August 20, 2022 4.28 pm 0Likes

    Just wondering if the Nelba wafer tin with the flowers is very common. Found one in my grandmothers things,when she passed away.

    • David Thompson
      Posted August 24, 2022 11.49 am 0Likes

      Sorry, we do not know how rare that tin is. We do not have one in the Society’s collection.

  • Wendy Ockerby
    Posted March 16, 2023 1.50 pm 0Likes

    Every summer I was lucky enough to attend the legacy camps held in Melbourne. We visited so many different factories and organisations. Swallows was one of them. The tour showed us the production of the products and at the end we were given a treat bag of their products. My favourite was the tick tocks. Yummmmm.

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We respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and work, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation and pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.