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 which 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 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 or send an email 
Sources and further information
Conservation Plan for the Swallow & Ariell Site, Port Melbourne, prepared for the City of Port Melbourne, 1991
Australian Screen Online http://aso.gov.au/ search by ‘A day in a Biscuit Factory
Port Phillip Heritage website images http://heritage.portphillip.vic.gov.au/Home search by Swallow and Ariell

They Can Carry Me Out: Memories of Port Melbourne, available from the PMHPS (see publications tab)
Swallow and Ariell Biscuit Manufactory workers 1958 http://tinyurl.com/lhnl7kr

Comments

  1. 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.

  2. ken anderson says

    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.
    Ken

    • Janet Bolitho says

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

  3. 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 says

      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!

  4. Kathryn Hartley says

    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 says

      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.

  5. Francis Kocass says

    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 says

      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.

  6. Francis Kocass says

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

  7. Chris Tancik says

    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.

  8. Graeme Congues says

    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 says

      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.

  9. Coralene Berkeley says

    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.

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