Thursday, July 18, 2013

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 Muldura 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: Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society
Australian Screen Online hold 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 search by Swallow and Ariell
Port Phillip Heritage website images search by Swallow and Ariell
They Can Carry Me Out: Memories of Port Melbourne, available from the PMHPS (see right hand pane)
Swallow and Ariell Biscuit Manufactory workers 1958


  1. Fond memories. Early 1950s, riding our bikes up to that very door in the photo, asking "Any biscuits, Mister?"

    The response would usually be "Hang on a minute, young fellas", and he would soon reappear and hand to us a brown paper bag of freshly baked, broken biscuits.


    Alan H.

  2. That's a wonderful tale. Thanks for offering it.

  3. Went to primary school at St Joseph's Primary just up the road from Swallows in Stokes Street.We would visit the Swallows factory on the way down to the beach to swim when school was finished for the day.I can still smell the freshly cooked bikkies now


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