Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

Honey and horses, treacle and twine

Honey and horses, treacle and twine, scabbards and sugar — every imaginable moveable asset is included in a 1903 stock inventory of biscuit manufacturers Swallow & Ariel, offering an insight into one of Victoria's earliest and most successful manufacturing companies, and into the technologies and materials of early 20th century food manufacturing.

Thomas Swallow and Thomas Ariell began their steam biscuit manufactory in Sandridge (Port Melbourne) in 1854. Much of the façade of their factory, which eventually occupied most of the block bounded by Rouse, Stokes, Beach and Princes Streets, is still extant today. Their first product line was ship biscuits designed for the rigours of long sea voyages. By the late 1880s they had expanded their business interests, setting up sugar refining and flour milling operations and expanding their range of products, manufacturing over 100 varieties of biscuits, cakes and puddings.

During both world wars the company diverted production towards supplying biscuits to Australian troops. In between the wars, it recognised and responded to a changing domestic market. As housewives took advantage of labour-saving technologies and practices in the home, commercially manufactured biscuits became a popular and more prestigious alternative to home-baking.

Even though Thomas Swallow quit the company before 1880, his name and associated emblem of a swallow in flight appeared on highly decorated tins of Swallow's Biscuits throughout the 20th century until 1964 when Swallow & Ariell was absorbed by Arnotts. Biscuits continued to be produced at the Port Melbourne factory until 1991.

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