Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

Beginnings of a biscuit empire

Thomas Bibby Guest arrived in Sydney in 1852. By May 1856 he had established a steam biscuit factory in Melbourne in partnership with John Barnes, trading as Barnes, Guest & Co. The firm took out a five-year lease on a building in William Street, in which two men and three boys began manufacturing ship and fancy biscuits. By 1858 the firm had been reorganised as T.B. Guest & Co.

As the business expanded, so too did the factory. A new store was built at the William Street site in 1869. After a fire destroyed this building, a replacement factory was built the following year. The building served as Guest's factory until 1932 when the business moved to West Melbourne. In 1963 a merger with another biscuit manufacturer created Arnott Guest Pty Ltd.

Samuel Thomas Gill was commissioned by the architect to paint a representation of the second William Street building. Gill is best known for his lithographs of Victorian gold-diggings, but he was often commissioned by architects because, as one recommendation put it, he was 'capable of embellishing a perspective view of a building'. This painting exemplifies his style with its solid architectural depiction and the spirited but somewhat naïve figures, animals and carriages.

While Gill's artistry depicts the prosperity of the company, the stories found within the company records of the T.B. Guest & Co. collection allow a vastly different insight into the working conditions of female industrial workers and working-class conditions in general during the late 19th century.

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