Sir Macpherson Robertson
aka Mac Robertson
Businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist
Mac was born in Ballarat in 1859 to an Irish mother and Scottish father. The family soon left Ballarat and eventually moved (minus father) to Scotland. At the age of 9 Mac was trying to support the family and get schooling at the same time. This often involved several jobs and a 3am start and a 9pm finish. Schooling eventually had to be abandoned and one of his jobs was in a confectionary factory.
The family returned to Melbourne to rejoin father and Mac apprenticed himself to a Fitzroy confectioner. By the age of 19, Mac (or to give him his full name MacPherson Robertson) had set up a small lolly factory in his mother’s bathroom and was selling the products at the weekends. With a combination of good products and good marketing, MacRobertson’s Chocolates became more and more successful. In the 1920s, Fitzroy and Collingwood were dominated by three men, John Wren, Squizzy Taylor and Mac who now employed several thousand people in his 'White City'. Ever the marketer, Mac had his factories painted white, employees dressed in white and he himself often wore a white suit and would travel around pulled by two white ponies. (Ask a White Hat Accredited Guide to point remains of the White City was.) Some of his confectionary lines such as the Freddo Frog and Cherry Ripe still remain popular today in Australia and many will remember other products such as Old Gold Chocolates, Milk Kisses and Columbines. Mac also new the value of staying abreast of the times and was continually introducing new technology and new products. For instance he introduced chewing gum and fairy floss to Australia.
A remaining section of Mac's White City
Mac become one of Australia’s great philanthropists and helped fund many good causes. However, he was also one of the first to realise the marketing potential of sponsorships. If he could help a good cause and it also increased the brand awareness of MacRobertson’s Chocolates then he wouldn’t complain. Some of the projects around Melbourne that resulted from his sponsorship include the MacRobertson Fountain behind the Shrine, the MacRobertson Bridge over the Yarra, the MacRobertson's Girls High School and the Herbarium at the Botanic Gardens. He also sponsored the London to Melbourne Centenary Air Race knowing that it would focus much world attention on Melbourne – oh, and MacRobertson’s Chocolates.
Part of Antarctica is called MacRobertson Land. Douglas Mawson named it in appreciation of Mac’s sponsorship of Antarctic exploration.
His company continued after his death, and moved to Ringwood in the 1960s before being taken over by the Cadbury empire.
By the time he died in 1945 he could lay claim to having built a major enterprise from nothing, providing employment through two major depressions and two world wars, having an enviable industrial relations record, and becoming arguably Australia's greatest marketer. In addition his monetary contribution to society was huge in three different ways:
- as one of Australia's greatest philanthropists
- as Australia's top taxpayer of his day he made significant contributions to Australia's social wellbeing
- by being mainly responsible for shaping the laws that made Victoria the philanthropy capital of Australia - as such the monetary contributions still continue and Victoria still far outstrips other parts of Australia in philanthropy
One would think that such an important and colourful person would not be soon forgotten. Unfortunately, few Melbourne students could tell you who Mac was. You might also have to search hard to find a Melbourne history teacher familiar with Mac and his contribution to Melbourne and Australia. Mac and numbers of other great Melbourne achievers are seriously out of fashion in such circles at the moment. However, we at White Hat are not slaves to such fashion and had no hesitation in placing him high on our list of Significant Melbourne People.
|George Taylor: Making it Happen was a commissioned biography published in 1934. As such it tells the 'approved' story of Mac up until that time. The book is long since out of print, but you may still come across copies of it|
Frederic P. Miller: MacRobertson Air Race provides a comprehensive record of this momentous event.
|A recent biography by Jill Robertson is entitled MacRobertson: The Chocolate King. It presents a well researched and balanced biography of this remarkable man.|
|Jill Roberson: MacRobertsonland is a small format publication in the house style of Arcade Publications|
|A full evaluation of the achievements of of MacRobertson by a person with a thorough knowledge of business and marketing as well as history is still to be written. There is plenty of source material. Are there any takers out there?|
Some philanthropy-related links on this site
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch
George & Annis Bills
John & Sunday Reid
Sir Ian Potter
Sir John Holland
The Smorgon Family
Walter & Eliza Hall