The Flying Swallow
In the Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton there lies a forlorn,
once-impressive but now badly-damaged grave. The large tombstone from the
neighbouring grave behind has fallen backwards and trashed the grave in
question. It is not vandalism which has caused this. Just neglect and ground
movement, and with all those decaying coffins underground there is plenty of
ground movement. It is not the job of the cemetery authorities to maintain
individual graves. There are nearly a million people buried in the Melbourne
General Cemetery (or to give it its original name, the New Melbourne
Cemetery which distinguished it from the Old Melbourne Cemetery which most
Melburnians have visited without knowing it) and cemeteries receive no
government funding. It is up to descendents to maintain the family grave.
A closer inspection of the now-wrecked wrought iron fence around the
grave reveals the following words worked into the ironwork. ï¿½Family Grave
of Swallowï¿½ as well as ï¿½Thomasï¿½ and ï¿½Sandridgeï¿½.
Thomas Swallow had arrived in Melbourne when the goldrush was at its
height. He headed off for Ballarat and like many others at the time found
that the real opportunity of the gold rush was not that you could chance
your luck in trying to dig up gold, but that a hard working entrepreneur
could create a sustainable business with virtually no start-up capital.
Thomas tried his hand at selling Colt pistols but eventually settled on sea
biscuits. Sea biscuits were a reasonably nutritious and long lasting biscuit
that were so tough that even the weevils had trouble making any impact on
them. Just the stuff for a gold rush settlement and thus Thomas was able to
simultaneously improve the general health and demolish the decaying teeth of
the miners of Ballarat.
On returning to Melbourne he set up a factory to produce biscuits at
Liardets Beach. The area was officially known as Sandridge and later Port
Melbourne and you can find a description of this are at the time at
Swallowï¿½s Biscuits were doing well and Thomas soon went into partnership
with another Thomas - Thomas Ariell. The Swallow & Ariell factory needed to
expand and over time cannibalised most of the buildings in a large block.
This factory and its workers feature in one of the earliest moving films of
Melbourne with the workers parading before the camera in and out the factory
door. Iï¿½m sure someone out there will send me a link to this footage online.
If you are looking for a weekend stroll, try a stroll around the old
Swallow & Ariell Factory site (near
Station Pier in
Sandridge - you have been paying attention, so you know where Sandridge is).
There is a pub on the corner so have a drink before you leave. Head north
along Princes Street and look out for signs of the old Swallows factory.
Like any buildings that sit still close to the city for too long they have
probably been changed into apartments. Continue around the block to your
right. As you turn into Stokes Place notice the signage on the building
SWALLOW & ARIELL
Continue around the block and when you arrive at the pub you may as well
have another drink.
Thomas looked along the supply chain and decided that sugar was the place
to be so he set up sugar plantations near Cairns. He had been Mayor of
Sandridge but sold out to Mr Ariell to concentrate on his sugar and other
interests. Still, by this time the Swallow brand had caught the public
imagination and elaborately decorated tins of ï¿½Swallowï¿½s Biscuitsï¿½ featuring
a swallow in flight (everyone seemed to forget Mr Ariell, but he didnï¿½t mind
and just sat back and counted the money) continued to be sold long after
Thomas Swallow was no longer connected with the business. With the arrival
of radio, the company decided to sponsor a junior talent show with plenty of
product placement and brand reinforcement. Swallows Juniors commenced with
the catchy Melody
ï¿½The flying Swallow [echo ï¿½ ï¿½Swallowï¿½],
Your guarantee of
Thomas Swallow had long left the building but the name Ariell just
wouldnï¿½t have worked as well.
The brand was eventually bought by the multinational Heinz group. I
sometimes walk past Thomas Swallowï¿½s grave and wonder if Heinz would show
any interest in restoring his grave for a fraction of the price they paid
for his name. I think the answer is probably no.
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Other articles in the series Seven Lost Icons of Melbourne:
The Flying Swallow