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The Flying Swallow


Swallow Grave

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. �Family Grave of Swallow� as well as �Thomas� and �Sandridge�.

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 Sandridge Rail Bridge.

Swallow�s 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. I�m 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

AD 1854

Swallow & Ariell Manufactory

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 �Swallow�s Biscuits� featuring a swallow in flight (everyone seemed to forget Mr Ariell, but he didn�t 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

�The flying Swallow [echo � �Swallow�],
Your guarantee of quality.�

Thomas Swallow had long left the building but the name Ariell just wouldn�t have worked as well.

The brand was eventually bought by the multinational Heinz group. I sometimes walk past Thomas Swallow�s 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:

Seven Lost Icons of Melbourne - overview

  1. Redhead Matches

  2. The Flying Swallow

  3. Cremorne Gardens

  4. The Royal Jetty

  5. Bendigo Street Richmond

You can find a comprehensive guide to markets around Australia at The White Hat Guide to Markets in Australia.