According to the Phillip Island & District Historical Society, chicory was first grown on Phillip Island in 1870. It was used as a substitute for coffee or as an addition to coffee essence. Until 1878, when the first chicory kiln was built on the island, the chicory was shipped green and taken to Melbourne by Captain John Lock in his ketch, John and Elizabeth.
Chicory as a coffee substitute
Coffee essence was a Scottish invention. T & H Smith and Co. of Edinburgh devised the first liquid essence of coffee in 1840. Other brands soon followed. Camp Coffee, another Scottish coffee and chicory essence, began production in 1876 and is still available. In the UK and Australia, coffee essence was widely advertised as the earliest form of instant coffee. Chicory was commonly added to coffee essence – whether to reduce the cost or simply to add its own distinctive flavour is not clear.
Chicory was being grown in Victoria by the 1860s and in 1878 the first chicory kiln on Phillip Island was built by Messrs. John and Soloman West, in Cowes. The industry expanded and by 1920 there were at least 25 kilns on the island. Initially chicory was a very labour-intensive crop, with the roots being dug by hand. Mechanised harvesting was introduced in the 1930s. In 1936 a Chicory Marketing Board was formed, and the industry reached its peak in the 1940s.
Coffee essence remained in common use until the 1950s, but the introduction of instant coffee powder in 1947 provided an equally convenient and, to most people, better tasting alternative. The chicory industry declined on Phillip Island, with the last crop being harvested in 1987.