In 1875, James Stedman bought the confectionery business where he had been working for the past 21 years. The shop, in George Street, Sydney, marked the beginnings of a company that became Sweetacres, the inventors of some of Australia’s most iconic lollies including Minties, Jaffas and Fantales.
Stedman began working in the confectionery business at the age of 14, rising to foreman at the company he bought from John M. Wright. By 1883 he was advertising the products of his “Steam works” located in Kent Street. As did many confectioners at the time, he also offered bakery products including wedding cakes and Christmas cakes.
Some years later Stedman opened a factory in Clarence Street and, by 1889, was employing more than 40 people. His six sons, two of his brothers and two nephews also worked in the business. In 1894, an article in The Sydney Mail described in detail the workings of the factory, which produced a wide range of confectionery. Under the Lion brand were Butter Scotch, Tofflets and Lankee-Bill Toff-E. Stedman also produced conversation lollies, peppermints and boiled lollies such as lolly sticks (candy canes), bulls’ eyes, barley sugar, acid drops and fruit tablets.
The business was incorporated in 1900 as James Stedman Ltd. Many of the workers in the factory were girls, some as young as 16. In 1901, an article in Truth suggested that the success of the business depended on sweated labour. Some of the girls employed were earning as little as six shillings (60 cents) a week. Interviewed for the article, James Stedman admitted that a worker could not support herself on such low wages, but said the company only hired girls who lived with their parents and therefore did not need a living wage.
James Stedman died in 1913 and the business continued under his sons. A factory fire in 1916 prompted the Stedmans to merge with a rival confectionery company, Henderson’s Sweets. Henderson’s was founded in 1903, its first successful product being Henderson’s Herbal Cough Drops. The company soon became well known for its popular Honey Kisses, a type of caramel with wrappers bearing “love mottoes”.
The merged company was known as James Stedman-Henderson Sweets. In 1918, operations were moved to a new site at Rosebery, Sydney. The site was named Sweetacres – the winning entry from a competition among the staff. Sweetacres soon became the company’s brand as well as its location. Minties, invented in 1922, was among the first of many nationally popular Sweetacres products. By 1925, the Rosebery factory was producing a million Minties per day. The company also produced many popular “count lines” – the lolly-counter favourites that were sold unpackaged – including Cobbers and Freckles.
James Stedman-Henderson Sweets Ltd. had been registered as a public company in 1920. In 1967, in a move that eventually led to the demise of the Sweetacres brand, the group took over another Australian confectionery company, Hoadley’s, and the Rosebery site was closed.
There were more corporate maneuverings to come. The group was acquired by the British firm Rowntree in 1971 and became Rowntree Hoadley. In 1988, Nestlé took control of the UK-based Rowntree Plc, allowing Nestlé Australia to absorb Rowntree Hoadley’s operations. Around the same time, Nestlé acquired the Melbourne-based lolly-maker, Allen’s. In a subsequent brand reshuffle, the heroes of the Sweetacres range became Allen’s products and the Sweetacres name was relegated to history.