Teddy Bears, Ginger Nuts, Butternut Snaps, Clix – today they’re all part of the Arnott’s biscuit range. But these old favourites have a heritage that goes back to an even older biscuit company, Guest’s Biscuits. Thomas Bibby Guest was making biscuits in Sydney more than 20 years before William Arnott opened his Steam Biscuit Factory. Guest arrived from England in 1852 and began making ships’ biscuits in partnership with a Sydney baker named Barnes. A story in The Age in 1937 suggests that “reports of Victoria’s wonderful progress drew his attention southward” and he undertook a three and a half-month journey by bullock cart to Melbourne, presumably bringing his machinery with him.
In Melbourne, Guest and Barnes built a factory in William Street and began operations in 1856 under the name of Barnes, Guest, & Co. A newspaper report the following year described in detail the mechanical processes involved in the biscuit manufacture, processes which allowed two men and three boys to “turn out as much work as twelve men on the old system”. Along with the mixing machine, the breaking rollers and the cutting machine, the article described the revolutionary travelling oven.
The travelling oven consists of an endless chain of perforated iron plates, eighteen feet in length, which passes slowly through the heated air, bearing on their surface the biscuits in process of baking. By this contrivance the oven is kept in continual action — the newly made biscuits being put in at one end and turned out fit for use at the other.
The article pointed out that mechanisation gave the company an advantage over their rival Swallow & Ariell, where the machinery was worked by hand power. At that time, Guest’s company was producing five tons of cabin biscuits and one ton of “fancy goods” each week.
In 1858, the name of the company was changed to T. B. Guest & Co. and over the following decades the product range expanded, especially in the area of “fancy goods”. By 1885 there were many varieties of Guest’s Biscuits on the market. At this point, the company employed more than 90 men. An account of the factory in that year related that Guest did not employ women or girls.
Mr. Guest expresses the greatest admiration for the shopping sex, but considers their employment in the same factory with men unprofitable to the employer. Both work well alone, but when mixed they are apt to resemble the two parts of a seidlitz power and destroy each other’s energy.
The business continued to grow and, in 1897, a new factory was built in North Melbourne. In 1898, Thomas bought out other family interests and the company was incorporated as T. B. Guest & Co. Pty Ltd. Thomas died in 1908 and Guest’s Biscuits continued under the leadership of his son, also named Thomas Bibby Guest. Popular biscuits in the Guest’s range included Nice, Marie, Thin Captain, Bourbon Slice, Maltex Creams and many more. The company also made dog biscuits, called Small Dog Bread.
Guest’s Biscuits remained a family-owned business until the 1960s, regularly introducing new products including the chocolate-coated Tee Vee Snacks, Nutravite corn crispbread and the (ultimately controversial) Gollywogs. In 1962, Guest’s merged with Arnott’s to become part of a new holding company known as the Australian Biscuit Company. This company subsequently merged with Victorian manufacturer Brockhoffs and acquired Swallow and Ariell in 1964 in a concerted campaign to stop the American Nabisco from entering the Australian biscuit market.
The holding company became Arnott’s Biscuits Pty Ltd in 1966 and traded as Arnott Brockhoff Guest. It was listed as a public company in 1970 but a member of the Guest family sat on the Board until 1992. The Guest’s name disappeared when the American company, Campbell’s Soup, gained full control of Arnott’s in 1997.
For a comprehensive collection of Guest’s Biscuits advertising, packaging and more, take a look at the Guest’s Biscuits Wix site here.