According to the Shelley family, the origin of Shelley’s soft drinks can be traced back to 1893 in Broken Hill. A newspaper article from 1908 relates that the founder, J.A.M. (known as Jam) Shelley began brewing hop-beer in a small shed, employing three men. After his death in 1927 his son, Matthew, moved to Sydney where he commenced operations in Marrickville in 1930. The company was sold to British Tobacco (now Coca-Cola Amatil) in 1964.
John Augustine Moore Shelley came to Australia as a three-year-old, his parents settling in the Adelaide Hills. As a youth he began working in an Adelaide cordial factory, moving to Broken Hill in 1888. Five years later he opened his own cordial manufacturing business. From modest beginnings, he built a thriving business, described in the local press as “the largest cordial and soft drinks manufactory in Broken Hill, and one of the largest in the States”. By 1908, he was employing 28 staff and Shelley’s soft drinks included his hop beer, ginger beer, lime and soda, kola, tonic beer, cream soda and “snowball champagne”. Shelley was an innovator and was the first to introduce bottles with a screw stopper to keep the contents fresh after opening.
Shelley had three sons and three daughters. After his death the family divided his assets and one of the sons, Matthew, moved to Sydney with his own son Bert, using his share of the inheritance to found a new business, Shelley & Sons. Another branch of the family continued to produce soft drinks in Broken Hill, and in 1949 Matt Shelley obtained a controlling interest in that business. The Broken Hill factory was modernised and new equipment was installed.
The business continued under family control until 1963 when the company was floated to raise capital. British Tobacco acquired a shareholding and the following year bought the remaining shares. BT/Amatil operated the Broken Hill factory until the 1980s, then sold it to Clem Gillespie who produced Clem’s soft drinks there until 1988. In 2000, Shelley’s, together with Gest, Halls (SA), and Marchants (Victoria), were merged under the brand name of Kirks.
Two of the Shelleys (J.A.M.’s great-grandsons) formed their own soft drink company, Bert’s Soft Drinks, in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire in 1968. That company remains family-owned and is one of the few remaining local brands in the industry.