1864 Sunshine Biscuit factory founded

James Long's Victoria Biscuit factory became the home of Sunshine Biscuits

Pinning events to a specific date can be a challenge, especially when there are conflicting stories. Sunshine Biscuits is a case in point. According to the sign on the building in Ballarat, the company was founded in 1854. But other sources, including an obituary of the founder, James Long, suggest otherwise.

James Long was born in Tipperary, Ireland, and arrived in Australia in 1851. He worked in the bakery and confectionery trade in Adelaide and, according to the obituary, arrived at the Castlemaine diggings in 1854. But, rather than setting up a biscuit company, he joined the thousands seeking gold and achieved some success.  However, the following year, he returned to his trade, moving to Geelong, Victoria, where he managed a business for several years. It wasn’t until 1862 that Long moved to Ballarat, opening a confectionery business and two years later moving to a larger factory in Victoria Street where he began making biscuits.

His company at that time was known as James Long & Co. and the factory, opened in 1864, was the Victoria Biscuit Factory. Initially, going was tough with competition from established businesses in Melbourne including T. B. Guest & Co. and Swallow and Ariell.  Long persisted and in 1872, the Ballarat Star reported:

Mr Long has for some time past been in a position to manufacture biscuits which can compare favourably with the best made in Melbourne, and the increase of his customers in this department indicates plainly that he is slowly but surely breaking down a prejudice which for years has stood in the way of entire commercial success. His weekly consumption of flour in the manufacture of biscuits is large, but his machinery and apparatus have, in anticipation of his being before long called upon to greatly enlarge his operations, been devised and constructed upon a commensurate scale.

The article went on to describe the biscuit and confectionery-making processes in considerable detail, concluding “May his skill and energy be rewarded”. By 1894, Long was exporting his goods to the other Australian colonies (soon to become states of the newly federated Commonwealth) and to New Zealand. His Ballarat factory was now producing jams as well as a wide range of biscuits and confectionery lines.

In 1904, James Long moved to Portland in western Victoria, leaving the business largely in the hands of his son. The year after James died in 1916 the business was sold to William Crosby and Co. and, in 1921, the name was changed to Sunshine Biscuit & Confectionery Pty Ltd. Sunshine Biscuits had arrived. The original factory was destroyed by fire in 1923 and a “fine, modern factory” was built in its place. Still a landmark in Ballarat, it has outlived the business itself.

By the early 1960s, Sunshine Biscuits was struggling to make a profit. The company received a lifeline in 1968 when it obtained a licence to manufacture McVitie biscuits under licence for the UK firm United Biscuits. However, this arrangement ended in 1971, the same year the company was the target for a hostile takeover. William Crosby Holdings sold its one-third share to an unnamed raider. At this point, the company had not paid a dividend since 1966. Sunshine Biscuits, renamed Sunshine Australia, diversified into other product lines including dog food and even caravans. It ceased trading in 1991.

While there may still be locals who remember Raspberry Smiles, “Holsum” biscuits and even Sunshine Cenovis Yeast Biscuits, Sunshine Biscuits has joined the many Australian brands consigned to history.

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