Swallow and Ariell was founded by Thomas Swallow in 1854. He claimed it to be the first biscuit company in Australia, despite the fact that Guest’s Biscuits had been founded in Sydney two years earlier. Swallow took a partner, Thomas Ariell. They established a factory in Port Melbourne (then known as Sandridge) beginning by manufacturing ship’s biscuits and growing to be the fifth largest biscuit company in the world, with over 150 varieties.
Thomas Swallow emigrated from England to California in 1848, during America’s gold rush. After the discovery of gold in Australia he travelled to Victoria and, according to the company history, the poor quality of food on the voyage prompted him to start a business manufacturing ship’s biscuits. Swallow may have learnt something of the trade in his hometown of Reading, which was well known for biscuits produced there.
Little baking was done on board the sailing ships of the era. Swallow supplied all the ships arriving in the Melbourne port during the busy gold rush years. Swallow’s was also the first biscuit company to produce fancy biscuits. An employee recounted his memories of those years, saying:
“We made fancy biscuits for town and country delivery…I used to do Williamstown on horseback…Before the railways were opened up the goods all went up country by team, generally bullock teams. You would see the drays and wagons backed in, the bullocks lying down, chewing the cud, all along Elizabeth, Swanston and Flinders Streets.”
Thomas Ariell died in 1875, but the company continued to bear his name. Swallow & Ariell expanded into fruit growing and processing in Victoria and sugar plantations in Queensland. They also made golden syrup, treacle, plum puddings and cakes. An advertisement reminded customers that “Swallow and Ariell were awarded first prizes for their brides’ cakes at International Exhibitions held in Paris, Philadelphia, Calcutta, Sydney and Melbourne”.
Thomas Swallow died in Cairns, Queensland, in 1890 and his son-in-law, Frederick Thomas Derham, took over the running of the company. Derham’s eldest son and, eventually, grandsons were to succeed him, keeping the business in family hands for more than 100 years.
In 1903, Swallow & Ariell began making Uneeda biscuits, a type of cracker invented by the National Biscuit Company (later Nabisco) in the United States. So popular was this new biscuit that, during the 1930s, advertisements for all the company’s products carried the line “The Uneeda Bakers”. Among other well-known Swallow & Ariell brands were Marie Biscuits and Melba Wafers. In 1925, a move was made into ice cream manufacture under the Swallow’s name – a business that continued until 1956 when the division was sold to Peters Ice Cream.
Swallow & Ariell was at the centre of a fierce takeover battle in the early 1960s when Nabisco attempted to enter the Australian market. To forestall this, Arnott’s embarked on a series of mergers and acquisitions with other Australian biscuit companies including Guest and Brockhoff in Victoria, Menz in South Australia and Mills & Ware in Western Australia. In 1964, the merged entity, known as the Australian Biscuit Company, was finally successful in its bid for Swallow’s and Australia’s first biscuit company was no more. The Australian Biscuit Company was soon renamed Arnott’s.
The Swallow & Ariell brand soon disappeared but biscuit production continued at the Port Melbourne factory until 1991 when the building was sold for conversion into apartments.