1875 Tristram’s soft drinks founded in Queensland

In Melbourne, we were once urged to “Say Marchants please”. In Brisbane, the catch-cry was “Say Tristram’s please”. We’ll probably never know who borrowed from whom for the slogan to promote their range of soft drinks. Both brands had Queensland origins, but Marchants closed down their Brisbane operation in 1917 and Tristram’s enjoyed continued popularity in the area for a further 50 years.

Tristram’s had a longer history than Marchants, dating back to 1875.  According to some accounts, Thomas Tristram arrived in Melbourne with his parents when he was very young. The family moved to Brisbane in 1861 and in 1864 he began working for the cordial makers Gardner & Keid.  Just over ten years later, he began making his own soft drinks in a two-room factory attached to his home in Hope Street, South Brisbane.

After two years, he entered into a partnership, with his factory producing ginger beer for his former employer, Owen Gardner. This arrangement ended in grief with a court case between the partners in 1885. Thomas had evidently formed another partnership with a Henry House, operating as Tristram & House, Ginger & Herbal Beer Brewers. This partnership was dissolved in 1886.

Thomas had married in 1884 and his wife, Emily, took an active role in the firm. On Thomas’s death in 1909, she continued to run Tristram’s along with her children – in particular,  her son, Eric. By 1916, Tristram’s range included lemonade, ginger ale, hop or horehound beer, sarsaparilla, ordinary ginger beer, and stone ginger beer. That same year, the firm was recommending their “winter ginger beer” as a warming drink during the chillier months. In 1929, the company added a juice-based drink known as T.O.D. (Tristram’s Orange Drink) to the range, gaining favourable publicity for the benefits this offered to the state’s fruit growers.

The 1920s saw a rapid expansion of the soft drink industry in Brisbane. The Sunday Mail wrote in 1929:

Each year sees the popularity of soft drinks increasing. It would appear that the public generally has been educated to the drinking of aerated waters. No doubt the advertisements of manufacturers have, to a large measure, been responsible for this.

A few years back, only certain shops stocked soft drinks, while to-day practically every suburban shop, be it general or specialised store, has its well-appointed ice-chest, and rows of bottles containing all varieties of soft drinks, from the homely lemonade to the latest fruit drink. It has been estimated that about 1500 shops in the city and suburbs stock soft drinks.

The 1930s were eventful years for Tristram’s. In 1931 the company moved into purpose-built premises in West End, a suburb in Brisbane’s inner south. Now heritage-listed, the impressive Spanish Mission-style building has since been converted into a shopping complex. In 1935, the firm became involved in a legal wrangle over the ownership of the Kirks Ginger Ale brand. Although they had negotiated in good faith to buy the recipe and the name from their inventor, Thomas Kirkpatrick, a judge determined that the rights belonged to Kirkpatrick’s former employer and had passed to the purchasers of that company. Tristram’s had to pay costs and £25 in damages – considerably less than the £1000 that had been sought.

Tristram’s West End factory

The business continued under family ownership through the 1950s and, rejecting the offer of a merger with competitors, into the 1960s. In 1964, British Tobacco began its foray into the state’s soft drink market, buying Tristram’s rival, Helidon Gardner. The Age reported on the sale, noting:

It is understood that Helidon Gardner holds more than 30 per cent of the soft drink market in Brisbane and an area ranging 70 miles out. Local bottlers in coastal cities market the main brand named Kirks. The company shares the Brisbane market with Coca-Cola Bottlers, another privately-owned firm, T. T. Tristram Pty. Ltd., and Golden Circle, owned by the Northgate, Brisbane, fruit cannery.

By the mid-1970s the competition proved too much and, in 1976, Tristram’s was placed into receivership. The company was bought by Cadbury Schweppes and the Tristram’s name began to disappear from shop signs all over Brisbane. The family business reinvented itself in 1979 as Trisco Foods, making a variety of flavourings, syrups, toppings and sauces for the food industry.

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