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Opportunity did not always bear out for those seeking gain from the chocolate and confectionery trade…

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Sunday Herald, 11 September 1949, p7

The Fruits of One’s Labours



Why did a confident man employed in 1919 to market dried fruits from Mildura become so desperate that he used a gas oven to end his life seven years later? In the same way that in opening a box of chocolates it is hard to take ‘just one’, Clement John De Garis’s initial business successes led him to keep going ‘back for more’, until there was just nothing left.


Born in Melbourne in 1885 to a Wesleyan minister and his wife, Clement, or ‘Jack’ as he was known, spent some time as a child in Mildura where his father took an interest in irrigation schemes and became a local Councillor [i]. An intelligent young man, Jack was dux of his class in 1899, and in 1906 he took over the auctioneer licenses of his father’s business, E DeGaris & Co, who were auctioneers and agents, including the distribution of packaged dried fruit from the district [ii].

Marrying in 1907 to Rene Corbould, Jack also established a motor-garage and furniture store both of which prospered. He believed in the power of publicity, which came in handy when he became managing director of the dried fruit packing house his father had established, a partner and manager of the Sarnia Packing Company at Mildura and created a trade journal with an Australia-wide distribution [iii]. Yet for Jack this was not enough. In 1913 he became involved in the 10,000 acre subdivision venture of the Pyap estate at Mildura. Supplying tinned fruit for the war effort, and a post-war dried fruits boom further advanced Sarnia and De Garis and in 1918 he was appointed Director of Publicity for the Australian Dried Fruits Association [iv]. His starting salary was £1,500 (based on a levy on growers) and increased to £2,000 the following year, but he did manage to stimulate the consumption of dried fruit in Australia by 5,000 tons over 3 years. He ran a press tour of 55 representatives through Victoria, News South Wales and South Australia in 1920, the original tour in 1919 was cancelled, ironically, due to the influenza epidemic [v]. Following a competition, dried fruit from the Murray was promoted under the trade name Sun-Raysed and De Garis ran competitions which offered prizes based on orders and consumption of dried fruit and their confectionery brand “Good Little Normey”.


“Normeys”, as they were known were promoted as ‘the best “lolly” ever invented’ and consisted of equal quantities of currants, sultanas and seeded lexias [raisins] put through a mincing machine, formed into little balls and coated with desiccated coconut [vi]. An earlier attempt by Ambro Ltd in Mildura in 1908, to market a confectionery based on dried fruit, the Tryambro, was initially successful [vii]. Made from a mixture of dried uncooked fruits and ground almonds and other nuts, no preservative or colouring added, but natural sugar extracted from dried grapes was


Diggers' Gazette, 15 June 1920

used as a preserving agent, sales later plummeted due to grubs growing in the packaged product [viii]. By promoting the “Normey” recipe, rather than focusing on a pre-made product, De Garis worked around the grub problem and still raised the consumption of dried fruits and as a consequence the value of fruit-growing land in Mildura rose dramatically [ix]. Still not content, De Garis created recipe books, wrote books, published a music score named a Sun-raysed Waltz, bought an aeroplane, distributed a film of the Murray and after purchasing two Mildura newspapers he replaced them with The Sunraysia Daily.

A land venture in Western Australia, the 47,325 acre Kendenup development, was the beginning of his demise. His Mildura-based financial backers were uncomfortable with his expansion into W.A. and public confidence in his schemes weakened. A Royal Commission into Kendenup may have exonerated De Garis of fraud, but he was unable to pay his debts and his company went into liquidation in 1923 [x]. The same year ‘one time Emperor of Mildura, now King of Kendenup’ divorced his wife and soon afterwards remarried to his private secretary Violet Austin [xi]. Now in a downwards spiral, in January 1925 Jack De Garis went missing, having left suicide notes with suggestions he had drowned himself [xii]. A week later he was taken from a ship when it docked in Auckland, New Zealand, and extradited to Melbourne to face the courts [xiii].


Ever the optimist and believing an oil drilling scheme would restore his finances and reputation, the reality finally sunk in on 17 August 1926 that life’s box of chocolates was finally empty [xiv]. He gassed himself with a stove in his home in Mornington, and was found by a plumber he had deliberately engaged to visit the premises that afternoon [xv]. A note left pinned to his door (excerpt from inquest transcribed below) explained the situation.

Formed in 1907, the Australian Dried Fruits Association (now known as Dried Fruits Australia) has well and truly been a success and a survivor [xvi]. Like De Garis, though, the name “Normeys” is no longer associated with Mildura’s sweet, dried fruits, but hints of their past can be found in modern versions of the recipe books that De Garis used to promote them [xvii].

"Dear Mr Scott (key of front door herewith),

Sorry to drag you into this but you are a plumber, and a plumber is needed. There might be a danger to anyone else. The gas must be cut off outside the house.


The kitchen is closed and is full of gas and you'll find me there but you must be cut off and doors opened carefully before entering. No matches must be used.


Better ring police. Also my wife. Hawthorn 2859. Forgive, she has no idea.


All down on a big job yesterday and paying the penalty today. Please see parcels and letters under mat reach their destination.


CJ Le Garis"

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Thefts, burglaries & robberies – oh my!



The pull of the sweet seemed too great for both young and old but often with very different motives, and varying methods of access. Here are just a small sample of the heists executed over the year with some perpetrators coming to a sticky end…


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Orphan Frederick Mitchell was known in Court as a companion of the Cordingley boys who were frequent visitors of the bench and in 1892, was remanded on attempted larceny charges. The boy had visited Ann Peat’s confectionery shop in View Street and tried to rob the till; upon hearing the bell attached to the till, Mrs Peat returned to the shop and found Frederick behind the counter. He pleaded with Constable Garland that we would not do it again but as he had been implicated in other thefts previously, Frederick was taken in.


“How long have you been at this game?”, asked Inspector O’Flaherty, to which Mitchell replied that he only took ‘one and fivepence’ from Johnson’s till (at the nearby Masonic Hall), and nothing from Peat’s, presumably having been caught before he had the opportunity [xviii]. He claimed to have perpetrated these jobs himself and not in association with the ‘out of control’ Cordingleys. Police Magistrate Patterson questioned Frederick’s guardian, John Holman, about his care of the boy and warned that he was out of control, likely to go ‘from bad to worse’, and for his own safety, should be sent to the reformer. Holman instead entered into an arrangement to pay the bond should Frederick transgress his suspended prison sentence within twelve months.


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“I came to see you about a bottle of black jujube lollies”

“I know nothing of it”

“What’s the use in your talking, I can smell them”

“I bought three pennorth of jubes but cannot name the shop”

“I’d like to see your kitchen”

“No man in this world will search my house without a warrant”


So went the exchange between Eaglehawk’s Constable Thomson and a seemingly intoxicated Edward Barnes at the kitchen door of his house in Sailor’s Gully. An elderly widow, Martha Hunter, ran a lolly shop in High Street and while at the rear of her store, Barnes entered the door and secreted a glass bottle of the aniseed jubes in his shirt before leaving past the Camp Hotel. Martha found William Lobb in the doorway of the pub, along with John Clymo and Stanley Cook, who all later attested in court that they had seen Barnes at the shop, indeed Lobb heard the clinking of glass as Barnes passed them.


Constable Thompson was informed, and the above conversation took place. Eventually the arrest was made and after hearing evidence, including from Martha who was so feeble that she had to be assisted into the witness box, the bench issued a fine of £2 with four weeks to pay despite objections from Luke Murphy, Barnes’ counsel, that the case was based only on suspicious circumstances [xix].


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The confectionery shop owned by Misses Rees and Kelly on High Street in Eaglehawk was broken into through a back window, with 15 shilling worth of lollies and cigarettes stolen, purportedly by ‘boys’ (1902) [xx]. The Weisheit sisters’ lolly shop in Bridge Street was forced, with Constable Cuffe investigating the theft of 30 shillings worth of lollies and cigarettes (1904). The regions weren’t immune either; former Favaloro Brother’s staffer, V Lopez ran a confectionery shop in Gillies Street, Rochester which was broken into by forcing a window, and two pounds of chocolate, including two expensive boxes of fancies valued at over £2 were stolen as well as a section of pound cake (1917). One of Hoadley’s flagship Bendigo stores in Queen Street was raided overnight by unknown thieves who got away with a ten pound (4.5kg) tin of wafer biscuits, a box of Hoadley’s Chocolate Sticks, a box of cream dates and a box of coconut jellies (1903).

By cutting a hole in the wicket door of Walter Kentish’s confectionery store, thieves were able to gain entry overnight to the middle of three buildings on Queen Street (between Mitchell Street and Lyttleton Terrace) with long rooms, brick walls, galvanised rooves and large wooden double doors. Constable Kennedy found that while the safe and a cheque for £41 had not been touched, an amount of lollies had been stolen. Mr Kentish subsequently had the wicket door plated and the thieves were not apprehended (1902).


Miss Eliza Prideaux had a particularly bad yuletide in 1905 with over £7 worth of goods eaten or stolen – cordial, lemonade, ginger ale, and ample lolly tins and glasses – from her booth at the Charing Cross tramway shelter on Rosalind Park. The burglary was effected early on Christmas morning after the tramways staff clocked off at 1:00AM, the thieves first trying to remove a window by chipping out the putty, then boring holes around the lock mechanism with a brace and bit, then chisels, and failing that, battered a panel from the door. Two days into the new year, the Christmas decorations were yet to come down and when the shop window gas lighting was lit, they caught fire, the flames quickly spreading through the store. While the fire was quickly extinguished, the chocolates and lollies in the window, just replenished from the break in and valued at £15, were ruined. In response to the shock, Eliza took a ‘violent fit’, having to be held down by four firemen before being taken to her brother-in-law’s property, exhausted [xxi]. She sold the business to T Fowler the following year.


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Prominent confectioner, James Nixon of Nixon’s Confectionery Steam Works in Vine Street, was the target of several burglars for more than a decade. In 1903, his operations were based in High Street; after he had left the premises (securely locked) on a Thursday evening a thief or thieves, “evidently believing in variety” undertook a raid using a skeleton key [xxii]. As well as taking a few copper coins, they had opened a wide range of different lolly tins and taken some of the contents of each.


Taking advantage of a concerted push by the council and businessmen of Bendigo in the second decade of the century to target resources on particular manufacturing, Nixon had established the Nixon’s Confectionery Steam Works by 1914, and operated a factory in Vine Street (in front of the Girton complex) which also produced biscuits. A mine manger by the name of James Arthur lived on the same street as Nixon’s and was taking an evening walk when he noticed two men loitering nearby. He turned at the Golden Gate Hotel and took a look around the corner. By the electric light on the corner of Vine and McKenzie streets, he could see an outline of the men, one of ‘fair height’ standing near the factory [xxiii]


Becoming suspicious, Arthur called a friend and together they walked back past the factory, this time sighting only one man before a second emerged from the lane on the south side of the factory and crossed the street to the Foundry. When neither had moved after some time, Arthur whistled loudly upon which the man at the Foundry bolted, and the second walked quickly toward the Hotel before following suit. The landlord of the Hotel informed the police; a constable was sent, who interviewed Arthur, before changing into civilian clothes and setting up a stakeout. He stayed until 4:00AM but concluded the suspects were not likely to reappear after the earlier scare and determined the factory was safe.


The assumption was wrong. One of the Bendigo Advertiser staff, Richards, disturbed the thieves shortly after on his way home from the presses. A window had been smashed, with £2 in cash taken from the till along with an amount of lollies. Somewhat surprisingly, the Advertiser didn’t report the incident.


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Sometimes the incursions were more serious. In 1929, sisters Maria McIlwraith, 70, and Kate Peterson, 68, were at home in the rooms that attached to the rear of their sweets shop in Olinda Street. Upon hearing a noise outside the kitchen at around 11:00PM, Maria went to open the door and upon being shown up in a torch beam, she screamed and was subsequently struck on the head. The would-be thief, with a handkerchief over his mouth, carried a pistol, and it was likely with this that he struck Maria and then Kate after rising to help her sister, before fleeing.


A senior constable who lived in the same street passed the property shortly before midnight but did not notice anything astray; it was the milkman, Gray, who heard one of the women call out at 4:30AM whilst on his rounds. He reported the attack to the police and saw that they were admitted to the Bendigo Hospital. Senior Constable John Bremner with Senior Plainclothes Constable Murdoch McMillan investigated and found an automatic revolver with a bloodstained barrel in Garsed Street. The case appears not to have been solved.


Half a century earlier, in 1875, police had a much better result with the apprehension of two thieves for the violent robbery of Ellen ‘Nelly’ Sistrom in which she was struck with a ‘neddy’ [a type of cudgel]. As her husband Charles stabled their horses in livery after a night out, Nelly returned to the house which soon had the back door kicked in by two men who hit her over the head, causing a gush of blood. She yelled, ‘murder’, and the assailant fled, with her purse. Shortly after, a raid was made on James McLeod’s confectionery shop in Mitchell street, with bags of lollies, jellies and part of a wedding cake were stolen. Charles Sistrom heard in gossip at Smith’s wheelwright shop that the likely offenders were at a merry go round tent; he took Nelly there and she identified one of the men as the one who’d attacked her.


Sistrom then took the man, by the name of Wilson, to the lock up and handed him over to the Constable, who proceeded to the tent and searching it, found cakes, lollies, ‘a shape of jelly’, and a purse, leading him to arrest a second man, Stephen Fennell [xxiv]. The Constable searched further and discovered the neddy. Fennel and the other man, whose name was actually James Walsh, were remanded to stand before the City Police Court the next week. In that time, police discovered a little more about Fennell and Walsh. 


Public Record Office Victoria, VA 1464 Penal & Gaols Branch Chief Secretary’s Department, VPRS 515 Central Register of Male Prisoners, P1 Item 23, Page 300, #13615 Stephen Fennell 1875

Sistrom then took the man, by the name of Wilson, to the lock up and handed him over to the Constable, who proceeded to the tent and searching it, found cakes, lollies, ‘a shape of jelly’, and a purse, leading him to arrest a second man, Stephen Fennell [xxiv]. The Constable searched further and discovered the neddy. Fennel and the other man, whose name was actually James Walsh, were remanded to stand before the City Police Court the next week. In that time, police discovered a little more about Fennell and Walsh.  


A Sandhurst boy, Walsh had been employed by McLeod but had been recently fired ‘for dishonesty’ [xxv]. Fennell had been eventually traced as one of three young men who had been responsible for a number of arsons across the city, seemingly motivated by the ten shilling reward given by the Council for any person ringing the fire bell in the event of a fire. The six fires lit by the group over the previous year had resulted in property valued at over £2,000 going up in smoke, including a cottage in Honeysuckle Street, a patent plate factory in Forest Street which was razed, a machine house belonging to the Alliance Company, the Tribute Company’s machinery building and contents, and a cottage in High Street.


Walsh was found guilty of burglary and wounding while Fennell was found guilty of aiding and abetting in the incident involving Ellen Sistrom; and of housebreaking and larceny connected to McLeod’s shop. In total, Walsh was ordered to be imprisoned for four years on the first charge, and three on the second, to be served cumulatively; and Fennell for three years for each crime, to be serviced cumulatively. By comparison, the Assize Court on the same day, sentences were also passed on William Newman (bestiality against a cow) who received six years’ hard labour and three floggings, and Adolph Enrencho (child abuse) who received five years’ labour on the roads and three floggings.

Walsh’s time at Sandhurst Gaol was brief; within the month he had been moved to Pentridge where he proceeded to rack up a sizable list of offences inside, including insolence, quarrelling, leaving place of work, having a pipe, and ‘writing a threatening letter’ [xxvi].


Fennell’s charge of arson was heard in July, with a guilty verdict handed down yet again, adding two years to his sentence. Like Walsh, he was sent to Pentridge following the arson hearing and also logged a long list of misdemeanours – idleness, having bread and sugar, repairing boots improperly, having tea improperly, having tobacco, quarrelling, disobedience, writing on the regulations board, and entering the superintendent’s office [xxvii]. Released much earlier than his proscribed six years, Fennell was again in front of the bench in 1881 on charges of receiving. Again the jury found him guilty and this time was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labour. Again, the penalties continued to mount up while inside – attempting to abscond, insolence, laughing in ranks, making tea, having a newspaper improperly and bedding not made up.


[i] Victorian Birth Index, registration number 3402 of 1885 son of Elisha Clement De Garis and Elizabeth Buncle; 'Mildura Still Talks of De Garis and his Dreams', Sunday Herald (Sydney), 11 September 1949: 7; 'Personal' Mildura Cultivator, 13 December 1888: 7; 'Round the Settlement', Mildura Cultivator, 14 November 1889: 3; 'Irrigation Enterprises' Mildura Cultivator, 27 September 1890: 3; 'Mildura Shire Council', Mildura Cultivator, 10 October 1891: 3

[ii] 'Local News.” Mildura Cultivator, 13 January 1900: 5; 'Local News', Mildura Cultivator, 26 May 1900: 5; 'Local News', Mildura Cultivator, 18 January 1902: 7; 'Local News', Mildura Cultivator, 24 March 1906: 7; 'Advertisement', Mildura Cultivator, 21 March 1908: 3

[iii] 'Mildura Still Talks of De Garis and his Dreams', Sunday Herald (Sydney), 11 September 1949: 7; 'Friday’s Sitting', Mildura Cultivator, 12 June 1912: 4; Victorian Marriage Index, registration number 5596 of 1907

[iv] 'Canned Fruit for Soldiers', Mildura Telegraph and Darling and Lower Murray Advocate, 28 January 1916: 2; 'le Garis Life Story', News (Adelaide), 6 January 1925: 6

[v] 'De Garis Life Story', News (Adelaide), 6 January 1925: 6; 'Sun-Raysed Press Tour', Mildura Telegraph and Darling and Lower Murray Advocate, 24 February 1920: 2

[vi] 'Notes', Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 18 January 1919: 3;

[vii] 'Tryambro', Mildura Cultivator, 22 August 1908: 10; 'Tryambo', (sic) The Reporter (Box Hill), 16 October 1908: 5; 'Popularising Mildura Raisins', Mildura Cultivator, 6 February 1909: 5

[viii] 'Ambro Limited', Mildura Cultivator, 25 December 1909: 4; 'Why the Public Did Not Take to Tryambro', Mildura Cultivator, 12 February 1910: 8

[ix] 'Publicity Buildings', Mildura Cultivator, 22 March 1919: 6; 'Stralia’s Sun-Raysed Sensation', Leader (Angaston), 27 March 1919: 4; 'Mildura Still Talks of De Garis and his Dreams', Sunday Herald (Sydney), 11 September 1949: 7

[x] 'C. J. De GARIS', Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga), 9 June 1923: 6; 'Kendenup Commission', Sunraysia Daily (Mildura), 26 February 1924: 4; 'Kendenup Inquiry', Daily News (Perth), 26 February 1924: 5

[xi] 'De Garis’ Discovery', Truth (Brisbane), 3 December 1922: 4; Victorian Marriage Index, registration number 6299 of 1923

[xii] 'De Garis Missing', Daily News (Perth), 5 January 1925: 8

[xiii] Ibid; 'De Garis Arrested', Sun (Sydney), 13 January 1925: 9; 'De Garis', Gippsland Times, 19 February 1925: 3

[xiv] 'Mildura Still Talks of De Garis and his Dreams', Sunday Herald (Sydney), 11 September 1949: 7; Victoria Death Index, registration number 10855 of 1926

[xv] 'Suicide of C. J. De Garis', Age (Melbourne), 18 August 1926: 12

[xvi] 'About', Dried Fruits Australia, (accessed 2 June 2021), 2019

[xvii] See 'Fruity Delights' in Elaine Chambers, Tastes of the Sun, Australian Dried Fruits Association Inc.. Sydney, Murdoch Books, 1990: 99

[xviii] 'City police court', Bendigo Independent, 5 Apr 1892, p3

[xix] 'Bottle of black lollies', Bendigo Independent, 12 Aug 1915

[xx] 'Eaglehawk', Bendigo Advertiser, 4 Dec 1901, p4

[xxi] 'Burglars', followed by fire, Bendigo Independent, 3 Jan 1906, p2

[xxii] 'Theft', Bendigo Advertiser, 10 Jan 1903

[xxiii] 'Persistent burglars', Bendigo Independent, 16 Oct 1914

[xxiv] 'City court', Bendigo Advertiser, 8 Dec 1875

[xxv] 'Sandhurst', Geelong Advertiser, 25 Nov 1875

[xxvi] Public Record Office Victoria, VA 1464 Penal & Gaols Branch Chief Secretary’s Department, VPRS 515 Central Register of Male Prisoners, P1 Item 23, Page 301, #13616 James Wilson (James Walsh) 1875

[xxvii] Public Record Office Victoria, VA 1464 Penal & Gaols Branch Chief Secretary’s Department, VPRS 515 Central Register of Male Prisoners, P1 Item 23, Page 300, #13615 Stephen Fennell 1875

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