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Bendigo Advertiser, 14 November 1874, p4

Nixon's Confectionery Works

Bendigo & District in 1902: A concise history of its rise, progress & present prosperity in mining, engineering, agricultural, architecture, art, trade & manufactures, Periodicals Publishing Company, 1902

SUCH SWEET SORROW

   INTRODUCTION

The earliest entry of a Sandhurst resident defining their occupation as ‘confectioner’ to the rate collector occurs in 1864, with five men – Alexander McDonald, John Grant, Thomas Jackman and Lewis Levy – operating as sweets makers in the district, with Grant paying rates on two properties, one in Pall Mall and another in Forest Street. In Trove, we find the first newspaper reference to confectioners in the wider district at Forest Creek near Castlemaine a decade earlier – in 1854, Robertson & Lloyd operated from Wesley Hill in Forest Creek, supplying stores with ‘all kinds of boiled sugar, biscuits and gingerbread on the shortest notice’ [i].

In the latter part of the 1850s, a spattering of confectioners – often also operating as general caterers, pastrycooks or bakers – appear across the goldfields, and purveyors of confectionery often also stocked roasted coffee and treacle. In the later part of the century and into the 1900s, confectionery was often offered as part of a ‘fruiterer & confectioner’ operation, or general grocers. As an example, in 1855, Smith & Williams at Market Square in Bendigo advertised themselves as Fancy Biscuit Bakers & Confectioners; in the period of the Great War and beyond, the Favoloro family were referred to as that ‘well-known firm of fruiterers and confectioners’, despite also running cafes and offering catering [ii].

However, a long list of businesses functioned purely as manufacturers of chocolate and lolly lines, as well as dedicated sweets shops. Brands unique to the north west of Victoria included the Good Little Normey (see Desperation), Kiss-Me-Quicks [iii], Ball’s Everton Toffee, Tryambro, Toffee Jumbos (see Family Tragedy), Cupidas and Whispers, while local factories produced their own ‘fresh, pure’ varieties of chocolate novelties, caramels, jubes, wrapped coconut ice, eucalyptus drops, almond rock and sherbet.

While ties to Britain remained, with some businesses using these links as a promotional tool – as with Brown’s Confectionery in Pall Mall, who included reference in their 1856 advertisements that head confectioner, Joseph Brown, had come from the well-known Birch’s Confectionery in London – local product was promoted as superior, advertised as ‘purest’ and ‘fresh’.

The industry looks to have been a lucrative one for those of a business mind – when Brown’s was offered for sale in 1857, it was described thus:

 

Any person wishing to make a respectable livelihood to say nothing of realising a rapid fortune, which a person of good business habits is certain to do, this is not a chance to be thrown away.[iv]

 

The business was ultimately taken over by James Thatcher, whose brother was operating the successful Shamrock Hotel. Indeed confectionery was regularly used as an example of regional industrial opportunity particularly when expenses in external procurement were rising, for example, railway freighting and sugar. Groups of local business met in 1885 to discuss establishing lolly factories locally, and again in 1910 [v].

This latter movement saw Nixon’s Confectionery Works established on a large scale, James Nixon having dabbled earlier in the century, adding to major names in the industry that had operated in the north such as MacRobertson’s, Bendigo Confectionery Company, the Australian Dried Fruit Association, Bendigo Cooperative Confectionery Branch, Virgil Boys & Co, Cravens Boiled Lollies, Tom Ball’s Everton Toffee, and Barrass’.

 

Chocolate was a regular feature of care packages sent overseas to AIF troops during the first World War. Reporting from the Mena Camp in Egypt in 1915, Charles Bean wrote ‘There are photographers, post card sellers, barbers; but it is the tea shop that prevails. I believe the Australian can go without almost anything rather than his lolly shop and tea shop. The English chemist opposite the gates of Mena House, who has just hastily ordered consignments of chocolates from Switzerland, said, “I never realised that an army could eat so many sweets' [vi]

Such was the sweet tooth of many Australians, not just soldiers, by 1925, the confectionery industry was reported to have ‘triumphed over imported products’, requiring over 10,000 tonnes of locally-grown sugar along with thousands of tonnes of fresh fruit, almonds, raisins, figs and vegetable fats. Not just the ingredients made confectionery a significant industry – timber, glass, tin and cardboard, coal, machinery for particular designs were in demand by confectioners, as were artists who were required to develop the packaging [vii]. In Victoria alone more than 8,000 retailers were in operation, and nationally the industry directly employed over 7,000 people, producing turnover of £6,000,000.

Using the collection of the Bendigo Regional Archives and the broader Public Record Office Victoria series, Such Sweet Sorrow explores the lives of those who were involved in the confectionery and chocolate industry across the centuries. While rate books are incredibly useful for tracking the boom and bust of different industries over time, and locating popular areas for production, the collection largely lent itself to more tragic stories through courts registers, inquests, council correspondence, probates and more. Using seven key themes, the lens of chocolate and confectionery has been used to look at the lives, loves and losses of people in regional Victoria. We hope you enjoy them and they inspire you to further research using the BRAC collection.

The Bachelors' Ball

A most clever and ingenious triumph of the confectionery art was displayed at the head of the table, viz a temple with a kind of latticed cupola at its summit, on which were an array of diggers’ tools, pic and shovel, tin dish, cradle etc. Beneath this was the model of a full rigged ship with ropes, tackle etc named the Criterion and according to the inscription, classed A1 at Lloyds. The temple, tools, ship etc were made entirely and wholly of sugar, and the classification was exceedingly appropriate as Mr Lloyd the confectioner of Castlemaine was the manufacturer.

Mount Alexander Mail, 29 Aug 1856

ENDNOTES

 

[i] 'Advertising', Mount Alexander Mail, 24 Jun 1854

[ii] 'About people', Bendigo Independent, 18 Nov 1913, p5

[iii] 'Made In Bendigo', Bendigo Advertiser, 19 Nov 1913

[iv] 'Advertisements', Bendigo Advertiser, 11 Apr 1857

[v] 'Bendigo industries', Bendigo Advertiser, 5 Mar 1910, p9

[vi] 'Australians in Egypt', Mildura Telegraph, 23 Feb 1915, p2

[vii] 'Confectionery week', Herald, 12 Jul 1924