Jonathon Law launches THE BISCUIT FACTORY
Presentation by Jonathon Law to launch Glynis Conlon's book
THE BISCUIT FACTORY – Hidden History in Coromandel Valley
Sunday 30 May 2021 at Coromandel Community Centre
Good afternoon ……..
It was such a pleasure to read Glynis’s book the Biscuit Factory because it epitomises both mine and Laura’s philosophy about keeping our history alive for future generations.
Glynis has asked me to speak a little today about what it was like living in the Biscuit Factory and to launch her book which I was and am very happy to do.
We meaning my wife Laura, our 2 and a 1/2year old daughter and myself moved to Coromandel Valley just before Christmas 1977 a time when Coro Valley was still considered rural or at least semi-rural. Coromandel Parade had only recently been bituminised and from Horners Bridge to Black Rd was still an unsealed dirt road. Light Wines, Maglieri, The Strawberry Farm near the cemetery and more were all thriving.
Harvey and Rosemary White lived in Craiglee when we moved here and they kept horses. We would often wake up to find a horse on the lawn outside our kitchen.
When Alex Murray purchased the land in 1843 there is one account enthusiastically describing Coromandel Valley which I shall quote :
Coromandel Valley….”never been known to present a more lovely carpet of green and gold since it was laid open for selection than it does at the present period. Its verdure is truly luxuriant.”
We went for a walk along the linear park recently during those glorious autumn days when the trees where golden and red and orange. So that description of the valley in 1843 is still apt today.
It was a great thrill to be coming to Coromandel Valley and particularly so to be living in such an historic building/factory which had only in the previous 3 or 4 years been turned into a home. This remaining part of the Biscuit Factory was most likely built in the very early years of the 1850s only 14 years after SA became a colony.
It was the history, the architecture and design of the building that attracted us with its thick stone walls and massive slab slate floors. The upper level was one long room that went and still does the entire length of the house – over 17m – wow – we thought what a great space for parties, entertaining etc. As it turned out we still love this room, but probably partied far less than we had imagined when we were both still under 30 years of age. In another room that we used to call the playroom but, for the sake of our recent sale, called it the wine room as it is attached to the cellar. Both these rooms have large bedrock exposed and this was very exotic. We thought it was pretty cool.
The Biscuit Factory would have looked at its most impressive 150 years ago and I quote from Glynis again to demonstrate this and to show what an amazing entrepreneur Alex Murray was and to give an indication of his importance in the development and growth of Coromandel Valley and I quote from page 57 and page 65.
“Alex Murray & Sons, the ‘Coromandel Biscuit Manufactory’, or the ‘Craiglee Manufactory’, as it was sometimes called, continued to earn accolades from the colonial business world, both in South Australia and beyond: from the then governor, Sir Dominick Daly; from the many exhibitions where their produce was shown. And from the Coromandel Valley community in which Alexander Murray Snr and his son and right hand man, Alexander Jnr, lived, worked, worshipped and entertained. As the factory grew, the community benefited from the Murrays’ ability to employ local people, and from their very evident social benevolence.
By 1869, the factory had likely expanded to three or four storeys, and was powered by steam instead of horsepower. Biscuits were now cut by new imported machinery and the factory was producing four times the quantity that could be sold in Adelaide. According to an 1867 newspaper report,…’….there was now no imported biscuit in the market’ and that season they produced 24 different varieties of biscuits – 8,115 tins of 18 lb1 each and 375 cases each weighing 50 lb. Alexander Murray continued to expound the virtues of free trade rather than protectionism, and to believe that the colony was capable of standing on its own two feet, instead of dependency on the Mother Country." (p57)
“Alexander Murray Snr was greatly valued in Coromandel Valley and beyond, having spent 35 years building up a profitable and respected business that had certainly put Coromandel Valley on the map. He employed many local people and took great interest in the wellbeing of his workforce, his local community, and in the wider affairs of the province of South Australia. A few days after his death, more than 300 people attended his burial, a mark of someone truly honoured.”(p65)
We had the Biscuit Factory looked at by a well-known Adelaide architect before purchasing the property who convinced us that the factory was already over 100 years old and would outlive us and the impressive Southern wall of the factory was absolutely vertical and expertly built unlike most homes being built in Adelaide at that time, he said.
Almost immediately after we bought the property in the mid 1970s we embraced the idea that we were custodians of the Biscuit Factory. It felt like we were buying more than a home and something to cherish. We have always been keen and conscious to preserve the integrity of the Biscuit Factory, so much so that we never installed a TV aerial on the roof and have always used a rabbits ears indoor aerial. Also, whenever anything structurally needed changing we consulted the Mitcham Council’s Heritage Architect/Conservationist.
Another great attraction of course, was that the property is along the Sturt River, the source of water for the factory and the old pump house remains close to the river and can be seen when walking along the linear park near the creek.
Coromandel Valley and the Biscuit Factory and the area along the Sturt River was a wonderful place to raise our two children both of whom are sorry to see us sell it especially from the point of view that their children, our grandchildren, will not have the same pleasures they had of playing and exploring the property and the caves along the Sturt River, making cubbies etc.
We used to keep a couple of goats to keep the grass down, but as there were no fences on the property we tethered them to a stake and gave them a bucket of water. .
Those poor goats! Luckily for them Ron and Gwen from the old post office2, our only neighbours who could look down on us from their back yard. They would let us know in no certain terms if the bucket was knocked over.
Snakes were a thing that did worry us when we moved here, however, we have seen less than a handful over the years. But one day when I was sitting at our table downstairs on a very hot day...I heard a rustle....and sure enough it was a brown snake under the table. I stood and backed away. Fortunately the snake did too and slithered under the door to freedom.
I was reminded of this after reading the snake story on page 62 of Glynis’s book ......and I quote.....
“On the night before he left (Alex was going on a 11 month trip to Philadelphia), his daughter Jean Eliza, then a 34-year-old woman was nearly bitten by a brown snake………. This incident was reported in the press:
'Snakes are superabundant this season. On Tuesday evening last, just at dusk, Miss Murray went into her parents’ bedroom, when she picked up what she thought to be her father’s necktie, but she had no sooner secured it than it wriggled out of her hand, and proved to be a brown snake about two and a half feet long. Mr A Murray jun., who was close at hand easily dispatched the unwelcome intruder. It was a most fortunate circumstance that Miss Murray was not bitten.' ”
Launch the book
Alex Murray came to Adelaide having departed Greenoch and the Clyde, Scotland in 1839 on the India, her maiden voyage, and was accompanied his sister Elizabeth, his wife Jane and his sons Alexander Jnr and Peter Albany. Fascinatingly I was showing Glynis's book to a friend recently and incredibly his great grandfather Thomas Gemmel was also one of the passengers. Talk about degrees of separation!
There is a wonderful painting in Glynis’s book which is in the Australian National Maritime Museum of the India on fire. This was the India’s 2nd voyage in 1841. The story goes that a candle accidentally fell onto spilled rum causing a fire to break out. The ship sank, 17 people died and the rest were saved. If Alex Murray had chosen to come to Adelaide just one year later the history of Coromandel Valley could well have been quite different.
So on that note
I would like to congratulate Glynis on the book and the huge amount of research and work she put into it and bringing to life the history of the Biscuit Factory and the life of a very interesting man – Alex Murray and his family and his achievements in not only producing jam and biscuits, but also in his efforts in establishing and encouraging the growth and prosperity of Coromandel Valley.
On that note I take great pleasure in launching Glynis’s book - The Biscuit Factory - Hidden history in Coromandel Valley.
1. lb is the abbreviation of pound, an Imperial measure of weight
2. The former Coromandel Valley Post Office faced on to Main Road, being a room on the Eastern side of a residence that was located adjacent to the Institute Building. As at February 2022 it is still standing and is under renovation.