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Guest, Thomas Bibby (1830–1908)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Thomas Bibby Guest (1830-1908), biscuit manufacturer, was born on 15 November 1830 at Chester, Cheshire, England, fifth of eleven children of William Sellar Guest, tanner, and his wife Ann, née Bibby. In May 1852 Thomas and his father reached Sydney in the Salacia. They began making biscuits and after a few years moved to Melbourne. In William Street from 1856 Barnes, Guest & Co. manufactured biscuits, using steam-power and employing six people. The firm was T. B. Guest & Co. from 1858. On 15 November 1861 at St Mary's Church of England, North Melbourne, Thomas married London-born Jemima Campbell. They had thirteen children.

From the 1870s the business, with others in the family involved, expanded, and won awards at international exhibitions in London, at Philadelphia, United States of America, and in Melbourne. By 1883 Guest employed ninety men working under nine hours a day and produced £30,000 worth of biscuits a year. With the increase of demand in Melbourne, the firm had little export trade and Guest resented the duty on imported machinery; the local engineering industry could not meet his requirements. The costs of automated equipment slowed growth for a time, but profitability was so high that he soon enlarged the William Street premises. In 1897 Guest took advantage of lower land prices to buy a site at North Melbourne on which he built a factory, enlarged in 1907 to a five-storeyed building. T. B. Guest & Co. Pty Ltd was incorporated in Victoria in 1898, Thomas having purchased the undertaking from the family partners for £79,995. The family firm needed massive injections of capital.

Thomas Guest had exceptional business ability; he found little to interest him outside biscuit making and the organization of the company. Remaining actively associated with the firm until his death, he refused all entreaties to enter public life. In Melbourne he lived at Cestria, Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. He also owned Bona Vista farm at Warragul, where the horses for the company's travellers' buggies and wagons were raised and rested. He gave generously but inconspicuously to charities. Guest died on 3 April 1908 at his home and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery with Anglican rites, leaving an estate sworn for probate at £64,722. His wife and three sons and four daughters survived him.

For many years associated with Selina Sutherland's philanthropic work, Jemima Guest (d.1925) was sometime president of the Sutherland Homes for Orphaned Neglected and Destitute Children and of the Hawthorn Ladies' Benevolent Society. She was also a committee-member of the Hawthorn branch of St Martin's Boys' Home. Guest's sons Thomas Bibby junior (1866-1933) and Edgar Leopold (1854-1936) continued the business, then a grandson Edgar Leopold Gordon (Leo) Guest (1903-1963) became chairman. The company merged with William Arnott (Holdings) Pty Ltd in November 1962, with Guest family members continuing to serve on the board of the extended company. It was by then a pale imitation of the great Australian companies that had flourished in the late nineteenth century.

Select Bibliography

  • Victoria and Its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • V. Burgmann and J. Lee (eds), Making a Life (Melb, 1988)
  • Tariff: Report of the Royal Commission, Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Assembly, Victoria) vol 4, paper no 50
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Apr 1908, p 13, 4 Sept 1963, p 3
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Apr 1908, p 17, 1 Sept 1925, p 10, 23 Oct 1933, p 8
  • T. G. Parsons, Some Aspects of the Development of Manufacturing in Melbourne, 1870-1890 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1970)
  • T. B. Guest & Co papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Guest, Thomas Bibby (1830–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/guest-thomas-bibby-12957/text23419, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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