Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Peacock (1824–1900)

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George Peacock (1824-1900), jam manufacturer, was born in Bath, England, son of John Peacock and his wife Margaret. He arrived at Hobart Town in 1850 and opened a grocery and fruit shop in Murray Street. In February 1856 he married a widow Margaret Pryde, née Tobin, at the Congregational Church, New Town.

By 1867 Peacock had become one of the first manufacturers of canned jam in the colonies. In 1870 he moved his factory to a large stone warehouse on the Old Wharf, Hobart, with copper pans and two boilers to supply the necessary steam for canning. Reputed a hard worker and disciplinarian by his factory hands, Peacock was also interested in their welfare. He conducted hymns and prayers before each day's work, strongly disapproved of blasphemy and dismissed any man who showed signs of drinking.

In 1880 Peacock decided to make jam in Sydney and opened the Produce Exchange in Sussex Street with his stepson H. J. Pryde as manager. He imported fruit from Tasmania despite continual difficulties over duty imposed on boiled fruit. Apple and pear pulp travelled well and was exempt from duty but berry fruit had to be boiled to stand the journey and was dutiable. In 1881 he was allowed to import parboiled fruit in cases, free of duty, but in September 1884 it was found that some fruit was being imported in open tubs and other containers on deck, in such condition that the inspector of nuisances often had to condemn the pulp as unfit for consumption. In 1886 he published a pamphlet, What is Pulp Fruit? Should it be Dutiable? In that year the assistant government analyst, W. M. Hamlet, examined a tin of Peacock's jam which was alleged to have poisoned a family of six. Tests showed no fault in the jam but an accumulation of organic matter swarming with bacteria of putrefaction at the angle between the bottom and sides of the tin. His son William changed the firm's name to the Australasian Jam Co. and tried to bribe Hamlet to give a favourable report on the jam. In a letter to the colonial secretary, G. R. Dibbs, William claimed if the report were published it 'could mean nothing short of positive death to the firm's commercial existence'. During a debate in the Legislative Assembly on 22 July 1886 Dibbs went even further, saying that the bulk of the jam was made up of pumpkin, squash or rotten fruit with only a spoonful of fruit pulp to give the appropriate flavour. He was accused of persecuting the Peacock family and of favouring A. Hilder, the agent for another Tasmanian jam manufacturer, who had helped Dibbs during his election campaign for St Leonards. William later admitted having challenged Dibbs 'very temperately' but when Dibbs ignored the challenge he took the only course open of publicly accusing the colonial secretary of falsehood and cowardice, degrading to a minister of the Crown.

In 1882 George Peacock had experimented with canning fish and sent samples to every Australian capital. They were well received but he did not continue the supply because of the high cost of installing refrigeration. He retired in 1891 and the Hobart business was taken over by his son Ernest Alfred, the foreman (Sir) Henry Jones and A. W. Palfreyman. He died at his home in Petersham on 29 April 1900, survived by his wife and eleven children. His estate in New South Wales was valued at £1151; his wife received the income from his estate which at her death was to be divided equally between her two unmarried daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1882 (132)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1885-86, 3557, 3617, 5399
  • J. Reynolds, ‘Sir Henry Jones, K.B.’, PTHRA, Mar 1973
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Apr 1900
  • Peacock's jam, 4/868.3, 1885-86 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

'Peacock, George (1824–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Bath, Somerset, England


29 April, 1900 (aged ~ 76)
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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