Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Swallow (1823–1890)

by G. C. Bolton

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Thomas Swallow (1823-1890), manufacturer, was born at Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, son of William Swallow, maltster, and his wife Frances, née Dodd. He migrated in 1849 to the United States of America, where he lived for four years. At 23 he married; his wife died without issue. On 16 March 1853 in New York he married Isabella Fulton, a migrant from Paisley, Scotland, and together they sailed for the Victorian goldfields, settling first at Ballarat where he sold Colt revolvers. In 1854 he set up at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) as a manufacturer and purveyor of ships' biscuits, probably using his youthful experience of the trade in Reading. In 1854 Thomas Harris Ariell (1832-1875) became his partner, followed in 1877 by F. T. Derham, who soon became his son-in-law. After a break of a few years the firm continued to operate as Swallow & Ariell, with assets of about £40,000 and a solid reputation as biscuit manufacturers, flour-millers, and sugar refiners; it became a public company in 1888 with assets of £160,000 and liabilities of £47,000, but its growth ceased with the slump of the 1890s.

Swallow's sons were enterprising but extravagant agricultural pioneers; he substantially backed two of their projects: their attempt after 1874 to develop a large tract of the Goulburn Valley near Shepparton, where they were among the first landowners to attempt irrigation, and investment in Queensland sugar in the 1880s. Keen to obtain sugar for his firm's Melbourne industries Swallow founded the large Hambledon plantation near Cairns in 1881, and saved the district from stagnation. Other plantations followed, but the decline of prices after 1884 and the Griffith ministry's plans to end the import of Pacific island labour in 1890 jeopardized the industry. Swallow's sons ran up deficits, both through pioneering new crops such as coffee and tropical fruit, and expenditure on hospitality and horseflesh. By 1888 Hambledon was £180,000 in the red, which may explain why Swallow and Derham then each retained less than 20 per cent in their parent company. In that year R. A. Kingsford acquired Hambledon and in 1897 it was taken over by the Colonial Sugar Refining Co.

Swallow was a prolific mechanical inventor, a just businessman and a kindly if paternalistic employer. A Freemason, he was a member of the first municipal council of Sandridge in 1860 and was mayor for several terms before retiring in 1875. Interested in defence, he was a good marksman and held a commission in the Volunteer Artillery, retiring with the honorary rank of major in October 1884. He was also a patron of local cricket and football teams. Aged 63, he died of pneumonia at Cairns on 26 June 1890, survived by his wife, three of his four sons and three of his four daughters. His body was brought to Victoria and buried in the Church of England section of the Melbourne general cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £189,814.

Select Bibliography

  • Swallow & Ariell Ltd, The First Hundred Years 1854-1954, G. A. Derham ed (Melb, 1954)
  • Industrial Victoria, Feb 1950
  • Cairns Post, 26 June 1890
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 June, 14 July 1890
  • S. C. P. Turnbull, ‘Romance of industry’, 12 Feb 1930
  • scrapbook (Swallow & Ariell Ltd, Port Melbourne)
  • Swallow and Ariell papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Swallow, Thomas (1823–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Swallow, c.1888

Thomas Swallow, c.1888

State Library of Victoria, 49176987

Life Summary [details]


Maidenhead, Berkshire, England


26 June, 1890 (aged ~ 67)
Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death


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