Sunday History Photo / Au

Submitted: Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 08:05
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Alfred Thomas Bushell, founder of Bushells Australia, was born 25th May 1833. The Bushells family were heavily involved in the tea business, Alfred being a Tea Dealer who employed 50 men and 45 boys, whilst his wife Agnes was the sister of the founder of Brooke Bond, the English Tea Company.

Following the death of his wife, Agnes in the early 1880's, Alfred traveled to Brisbane and by 1883 was trading in Brisbane selling both tea and coffee from a shop. Some years later, two of Alfred's sons started selling tea in Sydney trading as Bushell and Company - the Tea Men. The Sydney business was expanded from selling tea on a roadside stall to selling tea wholesale. In 1899 the business expanded further when a branch was opened in Melbourne.
By 1902 Alfred and his sons, Walter and Phillip, were well established as tea traders, but all was not well. The sons disagreed with the way their father was running the business and on 14th July 1903 the partnership with father Alfred was dissolved. Alfred retained Queensland while Walter and Phillip took control of Sydney and Melbourne. It appears to have been an amicable parting of the ways as the brothers continued to use their father's picture on the packet to attract the more conservative customers.
In 1908, Alfred was contemplating retiring from business and was 'desirous of assigning' the Queensland business to the two sons. A memorandum of agreement stated that Alfred had the 'express desire that the surname shall continue to be identified with the business'. Following Alfred's death in 1910, Bushells Ltd was registered as public company. In 1915 an agent was appointed in Western Australia.
By 1918 Bushells Ltd had expanded into Tasmania and South Australia, but this was not without its problems. The company had over extended itself and the bank was proving difficult in assisting with the cash flow problems. It was later reported that Phillip was 'really' worried and called the staff together to explain the situation. According to an interview at the time, 'The staff kicked in the money from their own resources. The crisis was overcome with money from the employees. Most of them decided to be paid back in shares rather than cash, and many finished up very well off'.

Land was purchased in 1920 in the area now known as 'The Rocks' in Sydney. It was here that Bushells was to build its seven-story head office and incorporate new tea blending and packing methods of both tea and coffee. This was to remain the head office and tea factory for the next 40 years.
In 1937 Bushells Ltd formed a company in New Zealand. To introduce their product to New Zealand the company sent every housewife on the electoral roll a personally addressed letter together with a card entitling her to a half pound (225g) of tea, completely free of charge. This quickly established the company and within a year it had a huge section of the tea market.
In about 1945, J.A.D. Gibson Pty Ltd, who had previously sold the tea division of their business to Robert Timms, was itself taken over by Bushells. At this time Gibsons was manufacturing coffee essence and roasting coffee in Sydney and in Newcastle.
In 1955 Bushells took over their long time rival in the New South Wales market, Inglis Ltd. The purchase of the company brought with it a significant number of brands ranging from matches (Red Head) to canned fish, sauces, wine and spirits and a flour mill in Ultimo that produced a type of porridge. There is even a record of owning a patent for a 'clothes drying apparatus'. Included in the beverage list were the teas 'Billy Tea' 'Goldena', Aromatte, 'Kofe-Kol' and 'Uncle Tom's Pure Coffee'. For a number of years the company continued to trade in its own name, but gradually the factories and depots were amalgamated into Bushells.

In the mid 50's a decision was made to move the Bushells Head Office. Employees at the time state that the main reason for deciding to move west was the belief that the city itself was expanding that way. Several sites were examined before the current Concord site was chosen. According to records the purchase date is identified as being on Christmas Eve, 1956 and was for 85,000 pounds ($170,000).
It is believed that a timber yard was operating on the site prior to the purchase, with a weatherboard building along one boundary leading onto a jetty sitting on piles. Apart from this the site was substantially clear and ready for immediate development, so indicative plans were drawn up and spray drying equipment and six instant coffee extractors were ordered from America.
The initial design of the Concord factory was to accommodate tea packing and warehousing. Indications are that some tea production commenced at the Concord site early in 1958 and that the equipment was transferred from The Rocks. The Newcastle tea plant was closed in 1963, as progressively were the other factories in Perth, Queensland and Victoria.
In 1978 the Bushells family made the decision to sell their shares and approached their cousins, Brooke, in England. The Brooke Bond company was still substantially owned by the Brooke family, but operated under the name of Brooke Bond Liebig Ltd.
At the time, newspaper reports indicated that there was some resistance to a non-Australian company purchasing the business, but the government was in the process of relaxing its policy of overseas ownership. Objections to the take over by Brooke Bond Liebig Ltd were overcome and following the sale of the shares, Bushells donated and established a public plaza. The plaza, known as 'Bushell Place', is in The Rocks area in Sydney.

Throughout the 1980's the company continued to make substantial investments in its coffee business. The instant coffee extraction plant was rebuilt in 1981, a new continuous roaster for the instant coffee was installed in 1982 and a new instant coffee agglomerator in was installed in 1985. Unilever acquired the company through their purchase of the Brooke Bond business in 1988.
In 1998, as part of an acquisition of coffee brands from Unilever, FreshFood Services Pty Ltd purchased the Bushells coffee brand. The tea brand still remains with Unilever. The coffee continues to be produced at the Concord Factory. FreshFood also purchased the New Zealand division of Bushells coffee.

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Reply By: Phil B (WA) - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 08:34

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 08:34
Another great read Doug, many thanks.

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Reply By: Bob Y. - Qld - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 10:58

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 10:58
Thanks Doug.

Always wondered what happened to Billy Tea, haven't seen it for years. Now I know :-)


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