Rosella Factory, Richmond

The Rosella complex was established on the site of the former Cremorne Gardens at Balmain Street, Cremorne, in 1905. The Rosella Preserving Company, formed in 1895, was already well established when, in 1904, it acquired land once used for parking and stabling for the Cremorne Gardens for a new factory at Balmain Street. In 1902 the Company, operating from Kings Buildings, Errol Street, North Melbourne, had won the only Gold medal presented at the Victorian Golden Jubilee Exhibition. As well as manufacturing the famous tomato sauce, many varieties of jams, canned fruits, sauces, chutney and candied peels under the 'Rosella' and Waratah' brands, the Company held agencies for Vinegar, Burns Cream, Gloss for Boots, Mortien, Phenole, Lanoline, Eagle Brand Blacking and matches.

The new Rosella factory, designed by architect J.E. Burke and built in 1905 by the well known local builder Clements Langford, had front walls of brick, factory of galvanised iron, iron chimney stack and brick floors grounded in cement. It was considered 'probably the largest factory of its kind in the Commonwealth'. The building is illustrated in a company letter head from the 1900s. 1920 saw the erection of a 3-storey building at the rear of the main factory (Building No. 6), a new engineers shop, and a building for the lacquering of tin plate erected in the yard. Building 7 followed in 1922 and Building 2 rebuilt in c1924, Building 13 built in 1928, buildings 15 and part 18 soon after in 1928, Building 12 in 1935, and Building 1 in c1936-7. Most of Building 18 is thought to have been built in 1960. Most of the extant buildings were built in the 1920s and 1930s. The complex was closed around the early 1980s and in 1983 the present refurbishment and reconstruction works were commenced, involving the extension of Palmer Parade north to Balmain Street.

About the Company

Rosella was established by two men, H.R. McCracken, a commission agent, and a grocer, T.homas James Press, who began by making jams and preserving fruits in the backyard of their homes in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton. They called their company Rosella, although there is uncertainty about why this name was chosen. Some say it was because of the flocks of eastern rosellas that flew over their backyard, others that it was a combination of the names of their daughters, Rose and Ella. Yet a third suggestion is that the name was derived from the first jam that Press and MacCracken made, which was Rosella jam, made from the rosella berries.

The company began in earnest in 1895 with the financial backing of Frederick John Cato, who ran the largest chain of grocery stores in Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Moran and Cato. Cato was approached by McCracken, agreed to invest in the venture and was soon chairman of the company with the rosella on the label. The company then moved to Little Collins Street behind the Herald-Sun building in the city.

Cato was born in a tent near the Victorian gold-rush town of Stawell in 1858, the third son of an English father and a Scottish mother and the grandson of William Cato, who arrived in Hobart Town in 1831 as overseer of the Female House of Correction for women convicts. In 1881, Frederick Cato wrote to his cousin, Thomas Edwin Moran, who had established two grocery shops in Fitzroy and Carlton, asking him if there was any chance of joining the business. Moran died in 1890, aged 30, but the business, with Cato and Moran's widow at the helm, expanded into Tasmania and NSW.

Press took a keen interest in overseas developments in canning and visited many Alaskan (salmon), American (jams and relishes) and English canning factories to find out the latest techniques. Rosella opened an Adelaide canning facility about 1900 and a Sydney canning factory in Alexandria in 1913.

As the company grew, larger premises in Melbourne were sought. Land previously occupied by the Cremorne Gardens at Richmond Park near Melbourne High School was purchased and a new factory was established there in 1905. McCracken, one of the Rosella founders, remained with the company until his death in 1916.

Cato became chairman of Moran and Cato - the first chain of stores of any kind in Australia - as well as Rosella, Austral Grain and Produce Pty Ltd and Hagita Pty Ltd, coconut-planters of Papua. In 1911 he bought a mansion in East Hawthorn which he called Kawarau (rippling waters). In 1979, the house would be bought by Stephanie Alexander and turned into a restaurant called Stephanie's. It is now a school. A devout Methodist and determined philanthropist, Cato founded the Laymen's Missionary Movement and was president of Queen's College at the University of Melbourne. He donated to Methodist missions in Arnhem Land, New Britain and India, was a member of the Wesley College Council and gave extensive properties to the Methodist Ladies College.

One of Fred Cato's sons, Alick, a Gallipoli veteran, took control of the company, including Rosella, when Fred Cato died in 1935, and continued to grow the business.

In 1963, Rosella, then described as a "traditionally Australian company", was sold into foreign ownership to Lever & Kitchen, which became the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever. At the time, Rosella had over 1000 employees spread across six factories. It was bought back into Australian ownership in 2002 by Stuart Alexander and Company in what then trade minister Mark Vaile hailed as the first time an Australian icon had been bought back into Australian ownership. Stuart Alexander sold in 2007.

In December 2012, the then current owner of Rosella, Gourmet Food Holdings and Waterwheel, was placed into receivership. After unsuccessful attempts to sell the company, it was announced in early March 2013, that the company would be closed down, and that the receivers were looking at selling the Rosella brand to a new owner.

In April 2013, Sabrands Australia, a private family company and the company behind Sunraysia fruit juice, purchased the Rosella brand and is manufacturing sauces, soups, chutneys and relishes at a factory at Silvan in the Yarra Ranges, outside Melbourne.

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