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Marchant Family

The Marchant Family

George Marchant, soft drink maufacturer and philanthropist. (1857-1941)

The name Marchant is closely identified with Chermside through a the largest cricketing park in Brisbane, the local Brisbane City Council Ward and the large pioneering aged care centre Wheller Gardens. The name was also well known throughout Brisbane and Australia in the latter 19th and early 20th Centuries. Usually we remember George but not Mary Jane who was not only his wife, but his equal in business and philanthropy.

George was born in England in 1857 and arrived alone in Australia from Kent in 1873, 16 years old with 30 shillings in his pocket and a heart full of hope.

He worked in the country as a gardener and station-hand but on returning to Brisbane he worked as a carter for an aerated waters factory where he learned the essentials of the business.

In 1877 he married Mary Jane Dwyer, a dressmaker, who became his life long co-worker in all he did and in 1886 they bought a ginger beer manufacturing business in Spring Hill. While gradually expanding the output, George invented and patented a bottling machine which became widely used in Australia and overseas. They expanded interstate with factories in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Newcastle.

A feature of their management was their care of the employees with whom they shared the profits, and female workers were paid more that those in similar occupations. Mary Jane gave evidence to the Shops, Factories and Workshops Commission of 1891. She said that the women were paid 15 shillings ($1.50) a week and the girls, including those just starting, 11 and 12 shillings ($1 to $1.20) . This was at a time when it was common for young people to work their first year for nothing or, if apprentices, to pay their master to teach them the trade. The females worked eight hours a day when it was common for shop assistants to work up to twelve hours. The girls received profit bonuses of up to $6 and $8 for the year; these were based on attendance and wages earned.

During a shipping strike in 1890 George chaired several public meetings to raise funds for the strikers. One newspaper referred to him as a capitalist turned socialist; maybe he was a bit of both.

As life long Christians they were interested in the Swedenborg New Church to the establishment of which they contributed very generously in Australia. Both of them were committed to improving the welfare of others especially the low paid and the very young.

Marchant Park, Chermside

The Cricket Board on the entrance road leading up to No. 1 oval which shows which teams are playing and where in the park. The graffiti vandals have been busy.

In 1899 the Marchants bought the 40 hectare (100 acre) paddock that is today's Marchant Park which they used as a spelling area for their delivery wagon horses. During World War I the paddock was extensively used by the Army as a training camp and a remount centre for the Light Horse and returned to the Marchants in about 1919. By that time motor lorries were beginning to replace horses and the paddock was not really needed by the business.

With the end of the war the State Government was encouraging the local councils to develop land for public recreation areas so the Kedron Shire Council approached the Marchants for a 4 hectares (10 acres) section of the paddock for a park. There was some bargaining over the price but the Marchants finally offered the council the whole paddock free of charge provided they shifted the blacksmith, August Vellnagel, to the other side of Gympie Road on to the Shire paddock. August vigorously resisted but finally he agreed to go.

Then some of the Aldermen had second thoughts; they worried about the loss of rates and there was the cost of fencing and probably other problems. Finally the State Government intervened and 'persuaded' the Shire to accept and in 1921 the deal was done; Chermside gained a very large park, very cheaply.

The gates to the park, erected by public subscription, were dedicated on Saturday 3rd May 1924 to the memory and honour of the 284 Diggers, and one Nurse, who went to the First World War from Kedron Shire; 53 of them never came home.

Warehouse Cricket

A report in the Courier Mail of 8/12/1930 noted that Marchant Park was fenced and divided into fields by 1927. About that time a representative of Warehouse Cricket saw the possibilities of using the park for cricket and the Association took up the idea and set out half a dozen ovals.
It is not clear if voluntary labour was used or Council workers, maybe a combination of both.

Pitches were formed and fenced in to keep the grazing animals out, top soil was carted in using horse drawn drays, grass seed spread, water was laid on and horse drawn mowers and rollers worked on the growing grass. In the following year, 1928, three more ovals were laid out; dressing rooms and a kiosk were built and playing begun.

The report continues, stating that there were 18 teams of 198 players in action simultaneously while thousands of spectators looked on. "The energy in flannels was high-powered and sparking on all cylinders. Yet with all this abundance of energy there was no overcrowding."

In 2009 there are 10 ovals and on the western end separated by a small creek is a soccer field used by junior players. Cricket is played all year round with a break at the end of season.

Brisbane Women's Hockey Association

Beginning in 1933 the association shared some of the ovals at Marchant Park, playing during the winter months while Warehouse Cricket played during the summer time. This combination lasted for 26 years, interrupted by World War II, until 1958 when the Hockey players shifted to Downey Park which had lighting for night games.

Wheller Gardens

When the Rev H M Wheller was planning a garden settlement for elderly people at Chermside, George Marchant stepped in to help by donating 25 acres and £12,000. His continuing interest and help was such that when the settlement was ready to open on 23rd November 1936 it was decided to name it after Marchant, but he objected to his name being used as part of the Settlement's name - "leave my name out of it just call it 'The Garden Settlement'" he commented. Later the name Chermside was added when other Garden Settlements appeared.

In 2009 Wheller Gardens, incorporating John Wesley Gardens in Geebung, is home to a supportive and close-knit community of around 600 residents. Wheller Gardens has been providing innovative and quality aged care services for 70 years. The facilities and style of care have evolved over time, but the commitment to quality of life remains unchanged.

Brisbane and Beyond

Having made a large fortune they spent much of it helping others. As opponents of the liquor trade the family gave the large sum of $82,000 to build the Prohibition League's Canberra hotel in inner city Brisbane in about 1935 when the Male Average Wage Rate/week was $8.80.

They financially supported the Queensland Society for Crippled Children by donating their home, Montrose in Taringa, as a training home for crippled children. They cared for World War I ex-servicemen and established a Kindergarten for early education of young children.

Large contributions were made to the establishment of churches and training institutes in Australia, England, and USA, as well as the endowment of a home for destitute children outside Boston, USA.

Deaths of Mary Jane and George

Death of Mrs George Marchant
Mary Jane Marchant died unexpectedly of a brain haemorrhage on the 15th December 1925 at their home in Taringa and is buried in Toowong Cemetery. She had worked with George in all his activities as well as on the Crèche and Kindergarten Committee which she joined in 1915, the Hospital for Sick Children, The Brisbane General Hospital, the Queensland Wattle League and the Bush Nursing Association.

Death of George Marchant
When George Marchant died in Brisbane on 5th September1941 from a heart disease aged 84, the remainder of their fortune, some $91,280 (Male Average Wage Rate/Week $10) apart from some family benefices, was distributed among many charities including those mentioned in this article.