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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Marchant, George (1857–1941)

by Helen Gregory

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

George Marchant (1857-1941), manufacturer and philanthropist, was born on 25 November 1857 at Brasted, Kent, England, son of Richard Marchant, licensed victualler, and his wife Sarah, née Mills. George, a farm labourer, arrived in Brisbane in the Ramsey on 9 June 1874. 'Friendless and practically penniless', he worked in the country as a gardener and station-hand and, on returning to Brisbane, as a carter for an aerated waters factory. He married Mary Jane Dwyer, a dressmaker, on 1 September 1877 with Presbyterian forms.

Marchant bought the ginger beer manufacturing business of John R. Palmer in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, before building his own factory in Bowen Street, Spring Hill, in 1886. With his wife he expanded his hop beer, soft drink and cordial business to include factories in Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne and Adelaide. He invented and patented a bottling machine which came to be used all over the world. Marchant retired from his Brisbane business on 10 May 1913 and was succeeded as managing director by his adopted son Christopher John, who ran the company until its registration was abandoned in October 1917. However, Marchant retained remote control over the Sydney company.

He built a large fortune from these undertakings. Originally a staunch anti-unionist, he later believed in social equality and fraternized with labour thinkers including William Lane. Saved by Edward Bellamy's Utopian novel Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888) from 'hopeless scepticism', Marchant in 1890 founded a Bellamy Society. During the 1890 shipping strike he chaired several public meetings which raised funds to support the strikers. Though described by the Labor press as 'one of the smartest profitmongers in Queensland', he practised profit-sharing. He took an annual dividend of 10 per cent on a capital of £18,000 and remaining profits were distributed among his employees. Women workers in his factory earned more than the average female wage in the food industry.

His religious leanings were unconventional. A follower of the theology of the eighteenth-century philosopher Swedenborg, who held that Scripture should be interpreted spiritually, Marchant conducted services for the New Church in Brisbane and donated money to establish Swedenborgian churches in all Australian capitals and to ministerial training colleges in England and America. He had long been an opponent of the liquor trade. He donated £41,000 of the cost of the Queensland Prohibition League's Canberra Hotel (opened 1929) in Brisbane and became a director; the building houses his portrait. He was treasurer of the league during the 1920s and was its patron after 1931.

Marchant's wide-ranging philanthropy during his life included the gift of his home, Montrose, at Taringa to the Queensland Society for Crippled Children, which became his chief beneficiary. These premises became the Kingshome centre for the care of ex-servicemen and Marchant bought another house for a new Montrose Home at Corinda. Other benefactions included another children's home, a kindergarten, the Garden Settlement for the aged, Chermside, and the donation of 100 acres (40 ha) of nearby land, known as Marchant Park, to the Kedron Local Authority. His estate of £48,660 was divided between these and other charities.

Predeceased by his wife, Marchant died childless from heart disease on 5 September 1941 and was cremated after a New Church service.

Select Bibliography

  • W. O. Lilley, Reminiscences of Life in Brisbane and Reflections and Sayings (Brisb,1913)
  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb,1936)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Queensland), 1891, 2, p 1244
  • Queensland Digger, 1 Oct 1941, p 31
  • Worker (Brisbane), 1 July, 7 Aug, 1 Sept, 1, 18 Oct 1890
  • Boomerang (Brisbane), 27 Sept, 4 Oct 1890
  • Queenslander, 16 July 1931
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 7 Sept 1941
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 8 Sept 1941
  • S. A. Rayner, The Evolution of the Queensland Labor Party to 1907 (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1947)
  • S. W. Jack's newsclipping book, no 41 (State Library of Queensland)
  • company files, COM/1, 1863-88, and company registration, A/ 11849 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Helen Gregory, 'Marchant, George (1857–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 2 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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