Cordial Manufacture

TC Midwood's advertisement for dandelion ale, c 1893, (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Cordial Manufacture probably began in the early 1820s with the introduction of distilleries; the Lowes Distillery at the Cascades, Hobart, was producing cordials in 1824. Cordials were either fruit drinks or medicinal cordials, distilled from herbs such as peppermint, caraway and aniseed. At first, cordial and ginger beer factories operated on a cottage industry level, but in 1850 JG Towers opened a factory in Launceston using 'powerful machinery' imported from England, and by 1872, James Robertson of Hobart had developed the largest cordial business in Tasmania and supplied towns throughout the island. Commencing manufacture in 1854, he had a 'very compact' factory where ginger beer was brewed in one room, cordials in another, and lemonade and soda in the third. The bottling machine, worked with a flywheel and handle, processed about 40 dozen bottles per hour. The machine at Thomas Marsden's Hobart factory was faster, but a problem with exploding bottles caused workers to wear a protective wire mask.

The popularity of cordials can be gauged by the spread of businesses with, for example, in 1899 eighteen manufacturers operating in Hobart, Launceston, Scottsdale, Latrobe, Lefroy, Burnie, Stanley, Zeehan, Strahan, Dundas, Queenstown and Gormanston, a pattern which continued till the middle of the next century. Despite the rapid turnover of many enterprises, some thrived. In 1887 Mrs Abbott took over a Launceston cordial factory begun in the 1870s. It became a flourishing enterprise with premises in Hobart, Launceston and Fingal. The company lost its identity through amalgamation in the 1970s, and third-generation family member Alan Abbott retired in 1980.

In 1886 the Cascade Brewery Company opened an aerated water department which produced various cordials, dandelion ale and ginger beer, soda water, lemonade, seltzer and other waters. To satisfy the vast demand of the west coast mining field, it also maintained a cordial factory in Strahan from 1899 to 1916. The 1967 bushfire devastated the Hobart cordial factory, but production was quickly resumed. Its contemporaries include Hartz Mineral Water (established 1969) and Gillespie's Ginger Beer (1996).

Further reading: M Bingham, Cascade, Hobart, 1991; The Cyclopedia of Tasmania, Hobart, 1900; Northern Scene, 17 July 1980; L Scripps, The industrial heritage of Hobart, Hobart, 1997.

Wendy Rimon