Jackett’s Flour Mills

By Gordon Jackett, 1996

Gordon Jackett

For many years the flour mill in Beresford Road was a landmark in Strathfield, and although now demolished, the big concrete silos erected since World War II are still standing. The original mill had almost as large and almost as high silos made of wood and set in corrugated iron shedding.

The flour mill was originally owned by Mr Joseph Chicken, but I am not aware of when it was erected, though I imagine it must have been somewhere about the turn of the century. I do know that he might have been thinking of selling in November 1911, for my father visited the mill while on his honeymoon after his marriage in Adelaide. At that time my father had just been made a partner in Jackett Bros, being manager of that firm’s Port Adelaide flour mill.

Jackett Bros had been established in the north country of South Australia by my grandfather Jonathan Jackett and my great uncle William Jackett, who had come from Wadebridge in Cornwall where in the late 1860s they had both served an apprenticeship in stone dressing at the local flour mill. Flour milling in those days had not extended beyond the system of grinding two flat stones of about five feet in diameter against each other. The wheat was poured through the centre of the upper stone and grooves were cut in the lower stone to allow the ground wheat to flow outwards where it was collected and sifted through silken cloth.

South Australia was a favourite colony for Cornishmen, for there were then tin mines at Moonta and both William and Jonathan became millers in the Port Augusta and Port Pirie areas. It was not long before they had the opportunity to build a flour mill at Mintaro and prospered. In the course of about ten years they established mills at Morgan and Auburn, William at Auburn and Jonathan at Morgan.

My father who was born in 1887 started work in the Morgan mill at 12 years of age, working 72 hours a week, but being extremely good at mental arithmetic was sent out on the paddle steamers plying the Murray and the Darling, buying wheat and selling flour.

It was at about this time that the firm built a new mill at Saddleworth with the latest equipment from England in roller milling, a much more involved process which completely revolutionised flour milling and improved not only the quality of flour, but enabled a greater amount to be extracted from the bran.

The mill at Port Adelaide was acquired early in the new century and the Morgan mill was converted to roller milling while the others were phased out.

Towards the end of the Great War in 1918 Mr Chicken decided to sell the Strathfield mill and my father prevailed upon the partnership to buy
it. We arrived in Strathfield at the beginning of December 1918, and I can clearly remember visiting the mill soon after. At that time it was not as large as it became about three years later.

The mill buildings were in a large area of land and had their own railway siding. The main building was four stories high, built of brick behind which wider corrugated iron buildings of two stories lined the railway sidings. Beside the main brick building on the western side was the engine room where a large steam engine manufactured in Mannheim, Germany drove all the machinery. At its side to the north was a large pond about twenty feet by ten, in which a big high wooden structure cooled the water from the boiler. On each side of the boiler and pistons were eight foot in diameter flywheels from which leather belts drove the entire machinery of the mill, not only in the main brick building but the cleaning of wheat coming off the railway trucks, and lifting the wheat to the silos at the back of the corrugated iron section of the premises.

Opposite the engine-room were enormous stockpiles of coal which came in sacks and had been carried in hand trolleys from the railway siding. As a small boy the engine room at once fascinated and frightened me, for the noise of the belts careering round the two flywheels and flapping into the mill was a real exhibition of power. The engine driver was a Strathfield man named Arthur Corp, who had three sons who worked in the mill for many years.

The main brick building had obviously been built for the roller milling process. It worked in this way. Wheat drawn from the various silos in accordance with the miller’s choice of varieties, was then moistened carefully to facilitate its progress through the mill. On the first floor were banks of steel rollers, the first four sets grooved, the remainder smooth. The rollers were pressed against each other, the first four grooved ones taking the wheat and cutting it open and scraping all the flour and flour in the form of semolina from the skin of the wheat. From the roller floor wooden pipes led from the various rollers to elevators which were belts with metal cups, to take the various stocks to the top floor where plan sifters containing stacks of silken sieves swung around in circles. The various results were then dropped down to the third floor where purifiers submitted them to a different kind of sieving where draughts of air took out any tiny flecks of bran, before being dropped down to the appropriate rollers: on; the first floor.

The greater portion of the opened wheat was flour, but it was mostly granular, was called semolina and had to be taken up and down the mill to be ground by the smooth rollers again and again until sifted into the finest flour, while what was left was packed as pollard.

Once the processed wheat had been collected either as flour, bran and pollard it was conveyed into the packing machines out in the upper floor of the store. As there were often very large shipments of flour to all parts of the world and particularly into Africa and the East, the store had to contain many hundreds of tons of flour before being dropped down in slippery slides to the railway trucks in the siding.

On the ground floor wheat in bulk or in bags was handled and basically cleaned before being conveyed up to the various silos. As flour was sold to bakers in 150lb or 196lb sacks, the jute bags in which wheat was received from growers, an elaborate cleaning process was necessary and there were always several men engaged cleaning and mending jute bags on the ground floor.

It was about this time that the 4 bushell wheat bag, used for a 196lb bag of flour when cleaned, was phased out. Staff were greatly pleased, as stacking wheat or flour ten high was no mean feat.

In 1922 my father decided to market a self-raising flour, which he named Jackett’s Red Seal Self-Raising flour, in 2lb-paper bags, with a big seal of quality as the trade mark in the centre of the packet. Until the war had ended, baking powder had been the usual means of home baking. The new brand was launched at the Royal Easter Show where scones baked in the stand were free and really appreciated by throngs of people and the tasters were sent on their way with a free show bag containing sample bags of self-raising flour and little nick-nacks to intrigue children as well as their mothers who also scored recipe books.

The mill obviously had to be extended and a three-storey brick building was built out from the front of the flour mill and across the Beresford Road entrance to the engine room and water-cooler. The ground floor of this new building accommodated the office which had been a small extension to the main building, while the mixing of flour and cream of tartar took place on the top (third floor) and packaging took place on the floor below. In those days there was no automatic packaging, this being done by about eight or nine girls. Also on this floor (over the roadway) the packets of self-raising flour were packed in cartons, and a slide opening in the floor enabled the cartons to be loaded on to lorries.

For some years after the Great War most deliveries of goods were carried by horse-drawn lorries, as motor vehicles of all kinds had to be imported and were in short supply. My father had brought his Humber motor car from Adelaide by boat as no one in their right mind tried to drive from Adelaide to Sydney on what were called roads. As it was a pre-war model and out of fashion, my father had the body changed to a lorry with Red Seal signs all over it and this delivered the product for quite a few years to all the groceries and corner shops in Sydney.

Two other companies started making self-raising flour at about the same time and competition was very keen. These were Aeroplane (of Jelly fame too) and Sydney SR Flour. Groceries had not become supermarkets and corner shops were everywhere. Self-raising flour took on quickly and baking powder almost went out of business. Jackett’s Red Seal built up a strong following and lasted until well into the thirties.

In the flour mill itself additions were made from time as new machinery became available to increase output and by about 1925 the steam engine was unable to provide all the power needed in the mill and self-raising flour area. The milling process is easily upset by any variation in the speed of the rollers and sifters and the steam engine was beginning to falter every now and again. Electric motors of any large horsepower size were being developed but it was nearly another year before one was bought and installed, It was supplied with electricity at 110 volts, instead of the normal 240 volts and for quite a while in switching over generators in the power stations there was a sudden break which affected the milling process. The whole mill had to be started up again and the flour in the system and packers put through again. They were worrying times for the miller and it was a long time before the power station people were able to avoid the ten or fifteen second break.

Australian flour mills were capable of producing much more flour than could be used by bakers and pastry cooks and other users in Australia, so that milling capacity was dependent on export to the rest of the world. As the milling process was essentially a continuous one, three shifts from eleven pm Sundays to eleven am Saturdays was the usual practice. Starting and stopping a mill is time-consuming and expensive, so whatever a miller’s normal sales to bakers, he depended on getting export sales to keep the mill running in three shifts. Therefore the mill was nearly always well lit-up all night summer and winter, and the extensive galvanised iron store’s top floor was filled almost to over-flowing with hundreds of tons of export flour awaiting shipment. Most export orders were packed in 49lb calico bags, and when delivery was made, down the slides went the 49lb calico bags of flour to the open railway wagons and onto the ships in the harbour. Within a day or two the store would be just about empty.

It will be seen from this that buying wheat was a crucial part of taking orders for export, particularly when thousands of tons of flour were often involved, and the daily fluctuations in the price of wheat were an important factor in trading in flour. Indeed the wheat in the silos sometimes had to be stored for months to ensure satisfactory trading especially when export markets throughout the world were often most volatile. The first floor store carried enormous weights of export flour awaiting shipments, stacks up to ten to twelve feet high testing the great two by two feet wooden bearers with which the store was built.

Flour milling did not escape the depression which came in October 1929. People in Sydney did not use as much bread and export orders also dropped off seriously as the depression was a world-wide disaster. The flour millers of New South Wales, as every other manufacturing business, found orders hard to get and their mills during the nineteen-thirties were more often than not, down to working one shift. This of course was more expensive and as the depression did not really disappear entirely until the outbreak of war, some milling companies folded.

In South Australia Jackett Bros very early fared badly and in 1931 the head office was moved to Strathfield, but both Sydney and Adelaide had difficulty in trading under the conditions of the depression. The mills in Adelaide and Sydney were sold. In 1937 the Strathfield mill was sold to a consortium of three of Sydney’s larger milling companies, who promptly closed it down under a scheme developed by the association of NSW millers.

In due course as conditions improved with the war, the Strathfield mill became part of Allied Mills and was renamed William Farrer & Co. Ltd, after the great Wheat breeder who improved Australian varieties of wheat and helped to eradicate the scourge of rust on our best milling wheats.

Allied Mills became part of Goodman Fielder in the eighties, and as the whole process of milling had again gone through dynamic change, the Strathfield mill as so many others, became obsolete. It was closed down about five years ago and demolished. A great Strathfield landmark just failed to reach its century.

It must arouse some surprise that at the bottom of Beresford Road is the only sign of industrial development in original Strathfield. It is interesting that a very large industrial building such as the flour mill was located next door to one of the municipality’s many substantial mansions. It would seem that when the mill was built, places such as flour mills needed railway sidings and this was where one could be fitted in. On the opposite side of Beresford Road there was a grain merchant who had a railway facility too. In between the wars this was Stockman’s Horse drawn wagons and gradually more and more motor lorries came for produce of one kind and another for fare and chicken runs where suburbs such as Lakemba and Punchbowl and beyond now stands

At the end of the first war there were vacant blocks of land in all Strathfield streets south of Redmyre Road, while there was only Pott’s Bush west of Chalmers Road, an area beloved of two-Sup players, and a dairy until after Word War II.

Actually the flour mill was not a noisy neighbour, even when it was driven by a high-powered steam engine, and apart from being lit inside scarcely noticeable at night. Probably the noisiest part was the nightly shunting of trucks in and out of the rail yard.

The main brick building had obviously been built for the foller milling process. It worked in this way. Wheat drawn from the various silos in accordance with the miller’s choice of varieties was then moistened carefully to facilitate its progress through the mill. On the first floor were banks of steel rollers, the first four sets grooved, the remainder smooth.

The rollers were pressed against each other, the first four grooved ones taking the wheat and cutting it open and scraping all the flour, and flour in the form of semolina, from the skin of the wheat. From the roller floor wooden pipes led from the various rollers to elevators which were belts with metal cups, to take the various stocks to the top floor where plan sifters containing stacks of silken sieves swung around in circles. The various results were then dropped down to the third floor where purifiers submitted them to a different kind of sieving where draughts of air took out any tiny flecks of bran, before being dropped down to the appropriate rollers on the first floor.

A greater portion of the opened wheat was flour but it was mostly granular, was called semolina and had to be taken up and down the mill to be ground by the smooth rollers again and again until sifted into the finest flour, while what was left was packed as pollard.

Once the processed wheat had been collected either as flour, bran or pollard, it was conveyed into the packing machines out in the upper floor of the store. As there were often very large shipments of flour to all parts of the world and particularly into Africa and the East, the store had to contain many hundreds of tons of flour before being dropped down in slippery slides to the railway trucks in the siding.

On the ground floor wheat in bulk or in bags was handled and basically cleaned before being conveyed up to the various silos. As flour was sold to bakers in 150lb or 196lb sacks, the jute bags in which wheat was received from growers, an elaborate cleaning process was necessary, and there were always several men engaged cleaning and mending jute bags on the ground floor.

It was about this time that the 4 bushel wheat bag, used for a l96lb bag of flour when cleaned, was phased out. Staff were greatly pleased, as stacking wheat or flour ten high was no mean feat.

In 1922 my father decided to market a self-raising flour, which he named Jackett’s Red Seal Self-Raising flour, in 2lb paper bags, with a big seal of quality as the trade mark in the centre of the packet. Until the war had ended, baking powder had been the usual means of home baking. The new brand was launched at the Royal Easter Show where scones baked in the stand were free and really appreciated by throngs of people, and the tasters were sent on their way with a free bag containing sample bags of self-raising flour and little knick-knacks to intrigue children as well as mothers who also scored recipe books.

The mill obviously had to be extended and a three-storey brick building was built out from the front of the flour mill and across the Beresford Rd. entrance to the engine room and water-cooler. The ground floor of this new building accommodated the office which had been a small extension to the main building, while the mixing of flour and cream of tartar took place on the top (third floor) and packaging took place on the floor below. In those days there was no automatic packaging, this being done by about eight or nine girls. Also on this floor (over the roadway) the packets of self- raising flour were packed in cartons, and a slide opening in the floor enabled the cartons to be loaded on to lorries.

For some years after the Great War most deliveries of goods were carried by horse-drawn lorries as motor vehicles of all kinds had to be imported and were in short supply. My father had brought his Humber motor car from Adelaide by boat as no one in their right mind tried to drive from Adelaide to Sydney on what were called roads. As it was a prewar model and out of fashion my father had the body changed to a lorry with Red Seal signs all over it, and this delivered the product for quite a few years to all the groceries and corner shops in Sydney.

Two other companies started making self-raising flour at about the same time and competition was very keen. These were Aeroplane (of Jelly fame) and Sydney SR Flour. Groceries had not become super markets and corner shops were everywhere. Self-raising flour took on quickly and baking powder almost went out of business. Jackett’s Red Seal built up a strong following and lasted until well into the thirties.

In the flour mill itself additions were made from time to time as new machinery became available to increase output, and by about 1925 the steam engine was unable to provide all the power needed in the mill and self- raising flour area. The milling process is easily upset by any variation in the speed of the rollers and sifters and the steam engine was beginning to falter every now and again. Electric motors of any large horsepower size were being developed but it was nearly another year before one was bought and installed. It was supplied with electricity at 110 volts instead of the normal 240 volts and for quite a while in switching over generators in the power stations there was a sudden break which affected the milling process. The whole mill had to be started up again and the flour in the system and packets put through again. They were worrying times for the miller and it was a long time before the power station people were able to avoid the ten or fifteen second break.

The late Mr Gordon Jackett, former State Member for Electorate of Burwood, provided this information to the Strathfield District Historical Society and formed part of the October 1986 Newsletter.

8 comments on “Jackett’s Flour Mills

  1. pamela Williams

    Is this Jonathan Jackett son of William and Johanna Jackett of St Breock, Cornwall? My g great grandfather, Thomas Jackett was his brother. He came to Swansea where he was a blacksmith and coachbuilder.

    • Pamela

      I’m sorry but I don’t know if they are related to the Jackett family of Strathfield.

      Regards

      Cathy

    • Lela Jackett

      Yes indeed Pamela, Johnathon was one of the sons of William and Johanna, another son Francis also came to Australia with his younger brother William and all three of them were involved in the milling business in S.A. and NSW. Of the original 3 brothers that came to Australia Johnathon and William remained and died in SA Francis moved to NSW around the beginning of the 20 th Century and is buried in Sydney. He had married and had several sons in Cornwall before coming to Australia. He married Elizabeth Elford, she died about 9months before him. Are you still in Wales? John Jackett of Truro in Cornwall has done a lot of research on the family. regards Lela Jackett

  2. tammy jackett

    Great information, that is my family my Dad is Tim Jackett and his dad was Rex Jackett from Strathfield 🙂

  3. Searching in Google brought up your web blog – I’m glad it did, thank you.

  4. John Jackett

    G`Day all, just googled this article, met Gordon in October 2001, sadly just after his traffic accident, but nonetheless, a great pleasure.

  5. John Jackett

    Hello, on saturday 26th Oct 2013 I took two family members – over here from Tasmania, to Polmorla Mill, St Breock to see where three sons learned to be Millers before heading off to Australia. Three other sons became carriage makers / blacksmiths in South Wales, so a very enterprising family. We then crossed over to Egloshayle Parish churchyard and took photos of the headstone of William & Joanna Perry (Rowe) buried in the Rowe family plot.
    In October 2001 we met 130 “Cousins” in McQuarrie Park Windsor – wonderful!
    Of the family in Australia, I have good family info of Jonathan and Francis but Williams` family have lots of gaps, would be very pleased to hear from his descendants.
    Sincerely, John @ Goonhavern, Cornwall F.Hist of Jacket(ts) for over 30 years

  6. Susan Taylor

    So fascinating. All the years I lived in strathfield and of course was so familiar with the flour mills and it’s railway siding, but didn’t know the family story.

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