MacRobertson's Confectionery Factory
- History Teachers' Association of Victoria
- Royal Historical Society of Victoria
MacRobertson Steam Confectionery Works was a confectionery company founded in 1880 by Macpherson Robertson and operated by his family in Fitzroy, Melbourne until 1967 when it was sold to Cadbury.
Never a shrinking violet, Macpherson Robertson named his business for himself but combined his two names into the catchier ‘MacRobertson’. In daily life this was abbreviated to ‘Mac’ or ‘Mr. Mac’.
MacRobertson’s Scottish parents, David and Margaret Robertson, arrived in Ballarat, Australia in search of gold. MacRobertson was born in 1859, but as the dreams of gold did not transpire the family lived in poverty made worse by David Robertson’s temporary abandonment of his family when Mac was still a young boy.
The early years of MacRobertson’s life and work were detailed in his romanticised autobiography ‘A Young Man and a Nail Can’. It describes his first workshop, established in the bathroom of his family home at 145 Argyle Street, Fitzroy. The young MacRobertson salvaged scrap metal to place over the family bath in order to make a workbench and purchased a 6p nail can that he converted into a small furnace. In the early years of his business, he walked the streets with the tray on his head, trying to interest local shopkeepers in buying his wares. Later, as his clientele grew, he co-opted his entire family every evening to package sweets ready for selling the next morning.
By 1900, MacRoberton’s business had swallowed up several blocks of Fitzroy real estate and business was booming. His entrepreneurial interests expanded to transport, design, sport and philanthropy MacRobertson was a recognisable figure in Fitzroy owing to his larger than life personality and distinctive white suit. He even crossed paths with notorious Melbourne gangster Squizzy Taylor when his commercial manager Arthur Trotter was shot in his home on 403 George St, Fitzroy by a member of the Taylor gang.
MacRoberton died in 1945, leaving the business to be run by his sons until 1967.
This story accompanies the 'Nail Can to Knighthood: the life of Sir Macpherson Robertson KBE' exhibition which took place at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria in 2015.
Confectionery: Past and Present
The White City
Walking the White City video
The Marketing Man
The Marketing Man Video
MacRobertson's Horses Video
The Cycling Craze
The Cycling Craze Video
MacRobertson and the Motor Car
The MacRobertson Legacy
Mac.Robertson Girls' High School video
MacRobertson Land, Antarctica
Old Gold Airplane
Story education resources
Education MacRobertson's Confectionery Factory - Education Kit
The MacRobertson's Confectionery Factory education kit has been designed for grades 2 and 3 and looks at themes such as 'the past in the present' and 'community history'.
Key themes include:
1. Historical buildings and monuments
2. Victorian industry and the workforce
3. Technology and transport
4. Advertising and design
5. Local history
Teachers and students use the kit in conjunction with the MacRobertson videos, images and stories available on Culture Victoria to complete a range of activities aligning with key historical skills such as:
1. Distinguishing between the past, present and future
2. Posing questions about the past using sources provided
3. Exploring a range of sources about the past
4. Identifying and comparing features of objects from the past and present
5. Exploring a point of view
6. Developing a narrative about the past
7. Using a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written, role play) and digital technologies