Marchant Bros: Paper Bag Manufacturers and Paper Merchants

1888 – Grandfather Marchant joined Mr. J 0’Brien in setting up a paper bag manufacturing business. It opened in Roma Street and later moved to the corner of Barry Parade and Gipps Street, Fortitude Valley. This business was named O’Brien and Marchant.

1923 – William Marchant retired and established his two sons, John Scott Marchant and Henry William Marchant in a business called Marchant Bros at 116 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley.

Post 1946 – Edgar Scott Marchant and cousin Ronald Andrew Marchant started working in the business. They worked in all areas of the business to gain a full understanding of all that was involved. Paper shortages and rationing restricted development at this time. Experience gained while working on the delivery trucks and cash sale vans prompted some changes to stock control and the implementation of cash sale dockets. If faulty bags were replaced, the originals had to be returned so false claims were reduced and the factory staff were made aware of any production faults. Orders for special products that were not a stock item on the vans were required to be ordered in advance, as the vans covered designated daily runs to improve the efficiency of the service. Edgar’s two years employment (pre war service) in a chartered accountant’s office provided him with skills that were a great benefit in planning and for cost control for the future.

From 1923 John Scott Marchant was responsible for the factory side of the business while Henry William Marchant handled the sales and office section. His copybook hand written records and invoices were meticulous. As more paper became available, the business developed and more space was needed.

1957 – The business moved to land at the corner of Florence and Dath Streets, Teneriffe. The land had been occupied by workers cottages and a cabinet making factory. The cottages were sold for demolition but the small furniture factory continued for a short time producing some fine inlaid furniture. The land was in an area earlier referred to as the ‘flats of Teneriffe ‘ because this area had flooded in 1894. A building contractor, G. W Wiley and Co, advised that he could construct a suitable factory and office on this site by creating a raised floor using a reinforced floating floor technique. This entailed tying the foundations, walls and floor together with reinforced concrete over a fill of compacted decomposed granite. This method proved to be very successful and the floor was still in good condition and carrying the heavy stacks of paper reels 37 years later. The first building covered approximately two thirds of the site while the remainder was also raised between 2feet 6inches and 3 feet with spent ash from the New Farm powerhouse. This area was used for parking.

1960 – The balance of the land was built on and the business occupied the second new building.

1967 – 0ne original house, owned by Eric Ingram (an ex Cannery employee) remained in Dath Street. It sat between the Brother’s business and the Cannery. Eric finally agreed to sell and he was assisted in relocating to Lutwyche. This cottage was demolished and a third adjoining building was erected.

1967 to 1968 – 51% of the business was sold to Edwards Dunlop & Co Ltd.

1970 – Business continued to grow and the large area occupied by IXL (ex-State Cannery), right through to Vernon Terrace was purchased from the owner, Henry Jones Ltd. The Marchant Bros office then moved into the previous two storey Cannery office on the corner of Vernon Terrace and Commercial Road.

1982 – Edgar and Ronald sold their remaining interest in Marchant Bros. Edgar stayed on as manager until his retirement in December 1983. The merger brought hope for more development, but one lesson was learnt very early, Marchant Bros did run a business as efficient and in some areas better than their Southern counter parts.

1962 – Eric Hogan had joined the company as the accountant and progressed to assistant manager and finally manager from 1982 until 1994.

1988 – The business was sold to Brown & Dureau, a subsiduary of Australian Paper Mills – now AMCOR Ltd.

1996 – The property was sold and the business closed.

Product: The main product manufactured in the Brunswick Street factory was paper bags. These were made in both the flat and satchel shapes. They were produced in both brown and white paper as well as greaseproof and glassine papers to provide grease resistant bags. Another type of paper used was a brown paper HWS (high wet strength) for packaging of grapes and bottles which had condensation on them caused by earlier refrigeration. This HWS paper was also used for the manufacture of pineapple sleeves and covers to protect the pineapples from frost and sunburn during the growing season. Hundreds of thousands of these products were manufactured each year.

Reel to reel printing was another process carried out. From large parent reels, 9″ diameter printed counter rolls were produced. Also from large parent reels of polythene coated bleached paper, multicoloured wraps were produced for the automatic packaging of ice cream confectionery.

Other items were also merchandised – these included food and drink containers, butchers tissue, greaseproof glassine papers, serviettes, paper/polythene plates and takeaway food containers, carrier bags and a large range of polythene bags in flat and roll form.

Equipment: The original bag making machines were of English origin. However subsequent machines were imported first from England and then from Germany. Interestingly, this gave our staff an early introduction to metric measure as all German equipment only used the metric system. Auxiliary items were designed and produced locally. One supplier was R.L. Windsor & Co. They designed equipment that helped production, for example a paste cooking system. Flour was fed from an overhead hopper, water added, alum added to achieve consistency, oil of cloves as a preservative and then cooked for a set period. The finished product was stored in large wooden vats and supplied to the machines in stainless steel buckets.

As demand grew to store increased stock, pallet racks were constructed using dexion angle iron and the 6″X7/8″ pine wallboards taken from the original cottages that were on the site. Edgar commented on the quality of the timber that had been used to build these cottages. The racks were moved by pallet trucks in the early days. Later, forklifts were acquired. Post war shortages meant staff had to be resourceful and Edgar and Ronald did a lot of the improvements, including the carpentry, themselves.

Staff: Eventually the company employed three general salesmen, six van salesmen and two delivery truck drivers to service their outlets . The vans went out on regular daily runs from the warehouse, like the spokes of a wheel, to service the corner stores and the larger shops. Some large fruit and vegetable businesses (mostly run by Italian & Greek migrants) liked to pay in cash, mostly coin. This became a challenge for the drivers as the pockets of their dustcoats became weighted down with heavy coin. Travelling salesmen serviced the larger wholesalers and food packers, whilst a country salesman had regular routes stretching from the Northern Rivers to Cairns and inland to the larger western towns.

To this day, Edgar believes the strength of the business came from the loyal and dedicated employees. Some people started their working life with the company after leaving school and remained until retirement. Other junior factory staff came from the Milton and Newstead Opportunity Schools and these people often developed into the best employees that anyone could ask for. There were devoted Australian and European employees who came from all walks of life.

A group developed consisting of hard working and reliable Italian mothers and daughters. These were generally from migrant families living in New Farm and Teneriffe.

The Christmas shutdown and breakup parties were not to be missed. Management provided most of the fare but sometimes this was supplemented with home made staff specialities. Retired ex-employees were invited back each year and were able to meet old.friends.

The Brothers employed between 30 and 40 workers with the factory girls being noted for their dedication to a very noisy job. They took pride in keeping their machines clean and each one treasured their own particular job. When Repetitive Strain Injury became an issue in some industries, job rotation was suggested. It generally was rejected by the staff who took such pride in their own special area. Nevertheless staff worked willingly in any area necessary to get the work completed. There was one particular lad named Geoff Cameron who came from the Newstead Opportunity School. He was the paste maker and later developed into the best reel storeman any company could wish for. Despite the paper reels being heavy and awkward to handle and of many variable specifications he would locate and supply what ever was required on the machine when needed.

Reels weighed from 100 lbs to 450 lbs and varied in width from 10″ to 42″ and were originally stacked by manual labour. Later mechanical lifts became available and eventually a grab forklift was employed. One hot December day, just before closing for the Christmas holidays, Edgar and Ronald stacked 105 reels of paper without mechanical help and they vowed that after Xmas that they would be looking for a better way in the New Year.

An ex-Butler Bros (large wholesale warehouse) employee managed the finished goods warehouse in Dath Street with the help of only one assistant.

In the Teneriffe factory all activities were finally directed from the office on Vernon Terrace. A very capable sales and office staff operated from this area.

It was the people referred to above that made Marchant Bros a very successful business and the company grew and improved by the year.

Queensland Bag Manufacturers Association: After the war, when paper was in short supply an association was formed with the help of the Australian Paper Mill. The government controlled the volume of imports and set fixed selling prices. Gradually restrictions were eased and import duties imposed. This was to encourage the use of Australian made paper and local industry. As price restrictions were lifted, undercutting of prices occurred especially as the larger chains and retailers demanded cheaper prices for the larger volume orders. Of course this acted to the detriment of the smaller stores and along with other factors caused many of them to go out of business.

Postscript: This large industrial site is now home to many apartments. The original brick wall of the Cannery has been retained in Dath Street. The factory buildings were demolished as they were totally unsuitable for residential construction.

1 thought on “Marchant Bros: Paper Bag Manufacturers and Paper Merchants”

  1. Albertus Forster

    Al bertus Forster I used to work there in 1960 ,and called J o and sons and it was quarry st valley Qld.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top