Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

It all started when I began searching for a cherry ripe slice recipe.  Scrolling  through the search results and trying to find the best one, I happened across information on the Cherry Ripe and soon discovered that the original owner of the chocolate bar was not Cadbury (as I had always thought it was) but a man named Mac Robertson.

Sir Macpherson ‘Mac’ Robertson was born on 6 September 1860 in Ballarat, Victoria.  Being the son of Irish and Scottish parents, at age 9, he and his family (apart from his father) moved back to Scotland.  Five years later, in 1874, the family returned to Australia.  Upon his return, Mac became the apprentice to a confectioner.  This was the start to his illustrious career.

At age 19 he decided to put his plan into action.  In the bathroom of his parents’s house in Fitzroy with a nailcan and a tin pannikin, he started making boiled lollies.  Originally hawking the lollies off a tray, as his business grew, he first purchased a tricycle, moving up to a horse drawn van and eventually, lorries pulled by white horses.  Ever the strategic marketer, his factory was painted white (and known as White City), his workers wore white coats and he was often seen immaculately dressed in white.

His business, originally starting from nothing, grew from strength to strength as the years rolled by.  Mac Robertson’s became a well known Australian confectionery brand selling  Freddo Frogs, Cherry Ripes, Snack, Old Gold chocolate, Milk Kisses and Columbines.

Never forgetting his humble roots, in his lifetime he donated over £200,000 to various charities and organisations including: the Antartica expedition in 1929 and 1930, a high school for girls (named Mac Robertson Girls’ High School), a cultural centre for children, the construction of a bridge across the Yarra River at Grange Road, prizes for the Centenary Air Race, Christmas charities and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Sir Macpherson Robertson passed away on 20 August 1945 at age 85.  He left behind a multi million dollar company and was survived by two sons, Norman and Eric.  They took control of Mac Robertson’s until the late 1960s when it was purchased by Cadbury and eventually became a part of Cadbury Schweppes.

He was an early Australian entrepreneur and was the man responsible for the release of many chocolates that are still extremely well known to the Australians of today.  Despite his initial success, sadly, after the sale of his company to Cadbury, his name seems to have disappeared into obscurity.  Even I have to admit that I had never heard of him until discovering that one article.  As much as I love Cadbury chocolate, this fact saddens me.  I only hope that with this post I’ve done some justice and given credit (where credit is due) to an amazing Australian.  After all, if it wasn’t for him, Cherry Ripes, Snack or Freddo Frogs would not be around today.


22 thoughts on “Mac Robertson’s

  1. leigh robertson says:

    Trying to find information about Sir macpherson robertson’s first wife and two(?) children – grandchildren Megan and Mervyn brewer.

    1. Jess says:

      Hi Leigh,

      Looking at family trees on Ancestry, his first wife was Elizabeth Alice Hedington and his children with her were Ernest Macpherson Robertson and Stella Irene Robertson. I’m afraid I don’t actually know anything about the family history of the Robertsons though. Perhaps you could join Ancestry and send a message to someone with the family tree online? Sorry I can’t be of more help.

    2. franckie says:

      Hi my name is Frankie. my friend and her sister worked at the workshop and has a the book and signed by mac Robertson in 1922. I feel very lucky knowing her and the stories she has told me. Also owning the book.

      1. Jess says:

        Hi Franckie,

        What a great piece of history you have and how wonderful to hear about the stories! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. 🙂

  2. Bob Nankivell says:

    Hi Jess,
    I am also interested in Macpherson Robertson but that is because my great grandfather was his younger brother David. I have only just returned from Melbourne where I went and had a look at the fountain he paid for as well as the factory building in Kerr St , Fitzroy that was part of his empire.
    I also found a little book by Jill Robertson (no relation) called MacRobertsonland published by Arcade Publications for $20. It is her second book (MacRobertson: The Chocolate King being the first) and I’m sure the publisher could put you in touch with Jill if you wished. It also contains a comprehensive list of sources that may find usefull.
    If you read either of the books you may appreciate that being descended from David I was given a totally different impression of Macpherson to the extent that I never had Old Gold chocolate until I was in my teens and he was never mentioned in my family. Jill’s book was a real eye opener to find out what really happened.
    I have enjoyed your blog and seeing the pictures you have.

    1. Jess says:

      How interesting! I’m not related to Macpherson but I love the history (or stories) behind all people; especially ones which went on to create such well-known brands! I’ll have to search for those books. They sound like a good read! I’m glad you enjoyed my blog and the pictures. Thank you very much for stopping by and leaving a comment. 🙂

      1. Raelene Smith says:

        It is said that he fathered my (illegitimate) grandmother. She was born in 1890, to Minnie Clarke.

  3. David Jones says:

    Hi, My fathers first wife was Isabella Robertson, b. 14 Dec.1889, d.1984. Her parents were James Robertson and Isabella Howie. For many years there has been a book in our family titled ‘A Young Man and a Nail Can’, …the story of the MacRobertson Chocolate Empire that was published in 1924, plus a brochure of the 1934 Air Race sponsored by MacRobertson. I have puzzled as to why these two books were in our possession, so I am led to believe there may be a family connection. My father, Charles Jones was born in Kew in 1888, he became a Tailor and during the ‘teens – 20s ran a successful manufacturing business in Flinders Lane, Melbourne. He shared MacRobertsons love of Packard cars, and croquet, having a croquet lawn established at his comfortable home in Tower St East Hawthorn. Dad was very musical and entertained often, in between golf, freemasonry and musical evenings. MacRobertson was, I believe, a resident of Kew, and my father and his all his family were long time residents of Kew. I can only assume that perhaps my father may have been MacRobertsons’ tailor, as I have found no further links except the marriage to Isabella Robertson on 6 April 1912.
    cheers, David J

    1. Jess says:

      What a fantastic story David! I don’t know the family history of Macpherson Robertson that well but I’d say you’re spot on with your theory. What a wonderful memento to have in your family! 🙂

      1. David Jones says:

        I recently (Feb.2013) discovered the same book, ‘A Young Man and a Nail Can’ in a jam-packed bookshop in Echuca. I didn’t want to reveal to the owner that I already had the book, I was just curious what his price for it was. I think from memory it was something like $170, it turned out to be in much the same condition as my copy. …However the owner did show me another booklet about MacRobertson, …although I don’t recall the subject matter, I was delighted to see MacPherson Robertsons’ own personal signature in the fabulous familiar longhand script done in pencil, dedicating the book to an acquaintance or friend on the inside cover. The owner wanted only $90 for the booklet, …had I been more financial at the time I would have bought it. In years to come it may be worth more, but for me something to keep, as I appreciate the wonderful history of MacRobertson’s Chocolates.

  4. Naomi says:

    Very interesting and sad too that people think that cabury have invented some of my favorite chocolates, when it was him.
    I was asspired to google search his name after reading it on an old rusty chocolate tin box that I have. Didn’t realize it was so old.

    1. Jess says:

      It is a pity but I think it’s the way it goes sometimes…people eventually forget. Though I am glad to see that my blog is helping others to learn about him and his chocolates. Thanks for reading, Naomi, and for leaving a comment. 🙂

  5. Martine beaumont says:

    Je possède une vieille boîte métallique avec l’inscription “Robertson’s Chocolatés” . Elle date des années 1900 environ. J’aimerais vous envoyer une photo. Elle est orangée avec un paysage d’un lac avec petit voilier blanc.

    1. Jess says:

      That’s amazing Martine! What a wonderful tin you have. If you’d like to email me a photo please feel free to send it to: PS: I’m afraid I don’t speak French but thanks to the wonders of Google I translated your comment into English. 🙂

  6. airzoneoz says:

    I have a copy of the book “A young man and a nail can” a beautiful book on the history of Mac Robertson and the company. It has wonderful colour plates, the suppliment booklet and is personally signed by Mac Robertson.
    A beautiful piece of history.

    1. Jess says:

      That’s a wonderful piece of history you have! Definitely something to treasure. 🙂

  7. Hi Jess Found this blog while researching Mac.Robertson’s Chocolate Factory. My mother worked for him in the early 30’s for quite a few years and I am doing a family history on her for my younger family members. I thought it would be nice to include her work at Mac’s as I am sure most of the family wouldn’t even know who Mac’s is. Cadbury’s are wrong not to give some credit to him, especially when he founded so many of their best sellers of today. Anyway thought I would leave a comment and be assured there will be a few more now who will know about Mac.Robertson’s and Cadbury’s.

    1. Jess says:

      I agree Maz and I’m glad to hear there’ll be a few more people who will be able to tell the story of Mac Robertson and his chocolates. 🙂

  8. Richard Shiell says:

    I have loved Cherry Ripe for most of my 77 years and am surprised that no-one has mentioned the little drawing on the back of the old Mac Roberson wrapper. This featured a man with a switch catching two boys in the act of climbing over a wall after stealing his cherries.

    1. Jess says:

      Hi Richard,
      I was aware of the old picture but I believe the logo no longer appears on the wrapper. From what I’ve found, it was removed by Cadbury in 2002 (I personally didn’t even notice the change). I’m afraid I can’t offer much more information about the old logo but I’ll investigate further to see what I can find.

  9. peter forrest says:

    wow what an extraordinary journey he had and the contribution he has made to humanity with his unparalleled amazing vision.

    does any one have a family tree…

  10. Paul says:

    Hello everyone. I am researching this family tree and trying desperately to locate the birthdate of Jillian Macpherson Brewer who I believe was the great grand daughter. Sadly Jillian was murdered in Western Australia in 1959. If anyone can help that would be wonderful.

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