Scope and Content

The records include minutes of Australian companies but are mainly made up of correspondence between John Swire & Sons, Ltd in London and their agents and managers in Sydney and Brisbane and cover the management and development of business in Australia.

Administrative / Biographical History

Today Swire's business interests in Australia focus on cold storage & logistics, transport and logistics, recycling & materials handling, arable and livestock farming, and commercial and industrial property.

Swire's connections in Australia date to 1855, when John Samuel Swire (1825-1898) established Swire Brothers. in Melbourne. By this time in Australia's history, about 405,000 convicts and settlers had arrived in the country, with the population doubling or trebling in each of the preceding three decades. While the convict settlement programme had run its course, Victoria was the centre of the Gold Rush of the 1850s, and it was there that John Samuel Swire established a modest import-export business on the strength of the growing trade between Australia and the UK. Over the next two decades, profits from this operation financed Swire's expansion into the far Eastern trades and into shipping.

The Melbourne branch, called Swire Brothers & Company did not last long and was taken over in 1861 by Lorimer, Marwood & Rome of Melbourne and Sydney. This firm, later called Lorimer, Rome & co went bankrupt in 1894. From that point Swire's interests in Melbourne were managed by George Martin and by J&A Brown in Sydney. This arrangement lasted until 1900 when Messrs Yuill & Co were given the agency for Swire's Australian interests. The firm of Swire & Yuill was created in 1948 to carry on business in Australia.

Soon after World War II, the company reestablished shipping connections with Australia, and in April 1952, John Swire and Sons Pty Ltd was established in Sydney to act as an agent for Swire's interests in the region - China Navigation Company and a new subsidiary in Papua New Guinea, the New Guinea Australia Line Pty Ltd (NGAL). In the post war environment, the growth of trades with New Guinea and the Pacific Islands fostered the development of a network of Swire Shipping Agencies, which to this day provide management of trades servicing Australia from Asia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the South Pacific Islands, and the US. Today Swire's shipping interests are held by China Navigation Company Pte Ltd, based in Singapore.

The important shipping connection with Papua New Guinea encouraged John Swire & Sons to invest in Papua New Guinea during the 1970's, at a time when many companies were hesitant to invest in the newly formed nation. While NGAL was launched in 1952, in 1970 it was registered in Port Moresby as a subsidiary of John Swire & Sons Pty Ltd, but with a local board of directors. Swire investment in the historic Port Moresby Group, Steamships Trading Company began with the first procurement of shares in 1977. Investment slowly increased over time through incremental share purchases, and indirectly via investment in the Highlands trading Group Collins & Leahy, who held 33% of Steamships. Swire did not gain a majority shareholding until 1996. Swire controls the historic publicly listed company today, with interests ranging from manufacturing, transportation, shipping, properties, hotels and telecommunications.

During the post war era, John Swire & Sons Pty Ltd expanded its interests in Australia beyond Shipping. In 1956, a tentative investment in a company in Brisbane led to the purchase of a management stake in a freezer trucking company called Frigmobile Pty Ltd. Frigmobile became a wholly owned subsidiary in 1967 and became one of Australia's best known cold storage and transport providers. Today, it remains a brand within our refrigeration and logistics operations.

Over time, Swire built up its cold storage interests with the acquisition of Woodmasons Cold Storage in Victoria, South Australian Cold Stores Pty Ltd and assets from P. Cleland Enterprises Pty Ltd. Such an extensive assets base paved the way for the creation of a new national entity in January 2004 -Swire Cold Storage Pty Ltd. Today, Swire Cold Storage is the country's largest national refrigeration and distribution group, with 17 facilities totalling over 73 million cubic feet providing 326,000 pallet spaces of temperature controlled warehousing.

In the 1970s JS&S Pty Ltd acquired a major shareholding in road transport specialist Transwest Haulage. Transwest originated as a small operator in Geelong in the 1950s, but grew extensively to become a sizable public company with operations in most states. The main areas of expertise were bulk cartage, waste management, materials handling and scrap metal processing. The scrap metal processing services developed and operated by Transwest, led to a close relationship with BHP Steel - a relationship that still exists today, through Swire Industrial Services.

The transport services of Transwest were well matched by the services provided by Kalari Transport - another well known Victorian operator, based in Portland. It was acquired by Swire in 1994. Kalari, with their unmissable fleet of bright yellow and orange trucks, reputation for innovation and efficient operation, and network of haulage services, was a welcome and logical addition to the Swire fold. By 2006, the balance of Transwest's transport operations were incorporated into the Kalari brand.

In the early 1980s, through its association with Scottish tea company James Finlay, John Swire & Sons Pty Ltd acquired a stake in a cotton farming business in Bourke, NSW. Clyde Agriculture became a 100% subsidiary in 1989. Swire continued to invest and expand its agricultural interests, with grazing properties in Western NSW and Southern Queensland. By 2007 Clyde owned over 1.85 million acres of rural properties, becoming the largest wool grower in the world. The sale of these properties began in 2010 and should be completed in 2011.

Following on from the Transwest materials handling experience, Swire sought to further invest in this industry sector, and the construction and demolition recycler Alex Fraser was seen as a great opportunity to do so. Both companies have similar heritage, entrepreneurial culture and values, so the acquisition of a majority shareholding by Swire in 2006 seemed like a natural fit. From humble beginnings in the metals trading business in 1879, Alex Fraser has grown to become Australia's largest construction and demolition waste materials recycler, operating six recycling centres across Melbourne and Brisbane.

All business activities in Australia and Papua New Guinea are still coordinated by, or on behalf of, John Swire and Sons Ltd in London. Some 150 years since John Samuel Swire established Swire Bros. in Melbourne in 1855, the Swire family continues to support and invest in the development and expansion of Swire interests in Australia.

The papers in this collection comprise those that were created, or collected by Head Office in London in their advisory capacity as parent company. As such the records are not comprehensive, but include some correspondence, some legal papers, minutes, publications and staff records relating to agents and subsidiary companies in Australia.


Given that there are currently relatively few records in this sub-collection, the records have been arranged in two series: Correspondence and Minutes. It is expected that more records will be added in the future at which point the series will be re-structured.

Access Information


Archivist's Note


Conditions Governing Use

Copying for personal research purposes is permitted. Please contact the archivist for all publication requests.

Copyright is owned by John Swire & Sons, Ltd, 59 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AJ

Custodial History

Transferred to SOAS from Swire House, London