Royal Reels: Gambling


A window printed-to-private-order advertising cover for A.F. Brockhoff & Co. Pty. Ltd., Biscuit Manufacturers, West Melbourne, C. 3 with the green imprinted 1d KGVI stamp was postmarked with a roller cancel MELBOURNE/ 2 -PM/ 9 JUN/ 1938/ VICTORIA, with a slogan MINIMUM LETTER/ RATE TO USA 3D/ ADDRESSEE PAYS/ DOUBLE/ DEFICIENCY (Figure 1).

Sir Jack Stuart Brockhoff, biscuit manufacturer and philanthropist, was born on 11 March 1908 in South Melbourne, third and youngest son of Victorian-born parents Frederick Douglas Brockhoff (1868-1961), manufacturer, and his wife Lola Landon. Frederick’s father, Adolph, had migrated from Mecklenburg, Germany, to Victoria and started the biscuit-manufacturing firm A. F. Brockhoff & Co in 1880. Entering the business early in life, Frederick became governing director of the company, which was renamed Brockhoff’s Biscuits Pty Ltd. Jack attended Wesley College, and he and his brothers, Harold Frederick (1902-1966) and Alan Bruce (1904-1989), were to spend most of their working lives with the family firm, controlling it after World War II.

In a felicitous spread of abilities and interests, Harold managed the marketing side, Alan the manufacturing operation and Jack the administrative, financial and corporate functions. This split of responsibilities enabled the brothers to work together harmoniously, while keeping their distance. Each was a director in charge of his sector. Jack was also managing director and later chairman. All three had a remarkable physical resemblance, though substantial differences of personality.

After 1945 the brothers anticipated a significant growth in demand for their products. Believing it to be economically imperative that they increase production, they purchased a large block of former market-gardening land at East Burwood in 1951 and opened an ambitious new factory there in 1953. The scale of operation allowed by the extra space and new plant gave their firm a competitive advantage and Brockhoff’s share of the market expanded at the expense of its rivals T. B. Guest & Co. Pty Ltd, Swallow & Ariell Ltd and Sunshine Biscuits Ltd.

Biscuit manufacturers mostly operated within one State but in the 1950s William Arnott Pty Ltd of Sydney began buying out or merging with interstate firms. When the American-owned Nabisco Pty Ltd entered the Australian market, Arnott’s, Brockhoff’s and Guest’s combined defensively, forming the Australian Biscuit Co. Pty Ltd, but at first keeping their operations separate. Nabisco sought to take over the publicly listed Swallow & Ariell in 1964 and Jack Brockhoff worked closely, shrewdly and courageously with Arnott’s directors to beat Nabisco in a share-market battle, acquiring Swallow & Ariell for the Australian Biscuit Co.

Realising that the day of the medium-sized, one-State manufacturer was passing, Brockhoff then led his family firm into a full merger with Arnott’s. The combined company became Arnott’s Biscuits Pty Ltd in 1966 and the Brockhoff name gradually disappeared from supermarket shelves over the next few years. Arnotts Ltd was floated as a public company in 1970. Jack retired as chairman and managing director of the Melbourne operation, Arnott-Brockhoff-Guest Pty Ltd, in 1973 but was to remain a director of Arnotts Ltd until 1984.

Reserved, introverted and markedly shy, Brockhoff was nevertheless an astute businessman and investor who was also kind and honest. Much of his wealth came from private investment, an abiding interest. He could be very generous, but abhorred waste, show or pretence. He was a life governor of the Sandringham and District Memorial Hospital, the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Burwood Boys’ Home and the Victorian Civil Ambulance. In 1979 he organised a philanthropic trust, the Jack Brockhoff Foundation, and endowed it with $5 million. He was knighted that year. The foundation was dedicated to assisting `the people of Victoria’. Most of its grants were of moderate amounts disbursed to a wide range of charities, but it gave priority to helping children and the elderly, and to funding medical research. A book, Biscuits & Beyond written by Robert Murray describes his establishment of his philanthropic Foundation, is seen in Figure 2.

On 14 October 1933 at St John’s Church of England, Toorak, Brockhoff had married Claire Herd. The marriage was childless and broke down very quickly; the experience seemed to affect his personality, increasing his reserve. He lived modestly at Sandringham, a hard-drinking bachelor devoted to golf, bowls, sailing, fishing and business, and a member of numerous sporting clubs, including the Victoria Amateur Turf and the Victoria Racing clubs. On 27 June 1980 at Sandringham he married, Ursula Edith Lycoudis, née Hill, a widow who had recently been his housekeeper; the marriage was happy but short. Sir Jack died on 3 September 1984 at his home and his will, sworn for probate at $7,455,835, provided the foundation with about $6 million in additional funds, and almost $1 million more on the death of Lady Brockhoff in 1995. A drawing of Sir Jack Brockhoff is seen in Figure 3.

This paper is a slightly abbreviated copy of the article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.