The MacRobertson's Steam Confectionery Works first manufactured the Cherry Ripe in 1924 at its factory in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Now Australia's oldest chocolate bar, the Cherry Ripe consists of a centre of cherry and coconut covered in Old Gold dark chocolate. A Roy Morgan survey in 2013 named the Cherry Ripe Australia s most popular chocolate bar and it has remained in the top three in subsequent surveys. While the MacRobertson company was sold to Cadbury in 1967, and their industrial buildings have now been converted into apartments, a cherry tree planted by the company still grows in the courtyard in tribute to the humble Cherry Ripe.
In 2015 the Cadbury's factory in Ringwood, Victoria processes 40 million Cherry Ripe bars annually, with six tonnes of chocolate being produced every two hours at the factory.
The Cherry Ripe story goes back a little further than the chocolate bar so many of us still enjoy today and appears to have its beginnings in a popular song, that became linked with a popular painting and even a popular cake before the chocolate treat and identically-named biscuit came along.
The Cherry Ripe Song
"Cherry Ripe" is an English song, or old Madrigal, with words by poet Robert Herrick (1591–1674) and music by Charles Edward Horn (1786–1849) which contains the refrain;
Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy.
Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy.
An earlier poem by Thomas Campion (1567–1620) used the same title Cherry Ripe, and has other similarities. It is thought that the refrain originated as a trader's street cry. The song's title has been used in other contexts on a number of occasions since and its tune has also been appropriated for many other uses. The song was popular in the 19th century and at the time of World War I.
The song is mentioned in the 1889 farcical novel The Wrong Box, written by Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, in a passage discussing the ubiquity of the penny whistle in late 19th century England, as one of two songs every player of that instrument invariably blows. The song is also a recurring theme in John Buchan's World War I spy novel Mr Standfast (1919). It identifies Mary Lamington, a young intelligence officer, who falls in love, mutually, with the hero of the novel, General Richard Hannay.
"Cherry Ripe",John Everett Millais, 1879
The Cherry Ripe Painting
In 1879 the song title was adopted by John Everett Millais as the title of his immensely popular painting depicting a young girl with cherries. It was based loosely on Joshua Reynolds's portrait of Penelope Boothby. Millais had his niece Lucinda Ruby pose for the portrait only a matter of days before the girl was tragically killed under the arches of London Bridge station. Tales are told of the Cherry Ripe song being sung by a mysterious voice through the catacombs. The painting was reproduced in colour as a chromolithograph by the newspaper The Graphic as a gift with its Christmas edition. The image vastly increased the newspaper's sales.
The Cherry Ripe Cake
The first use of "Cherry Ripe" as a name for a food in Australia was for a cake and then a biscuit. The cake was manufactured and sold by Australia's first biscuit company, founded in 1854 by Thomas Swallow (1823-1890). Within five years Swallow had taken in Thomas Harris Ariell, their business became Swallow & Ariell Ltd.
With no equal outside Great Britain, Swallow & Ariell became the fifth largest biscuit company in the world, manufacturing over 100 varieties, including the common ship biscuit (an original product) and meat biscuits (apparently taken by Burke and Wills on their ill-fated expedition). The company also boasted popular sideline products, including cakes, plum puddings, ice-cream and dried fruit. As well as their Port Melbourne factory on 3 acres (1.2 ha), the company owned flourmills in the Goulburn Valley and sugar plantations near Cairns in Northern Queensland.
In 1892 the company patented their Cherry Ripe logo for their Cherry Ripe cake that was launched that same year.
Application for Trade Mark titled Cherry Ripe depicting swallow approaching a cherry branch in respect of cakes and biscuits
Melbourne Punch, October 13, 1892, reported: "We have received from Messrs. Swallow and Ariell Limited samples of their latest novelty, the Cherry Ripe Cake, which has just been introduced to the public. The new cake is' a rich confection, fruited with exquisitely flavoured French cherries, and is altogether one of the nicest things the company has produced. The idea of utilising cherries in the manufacture of cake is an absolutely new one, and belongs to Messrs. Swallow and Ariell. Doubtless these enterprising caterers to the public taste will be amply rewarded in Witnessing a large demand spring up for Cherry Ripes."
The Cherry Ripe Biscuit
Two years after Swallow & Ariell launched their Cherry Ripe cake, biscuit maker Arnott's launched their new Cherry Ripe Biscuit in May 1924. Newspaper advertisement promoted the product: "There's the daintiest and most delicious biscuit you can possibly imagine - Arnott's New Cherry Ripe Biscuits - two crisp, short, buttery biscuits with a filling of the most captivating cherry-flavoured cream, Buy a tin of Cherry Ripe Biscuits to-day and you'll have some thing entirely new and exquisitely tasty to fit before your guests. Your Grocer Sells them. Buy Whole Tins. Recommended by the British Medical Association."
Around the time the Cherry Ripe Biscuit was released, the company had around 150 biscuit varieties in the range. The Cherry Ripe Biscuit was included in Arnott's Family Assorted range, which also appeared in 1924, available in 7lb (3.2kg) and 4lb (1.8kg) tins. The Monte Carlo was introduced in 1926. Arnott's Cherry Ripe Biscuit remained in production for a few decades.
The Cherry Ripe Chocolate Bar
MacRobertson's released their iconic Cherry Ripe chocolate bar in the same year as Arnott's released their Cherry Ripe biscuit. One suspects that the closeness of these product releases was no accident, as one would benefit from the promotion of the other, but there is nothing on record that indicates that the two companies were or were not working together on their products' release.
When Mr. Robertson commenced making his popular chocolates series, they were themed and presented in beautiful boxes - intended to be kept and reused for storing sewing items, or the treasures children gather as youngsters; marbles, colourful stones. Memorable among these were 'Beau Brummell' and 'Dolly Varden'. From that time, he began using interesting scenes and characters to decorate his products' wrappers and advertising material.
When the Cherry Ripe was launched in 1924, its wrapper depicted a man chasing a little boy and his little dog out of his cherry tree. Robertson's last born and youngest son Eric would have been around six years of age, and perhaps getting up to mischief at times. Could what was happening at home have influenced his choice of illustration for the Cherry Ripe? Sadly, the exact story behind these and other characters gracing MacRoberson's chocolate wrappers is not on record, perhaps because they were so familiar to those who lived and breathed them, no one bothered to pass this information on to those who came next.
It has been observed that the little boy depicted on the Cherry Ripe wrapper looks like he is wearing a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit with a working class boys cap. These suits appeared right after the publication of Frances Hodgson Burnett's story (1885) and were a major fashion for boys until after the turn of the 20th century.
In Little Lord Fauntleroy, the story evolves around the shift in perspective by the Earl of Dorincourt, an unruly millionaire who was very disappointed when his youngest son married an American woman and had a young son Cedric Errol. The Earl planned to teach his grandson how to be an aristocrat. Instead, Cedric teaches his grandfather that an aristocrat should practice compassion towards those dependent on him. The Earl becomes the man Cedric always innocently believed him to be.
This reflects a little of Mr. Robertson's own early experience where, according to some anecdotes, his mother was rejected by his grandmother when the family returned to Scotland for a few years and he had to work before and after school to help make ends meet. Robertson had been abandoned by his father, but in later life, he had returned and then attempted to take credit for the success of his son's business as though it were his own.
Others suggest the boy up the tree looks like Buster Brown, a comic strip character created in 1902, and his dog Tige, an America Pit Bull. Buster is a charming-looking young city-dwelling boy with wealthy parents with mischievous ways. The name "Buster" came directly or indirectly from the popularity of Buster Keaton, then a child actor in vaudeville. The character's name was also used to describe a popular style of suit for young boys, the Buster Brown suit, that echoed his own outfit.