Thursday, September 24, 2009

The development of Weetbix -- the sequel

Bonzer sent in this comment, after some discussion, for the first post on the topic:

"My mom (his third daughter) sent me this. His moving around I think probably explains why there is so much debate about his nationality, etc. I add a little info in brackets.

"Daddy [Bennison Osborne] was born in Tighes Hill, Newcastle [Australia], in 1894. Mummy was born in Christchurch, N.Z. on October 7, 1911. Bennie was born on March 7, 1936 in England (while Daddy was running Weetabix). I was born in Boston on June 22, 1939, Tiki was born in Tampa, FL on August 2, 1941.

"Daddy invented Weetbix in N.S.W. [Australia] Arthur Shannon funded him to take it to N.Z., where it really took off. From there, he took it to South Africa (good wheat there). When it was thoroughly established there (as the British and African Cereal Corporation), he went to England to start it there but changed the name (can't remember why but he wanted it to be close to the old name so he just added an "a" in the middle). Stuart has the silver tray with the inscription naming Daddy as the Managing Director of the Corporation. The British newspapers have Daddy thoroughly recorded (with Mac) as bringing the product to England. He looked at 33 sites in England before he chose Burton Latimer."
The historical society of Burton Latimer has an excellent history site on the web, truly amazing in its depth and range of images. In an article on the site, The Mills of Burton Latimer, the society says:

"About 1932 four South African Seventh Day Adventists, Scutton, Vermass, MacFarlane and Osborne set up the British and South Africa Cereal Company to market a product they called Weetabix and which they had been selling in South Africa. They rented the disused buildings from Whitworth Bros., buying the wheat for the ‘biscuits’ from the same source. The South Africans did not make a success of the venture and after a few months an advertising agency took them to court for a £1,000 bill, they also owed Frank George, of Whitworths, money for wheat and eventually he took over the company as a bad debt."
This is the first website where someone named Osborne is referred to, outside of those repetitive (copied off each other) Wiki sites. Still, it would appear that Osborne is a bit of a hard luck story. Bonzer, if you have access to scans of those British newspaper articles, they would be great to put up here, just to help set the record straight (and Osborne's perceived nationality, as well!).

I've just seen Bennison and Dorothy Osborne noted on the Burton Latimer electoral roll of 1934 here, at Constantia House, part of the mill complex. The Weetabix complex is pictured here.

Update 8 August 2011: John Baskerville Bagnall, Arthur Shannon's nephew, enters the fray in favour of his uncle as Weet-Bix originator with a lengthy page on the story, here.


  1. To quote Jayne..

    The plot thickens!

    Definitely this is getting VERY intriguing

    Thanks Ice

  2. The plot thickens, the milk curdles, and maybe the Weetbix by this time is a shade soggy. Lovely if you nuke it in the microwave, though. (Sorry, non-historical comment, there ...)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Sorry, I haven't checked in in a while. I can't say how exciting it is that you've found this additional info. I'm checking my mum to see if she can help with the newspaper articles.

  5. Terrific, Bonzer! Looking forward to any more info coming to light. Glad to help!

  6. yikes, my life has been a bit crazy, I need to talk to my mom to find out if there's a way to get more info.

  7. I know what you mean about a crazy life, bonzer. No worries -- when you're able. Cheers!

  8. If someone lives near Burton Latimer maybe they can check on some of this. Below is what my mom wrote back to me - we'll have to wait until she is back in the U.S.

    The newspaper references are in the initial piece I wrote. The papers were
    very old and we couldn't copy them, but they're in Burton Latimer and
    accessible. The dates were all in 1932 and 1933 as I recall. I also have a
    photo of Daddy and Mummy surrounded by their staff at Weetabix - for an
    outfit that was only afloat for the six months or so put forward by some,
    they managed to hire a great many people. I wonder if the administrator who
    took it off Wikipedia kept a copy of what I wrote. I can't do anything
    about it from here because the records are in Denver. There is some
    inaccurate information floating around.

  9. This is incredible interesting - The debate on who truly developed Weetbix! Who was it? Will we actually ever know?? Most of what we know about it is incredibly biased but perhaps more documents will come to light!!