Burns Philp and Company Limited

Burns Philp and Company Limited

The origins of Burns Philp and Company Limited can be traced to the partnership between James Burns and Robert Philp formed in 1876. The company was incorporated in Sydney on 21 April 1883 with Burns and Philp as joint Managing Directors until Philp resigned from the Board in 1892.

By the 1880s the company had branches in Townsville, Normanton, Burketown, Thursday Island, Cairns, Charters Towers, Sydney, Brisbane and London and the company’s interests included merchandising, shipping and insurance, with the establishment of the North Queensland Insurance Company as a subsidiary in 1886. In 1886 Burns and Philp agreed to run a mail steamer from Thursday Island to Port Moresby where a branch was established in 1890.

In 1889 the company diversified into plantation ownership with the formation of the Australasian New Hebrides Company which purchased approx. 80,000 acres of land in the New Hebrides, later extending its interests from Melanesia to the Central Pacific, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Java and Wellington.

To consolidate its interests in plantations, the company formed subsidiaries to run and manage plantations including Hall Sound Co (1900), Solomon Island Development Co (1908), Shortland Island Plantations Ltd (1910), Choiseul Plantations Ltd (1911), New Britain Plantations Ltd and New Ireland Plantations Ltd (1930), and Kulon Plantations Ltd and New Hanover Plantations Ltd (1931). 

The company set up subsidiaries to control geographic areas of operations, including Burns Philp (South Sea) Company Limited (1920), Burns Philp (New Hebrides) Ltd (1946), Burns Philp (New Guinea) Ltd (1946) and Burns Philp (Norfolk Island) Ltd (1973).

In the 1930s the company moved into urban retailing and established Penneys Ltd which was sold to Coles in 1956.

From the 1960s the company's shipping activities declined following the Commonwealth Government's decision to withdraw the shipping subsidy. The company moved into food and beverage manufacturing, photographic and electrical goods, vehicle sales and rental, building materials distribution, hardware, liquor wholesaling and financial investment and trustee services. Takeovers included A J Chown Holdings Limited (1973), Yencken Glass Industries Limited (1973), Ira Berk Limited (1976), Sun Electric Consolidated Limited (1976), Mauri Bros & Thomson Limited (1982), and Nock & Kirby Holdings Ltd (1983).

The company was delisted from the Australian Stock Exchange in December 2006 having been acquired by Rank Group Australia Pty Limited.

The Noel Butlin Archives holds several collections of Burns Philp and Company records including meeting papers, correspondence, reports, financial papers, staff records, shipping records, maps, plans, photographs and a variety of printed material relating to their operations overseas including travel guides and timetables.