Part One: Early Days

The thoughts and letters of Sarah Anne (later Zara) Guinness; the family of Arthur Guinness; four generations of Guinness brewing over 130 years; the bottling and export empire and the family story of Edward and John Burke, grandsons of Arthur Guinness; 100 years of Guinness exports to Australia and New Zealand.

Sarah reflects: March 1878, Fiji


Arthur Guinness: His background and family and starting the brewery - four generations of family ownership until 1886

Guinness – it’s hard to imagine the world without it. The brew has come out of St. James’s Gate for over 250 years, three million pints are brewed there each day, and breweries in 50 countries produce the famous stout. It even has a place in the Oxford English Dictionary, the only beer to be listed. Headlines have recorded the family’s fortunes some scaling great heights, some tasting great sadness.  Guinness philanthropy is renowned. Advertisements drew such a following they arguably outgrew their commercial purpose, and The Guinness Book of Records has been a revered catalogue of human achievements since 1954.   Now turn the calendar back to the late 1700’s to the after-dinner conversation between Arthur Guinness and his wife Olivia in their home Beaumont overlooking Dublin Bay.  It would not be the first time Olivia has listened to her husband describing the difficulties he has faced in the twenty-plus years since he started brewing in Dublin...

Sarah writes: October 1853 Dublin


Arthur Guinness' grandsons Edward and John Burke: Their worldwide bottling and export business and their work and families until the late 1890's

Arthur Guinness probably realised during his lifetime that he was onto a winner. His porter was the talk of Dublin.  In time he and his sons had begun to look further afield: England was just across the Irish Sea, a large market waiting. His sons looked even further abroad – to exporting porter around the world to be enjoyed in faraway places like the colonies of Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, during the 1800s Guinness porter’s international success was established beyond doubt and lasts to this day, built on brewers’ skill, and the enterprise and hard work of bottlers, exporters and agents. Among those were a branch of Arthur’s family – the Burke brothers Edward and John of Kilcolgan, County Galway – his grandsons by his daughter Mary Anne, who flourished then vanished from the stage of history...


Guinness stout in Australia and New Zealand until the mid 1900's

The story of the development of the Guinness market in Australia and NZ in the 1800s and early 1900s has a theme common to most business ventures – at each step of the way reputations were on the line. In the case of Guinness they were sure they brewed a good product, but when they sold it to the bottling companies and distributors they had to trust the next step in the route-to-market would be done well and not undermine them. When the exporters entrusted their cargo to shipping companies to take it on a 3-5 month voyage through the tropics and “down under”, about as far away as you could get from Ireland, and to importers and merchants who freighted the product for sale in locations central and remote it was in the expectation that by the time the stout was poured into a glass it would taste as good as the brewer and bottler intended. When the customers put their hard-earned money on the bar for a more expensive drink than the local product it had to taste good.  Nowadays, 170 years later, the route-to-market looks very different. Breweries do their own bottling and canning, and distribution and freight processes are much more reliable and faster, and in 50 countries brewing Guinness is contracted to a local company.  There are two parties though for whom little has changed – the brewer still has to make a sound product and the customers still want a good drink for their money...

Sarah reflects: June 1855, Liverpool
Sarah writes: February 1861, Queenscliff

Part Two: Four Cousins Come Down Under

Other branches of the family move out of Dublin, two grandsons of Arthur and Olivia Guinness come to Australia and two to New Zealand.


Arthur Benjamin Burke: the first international Guinness brewer

Arthur Benjamin Burke was the son who most of his family probably wished would just disappear. If there was little left to show for his life it wouldn’t worry them, and as events would have it he has obliged them.  With scant educational promise he went to St James’s Gate as an apprentice brewer, a career that was cut short as a result of his drunkenness and wayward behaviour. He eventually married the mother of his child – outside the family’s religion – worked in the liquor industry, emigrated to Australia and became the first international Guinness brewer, causing consternation to the family back in Dublin. He died young, and rests un-named in a shared grave...

Sarah writes: October 1863, Christchurch


Michael John Burke: He made money from sheep, but his dynasty vanished

For Michael John Burke emigration to NZ must have seemed like a huge gust of fresh air. The eldest son of a notable Galway family he had status and influence, reasonable income, but no clear long-term prospects. He was surrounded by Burke relatives with their expectations: and Ireland still struggling after five years of the Famine, haunted by poverty and despair. When Michael arrived and saw the Canterbury plains wide open before him waiting for men with energy and money there were opportunities to take, and take them he did.  A forthright and candid individualist and before long renowned in early Christchurch society for his colourful personality and penchant for quoting Latin poetry, he mastered the business of sheep farming in many ventures in the South Island. Not even a fall into quicksand could slow him down. Following a whirlwind courtship Michael married the beautiful Maria Minchin, but after just eight years together he died of heart disease. She lived on for 59 years and watched war and sickness almost snuff out her grandchildren’s generation.  What could have been one of the great Canterbury dynasties came and went with scarcely a trace...

Sarah reflects: November 1878, Levuka, Fiji
Sarah writes: November 1878, Auckland


Francis Hart Vicesimus Guinness: Who was the real Frank?

As a young man Francis (Frank) Hart Vicesimus Guinness had a life of comfort and privilege, ahead of him a pathway to employment in the family firm, wealth and high status.  Instead, with calm and determination that marked his choices throughout life he turned his back on the Guinness world in Dublin and set out to make his own way.  After time in India he brought his wife Catherine and children to NZ where he failed on the land and then carved out a career that was a curious combination of small-time entrepreneur (real estate agent, horse dealer, shop-keeper) and public figure (policeman, court administrator, politician and magistrate).  At his core, though, was a spirit that challenged privilege and elitism, with his final years marked by labour movement idealism and political activism.   He was a man of such diversity that it is tempting to ask “will the real Frank Guinness please stand up”?...

Sarah writes: December 1882, Te Kao


William Newton Guinness: A clergyman by calling or by love?

William Newton Guinness chose the church ahead of law and brewing – but was that a decision to win the hand of the lovely Harriette Le Poer Trench or was he caught up in the fervour of Ireland’s “second Reformation” and genuinely committed to a religious calling?  Whichever it was Harriette died after just four years marriage leaving William with three young children to raise and a lifetime of service ahead of him. Later, with a much younger wife and second family he emigrated to Melbourne to set up a new church, a lively parish in a flourishing country.  Beset with voice problems his ministry – and his marriage – ran out of steam and he returned to Ireland on his own, back to the parish where he felt most at home. As a husband and father, the ties of his first wife and family ran deep, so deep in fact that there may never have been enough of him left for another wife and family. He was a man of heart and principle, quiet and modest, but anybody who mistook that for easy acquiescence would soon realise he could look after his interests...

Sarah reflects: May 1883, Te Kao
William Newton Guinness replies to Sarah: April 1883, Ireland

Part Three: Then What Happened?

Guinness brewery family ownership 1886 - 1997; the later business and family history of Edward and John Burke; modern Guinness brewing in Australia and New Zealand


The Guinness brewery: Three generations of family ownership, 1886 - 1997

The year 1886 is the turning point in the Guinness brewery story.  Edward Cecil Guinness was the sole proprietor having bought his brother Arthur out but in a move that stunned financiers in London and Dublin he floated the business, retained a third of the shares himself and reaped over £M4 from the sale of the remainder of them. In a curious break with the practice of the previous generations his sons didn’t go into the brewery, but pursued their own careers. The business remained family owned but was run by graduates and professional executives. Family control ended entirely 111 years later in 1997 when Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to form the international drinks conglomerate known today as Diageo...


Edward and John Burke: Their exporting business and families, fro the mid-1890's

In the late 1800s the worlds of John Burke and John Nutting were closely entwined in the bottling company E & J Burke Ltd, but as the 20th century progressed the families were on separate pathways – both going downhill.  Into the new century the bottling business was performing well, and as chairman John Nutting could talk about encouraging sales and profits. It didn’t last.  Prohibition destroyed the company’s American trade, and a major shift in Guinness’ approach to independent bottling eventually spelt the end of the Burkes’ business. Despite the best efforts of the Nutting family the once-flourishing enterprise slowly vanished. No longer involved in the business John Burke’s family had inherited a great deal of money and embarked on a lifestyle to match, but his family name died out tragically – the line to be kept alive by his daughters...


Guinness brewing in New Zealand: the past 65 years

Since Guinness consolidated their ownership of bottling and world-wide distribution in 1950 after over a century of other companies owning that process there has been a revolution in servicing of overseas markets, and in the technology and business structures involved in developing a mass consumer market. Australia and New Zealand (NZ) have been a significant part of that story...


Guinness brewing in Australia: The past 65 years

The Australian beer market contemplated by Guinness in the mid-twentieth century showed some similarities to its neighbour across the Tasman and some marked differences.  Import controls feature in the Australian story, and challenging the Antipodean taste buds was just as difficult as in New Zealand.  The story differs though in the type of market Australia represented – rigidly segmented along state boundaries which had to be overcome to get national distribution – and in the success of a draught product. Australia was the first country outside the United Kingdom to produce draught and it was a good ten years ahead of New Zealand...

Sarah’s Reminiscence, Liverpool, June 1855

Sarah Guinness was almost asleep on the park bench, but the sound of nearby children playing ensured she did not drift too far. It was June 1855.  Within the next week she and her family would board the Shalimar at Liverpool docks and sail off to the other side of the world to Melbourne, Australia. There would be seven people in their party – her sister Harriette, father Rev William Guinness, his wife Harriette, and their two infants Arthur and Henry, and mistress Harriette’s sister Fanny.

Yesterday had been the first visit to the shipping offices at the docks. There had been a brief family discussion as to whether it was ladylike enough for Sarah and her sister Harriette to go with their father to such a rough place, but he reasoned that they were going to be soon and abruptly immersed into the world of a seafaring family and a little exposure would do them no harm. He had warned them the visit would be an impact on their senses, and he was right about that.

Approaching the docks all Sarah could see was all types of vessels, with a veritable forest of masts, like bare trees in winter. Cargo and luggage was being hauled on board some of them, the pulleys clanking and noisy. Then there were the people. Crowds moving in all directions. Some happy to be sailing, others looking sad. There were more than a few sorry souls dragging sacks with all their belongings, and others looking dreadfully ill.  A cheery urchin with unkempt clothes tried to persuade her father that he could show them to a good hostel, to no avail.  Finally they reached the shipping office. Her father talked with an official, showed him tickets and papers, including certificates from the physician they had all seen in Ireland who declared they were free of disease. Sarah hoped all the passengers had been through the same checks – the thought of someone unknowingly taking infection on board made her shudder.  William Guinness finished his discussions, and took down a note of what was expected of him next, to bring all the luggage in two days’ time so it could be stowed.

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