Friday, 6 February 2009

Lady Talbot Milk Institute

On Monday, April 11th in 1927, Lady Stonehaven, the wife of the Governor General, Lord Stonehaven, visited the Caulfield Model Dairy Farm at Cranbourne. Lady Stonehaven was shown the milk production process, by the proprietor, Mr George Hope. He explained the production process from milking, cooling, bottling and sealing to the final act of packing the milk in ice-lined cases for delivery to the railway station for distribution in Melbourne. 400 gallons (around 1800 litres) was produced daily in the 1920s, principally for the Lady Talbot Milk Institute, which then distributed this special milk to around 1,600 babies. The milk was regularly checked by laboratories at the University of Melbourne for contamination, the cows were checked Government veterinary officers to ensure they were free from tuberculosis and the farm employees also needed to have medical checks. These checks were done to ensure the milk was pure and safe for the babies.

Early in the 1900s there was concern about the high infant mortality rate, and various schemes were introduced in order to improve the life of mothers and babies. Lillias Skene (1867-1957) a welfare worker and women’s activist, suggested the establishment of a safe milk supply which contributed to foundation of the Lady Talbot Milk Institute in 1908. Mrs Skene also fought for the establishment of Infant Welfare Centres. The role of the Lady Talbot Milk Institute was to supply pure bottled milk to infants to reduce deaths caused by unsanitary milk. Before refrigeration and pasteurization, coupled with generally low standards of hygiene and germ control, unsanitary milk was a major cause of infant death and illness. Contaminated milk could cause tuberculosis, gastric upsets, diarrhoea and typhoid. Pasteurisation was introduced in Victoria in 1905, but did not become compulsory until after the Second World War even though interesting enough, even in 1927 the milk from George Hope’s farm was not pasteurised, and its purity came from the stringent handling methods.

The Institute was named for Lady Talbot, the wife of the Governor of Victoria, Sir Reginald Talbot. Lady Talbot, born Margaret Jane Stuart-Wortley in 1855, married Sir Reginald in 1877. Sir Reginald was Governor of Victoria from 1904 until 1908 and during this time Lady Talbot promoted many charitable ventures including the Talbot Colony for Epileptics, which later became the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre. The Lady Talbot Milk Institute supplied milk, with an ice chest, to ‘deserving’ cases. Families had to apply through Infant Welfare Centres, the local council or be recommended by their doctor and the milk was subsidised by a combination of the local council, the State Government and Institute funds. In 1914-1915 the City of Prahran donated £100 for the ‘special milk’ and their Annual report of that time said that the provision whereby mothers may obtain this boon for sickly infants has been much appreciated, and the reports to hand indicating the advantages in the saving of child life by this means are highly encouraging.

George Hope had commenced his Model dairy in Kooyong Road in Caulfield and purchased 592 acres (240 hectares) at Cranbourne in 1911. This land was the Mayfield pre-emptive right, originally owned by Alexander Cameron. The earliest date I can find for George supplying milk from Cranbourne, under the Lady Talbot Dairy scheme, is 1923 and it was being supplied from his farm until at least 1938. George was protective of his milk’s reputation and in November 1925 he went to court to seek an injunction to stop other dairies using the milk bottles with the Lady Talbot Milk Institute label and filling them with ordinary milk. A public advertisement appeared in the Argus of December 5th, 1925 warning dairymen against the use of the specially labeled bottles. Incidently, Lady Talbot Milk Institute milk bottles now sell for about $20 to $25.00, according to bottle collecting sites on the Internet.

The Argus,  December 5 1925

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