Sleeping in the old jam factory

The old brick walls and wooden beams in my room were once part of the IXL Jam factory.

We’re motoring around the Huon Valley south of Hobart, Sally and I, passing by roadside stalls selling cherries and peaches and raspberries and apples. Lots and lots of fruit. Sally, who runs a food and wine tour company called Herbaceous Tours, tells me that the acres of fruit trees and berry farms we are passing through are nothing compared to what they used to be around here.

“Did you know that the hotel you’re staying at, the Henry Jones, used to be a jam factory?” she asks.

I did not.

“For a hundred years,” she says. “That’s the Henry Jones of the Henry Jones Hotel. A jam maker. IXL Jam.” Sally pronounces it as “I-x-cell” and says it was the personal motto of Mr. Henry Jones—“I excel at everything I do.” At one point in the 50s and 60s, just about every farmer in and around the Huon Valley was growing fruit of one kind or another for IXL Jam, Sally says. Then in the 70s an Australian businessman, John Dorman Elliott, bought the Hobart jam factory and closed it down. “Thousands and thousands of acres of fruit trees were cut down overnight,” Sally says. “Farmers couldn’t give away their fruit.”

Gleefully, Sally tells me that Mr. Elliott got his comeuppance. “A few years back he was found guilty of illegal trading and went bankrupt. I hear he’s having a hard time of it these days. Just as well.”

Hearing this story makes me think back to a conversation I had yesterday with Christine Scott, the art curator at the Henry Jones. We were walking around looking at the art work and I commented on how beautiful I thought the exposed brick and stone walls were. She said, “I hear that when they first started to rehab the building, jam was oozing out of the mortar in the bricks.”

I thought it was just some weird Tassie colloquialism for moisture since the building is on Macquarie Wharf and flush-up against Sullivans Cove. But, no. When Christine said the walls oozed jam, that’s exactly what she meant. (From a historical document at the hotel: “In the boiling room there are 17 large copper boilers in which the jam is made—Messrs H. Jones & Co. use no fewer than 2,000,000 tins each season, which are all made on the premises. The IXL Jam people emply from 150-350 hands, according to the season of the year…”)

When I got back to my room later in the day, I sat on my bed and took a deep breath. Was that raspberries I smelled or was my imagination just being particularly active?

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