In 1883, at the tender age of 14, William A Blackeby was the first indentured apprentice to be registered in South Australia in any trade.

His trade was confectionery, and he was apprenticed to Thomas Ransley, who had manufactured sweets for his stall at the Adelaide Central Market since before 1880. Little did he know at the time that through a series of life’s twists and turns, his son William (Bill) Edward Blackeby would later purchase Ransley’s stall, and today that confectionery stall (number 33) continues to sell Blackeby’s sweets and is perhaps the oldest trader in the Central Market.

Like so many of the founding settlers to the new colony of South Australia, William Blackeby was somewhat of a pioneer and innovator. Beginning formal employment at twelve years of age in the East End Market, he was no stranger to hard work and life’s difficulties. His apprenticeship came to an abrupt end in 1884 when Mr. Ransley died and he worked as a station hand near Mildura for the next two years, making sweets for the Station owner’s children in his spare time. Upon returning to Adelaide he discovered the widow Mercy Ransley had married another confectioner, Mr. James Dumbrell, and William resumed his apprenticeship with them. Ransley’s stall was renamed Dumbrells at this time. In 1889 William married Mrs. Ransley’s daughter Agnes, and they opened a Fruit Shop at Norwood which Agnes operated while William continued to work at Dumbrell’s. In the Norwood Shop William started making and selling home made sweets. After a short stint in New Zealand, the family returned to Adelaide and in 1906 William purchased the manufacturing and retail operations of Mr. James (Jonathon) Cain, in California Street and stall 32, Adelaide Central Market. In 1916 they relocated the factory to Ely Place and lived in an adjoining house fronting Gilles Street. In 1925 he bought another property just around the corner in Castle Street, and both these properties were used for manufacturing until the business was consolidated into one factory in Cypress Street in 1961.

When Charles Moore built his arcade next to the market in 1915, and Emporium in 1916, (the structure of the Emporium houses the Sir Samuel Way Law Courts today) William opened a shop in the arcade calling it Blackeby’s Sweet Depot. Being located quite near to his stall, he would often put the shop’s soda fountain (which had become all the rage) on a trolley, and service thirsty Market shoppers in the summertime when sweet sales declined.

As the wonders of modern science came to Adelaide, William keenly embraced all that could enhance his business, and he was a leader of innovation in the Market. The Blackeby’s were the first to put protective glass cases over their produce, previously all produce being on open table tops. When electricity came to Adelaide, William was the first to put lighting in his display cabinets, and the first to illuminate his stall with overhead floodlighting. He was also the first in the Market to have a cash register, which his son Bill Blackeby (born 1909) would operate on Friday nights after school at age 9 to the amusement of customers.

Bill Blackeby joined his father in the business in 1925, and Married Eileen Downs in 1935. He would work 48 hours per week in the factory, and then Friday nights and Saturday in the market stall learning his trade from his beloved father. In 1937 William Blackeby retired after many years of hard work, sometimes 24 hours a day, and often 7 days a week, particularly in the early days, through much hardship. He died in 1957.

In 1941 Bill continued to expand the business with the purchase of Ransley’s old stall (where his father began his apprenticeship) which was then called Dumbrells. At this time he was operating three confectionery stalls in the Market in the same centre aisle, but soon after sold one to a fruiter thereby maintaining two stalls in competition to one another (numbers 32 and 33).

Bill grew up in and around the Market, and through his father’s and his own memories and his collection of photographs taken through the years, the Adelaide Central Archives have been enriched with valuable information about the Central Market and the surrounding area of Adelaide.

Bill, like his father, embraced the latest technology and as new manufacturing techniques were developed and more ingredients became readily available these were incorporated into the sweets he made. High boiled sweets were the mainstay line in the early days and these were originally hand-cranked through dies to form shapes after being coloured and flavoured on gas heated tables. Most of the early lines like humbugs, bullseyes, acid drops, barley sugar, fish and many others are still made today, and while the manufacturing process changed with the electric motor, the attention to the authentic, original taste did not. Other products still enjoyed by customers today are toasted marshmallows, coconut ice, fruit jubes, rainbow jellies, snowies (coconut covered toffees), cream caramels, Christmas mixture, liquorice allsorts, peanut brittle and rocky road. Many ingredients, like chocolate coatings, which are so taken for granted today only became readily available though the 1930’s and 40’s, and the company expanded its range further when Bill imported a chocolate enrobing machine from Germany.

Bill and Eileen had six children, 3 worked in the business, mainly in the market, while growing up, but it was their son Paul who continued the family business, becoming apprentice to his father in 1963 at age 16 and taking control of the business in 1976 when his father retired. By the early seventies the retail market in Adelaide was changing with the continued spread of population to the suburbs and the growth of supermarkets, and in 1984, stall 32 was sold and the business consolidated into the one site at stall 33 where it still resides today.

Paul sold the business in 1987 after many years of successful ownership and development. By the Grace of God, three generations of the Blackeby family had maintained and grown the business through two World Wars, a major Market redevelopment and survived two fires in the Central Market, to remain as the only confectioner to still trade there.

After Paul sold the business, it changed hands twice more before 1997 when the manufacturing side of the business was purchased by Graeme & Lauren Smith and the retail stall in the Market was purchased by Graeme’s sister, Andrea Lomas.

Beginning with one employee in the factory, Mr. Smith, a Chartered Accountant, began to rebuild the reputation of the company through the return to original recipes and techniques, ensuring all confectionery was made to the exacting standard set by the Blackebys’. Seeing the rise of the old fashioned sweet market, Mr. Smith refocused the company away from the supply of larger stores where many of the other manufacturers were heading, and into the supply of specialist sweet shops.

In 2001 the company outgrew the premises in Cypress Street, Adelaide where it had resided for 40 years, and through the acquisition of Ditters Nuts, moved to new premises in Mile End.

A wholesale business was commenced to source and supply similar old fashioned sweets to complement the manufacturing side, and the company began importing sweets from around the world to meet the growing demands of a well-travelled and diverse customer base. Blackeby’s Sweets now supply confectionery to sweet shops right around Australia and is well known as one of the few remaining manufacturers of authentic old fashioned confectionery. It remains committed to maintaining a link with our past, producing high quality, well remembered and loved confectionery. All the original equipment and methods have been retained, as have the original recipes, many written in Mr. Blackeby’s own hand in lb’s and oz’s.

The company added a retail arm in 2004 with the purchase of a confectionery shop in James Place, Adelaide now called Blackeby’s Old Sweet Shop. In 2005, another shop at the Brickworks Markets was acquired and in August 2009 a new Blackeby's Sweets / Ditters Nuts store was opened in the recently redeveloped Hallett Cove Shopping Centre. The following year a store was opened at the Tea Tree Plaza Shopping Centre in Modbury, which was a homecoming for the owners as this is the area where they grew up.

In 2011 the company moved to a much bigger factory and warehouse in Stepney, laying the foundation for future growth.

Today, the company has three stores, James Place, Adelaide, Tea Tree Plaza, Modbury, and our orginal stall in the Central Market, Adelaide. The company remains committed to retaining the “sweet shop” concept that many grew up with, and ensuring a unique and memorable experience is available to future generations.