Arthur Shannon created the company “Grain Products” to manufacture Weet-Bix, the breakfast cereal, in the mid-1920s. Shannon was also a lay preacher.
Arthur Governor Daniells Shannon was born in Sydney on May 4, 1894, to Robert and Sarah Shannon, who were early converts to the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church in Australia. He was named after their friend, Arthur Grosvenor Daniells, but registered with the wrong spelling for his second name. His siblings were Margaret Jane (1883–1949), William Robert Reid (1891–1929), Reuben Samuel George (1898–1963), and Gladys Rita Sarah Bella (1902–1991).1 Just a few weeks after his birth his father was obliged to appear before a court; he had been charged with laying bricks on Sunday, July 29, 1894. It was alleged that Shannon had violated the Sunday Observance Act of Charles II, a 1677 English statute entitled “Better Observance of the Lord’s Day, Commonly Called Sunday.” He pleaded that the charge of working on the Lord’s day was faulty because the Lord’s day was not Sunday. The magistrate waived all religious opinion and found him guilty, his punishment being a small fine or, in default, two hours in the stocks. Shannon chose the stocks, but none could be located. It was later found on review by a judge that the fine was too small and therefore invalid. The sentence was remitted by the governor.2
Arthur attended the elementary school connected to the Stanmore SDA Church, suburban Sydney. During 1910 through 1912 he studied mechanical drawing at the Technical Education Branch of the New South Wales Department of Public Instruction. After his studies he began a business career with Shannon’s Brick, Tile, and Pottery Co. Ltd., a family business that had works in Sydney and Brisbane.3
Balancing Business With Evangelism
On Monday, January 1, 1917, Arthur Shannon was united in marriage with Natalie Bridgett. Natalie was born in Rockhampton, Qld, in 1896.4 She and Arthur were attending Stanmore church and continued to be loyal members, taking an active role in the evangelistic programs that saw a number of people from the surrounding suburbs joining the Stanmore church. Shannon worked tirelessly as a lay preacher and carried his business interests at the same time as speaking at public meetings. In 1919 he and a fellow member of the Stanmore Missionary Volunteer Society conducted a long-running evangelistic series on Sunday evenings in the Fairfield School of Arts.5 The following year, 1920, he was elected to the South New South Wales Conference executive committee.6
Shannon owned a property in Five Dock, Sydney, and used it in 1921 to pitch a tent and lead an evangelistic series with Sunday services and Thursday evening meetings. His efforts led to the formation of a branch Sabbath School at nearby Haberfield.7 In 1924 he conducted a tent evangelistic series in Strathfield, supported by the church members at Stanmore, Concord, and Ashfield. At times the tent was packed, and some stood outside to listen to his lectures.8 During a major evangelistic effort by James Kent in the Empress Theatre, central Sydney, in 1927, Arthur and Natalie supported the program and on one occasion sang a duet.9
The Weet-Bix Saga
In the early 1920s the Granose biscuit was the chief product manufactured by the Sanitarium Health Food Company (SHF). Their market would be challenged by a similar product. Four church members united to introduce a biscuit that included malt flavoring and a little sugar. Those men were Norman Jeffes and Frederick Foots, former workers in the Cooranbong SHF factory, Bennison Osborne who took on the role of salesman and Arthur Shannon who coordinated and financed the business model under the name Grain Products, Limited. In 1925 Arthur made a world tour, including a visit to Kellogg’s factory in Battle Creek, familiarizing himself with the production process. On his return he established his factory at suburban Leichhardt, employing many new converts who were out of work because of Sabbath observance. Given a choice between the names Sun-Bix and Weet-Bix, the staff chose the latter, and it soon became a familiar household brand. It became so popular that the sales of Granose dropped. SHF management became concerned, and enlisted the help of General Conference leaders, who assigned Elder Cecil Meyers, then secretary of the General Conference, to visit Australia and negotiate with Shannon. Shannon was persuaded to sell the rights to the Weet-Bix brand. The sale was completed on October 30, 1928, but the SHF continued to manufacture the product at the Leichhardt factory before transferring Weet-Bix production to the Cooranbong factory.10
Arthur Shannon continued to successfully operate the remaining family enterprises. One of those, Shannon’s Brick and Tiles, donated the roofing tiles for the large Wahroonga SDA Church. He donated an historic pipe organ to Stanmore church, a musical instrument that continues as a unique asset. On his return from his 1925 visit to America he introduced to the Stanmore church members the idea of having a spring service, something perpetuated by Stanmore church and adopted by other Australian SDA churches.11
Large donations were made to the Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital (SS&H). In 1953 Arthur and Natalie gave £1,000 for the finishing of the nurses’ residential lounges and library and another £7,000 for the remodelling of the lower medical block.12 This block became known as Shannon Ward. Two years later they donated a further £7,000 for refurbishments in Shannon Ward.13 A legacy of $20,000 from Arthur Shannon’s estate was bequeathed to SS&H in 1970.14
Natalie Shannon died on June 8, 1968, and was buried beside her mother, brother, and sister in the Independent Section of Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.15 A few months later, on December 18, 1968, Arthur died in the Shannon Ward of the SS&H. He had suffered a long illness. He was buried in the Shannon family vault at Rookwood Cemetery.16 From the mid-1930s Arthur and Natalie ceased to attend church services, but their hearts remained Adventist and they kept in contact with many of their Adventist friends. Their lives and their philanthropy were renown.17
Bagnall, John Baskerville. “Arthur Shannon and the Beginnings of Weet-Bix.” Unpublished manuscript. Private collection of John Baskerville Bagnall.
———. “Weet-Bix: The Early History.” Wordpress. Retrieved from: https://weetbixhistory.wordpress.com/weet-bix/.
“Charles II, 1677: An Act for the Better Observation of the Lord’s Day Commonly Called Sunday.” BHO: British History Online, Version 5.0. Accessed February 2, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol5/p84.
D[aniells], A[rthur] G. “The Stocks Again.” The Bible Echo, August 20, 1894.
“For the past three months Brethren Arthur Shannon . . .” Australasian Record, January 20, 1919.
Forbes, A[llan] H. “Arthur Grosvenor (sic) Shannon.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 3, 1969.
———. “Increased Facilities at Sydney Sanitarium.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, September 12, 1955.
Hare, Reuben E. “Life Sketch of Arthur G. Shannon.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 3, 1969.
———. “Natalie Elison (Bridgett) Shannon.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, July 15, 1968.
Hopkin, W[alter] H. “South New South Wales.” Australasian Record, March 3, 1924.
———. “The Sydney City Mission.” Australasian Record, April 4, 1927.
Jeffes, Norman F. “The Haberfield Tent, Sydney.” Australasian Record, February 7, 1921.
Pascoe, W[illiam] H. “New South Wales Conference.” Australasian Record, November 15, 1920.
Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital Board minutes. Sydney Adventist Hospital Archives, Wahroonga, NSW. Shelf Records. Documents: “Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital Board Minutes, 1953, 1970.”
John Baskerville Bagnall, “Arthur Shannon and the Beginnings of Weet-Bix,” unpublished manuscript, private collection of John Baskerville Bagnall, 1, 6.↩
A[rthur] G. D[aniells], “The Stocks Again,” The Bible Echo, August 20, 1894, 1; “Charles Ⅱ, 1677: An Act for the Better Observation of the Lord’s Day Commonly Called Sunday,” BHO: British History Online, Version 5.0, accessed February 2, 2019, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol5/p848.↩
Reuben E. Hare, “Natalie Elison (Bridgett) Shannon,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, July 15, 1968, 15.↩
“For the past three months Brethren Arthur Shannon . . . ,” Australasian Record, January 20, 1919, 8.↩
W[illiam] H. Pascoe, “New South Wales Conference,” Australasian Record, November 15, 1920, 4, 5.↩
Norman F. Jeffes, “The Haberfield Tent, Sydney,” Australasian Record, February 7, 1921, 5.↩
W[alter] H. Hopkin, “South New South Wales,” Australasian Record, March 3, 1924, 5.↩
Walter H. Hopkin, “The Sydney City Mission,” Australasian Record, April 4, 1927, 4.↩
Bagnall, “Weet-Bix: The Early History,”↩
John Bagnall, email message to Milton Hook, January 20, 2019.↩
Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital Board minutes, August 5, 1953, Sydney Adventist Hospital Archives, Wahroonga, NSW (Shelf Records: Document: “Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital Board Minutes, 1953”).↩
A[llan] H. Forbes, “Increased Facilities at Sydney Sanitarium,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, September 12, 1955, 4, 5.↩
Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital Board minutes, April 2, 1970, Sydney Adventist Hospital Archives, Wahroonga, NSW (Shelf Records: Document: “Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital Board Minutes, 1970”).↩
A[llan] H. Forbes, “Arthur Grosvenor (sic) Shannon,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 3, 1969, 15; Reuben E. Hare, “Life Sketch of Arthur G. Shannon,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 3, 1969, 13.↩
John Baskerville Bagnall, interview by Milton Hook, February 2, 2019, Wahroonga, NSW.↩