Grafton Marking Time- Post Office Clock

The story below is another extract from one of my local history booklets “As Time Goes By-Grafton’s Fascination with Time-Pieces”,which I wrote and published in 2009, for our Sesqui-Centenary Celebrations of Local Government. This booklet has long been out of print, and I am now sharing some extracts on my blog.

The Grafton Post Office Clock

Thomas Fisher had been the Postal Officer at Grafton at his store on the river bank between 1859 to 1870. The Telegraph Office was originally housed in the Court House in 1862 and was later transferred to rented premised in Prince Street in 1865. In 1870 the Postal Department was also transferred to the Prince Street premises and both services continued there until 1878.

In 1872, Thomas Bawden, the local parliamentary member was requested to approach the government to secure monies to build suitable premises for the rapidly expanding needs of the post and telegraph services at Grafton. He was successful and plans were prepared by James Barnett the Colonial Architect , with tenders being called soon afterwards. William Kinnear was the successful tender. John Sutherland, Minister for Works, visited the Clarence later that year, and Graftonians further petitioned him for a proposed a sum of £2500 to be provided the following year, but the project was very slow, and little had been done by the Government by September 1874.

Thomas Fisher was Mayor of Grafton and the honour of laying the foundation stone was bestowed on the Mayoress, Mrs Fisher. After the ‘time-gun’ affair preparations were quickly made and Mrs Fisher, laid the foundation stone on the 8 October 1874, amid great ceremony which was followed by an official luncheon and a ball that night. The building plans were a James Barnett design of a two storey impressive sandstone and brick building with the postal and telegraph departments on the ground floor and the Post Master’s residence on the first floor.

William Kinnear, the contractor pushed on with the building and stone work of the main and ancillary buildings, which were nearly completed by the following April. However, due to problems within the Post Master General’s Department the project came to a halt. By December 1875, the citizens in Grafton could see that a clock, time ball and signal staff were needed additions to the Post and Telegraph building and Thomas Bawden, Thomas Page and Thomas Fisher, travelled to Sydney to petition the Postmaster General about these matters. He replied that their concerns were being addressed and that plans of a clock tower, with a four dial clock, had been prepared, and the project would be pushed forward.

In July 1876, Grafton experienced serious flooding and there were further delays with the building. Much comment, concerning the lack of progress with this necessary addition for public convenience, was made in the local papers throughout 1877. Finally by early 1878 the main building had been been completed and the staff quickly moved in without permission or ceremony. There was no official opening of this building. However, although there was finally a clock tower it remained empty for over a year.

The clock was installed by the maker, Mr Tornaghi, in March 1879. ‘The four dial plates were of iron, four feet in diameter, painted black, with the hour and minute hands in gold. The bell which was fitted in the dome was made of the best bell metal, and weighed nearly 400 lbs. The bell was struck every hour by a hammer weighing 18 lbs making 156 strokes every 24 hours. The tone of the bell was extremely clear and could be heard at a considerable distance. The works were placed about 7 feet below the dials, the hands being turned by a perpendicular connecting rod, and were of an entirely new construction, specially adopted for this kind of clock- the movement being known as the ‘gravity escapement’. The works were kept in motion by two suspended weights, each of approximately 50 lbs, which run down inside the front walls of the building in iron groves. The pendulum, second and half movement, was about 7 feet long, and had a bulb weighing approximately 102 lbs.To keep the clock going these weights had to be hauled up daily from the ground floor to the clock tower, by a windlass manned by two of the Postal staff.

The Post Master’s residence was on the first floor, with the main bedrooms in the front of the building. Locals recall that one of the early Post Masters, when he discovered that the 102 lbs iron pendulum swung to and fro in the ceiling just above his bed, wasted no time in changing his bedroom.

Grafton Post Office

This clock when well maintained, kept very good time, but the Postmaster General’s department did not see the need to send a clockmaker to Grafton to do this work, so within a few years problems arose concerning the time variances. In April 1884, ‘A.B. McM’, a regular contributor of topical verse to the Clarence and Richmond Examiner penned the following:-

The Post Office Clock

I’ve had many troubles since I have been born,

And I oft scarce know what I will do,

When bad luck comes on me, and leaves me forlorn,

But the greatest misfortune I’ve had,

Was one when I get a hard knock

And I have been driven abstractly mad,

By that erratic old Post Office Clock.

When I rise in the morning ’tis just about six,

Then away to work I must go,

But I find I am late- and get into a fix,

As that clock is ten minutes too slow.

Then I have a row and get turned out by the boss,

9And my labour comes to a ‘dead-lock’,

Of course it is me that will suffer the loss,

Brought on by that Post Office Clock.

Some times I knock off for my dinner at one,

And think that my troubles are past-

But I meet my employer and know that I’m ‘done’,

As that clock is just ten minutes fast.

Then what can I do , when I have such bad luck?

My misfortune gives me a great shock.

Of course it is me that will suffer the loss,

Brought on by that Post Office Clock.

Some days it’s too fast-

Some days it’s too slow-

And some days it won’t go at all;

It is only lately we’re getting to know,

The value of it is so small

Yet I believe the Government paid a high price,

Which from my rates and tax’s they’ll dock,

But for the same money, we could get something nice,

In the shape of a Post Office Clock.

Surely someone in Grafton in the clock-making line,

Can put the erratic thing straight.

I remember one time, when it struck twenty-nine,

Yet both hands were pointing to eight,

I can’t see myself, where it’s been any use,

As our time it seems simply to mock,

And from housewives it gets a fair share of abuse,

Does this misleading, old Post Office Clock.

Let all concerned take heed of these lines,

And to make matter properly go,

Also let them think of the working man’s ‘fines,’

When the clock is too fast, or too slow,

And I’m sure I don’t want to write any more,

or give them another quiet knock.

What I want to see is, not faster or slower,

But ‘right’ by the Post Office Clock.

Finally the Postmaster General’s Department consented to have a local clockmaker attend to the maintenance of the clock, so for many years the old clock gave the city remarkable service with the correct time, striking in unison with time ‘pips’ broadcast over the radio.

Grafton Post Office Clock

Today, sadly nearly 138 years after the clock first chimed out over the city, it is still and silent. The Post Office building is now privately owned with Australia Post and Clarence Consultants as tenants, who are not responsible for the clock. To their credit the present owners of the building tried to get the clock mended and working again, but the works have finally worn out and the parts are no longer available and so another Grafton time-piece era comes to a close.


Grafton Marking Time-One O’Clock Time Gun

Last week I led a series of History Walks in our beautiful city. The Friends of Grafton Library organized these as part of the celebrations for the “History Near Me” Festival, which was celebrated throughout the Clarence Valley for the full week.

These walks were a great success, but there wasn’t time to tell many of the stories associated with some of the city’s icons and places. I promised to share some of these stories through my blog.

The story below is an extract from one of my local history booklets “As Time Goes By-Grafton’s Fascination with Time-Pieces”,which I wrote and published in 2009, for our Sesqui-Centenary Celebrations of Local Government. This booklet has long been out of print, and I will now share some extracts on my blog.

The One O’Clock Time-Gun

In the late 1860’s the Half-day Holiday Associations were being formed in many towns throughout New South Wales. Their agenda was to better regulate working hours for workers, particularly in shops and businesses by directly approaching business owners. By 1873 Grafton had formed a Half-day Holiday Association and had convinced most Grafton businesses to close mid-week on Wednesday afternoon.

The firing of the steamships’ gun to herald their arrival, as they approached Grafton, had been tradition since the first steamers arrived in the 1840’s. In 1873 the Half-day Holiday Association saw it as a solution to the problem of ‘standard time’ by using the telegraph office and a ship’s cannon as a ‘time-gun’.

In May 1873 the Half Holiday Association decided “that the Secretaries should communicate with the Clarence and New England Steam Navigation Company to ascertain whether the company was willing to dispose of the brass gun, lately used on the Susannah Cuthbert, to the Association for use as a time-gun.”

By July the time gun had been acquired by a ‘shilling subscription’ and securely fixed into place behind the telegraph office in Prince Street. The Superintendent of Telegraph, in Sydney, had been communicated with, and kindly promised to furnish the Grafton Office, with the time, as the one o’clock gun was fired daily at the Sydney Observatory.

MALH0022631 003

The gun was fired for the first time on 19 July 1873. It was subsequently fired each day at ‘one p.m.’. The gun was sufficiently loud to be heard all over the town, and the businessmen in particular saw it as a great boon to the place to have a ‘standard time. The Telegraph Master was Thomas Quirk, who had just been appointed to the office staff at Grafton. Isaac Hyam lived in part of the building in Prince Street that the Post and Telegraph Office occupied. Mr David Braham, who had a watch-making and jewellery business lived next door. A common passageway ran between the two businesses.

Not everyone was happy with this new ‘time-piece’. Women and children were scared out of their wits, dogs made themselves scarce, and those who lived nearby had to make preparations to save their precious belonging from falling from walls and shelves as the reverberating ‘boom’ was to be heard.Those who have seen the Disney film ‘Mary Poppins’ can have some idea of what the canon might have be capable of.

The gun would be readied and loaded with the cotton wad in advance, and all the operator had to do was to light the fuse, when the signal arrived over the telegraph wires. However, sometimes the man, ready at the gun, was not able to get the signal off in time, due to perhaps damp powder in inclement weather, and it would be several minutes after one o’clock before the explosion was heard. Or sometimes a call-up from Sydney over the wire was wrongly construed as the one o’clock signal and the gunpowder was lit too early.

Although throughout the following months, several complaints were made about the ‘time-gun’, it continued to make it’s daily presence felt until April 1874, when it became silent. On inquiry it was found that the constant recoil had dislodged it from its position and it could not be discharged without great danger to the gunner.Isaac Hyam was employed to secure the gun to better footings and on 20th May he began to pull a log through the common passageway to the telegraph yard. However an altercation ensued between Hyam and David Braham over the right of way, which finally ended up in Court with assault charges being laid against each other. After evidence was given by several witnesses the verdict was given for Hyam.

On 25 May a letter appeared in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner (now Daily Examiner),which was purported to have been written, by David Brahams to the Telegraph Office,demanding the firing of the gun should cease. However, Brahams refuted the claim that he had written such a letter.

A petition of over 600 names was sent off to the Postmaster General urging the return to duty of the time-gun. The following week the gun started being fired daily, but three weeks later it was silent again, when it was discovered that it had been ‘spiked’. The Half Holiday Association offered a reward of £5 for information on who had done this terrible deed. They also publicly thanked Edwin Cox, a blacksmith, living nearby, for drilling out and repairing the gun, so it could resume its duty.

By early September the gun had again returned to its daily ‘booming’, but a few nights later the gun completely disappeared. Some had theories that it had been thrown in the river, others thought it had been thrown down a well, however it was never found.

The Half Holiday Association immediately offered a reward of £50 for information on the whereabouts of the gun, and to the guilty parties, but all to no avail. When they advertised that they intended to replace the missing ‘time-gun’ with an 18 ton gun, an article appeared in the Clarence and Richmond Examinerr suggesting they give up this plan, as it would only lead to a further battle amongst the citizens of Grafton. The Mayor sent several telegrams to the Postmaster General urging him to intervene, and a few days later he sent a telegram announcing the immediate laying of the foundation stone of the new Post and Telegraph Office in Victoria Street.

Whether it was feared there would be a riot in the streets between the pro-time-gun and anti-time-gun factions, or that there might be a lynching if the time-gun had been found and the guilty parties brought to justice, is not recorded, but there was much rejoicing at the announcement of the building , of the new Post and Telegraph Office, and the ‘Time-gun’ period of Grafton’s history drew quietly to a close.


Place Names- Grafton Streets

Grafton is an historic city in northern New South Wales, and many visitors and residents alike enjoy its old world charm with its Victorian and Georgian architecture and peaceful setting on the banks of the Clarence River.

One of the frequently asked questions is, how did various streets ‘get their name’?

Below I have briefly outlined, how many of the streets were named.

In 1848 the government surveyor, William Wedge Darke was instructed to lay out a town on the banks of the Clarence River. This he did with maps and plans drawn up and lodged with the Surveyor General’s Department in Sydney between 1849 and 1854.

Charles Fitzroy was the Governor of New South Wales at the time and Darke sort to honour him by naming many of the streets of the newly laid out township after members and connections of the illustrious Fitzroy family.

The Naming of Grafton Streets

Prince Street, named for Prince Albert of Saxe- Coburg the husband of Queen Victoria. It began at one of the main landing places for ships coming to the north bank of the settlement, which was laid out by Darke in 1848, running northward to the then town boundary at North Street. Over the years it developed as the main commercial street in Grafton.

Victoria Street, named for Queen Victoria, (1819-1901). She was born on 24 May 1819, the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III. She came to the throne in 1837 on the death of her uncle, William IV.

William IV was king from 1830-1837, and was the third son of George III, and the younger brother and successor to George IV.

Queen Street, was also named for Queen Victoria, the queen of Great Britain from 1837 to 1901.

Fitzroy Street, was named for the Fitzroy family. In particular, in memory of Augustus Henry Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton and grandfather to Charles Augustus Fitzroy, Governor of New South Wales, at the time when the settlement on the banks of the Clarence River was surveyed and laid out by William Wedge Darke in 1848.

Pound Street, was so named as it essentially followed the track from the main section of the North Grafton village, due west to Hewitt’s paddock, where the first Pound, for the impounding of stray and neglected animals, was situated.. Later when the entrance of Alumny Creek was closed off, a ‘pond’ of water, which had to be bridged at this crossing, caused townspeople in the 1930’s to believe that the street name was derived from the corruption of the word ‘pond’, but this was not so. By that time, some one hundred years after settlement the citizens were not aware of the fact that the original Pound had been at the western end of this street.

Bacon Street, was named for Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam and Viscount St Albans (1561-1626), one of the greatest of English philosophers and statesmen. It is believed it was suggested to Darke as a consequence of a follow on from naming of Oliver and Fry Streets.

Oliver and Fry Streets, were named in honour of Oliver Fry, the second commissioner of Crown Lands for the area. He was a prominent government official in the area from 1842 to his death in 1859. he was just one of the prominent citizens that darke named streets after.

Dobie Street, was named for Dr John Dobie, the  first Public Health Officer, in the colony of New South Wales, and later one of the first pastoralists in the Clarence Valley, taking up firstly, Ramornie, and then Gordonbrook , before returning to England. He was also a Justice of the Peace of the colony and took a prominent part in the early history of the district.

Clarence Street, was named for the Duke of Clarence, (as was the river), who later became King, William IV.

Kent Street, was named for the Duke of Kent, who was Queen Victoria’s father.

Villiers Street, was named for Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, who was the mistress of King Charles II and the mother of Henry Fitzroy, the 1st Duke of Grafton, and therefore an ancestor of Charles Fitzroy the Governor of New South Wales.

Duke Street, was named for the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of Kent. This street is adjacent to Clarence and Kent Streets, both of which were named for the Dukes of Clarence and Kent.

Alice, Maud and Mary Streets, were named for Princess Alice Maud May, the daughter of Queen Victoria, who was born in 1843.

Turf Street, was so named by Darke as it essentially followed a track from Hewitt’s store and hotel, northward towards the roads to the Richmond River and Tenterfield. Some of the earliest match races between local horses took place along this stretch of cleared ground in Hewitt’s paddock. Hewitt’s Paddock stretched from the river to the town boundary on North Street.

North Street, was named at it was the northern boundary of the town of Grafton when it was laid out by Darke in 1848.

[Ref: pp 27-28 Grafton- First City on the North Coast, Our Unique Heritage]

South Grafton Streets

Darke also laid out a section of streets at the settlement on the south side of the river and named many of the streets there, but in stark contrast they were named after local features and townspeople.

Wharf Street, was named as it led straight to the principal wharf on that side of the river.

Spring Street, was so named because some part of it followed the track along the bank of Christopher Creek, to the waterhole, which was spring-fed and the only supply of fresh water at South Grafton.

Through Street, was so named because it followed the original track from William C B Wilson’s property on the top of what became known as Wilson’s Hill, ‘through’ the village to the cluster of cottages along the river bank towards Cowan’s property.

Darke later surveyed three more streets for the South Grafton section of the town. These were named Abbot, Skinner and Ryan Streets.

Abbot Street, was named for Sylvanus Abbot the Chief Constable for the Clarence River District in the early 1850’s. He had his residence on the river bank near this area.

Walkers Hotel, Skinner Street, South Grafton, 1909

Walkers Hotel, Skinner Street, South Grafton, 1909

Walker's Hotel South Grafton, 2013

Walker’s Hotel South Grafton, 2013

Skinner Street, was named for Dr Alexander Skinner who set up a medical practice at South Grafton on the river bank in this vicinity. It later became the main commercial street in South Grafton.

Ryan Street, was named for Thomas Ryan who owned Waterview Station and this street was aligned with the track that led from the settlement westward along the edge of the swamp to Waterview Station homestead. Ryan was a Justice of the Peace and sat on the Grafton Bench for many years.[p 28 Grafton First City on the North Coast, Our Unique Heritage]

Grafton – A Unique History


This year due to health issues, I have had a dramatic change of life-style. This included retiring as a busy community volunteer and the closing of my history research and publishing business, ‘Heritage Path’. Consequently, I have also taken down my website, also known as ‘Heritage Path’ . I’m always the optimist and am hopeful this will not be permanent.

Heritage Path

Only five of my seventy odd publications on family and local history are still available and can be purchased from me privately. These are: “The Eggins Family History” (1990) ; “The German Community in the Clarence River District” (1999) ; European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″ (2000), “As Time Goes By – Grafton’s Fascination with Time Pieces” (2009) and ‘Life and Times of the Carr’s Creek Area 1839-2013” (2013).

Over the next few weeks I will share extracts and excerpts from some of my out of print books to help family historians put their ancestors into context, of time and place, on the Clarence River.

Grafton is a city situated on the Clarence River in Northern New South Wales, and is about 80 km inland, from the mouth of the river.

The first settlers arrived here in 1838 to cut timber from the banks of the river. Soon afterwards pastoralist arrived and took up ‘Runs’ or ‘Stations along the river, and the surrounding area.

A small settlement first appeared on the south bank of the river, but it wasn’t long before the north bank was also settled.

Some ten years later the settlers petitioned the Government to have a town laid out and the land surveyed to be sold by Government auctions.

In 1848, Surveyor William Wedge Darke was sent to lay out the town and survey land for sale. The town was called ‘Grafton’ in honour of Governor Fitzroy’s grandfather, the Duke of Grafton.

The first land sales took place in 1850. The town grew quickly as more land became available through Government auctions.

When the NSW Municipality Act was passed in 1858, Grafton was one of the first towns to petition the Government to form a Municipality. The petition was successful and the following year on 20 July 1859, Grafton was formally gazetted as a municipality.

Soon after incorporation, Grafton could boast to having, a Post and Telegraph office; a Steam Navigation Company; a Custom House; a Court House; a School of Arts; a National School; Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churches; a gaol; a ferry; and a hospital. These being the first of their kind on the northern rivers of New South Wales.

Grafton was also the first city on the northern rivers. The foundation stone of Christ Church Cathedral was laid in 1874, and soon afterwards Grafton claimed city status. However, it was not officially proclaimed a city until 1885, several months after the opening of the cathedral in 1884. There were only six cities in New South Wales at the time:- Sydney, Newcastle, Bathurst, Armidale, Goulburn and Grafton.

Some fifty years later Grafton was to have another ‘first’. 1934 saw the establishment of the Jacaranda Festival, the first floral festival in Australia. Today the city is known the world over for its Jacaranda trees and festival.

The city grew from strength to strength over the years and in 2009 celebrated the Sesqui-centenary, or 150 years of Local Government.”

During 2009 I wrote and published three books on Grafton and its heritage, all of which, although some are long out of print, can be found in many town and family history society libraries.

The above extract is from the ‘Introduction’ of these publications.

Grafton-First City on the North Coast, Our Unique Heritage Cover

In the first book “Grafton- First City on the North Coast, Our Unique Heritage”, I explained not only how the city got it’s name, but the unique connection it has to the Duke of Grafton, of Euston Hall, Thetford, Norfolk, in England, even today.

There are also connections to other branches of the Fitzroy family. Although the following branch of the Fitzroy family is not the direct or principal line of the Dukes of Grafton, never the less it, has a very important connection with the city too.

Charles Fitzroy, born 14 July 1764, was the younger brother of George Henry Fitzroy, and the second son of Augustus Henry, the 4th Duke of Grafton and his wife Anne Liddell. Charles Fitzroy married Frances Munday. Their son, Charles Augustus Fitzroy, born 1796,grew up in the early years of the Napoleonic era. He entered military service and obtained a commission as a lieutenant in the Horse Guards when he was sixteen, and was a staff officer at the Battle of Waterloo.

In 1820 he married Mary Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond for whom the Richmond River and Lennox Heads in Northern New South Wales, were named. Charles Fitzroy, was made a captain in 1820 and a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1825, when he became Deputy-Adjutant General at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Returning to England in 1831 he followed his grandfather into politics when he was elected to the House of Commons as a member for Bury St Edmunds, but soon afterwards he retired from the army and politics, when he was knighted and was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Prince Edward Island in Canada. From 1841 to 1845 he was Governor of the Leeward Islands. On 20 February 1846 he was given a commission as Governor of New South Wales.

There were many important developments in New South Wales during Fitzroy’s term of office:-convict transportation ceased; ‘squatting’ became more systematised and regulated; railways were introduced; a steamer postal service with England, Scotland and Ireland was inaugurated; gold was discovered; a branch of the Royal mint was established; the building of the Sydney Exchange and the Fitzroy Dock was begun and the University of Sydney was founded.

It was also during his term that the important Acts of 1850 and 1855 took place that led to the ‘Constitution’ and responsible government in New South Wales.

The death of his wife Mary, in Sydney on 7 December 1847, when she was thrown from a runaway carriage, was a terrible tragedy. Fitzroy himself was injured.

It was he, in 1849, who conferred the name ‘Grafton’, on the newly planned town, on the Clarence River, in honour of his grandfather, the illustrious Augustus Henry Fitzroy, the 3rd Duke of Grafton.

Fitzroy’s term of office ended in January 1855 and he soon returned to England where he died in 1858.”

Governor Charles Fitzroy’s, younger brother, Robert Fitzroy also had a distinguished career.

Robert Fitzroy, born 5 July 1805, was the son of Charles Fitzroy and his second wife, Frances Stewart. He was brought up at Wakefield, the family estate in Northamptonshire, was sent firstly to Harrow, and then in 1818, to the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth. By the time he was twenty-three he was in command of the naval frigate, ‘HMS Beagle’. He was instructed to carry out surveying and the  exploration of the South American coastline, and invited his friend, the naturalist, Charles Darwin, to accompany him. It was during this voyage that Darwin made his observations, which provided the inspiration, for the many years of hard work, on which his theory of ‘evolution through natural selection’ would be based.

Robert Fitzroy retired from the navy and entered the English parliament for a short while before being appointed Governor of New Zealand. He was recalled and returned to naval service commanding the first screw-driven ship to be commissioned by the Royal Navy. He also developed an obsessional interest in meteorology. With his long sea experience and inquiring mind he developed the fundamental techniques of weather forecasting, designed the first barometer and ships thermometer, and invented the system of storm warnings and signals, which saved countless lives in the ensuing decades.

The ‘HMS Beagle’, under another captain, visited Australian waters during the 1830’s and undertook much exploration around the Australian coast line. Some early Clarence River settlers have claimed to have been on board during these voyages.”

There are places called ‘Grafton’ in other countries in the world.

“In Dublin, Grafton Street, named after the 2nd Duke of Grafton, is famous for the statue of sweet ‘Molly Malone’.

In New Zealand, Grafton is a suburb of Auckland and was named for the Duke of Grafton, who was a patron of William Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand. Grafton Bridge is an iconic Auckland bridge spanning Grafton Gully and connects the suburb with Auckland itself.

There are also several small towns in the United States of America named ‘Grafton’, which are in New Hampshire, West Virginia, North Dakota, Massachusetts and Ohio.

Although some of these places are also named in honour of the Duke of Grafton, they do not have the continued close ties with the Dukedom in England, nor can they, use the Coat of Arms of the Duke of Grafton as their Municipal Coat of Arms, a privileged endowment our city of Grafton enjoyed for over 80 years before amalgamation of the Clarence Valley Councils in 2004.”

Grafton City Municipal Flag

I hope these extracts has whetted your appetite for more history on the Clarence River district.

World War I – Behind Enemy Lines – The Drummond Sisters- Postscript

In the beginning the Drummond sisters were happy to be in ‘good old England’. They were also able to visit their older brother Dugald Drummond, when he was in hospital in London.

Dugald Drummond had a very interesting and distinguished military career having served in the Boer War, as well as Gallipoli, before being invalided home in 1916. He later re-enlisted and served in Special Duties for a time after the end of the war.

It was all very well for the Drummond sisters to be safe however, with England at war, Convent Garden had closed and there were no other opening for the Drummond sisters to make a living of any kind in the music world. They couldn’t continue to rely on friends to help them with their day to day living expenses, and they didn’t have any real savings to see them through. What were they to do?

Prior to World War I, Italy had an political alliance with the German and the Austria-Hungarian Empires. However, when war broke out in August 1914, Italy refused to join with these powerful empires against the French and English. In fact, they went into secret negotiations with Great Britain and France, for the promise of Austrian territory, and in May 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of the British allies.

Although details are sketchy it is known that the Drummond sisters made their way to Italy and made contact with friends in Milan. They were able to carry on under contract to Italian opera companies for the duration of the war.

When the war was over and the Spanish Influenza was raging across Europe with many thousands dying, the Drummond sisters returned to Sydney, to see family and friends.

Although much loved and respected in Australia, particularly in Sydney, Jean and ‘Lute’ Drummond returned to Europe to continue their operatic careers in the 1920’s. They made periodic trips home to Australia, but after World War II, they returned to Australia, where they remained sharing their great knowledge and experience with the next generation of students and operatic stars.

Jean Drummond died in 1935 and ‘Lute’ Drummond in 1949.

Those who are interested in the references for the above ‘writings’ of their war experiences, will find them in the local Grafton newspaper, the ‘Clarence and Richmond Examiner’. These can be found on-line at the Historical Newspapers site on Trove at the National Library of Australia.

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 11 Feb 1915, p2c3

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 13 Feb 1915, p5c4

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 16 Feb 1915, p2c3

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 18 Feb 1915, p6 c3

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 13 March 1915, p7c3

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 20 Mar 1915, p7c3

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 27 Mar 1915, p7c3

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 3 April 1915,p5c2

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 10 April 1915, p5 c2

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 17 April 1915, p7c3

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 24 April 1915, p8 c1

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 1 May 1915, p8 c2

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 13 May 1915, p6 c4

Clarence and Richmond Examiner,15 May 1915 p 5 c6 & 7

World War I – Behind Enemy Lines – The Drummond Sisters – 30.

The Drummond sisters were born and raised on the Clarence River in Australia.

Early in the 20th Century they lived in Berlin, Germany, and worked for the opera company there, for many years.

When war broke out in 1914, they were ‘trapped’ for some time – Behind Enemy Lines. This is their story, in their own words.

After the sisters landed safely in England ‘Lute’ continued the sisters’ story of their life as the war continued.

This was written to her mother from London,

The New Year

9th January, 1915- Now let me tell you what in your wildest moments you would never guess. Jean and I have been taken for German spies by no less an authority than the great Scotland Yard! So it’s only a human institution after all, and is liable to make mistakes as the most stupid of us.

On New Year’s Day I was sitting at home trying to cure a most unromantic evil, namely, chilblains on my feet. Jean had been to Hilders, and as she returned after 7 o’clock we supped rather late. Just as we were finishing a ring came for us. Jean trotted down the stairs and opened wide the door to two strange men. They said “Police, Scotland Yard.” She said, “Oh, come up.” They came up and I asked them to sit down. Then they got to work. One drew out paper and pencil while the other’s eyes roved about our student -like room. The man with the notebook then opened his cross-examination. He said, “ Now, tell me about those little trips which you have made in England.” I thought of Miss Irving’s amazement,and couldn’t help laughing as she made the trips with us. However, I enumerated the various towns on our first trip, beginning with Cambridge and ending with Matlock. I had forgotten to mention Manchester, where we only slept the night, and the official remarked “I have a better memory than you. Haven’t you been at Manchester?” Then our Christmas trip was gone through, and great stress was laid on Hastings. What they thought we did there goodness only knows. But anyhow when I had finished our passports had to be rooted up out of obscurity, for Scotland Yard had us down as Germans in the pay of the Kaiser!It was so absurd that Jean and I had hysteries almost when they’d gone – Jean, the quintessence of anti-Germanism, and myself suffering from an overdose of patriotism that is almost painful. If anybody can make out of Ruth Janet Drummond and Jean Cameron Drummond, Anna Maria Schulz and Lisa Sottehen Muller, then they’re cleverer than the Creator Himself.

When the officials asked me if I had been in Yarmouth before or after the raid I gasped inwardly. Imagine how ludicrous to think even that a female like myself could lure the German fleet to our shores! The result of this suspicion is that never again will I ever believe these spy stories, not even if I see with my own eyes the most overwhelming circumstantial evidence. No doubt the whole world has lost not only its head, but its equilibrium, and we see not only Zeppelins in the heavens every night but Germans in Scotch-Australian bodies. The officials thanked us after the interview, and said they had visited thousands of houses, but never had more courtesy and clearer answers. One said, “I may come again” and wished us good night. We waited for several days and nobody turned up, so we went into Scotland Yard ourselves to see if the authorities were satisfied.

The head there was very nice, and said people were over-zealous, etc. I asked him who had lodged the complaint. He wouldn’t tell us, but said only that our movements were reported as suspicious. Evidently in our innocence we had been staring into the English Channel too hard or had watched the waves of the North Sea beat upon the open shores of Yarmouth. Oh dear, I really must write a book some day. We certainly have been mixed up in more ways than one in this great war. I forgot to tell you that the official remarked, “You speak perfect English.” But I have known many Germans who do the same. We were really very disgusted over the whole business. Just imagine Miss Irving and myself being followed everywhere, and then the three of us at Christmas time !

We have written to Miss Irving about it, and she is as much in the dark as were are over it. Really life is more comical and complicated every day, and I give it up. We only resumed our old routine yesterday, and visited the Davenports. They declare their house is being watched too. It seems to me that everybody who came from Berlin is a ‘suspect’. I believe the Davenports are going to Australia when they can get a boat- one has to wait months. They applied long ago, but think that either in February or March there will be some vacant berths.

To be continued

World War I – Behind Enemy Lines – The Drummond Sisters – 29.

The Drummond sisters were born and raised on the Clarence River in Australia.

Early in the 20th Century they lived in Berlin, Germany, and worked for the opera company there, for many years.

When war broke out in 1914, they were ‘trapped’ for some time – Behind Enemy Lines. This is their story, in their own words.

After the sisters landed safely in England ‘Lute’ continued the sisters’ story of their life as the war continued.

Dear Old England

The Crown Princess’s mother, the grand Duchess of Mecklenberg- Schwerin, has renounced her German nationality, and assumed her previous Russian character. This won’t annoy the Germans much as she never was allowed in Berlin, her reputation being not very enviable. Many Englishmen have volunteered for private constable duty. Sir Edward Elgar is one of these patriots whom one sees with an arm badge standing unconcernedly near the railway bridges.

Thursday, October 22nd– We’ve not done much this week. We’re waiting for the Allies to take Ostend, then we’ll have a ‘tangible’ something to go on. Mr Johnson’s son ( a member of the London C C ) celebrated his 21st birthday, and in honour of his manhood gave a party to many East Enders. We helped to make matters merry, Jean singing her patriotic song among Italian numbers, and I was literally forced into relating our Berlin experiences. My first experience of facing an audience – I was very embarrassed, and couldn’t think, though the people seemed to clap a good deal. So perhaps it sounded better off the point of the tongue than in the brain. A Belgian refugee from Antwerp also told his tale.

Today we paid our respects to the memory of Nelson and visited his monument in Trafalgar Square. We saw all the wreaths laid by loving hands round the pedestal, and were especially interested in the one placed near a big lion in memory of our lost submarine.

We met Mme Elsa Stralia (Elsie Fischer) in Oxford Street, and she and Jean exchanged operatic as well as J C Williamson reminiscences. She leaves on Saturday to tour South Africa.

Fancy! King Clark is dead! He had, after Jean de Reszke, the largest singing studio in the world. He died from sheer overwork. He was a wonderful teacher. Jean prized him beyond anyone. Alas, their last meetings were not friendly. However, that won’t affect eternity.

Monday, October 26th– It’s such a glorious day. We always seem to be lucky and strike pleasant views from our windows. Trees are dropping their leaves like golden rain in front of me, and autumn is even lovelier than spring. This is our back view. Sir henry Wood’s rear is our front lookout, so we’re in classical neighbourhood.

“Calais,” or rather, “to Calais” is still the all-absorbing thought, and we rise early to seize with avidity the “Daily Telegraph” and see what progress is being made. Poor old Queen Mary of 1558 fame ! This word cost her her life, and troubled her last moments on earth, pressing like lead on her heart. May her subjects of today be able to ease her oppressed breast and lighten her long sleep under the sod. A german submarine has been sunk, and some new ‘monitors’ seem to be causing a little sensation in the naval world. And even conservative papers are grateful to Winston Churchill for the purchase of these new types.

We had tea with Mrs Scott-Skirving on Saturday. She was in a great state about Mrs Waller. Had done everything to try and communicate with her in Berlin. But even the Foreign Office and Lord Chelmsford couldn’t help her. She was so relieved to hear from us that she was perfectly safe. Her second son, the doctor, is a lieutenant in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the eldest boy, who has just become engaged to Sir Edmund Barton’s daughter, has engaged in Sydney as a private.

We had quite a houseful on Friday. The Davenports, Miss Irving, Miss Hilder, and after supper Mr Kiley and his sister. It’s very plain but comfortable, our flat. We are very practical – have for a dining tablecloth white linoleum. We’re not keen on having every other day a washing day, and our friends don’t seem to mind.

On Sunday we motored round London calling for afternoon tea to Mrs Glynn-Jones. We’re invited also to supper there on Wednesday. It was pouring the whole time, and coming home was really dangerous and terrifying. London is practically for motoring pitch black on a dull day at 5 o’clock. We couldn’t distinguish anything in front of us. People looked grey shadows. The great motor buses carry a light which gives about as much illumination as a match, and where important railway centres are then there absolute darkness reigns. We were glad to reach the garage in safety. It will be an inspired aviator who drops a bomb on the right spot in London, for I defy a Londoner himself to know where he is after dark these impenetrable times. There are really some funny things in this war, particularly the children’s ideas of the Germans. Mrs Glynn- jones has a beautiful little boy, not more than five or six years of age. He asked me with great serious black eyes if we had a shark big enough in Australia to swallow the Kaiser?

Whom do you think found us out in London? Miss Howard, the suffragette. She is also here, saw our arrival in the British-Australasian. She spent a whole day searching for our address, and eventually obtained it at the Commonwealth offices. Now, how did they get it? More mysteries. Jean and I have started some knitted cuffs for Dude and Dick Irving.

Tuesday, October 27th – Miss Irving came to lunch yesterday. She told us that the Ophir struck a mine and had to put into the nearest port. Dr Scott-Skirving was a passenger, so he’s probably back in London again.

We were in the East End last night helping to entertain a Girls’ Guild. I played “Tipperary’ and ‘Your King and Country want you”, which they all sang with evident enjoyment. Then Jean, who was in particularly good voice, regaled them with opera arias. I was again asked for a little more Berlin news. I’ll soon be a dangerous speaker if I have much more practice. Another Australian, Miss Carrie Haase, a member of Granville Barker’s Company, recited beautifully. She did “The Day” splendidly. Do you know it? It is a poem written by a Bath railway man on the Kaiser, and is very terrible, very awe-inspiring- like a judgment.

Had a letter from Inez from Teneriffe. She had up till then no exciting adventures, only love affairs. She said they practically sail with no lights at all. They watched a British cruiser overhauling some passing boats . South Africa seems in for a very bad time indeed. The Germans went to work very cunningly there, didn’t they?

Wednesday, October 28th– So Beyers and De Wet have gone over to the enemy . Things will be made very difficult for Botha. There are rumours too that the Germans have invaded Angola, so Portugal is now dragged into the mighty conflict. The Germans have evacuated Ledz. They’re had possession of it almost since the outbreak of war. Prince Maurice of Battenberg has died from his wounds received whilst fighting on the Yser. This is our first Royal Prince to fall.

To be continued