Grafton – The Saraton Theatre

The ‘silent movies’ were brought to Grafton in the mid-1920’s when H Smythe used the Fitzroy Theatre under the banner of Picture Pops.

(This building was later known as “The Trocadero”. It stood where the Westlawn Finance building is today)

The first purpose-built theatre in the area was the Prince Edward Theatre, which was built in South Grafton and opened in October 1925 for Carl Schwinghammer, a very enterprising businessman of that municipality.

Soon afterward, T J Dorgan who had the Star Court Theatre in Lismore announced he was to open his Dorgan Kinema in Clarence Hall in Prince Street before the end of the year. (Clarence Hall is now the Wesleyan Church).

The Notaras Brothers were Greek immigrants who had arrived on the Clarence River in 1908. They built up several businesses in Grafton area. These enterprising young men took over the Picture Pops from Smythe and expanded and up dated the program with not only the latest movies but other world-class feature acts. It continued under the name of the Fitzroy Theatre.

In September 1925  they announced they were building a new ‘State of the Art’ theatre in Prince Street (opposite Market Square), not only to rival Dorgan’s Star Court in Lismore, but it would be the largest and best-equipped theatre on the North Coast.

Notaras’s new theatre in Prince Street rose quickly and a competition was held among the Fitzroy Theatre patrons for a suitable name for the new theatre. Several people proposed the name “Saraton’ which is the name ‘Notaras’ spelled backward. This was chosen as the winning entry, and the entries proposing this name were put into a hat and Mrs. C Ryder of Grafton was drawn out as the winner.

The Saraton with three shops in front occupied a frontage of 25 metres to Prince Street with a depth of over 50 metres. The main entrance had a spacious vestibule, at the back of which were two wide doors giving access to the downstairs spring cushioned seats for over 700 persons. A wide reinforced concrete stairway led up to a foyer of 15 metres by 3 metres which opened to a large gallery seating over 400 persons comfortably. Electric light together with the latest fittings made it a real show case of architectural and decorative splendour.

The Saraton Theatre opened on 17 July 1926 to great excitement and fanfare to a record crowd. A special feature film named “Grafton at Work and Play” was commissioned by the Notaras family for the opening night.

The Notaras family very generously made the new theatre available to many community groups from St Celia’s Choir, Grafton Schools P and C, and Grafton Hospital to the Grafton Philharmonic Society for fund raising and benefit concerts.


Immediately Dorgan proposed plans for another new theatre on the corner of Pound and Queen Street. His Garden Theatre was opened on 11 April 1927.

However, the Great Depression was just beginning to be felt but Dorgan expanded operations by leasing the Saraton and Prince Edward Theatres allowing their owners to concentrate on other business interests.

In November 1929 Dorgan brought the ‘Talkies’ to Grafton and installed the latest sound equipment in the theatres. Matinees were added to the programs and were enhanced by the best artists in the entertainment world.

During World War II all the news was brought up and close and personal on the big screens by Newsreels shown in the theatres,

T J Dorgan died in 1944, but his company remained one of Australia’s leading theatre businesses and was managed by Fred Kehoe from 1934 to 1963.

With the trends of the time of ‘Drive-In’ theatres and television in nearly every home, the movie theatres suffered greatly and patronage dwindled.

In the 1990’s the Prince Edward Theatre burned down and the Garden Theatre was sold off. Only the Saraton soldiered on.

After some unfortunate fires, the Saraton had to close. However instead of selling off the theatre and land in 2008 members of the Notaras family decided to invest heavily in the complete restoration, updating and extension of the theatre complex to make it the leading one in country  New South Wales.

After some delays, the complex was finally opened in September 2010 and exceeded all expectations of the record crowd. The original film ‘Grafton at Work and Play’ was a feature for the grand reopening of the complex.

In April 2011 it was awarded the top National Trust Award for the restoration.

The Saraton continues to play a big part in entertainment for the Grafton patrons, not only for the latest movie releases, but world-class live shows, and concerts.


Grafton-Redevelopment of Pioneer Park

Just as places have histories, so do projects. This is the story of a community project that in reality had been 150 years in the making. The Sesqui-centenary Committee did not know this some years ago when they first embarked on the project. However, subsequent research showed that it had been a community dream from 1859 when the ‘burial ground’ was closed, as the Municipal Cemetery in Villiers Street opened. The Committee was honoured, as well as pleased, to be able as long last to bring this long-held wish to fruition. It was not easy, as the story below will reveal, but it certainly was worth it.


Pioneer Park 2010

This is and will remain a special place. There are no picnic tables, rubbish bins or toilets, that can usually be seen in Municipal Parks. This is a special area to sit and walk with nature in quiet reflection and meditation. To read the story of people buried here, and those who are not, but are honoured by their descendants for their contribution to the Clarence Valley.

In 2007 the newly formed Clarence Valley Council called for expressions of interest from the community to form a committee to arrange and generally organize celebrations in 2009 for Grafton’s Sesqui-centenary, or 150th Anniversary, of Local Government. This Committee made up of a cross-section of residents of the Clarence Valley represented no organizations or bodies and was under the direction of the Council. Committee members were encouraged to present projects and activities they thought would be suitable and to put forward to the Council for consideration for funds in the budget.  In the early budget estimates two projects were proposed, that of a written History of Grafton over 150 years and a redevelopment of Pioneer Park as a Sensory Garden. A visionary idea put forward by a descendant of an early pioneering family. These were announced to the community through the press. Separate Sub-committees of the Sesqui-centenary Committee and Council staff were set up to investigate and overseer these projects. However, when the final budget program was announced the Clarence Valley Council could not find the necessary funds needed to set up the Sensory Garden. The History of Grafton had been funded for the research and writing of the book but fell short for the publication of same. Finally, the Council granted the additional funds for the publication of the book. That meant that the original Sensory Garden Sub-Committee was disbanded by the Council, as they were no longer needed.

At the next full Sesqui-centenary Committee meeting members were reminded that even though there were no funds available from the Council, that the Committee had already announced to the community that the redevelopment of Pioneer Park was a Sesqui-centenary Project, and great public interest had been shown. Members of the Committee expressed the wish, that every avenue should be explored to raise the necessary funds, including community and corporate sponsorship and State and Federal Grant Funds. The Committee Chairperson and other Committee members undertook to investigate the matter.

Several meetings between Committee members and Council staff were held concerning the proposed garden redevelopment using the original conceptual drawing brought to the Sesqui-centenary Committee at a previous meeting. The Committee was advised that the Council had no allocated funds or staff to help in any way. However, if the Committee went ahead with the project, the Council would require all the documents required by law for development and administration of such a project. The Council also insisted that the proposed plan fit in with the Management Plan of the Open Spaces and Parks. This included the long-term maintenance and care of the area. The Committee was advised that Council Staff could not manage the proposed extensive raised garden areas on the site. Any volunteer group willing to take on the long-term maintenance of such gardens would need to have insurance, and written contractual evidence of their commitment. The necessary project documentation included:- copies of all land Title searches, and original lands Department surveys and plans; all diagrams of plans and structures of the proposed gardens had to be prepared by a qualified draughtsman; any structures had to be of a licensed design and any large structures had to be accompanied by civil engineer certificates.

At this stage, the task was so daunting that it looked as if it was impossible to consider the project at all. However, the Sesqui-centenary Committee decided to investigate what could be achieved, and a new pioneer Park Garden Sub-Committee was convened. This Sub-Committee then spoke to possible sponsors and many professional people throughout the city and beyond. They included surveyors, draughtsmen, title searchers in the Lands Department, builders, bricklayers, landscapers, nurseries, civil engineers, community clubs and service groups and others. Nearly all the people approached were completely supportive of the project and many volunteered their professional services, at little or no cost, and out of business hours. It was because of this enthusiastic community support, that the Committee was inspired to push on.


Pioneer Park-2010

It was during research in the Lands Department in Sydney, that several of the early surveys and maps of the area, where the burial ground is located, were sighted. Surveyor Burrows (1841), which showed the area covered in thick bush; Surveyor Darke (1849), which showed ‘graves’; Mrs Rose Selwyn’s sketch map of Grafton (1853), showing position of the ‘unfenced b(urial) ground’, and then the detailed survey of W A B Greaves (1856), which showed a plan of the actual location and alignment of the graves. As further research was done into the old newspapers, Grafton City Council Minute Books, Lands Department documents and family histories it became very evident that the citizens of Grafton had always held this burial place of their ancestors as a special and sacred place worthy of being specially put aside as a memorial to the pioneers of the area.

With the exact burial sites and the expressed community wishes over more than a hundred years or more coming to light, the Pioneer Garden Committee felt morally bound not to interfere with this section of the land, but to have it set aside undisturbed and without gardens and pathways, or the like set on it. The Committee felt they could no longer continue with the original proposed plan, which involved building over the grave sites. They felt they would need to come up with a fully documented and costed alternative design, which would better reflect the importance and significance of this historical site, not only for Grafton but the whole Clarence Valley.

The Committee then looked at past and present projects involving the restoration and development of old burial grounds in Sydney, and other cities across the state, and even interstate. They also looked at the costs, expertise, and requirements to undertake these projects. After much soul-searching, consultation and thought, a new design was drawn up. The new design with full costings was presented and explained to the full Sesqui-centenary Committee, who unanimously supported the new design and recommended it be sent to Council for approval. The Council approved the new design but reiterated that they had no funds for the project and that the Sesqui-centenary Committee was responsible for the funding of the project. However, they did confirm they would in their works program, lay water to the site. As the full costing of the project fell in the vicinity of $150,000 the Committee divided the project into Stage 1 and Stage 2.

Over the next few months with the great support of the businesses and community the Committee raised over $100,000 in donations and in-kind for this project. This was deemed to be sufficient for the completion of Stage 1 with a further $50,000 to be raised for the completion of Stage 2.

The Committee then set to work and arranged to have the work done with a completion of Stage 1 for an Opening Ceremony to take place shortly before Christmas.

Then in late 2009, further funding became available through a Federal Government Grant to Clarence Valley Council for works programs in the Clarence Valley. The Committee then put forward to the Clarence Valley Council, a proposal for consideration. Stage 2 of the project to be completed. This was successful as the Council unanimously voted to award the necessary funds and work program for the completion of the project.

The Councillors, Council Staff, Sesqui-Centenary Committee and Community worked tirelessly to bring this project to completion, even though there were many challenges right to the last, not the least of which was the weather.

The Pioneer Gardens were opened on 28 March 2010 with a very large crowd present. Several ministers of local churches were present and took part in the proceedings. The area was consecrated and formally recognized as a cemetery to be held in trust for the community in the future.


Information on the people buried in this cemetery; the family memorial plaques and the special features of this garden can be found in the publication ‘In Memoriam-Fry Street Pioneer Burial Ground Grafton, 1844-1868’ by Nola Mackey,2010, Grafton. This book of 125 pages includes maps, colour photographs, is fully indexed and referenced. Copies of this publication can be found in the Clarence Valley Libraries.


Extract from  In Memoriam- Fry Street Pioneer Burial Ground, Grafton 1844-1868, Nola Mackey,2010, ISBN 978-1-875840-68-7,pp11-13. Publication available at Clarence Regional and Grafton Library.

MALH0256113 011

Grafton- History of Fry Street Burial Ground

When the settlement on the Clarence River was established in 1839, no one could own land. It was all vested in the Crown, and people could only occupy with a license, which had to be renewed annually.

When people died whether from accidental death or by natural causes, they were buried wherever a hole could be dug to lay them to rest, whether a family member or employee or mate. We know there were several people buried in this manner on the banks of the Clarence River, and indeed in the area, which is now Grafton. Their burial was often not reported or recorded, and after a time the grave site became unknown.


In the early years of settlement from 1839 through the early 1840’s there was not a large number of people settled in this part of the river, but with the passage of time many more settlers arrived to set up businesses in this ‘settlement’ on both sides of the river. Although there were scattered buildings throughout the area, small clusters of buildings could be found on both sides of the river. On the north side, one such cluster was where we find the end of Prince Street. Joseph Sharp had an inn and store, another was near the mouth of Alumny Creek where Thomas Hewitt had also established an inn and store. Settlers with the trades of shoemaker, butcher, and blacksmith had established businesses nearby. Thomas Hewitt had taken out a Government license on a large section of land west of Alumny Creek and Joseph Sharp had a large section east of Alumny Creek.


By early 1844 the community on the north side of the river was growing quickly and when there were deaths, they saw the need for a specific place for burials. Although we have found no specific record of any discussion within the community about the most suitable place it is quite evident that some thought had taken place about the site, which is on a higher section of land away from the main settlement, but within a suitable distance from the main Richmond River Road, which we now know as Turf Street. This became known as ‘the burial ground’ to the early European Pioneers of the valley. After the Municipal Cemetery opened in Villiers Street, it became known as the ‘old burial ground’ and now in modern times, ‘the Fry Street Burial Ground’. There was also an early burial ground on the south side of the river for those who died there.

There is little formal documentation of this burial ground in the historical records, although it is known to have served the community for about 14 years.

It’s management such as it was, was ad hoc, as it was never formally gazetted as a burial ground or cemetery, no church or denomination took responsibility for it, nor was it consecrated, or trustees appointed for its care and management.


Fry Street Burial Ground-2010

Although the Anglican, known as the Church of England at the time, and the Presbyterian ministers, resident at North and South Grafton, officiated at some of the burial services, it was normal for the ‘dead of all denominations to be interred indiscriminately’. No formal plan or register of burials was kept, although the original Church of England parish register of the Clarence River District, kept by Rev John McConnell, records the burial of ‘George Dixon’ on 27 September 1844, believed to be one of the first burials in this burial ground. However, between clergy appointments and during absences from the settlement of the clergy, burials recorded in the register were poorly maintained.

The inadequacy of the parish records can be clearly seen, in that there were no deaths recorded between 1846 and 1850, although inquest records suggest there were deaths in the area. Although some parish records from the Church of England have survived, those for the Presbyterian faith have not, and nor have any of the Roman Catholic burials.

The inadequacies of incomplete or non-existent burial records was addressed in March 1856, when civil registration of deaths was introduced in the state of New South Wales. The other sources for records concerning deaths on the Clarence River at the time were the incomplete inquest records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the newspapers of the date, namely The Sydney Morning Herald and the Maitland Mercury, both of which had correspondents on the river. Another source used although it may have not have been completely reliable was the memoirs of some of the early settlers such as Thomas George Hewitt.


In 1848, Surveyor William Wedge Darke was sent by Governor Fitzroy to lay out a town plan for Grafton, the settlement on the Clarence, which he had named a couple of years before, after the Duke of Grafton. During his survey, Darke noted the burial site on his map and as it was the European custom to have graveyards in church grounds, he included the land around and adjacent to these burials, as a ‘Church Reserve’. No doubt, expecting that at some time in the near future that the Crown would award the area to a church, possibly to the State Church, the Church of England. However, when the first land sales were held in Grafton, of the fertile river bank, along Victoria Street, the Bishop of Newcastle, applied for a church and school grant on the river bank. As the settlement grew the community continued to use the Fry Street site as a communal burial ground.

Meanwhile in Sydney and other large towns within the state, these communal grounds were becoming a problem in many ways, so after the General Cemetery Bill Select Committee Report of 1845, the Government decreed that a section of land be set apart for a planned cemetery with denominational sections for each major faith and a general section for all others.

Consequently when Darke laid out the plan of Grafton he included a Cemetery area out at the end of Villiers Street on the edge of the town. However, it should be noted that at this time (1848-1849), this area was covered with thick ‘brush’ of trees, vines, and undergrowth, although Joseph Sharp had started to clear the adjacent area for a ‘boiling-down works’ and farming. The community still used their former chosen site for burials.

Throughout the early 1850’s the government surveyors were kept busy surveying and preparing several sections of the valley including the town, for land sales, and the population of the town of Grafton and farming communities along the river at Clarenza and Ulmarra grew significantly. Consequently, more burials were taking place in Grafton and the surrounding area.

In 1856 government surveyor W A B Greaves was carrying out surveys in many places in Grafton in preparation for Land Sales. In his detailed survey plan of this section of the town, (where the communal burial ground was situated), he carefully plotted each of the graves and sited them on his plans. This accurate survey with plotted grave sites was invaluable to the community more than 150 years.

From March 1856 with the Civil registration of burials, we have an official record of people buried at North and South Grafton, as the case maybe. It should be noted there were also communal burial grounds at South Grafton in this early settlement phase.

During 1858-1859 there were a number of infant children in Grafton who died of Whooping Cough. A larger number of adult burials were taking place too.

Although we have found no written record, it was becoming clear to the local authorities, that they were running out of space in the ‘burial ground’. Richard Ball an early settler had settled and then purchased much of the land surrounding the burial ground so it couldn’t really be expanded.

In 1858 the citizens of Grafton had petitioned the Government to become a Municipality, which was formally gazetted on 20 July 1859. However, even before the official gazetting the citizens who had been elected as Aldermen in the first Borough Council had been approached by citizens to have something done about the burial ground crisis and it was decided that the cemetery area set aside by Darke in 1848, should be opened without delay, with each designated section for the major faiths, to be cleared and fenced.

Consequently, the first burial in the Villiers Street Cemetery took place in June 1859 in the Presbyterian Section, followed a few days later by the first Church of England burial. From that time, all burials in North Grafton were supposed to take place in the Municipal Cemetery, and in the main they did, despite many problems.

However, there is evidence that there were exceptions, which will be revealed later in the story.

As far as it is known there were no erected headstones in the Fry Street Burial Ground at that time.

The ‘old burial ground’ in Fry Street had never been fenced. Mrs. Rose Selwyn, the wife of the Rev A E Selwyn, the church of Anglican minister, noted such on arrival in Grafton in February 1853, and through the 1860’s and 1870’s Grafton Borough Council was petitioned several times to fence the ‘old burial ground’. It was also stated that it was overgrown and that horses, cattle, and other domestic animals were allowed to roam freely over the graves. However, this was still Crown Land and the citizens were reminded by the Council there was nothing they could do about the matter. It should be noted that the Municipal Cemetery was also overgrown, and religious sections were still unfenced or the fences which had been built were in disrepair, and much comment was made in the press of the day of the ‘disgraceful state’ of the town’s cemetery.

It is obvious that many citizens still held the ‘old burial ground’ in Fry Street as a sacred place, and wanted to keep it so, despite there being no church or mortuary chapel nearby.

In 1876 the Lutheran Church in Oliver Street, Grafton, was opened and the congregation thought they would be able to use the old Fry Street Burial Ground for burials. However, this was not allowed and they had to use the General Section of the Villiers Street Cemetery, or as many death certificates attest, there were many buried in the Church of England section of the cemetery. The Lutheran Church later applied for and was granted a portion in the Villiers Street Cemetery for Lutheran burials.

Throughout many towns in New South Wales by 1880, the site and use of former burial grounds were becoming an issue, particularly in Sydney, Newcastle, Bathurst and Port Macquarie, where towns had grown significantly in population, and burial practices had to be legislated for. This took place in 1880 and was gazetted in 1881. It then became a criminal offense for a minister of religion, government officer or indeed anyone to carry out a burial within the boundaries of the town without a specific license to do so, particularly in any area not in the legal Municipal Cemetery. This included churchyards. Under this new Act, the burial grounds situated on Crown Land were still under the Crown Lands Department but could be converted to Reserves for the Preservation of Graves.

The citizens of Grafton applied for this option for the ‘old burial ground’ in Fry Street, with the additional condition that the land is vested in the Municipal Council. This was gazetted in 1881.

With the site of the Fry Street Burial Ground being vested in the Grafton Municipal Council, at long last, the citizens thought they would have their dearest wish met. That was the fencing, care, and maintenance of the graves. However, the Council considered it would be a burden on the civic purse to have to take on the maintenance of this site and voted to partly fence and lease the property to the adjacent land owners, which they did. The property continued to be leased for over forty years for the pasturing of stock.

From time to time, approaches were made by elderly citizens or their families to have the ‘old Fry Street Burial Ground’, cleared, fenced and made into a suitable memorial to the early pioneers, but nothing was done.

In January 1927 the Grafton City Council received a letter again drawing the attention of the state of the ‘old graveyard’. It stated that the small area ‘held the remains of about fifty Grafton pioneers’, but at that time the area was used to grow pumpkins and was used as a sandpit. The Council was again asked to consider it being made into a Memorial.

On investigation, Council found that the sandpit was actually on the adjacent reserve, named as a Church Reserve on the map and the area was still under the control of the Lands Department.

The following year plans and works concerning the Grafton Bridge took up much of the Council’s time. Plans were proposed and accepted that sand and soil from the Fry Street Reserve should be used within the city limits for the proposed railway embankments. One would presume with the sanction of the Lands Department.

Many elderly citizens recalled how many tons of soil were dug from the reserve area for the embankments, which left the natural waterway open to severe water damage and erosion. For many years it was a swampy reedy area, which collected stagnate water, breeding mosquitoes. When the Council was looking for a site to a rubbish dump in the 1960’s this site was chosen and the whole reserve was filled and then covered with soil.

It should be stressed that it was the surrounding reserve area which was used, not the small burial ground, which sat on the Fry Street corner of the reserve. At that time the Council a full reclamation of the whole site as a reclaimed open space and it was formally gazetted as a passive Rest Park and named it Pioneer Park in recognition of the original purpose of the portion of the park.

Throughout the ensuing years, it was used in keeping with this purpose for community activities.


Fry Street Burial Ground 1963-2009

Extract from  In Memoriam- Fry Street Pioneer Burial Ground, Grafton 1844-1868, Nola Mackey,2010, ISBN 978-1-875840-68-7pp 7-10.Publication available at Clarence Regional and Grafton Library.

MALH0256113 011

Grafton Marking Time – The Grafton Clock Tower

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.

In 1908 the Grafton Municipal Council was making preparations to celebrate their Jubilee and so a special committee was to set up to organize and overseer the celebrations.

The Mayor encouraged the citizens to suggest a suitable memorial to the occasion. It was finally announced a Town Clock Tower would be constructed as the memorial. At the March Council meeting it was voted after much discussion that £400 should be expended from Council funds on the Jubilee Celebrations. The major part was to be for the erection of a suitable Clock Tower for the city and also for the publication of a booklet on the history and progress of the Municipality. The other proposed functions would be funded by a subscription collection.

It is not known if local architects forwarded proposed designs for the tower, but at the end of April Mr E C Norrie, a local architect, presented to the Council a plan for a Clock Tower submitted to him by Mr S M Becher, a Sydney Architect. Sherard Michael Becher, born 1883, Grafton, was the second son of Richard Fane and Louisa Becher (nee Paton). Richard Fane Becher was the Baptist Minister at Grafton for many years. Sherard attended the Grafton Public School before the family moved to Sydney. He became an architect in Sydney, but continued to be interested in Grafton’s affairs. He acted as his own Clerk of Works and made several trips to Grafton to supervise the project.

Within a few days of receiving the plans, the Council had called tenders for the building of the Clock Tower at the intersection of Pound and Prince Streets. At the following Council meeting in mid May, the tender of J J Bender of £144 was accepted. However a special meeting was called within a week to discuss matters, as Bender had withdrawn his tender. The tender of Jacob Walter for £188 was then decided upon. Jacob Walter, the son of Franz and Sophia Walter, was born in Grafton in 1865. He worked with his father and brother as a bricklayer. He married Ellen Rosanna Franey in 1893. He died in Grafton in 1945.

At a Council Meeting in May, 1909,Ald Maxted moved that provisions be made for the laying of the Foundation Stone for the Clock Tower, and Mr Becher was quickly contacted. Mr Becher hurried to Grafton by the steamer, Kyogle and arrived early on Monday 7th June. At the special meeting with the Council on Friday 11th June,

Mr Beecher expressed the opinion it was too late to have an official laying of a foundation stone, but he suggested a brass plaque suitably inscribed to be attached to the completed tower, and that he was prepared to present such a plaque. His offer was accepted by Council. Mr Becher returned to Sydney by the Noorebar the next morning.

With these matters settled Jacob Walter then prepared to erect the tower,and brought loads of bricks from Palmers brickworks at the top end of Prince Street and started work. However these activities caused two sensational incidents, which were later reported in the local press.

“The stack of bricks and brickworks at the centre of the junction of Prince and Pound Streets, where the Jubilee Clock Tower is in course of erection, were responsible yesterday for two accidents, at least so it is alleged.

At about 8 am Mr Peter Cumming, baker, was getting into his cart after delivering some bread in Pound Street, when his horse shied at the bricks, and bolting across the road at full speed, brought the cart in violet collision with a tree, a sandstone gutter-bridge (both in front of Mr T Willan’s Freemason’s hotel,)and one of the verandah posts. The final impact was so great as to snap both shafts from the cart and, with these dangling from either side, the horse dashed madly along prince Street, in a northerly direction, but was fortunately stopped, and brought back unhurt. The body of the cart was left, loaded with bread and surrounded by glass-wreckage from the hotel verandah-lamp, on the footpath, whence, later on, it was removed. We learn with pleasure, that Mr Cumming escaped without injury.

The second accident occurred at about 5 pm. It appears that Mr and Mrs Stephen Schafer, formerly of the Royal hotel, South Grafton, were driving in a sulky from the Grafton railway station and were about entering Prince Street from Pound Street when the pony shied at the brickwork and, swerving suddenly into Prince Street, up-set Mr Schafer, who was driving, clean out onto the road. Mr Schafer fell face downwards, severely injuring his nose, and as the reins fell with him the uncontrolled pony bolted, and as it did so, a wheel of the sulky passed over Mr Schafer’s right hip and waist. The objective of the pony appeared to be the river, and Mrs Schafer, who had retained her seat in the trap, must have had a most unenviable time as the a frighted animal careered with the helpless lady to apparently certain death, or severe injury at least. Shopkeepers, their assistants and customers rushed out to witness the rapidly approaching catastrophe, and in a moment each side of the street was lined with horror-strickened people, some yelling bootless instructions to Mrs Schafer. Mr Rowley Smith was riding up Prince Street with a parcel of account books under his arm, when the runaway dashed past him. Instantly he dropped the books on the road and galloped in hot pursuit. The pony with the sulky was turning in towards the ‘Argus’ where Sergeant Dean was standing. The intrepid officer made a grab for the reins, but his effort had the good effect of causing the pony to swerve shortly towards the middle of the street, in doing so, the trailing reins touched the wheel and were promptly whisked right into Mrs Schafer’s hand, and the cool lady was actually pulling the runaway in when Mr Smith galloped alongside and seized its head. That settled everything. The people from the shops went back, and Mrs Schafer, escorted by Mr Smith, still holding the pony’s head and riding alongside, drove rapidly back to pick up her husband. Meanwhile Mr Schafer had been carried into Mr Weiley’s Market Hotel, where he received every possible attention, and from there he was afterwards taken home. It is hoped that his injuries will not prove serious.”

Mr Becher acted as his own Clerk of Works and returned to Grafton by the Kyogle on 5 July, 1909. He stated that the brickwork would be finished by the 8th July and that the clock mechanism would leave Sydney on the Saturday for installation the following week by Mr Otto Fuch. Mr Fuch had already installed the clock faces in the tower..When he installed the clock faces he wrote the date on the back of each , 29 June 1909. By co-incident in 1959, when the Municipal Council was having new clock faces installed and maintenance done on the clock in preparation for the Centennial Celebrations the day this work was carried out was on 29 June. No-one knew of this coincidence until after the job was complete and the pencil inscriptions on the old clock faces was noticed.

The names of the former Mayors of the Municipality were inscribed on marble tablets on the tower. This was brought up to date in in recent years.

Mr Becher presented a brass plate for the Clock Tower, on which ‘Erected July 20, 1909, to commemorate the Jubilee of the Incorporation of the City of Grafton. This also bears the names of the Mayor, Town Clerk, and Mr Becher.

The Tower rises to a height of 42 feet from ground level. It is on a solid concrete foundation 18 inches thick, set on 6 inches of sand placed in the bottom of the trench. In excavating for the foundation the Council’s large drain was met with only 15 inches below the surface. This was a nasty obstacle, and had to be over come by throwing a semi-circular arch over the whole width of the drain. The concrete was mixed and laid in one batch , thus ensuring a perfect foundation. The Tower is built of brick, with the exterior of Sydney open kiln facing bricks. At the base is an ornamental drinking fountain, while segmental arches, span the openings above, between the piers. Above these, on two sides, two marble tablets have been fixed, to take the names of past Mayors of the Municipality, with the dates of their holding office. Above the clock, cement cornices surround the parapet, formed by inverted arches, whilst at the summit of each pier is a round terminal.

The clock is lighted with four wrought iron bracket lights fixed in the centre of each pier. Originally these were gas, and were able to be lifted or lowered for the purposes of repair and cleaning. They were later replaced by fixed electric ones.

The clock was made by Messrs Angus & Coote, of George Street Sydney. It has four dials, and has special devices for winding and setting the works. The idea of having a clock tower to commemorate the incorporation of the city of Grafton met with a mixed reception. Still, the tower was erected.

Prince Street,Grafton

There were many who criticized the structure and claimed the clock would have been more serviceable had it been a ‘striker’. Some were so incensed that they took up their pen and wrote to the press.

To the Editor of the Argus

Sir- For twenty seven years I have lived in Grafton, and I take great interest in the memorial which is being erected at the intersection of Prince and Pound Streets. I think the Borough Council were taking a rise out of us poor fools when they palmed this concern on us as a memento of Jubilee enthusiasm and as a token of progression. One of my customers from ‘out back’ wanted to know ‘whaf-for’ the Council was building another water tank . I told him ’twas to water the streets from the top of the tower, as it saved the man from carrying the street watering apparatus about in the wheel barrow . ‘Ah’ said he , ‘then I suppose those holes are for the cove to stick the water pipe through’.

The Clock Tower was unveiled on the 20th July 1909 with great pomp and ceremony

The Mayor explained the significance of the tower, in that it marked the passing of the old, and introduced the new ways for progress in the city. He stated it was built from a design prepared by Mr S M Becher, architect, (Sydney), the contractor who erected it being Mr Jacob Walter, of Grafton. He stated that both the architect and the builder were natives of Grafton, the former being a son of the late Rev B F Becher, formerly baptist minister here. The erection of the Clock Tower cost about £300.

The special decorations for the occasion, included banners on each side of the Tower. The south face had the words, ‘Grafton Jubilee’; the north ‘1859-1909’; the east, ‘Advance Grafton’, and the west had a Royal Crown

The Mayor went on to describe the clock-tower itself. It was also stated that the whole concern was a creditable ornament to the city, and its significance as a memorial of the time should prove a perpetual education to visitors , and an incentive to the civic fathers to never cease endeavouring to advance Grafton.

Although with time people got used to the Tower itself, the clock was another matter, as it didn’t prove to be a reliable time piece.

A letter, perhaps with ‘tongue-in-cheek’, to the local newspaper a couple of months later reveals what some thought about the situation.


A story with a full 100 per cent of truth is going the rounds at the

expense of the horologe that adorns the municipal monument at the Prince-Pound Streets intersection. A visitor from up Richmond way who has toured a considerable portion of the North, sauntered along one morning, and scrutinising the face of the timepiece that is visible from the direction of host Weiley’s, thought he must have overslept himself or that Grafton was a little more ahead of its time than many gave it credit for. Hauling out his key-less lever, he noticed a wide discrepancy between Richmond River standard time and Grafton. Proceeding further up the street, he was astounded on beholding the Eastern face of that modern ‘timekeeper’ that he must have been travelling at the rate of something like 7minutes 27 seconds per yard. In order to become enlightened on the system of time gauging in Grafton, he inquired of a well-known frequenter of the Market Square how meal hours, knock-off time, hotel closing , and train departures were ascertained in the Queen City. He was solemnly informed that the clock was representative of the Labour Party, and only worked eight hours per day. He was advised also to have a look at the Northern and Western sides of the four faced machine that is supposed to provide Grafton folk with the correct time of day. Whether our visitor was more impressed by the influence credited to the Labour Party or to the quadruple method of measuring time by Grafton’s Jubilee Clock, has not transpired. Notes of his trip hither will probably contain the suggestion for the enlightenment of visitors that the several faces of this time-piece might be surmounted with an inscription indicating that Russian, Japanese, American and North Pole standard times are respectively represented on the several faces of the monumental clock.

The Grafton City Council finally resorted to having local watchmakers take care of the clockworks and coax the town clock to do it’s intended duty. So there were periods of time when the four clock faces worked in unison and the business people of Prince and Pound Streets felt confident to regulate their business hours by the Jubilee Town Clock, and all was right with the world.

One such businessman was W J Weiley of the Market Hotel, later just known as ‘Weileys’. He could observe the Pound Street ,eastern face from his bedroom window and rose early each day, by the clock to attend to the early delivery of goods, such as coal, beer, meat and vegetables and other sundry things.

One morning he rose as usual by the town clock, but was soon fretting as all the deliveries of goods seem to be much later than usual, and he finally remonstrated with a delivery man about the need for punctuality. Of course the delivery man was quite taken back that Mr Weiley should address him so, and advised him that he was very punctual. Mr Weiley then pointed to the time on the Town Clock, and was promptly told that the Town Clock was in fact an hour fast, and that some errant young louts must of changed the time as a prank. Mr Weiley was most vocal about the situation until he found the culprit was close at hand, and actually lived in his household. It was quite some time before he could really trust the Town Clock again, and on those occasions when it was fast or slow, no matter for what reason, he closely questioned his household over the matter.

Over the years there have been times when the Town Clock would be fast or slow and for a while the business people would put up with the inconvenience, while they waited for the City Council to call in the local watchmaker to attend to the maintenance. However if the Council took it’s time over the matter, they might be reminded by a newspaper article or by a ABC newsreader. On one such occasion Rupert Winwood-Smith was reading the news for the ABC. In those days the news bulletins were hand written or were typed, often on ancient typewriters, and so the print was not always clear. In the news Winwood- Smith stated that the ‘Town Clerk’ was late at the time of the last Municipal Council Meeting and was still running late at the time of the meeting held the previous night. It was reported it was most inconvenient to the businesses and citizens and called on the Councillors to act, and do something about this situation. Mr Wilfred Sheather was the ‘Town Clerk’ at the time and was most aggrieved as he was always very punctual in all matters. Of course the word ‘clerk’ should have been read as ‘clock’ as it was the ‘Town Clock’ which was the offending party, certainly not Mr Sheather.

In 1953, this great icon was decorated with flags and bunting as well as a huge crown, for the street parade in celebration of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In recent years it wears a splendid crown of lights each year for the Jacaranda Festival.

Clock Tower

Grafton Marking Time – South Grafton ‘Shop 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.

In the early years of the South Grafton Municipality the South Grafton residents invested heavily in ‘bricks and mortar’ in their fledgling town. Many fine homes and places of business were built, particularly in Skinner Street. Although many business in the Grafton Municipality also had branches of their businesses at South Grafton, there was a certain element of rivalry between the two municipalities. In 1909 this became very evident as new buildings began rising in Prince Street, Grafton after the devastating fires of 1908. Not to be left behind, South Grafton pushed on with a building program particularly with renovations and extensions to their hotels. This included Walkers Hotel, which was extensively extended and renovated to become one of the largest and well known hotels on the North Coast.

On the opposite side of Skinner Street, the City Bank, beside J T McKittrick’s, was opened and adjacent to that, Mr E Hennings, a jeweller and watchmaker built a most impressive two story establishment, which not only had a spacious residence up stairs, but three shops on the lower level. These were a hairdresser, tobacconist and newsagency, and watchmaker and jewellery shops.

The front of the new building above the balcony was decorated, and in panels across the building the words ‘E Hennings, 1909, Jeweller’ were written for all to see. On the top of the facade on an arched piece, was a clock face with metal hands. This ‘clock’ was to advertise the chief business of the premises. Inside his watchmakers shop, Mr Hennings had many clocks, but the showpiece was ‘a fine type of the English striking clock of Culver, London, 7 feet 6 inches high, with inlaid frame and silver dial’, which made it a very ‘handsome as well as a high class time piece’.

Ernest Henry Hennings married Hannah Perovich, on the South Coast of New South Wales, in 1892. They had three children before they arrived at South Grafton in 1903 to open a watchmaking business there. Three more children were born at South Grafton. By the 1930’s the Hennings family had moved to Sydney and the Watman Brothers carried on the businesses in that establishment. The clock on the outside of the building can still be seen today, high above the street, but it is no longer a working clock..


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.