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.

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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]