Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Fisher brothers of Campbellfield and Coburg

James, John and Daniel Fisher were sons of Daniel and Edith (nee Pickett) Fisher who lived at Campbellfield where they raised eight children. (Two children died in infancy and are buried at Will Will Rook Cemetery).


Merri Creek at Campbellfield, circa 1925. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


The children had a tough start in life. Not only was their father, a Campbellfield labourer, a drinker but he was unable to control his children. To begin with he was fined for not sending the children to school. 


Campbellfield State School, circa 1920. Image courtesy Moreland City Libraries.


But in 1902, when son William was 11 and son Daniel was 9, the boys were found guilty of breaking into the home of Mrs Hannah Dunn, the Fawkner gatekeeper while she was away at Sunday School. They stole jewellery and money. They'd also taken scones from a tin she'd left on the kitchen table. For this crime they were sent to the Department of Neglected Children. (Age, 12 Feb 1902) Their father was expected to pay for their upkeep, but did not do so and in 1903 claimed that he did not have the money and would have to go to gaol rather than pay the fine. This continued into 1903 and 1904, so the boys were away from the family home for some years.

Daniel Fisher, the father, died in 1907 leaving his widow Edith to do the best she could to support the children. The oldest girls were 18 and 19 and William and Daniel were by then 17 and 15, but she still had four children under 14 to support and the youngest child was only 6 years old.

Move forward now to 1914 and Edith Fisher had moved to live in Coburg and it was from Coburg that three of her sons enlisted in the 1st AIF:

843 Pte Daniel Fisher, 5th Battalion, enlisted on 21 August 1914 and left with the first contingent on 21 October 1914. Daniel we have met before. He is the boy who was tried for housebreaking aged 9 and sent to the Neglected Children's Department. Daniel did not survive the war. After an attack of gastro when he first arrived in Egypt and mumps in April 1916, he suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder and back and was in out out of hospital from the effects of that wound. He rejoined his unit in January 1917 and was killed in action in Belgium in October 1917. His only assets were his military pay which amounted to £244-9-8. He left this to his mother, who by the time probate was granted had moved to live in Austral Avenue, West Brunswick with her married daughter Minnie Price. I'm left wondering if perhaps this was the most money she had ever had, but what a price to pay!


Image taken from Coburg State School Soldiers Record Book, 
courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

2618 Pte James Fisher (pictured above), 8th Reinforcements, 6th Battalion (and later 59th Battalion), enlisted on 28 May 1915 and embarked on 26 August 1915. Although I can find no evidence that the family lived in Coburg during James's school years, he is featured in the school's Soldier's Record Book. He was born in 1899, making him only 16 when he enlisted (his age at death confirms this), although he claimed to be 18 years old. It is not possible to know when he attended the school, but it seems likely that it was only a few years before the outbreak of the war, given the fact that he put his age up by two years when he enlisted in 1915. This is a mystery still to be solved.


2240 Pte John Thomas Fisher, 4th Light Horse Regiment, enlisted 18 January 1916 and embarked in February 1917. His was not an auspicious start. He went into camp at Seymour and by early April 1916 he was report as AWL and declared a deserter the following month. However, by September 1916 he had joined the 8th Light Horse Reinforcements and headed off to Egypt where he served out his war as a member of the 4th Light Horse. 

Back home after the war, John Thomas and James Fisher lived with their mother Edith and younger brother Frederick (served WW2) in Tinning Street, Brunswick. John worked for the railways and continued to live in the area where he died in 1976. James married Doreen and they eventually moved to the Footscray area where he worked as a policeman. Here they raised their family. When James died in 1970, his age was given as 71, confirming that he was only 16 when he enlisted in the 1st AIF.




Saturday, 25 June 2016

More on school cadets at Coburg State School

Grades 6+ class, Coburg State School, 1910. Teacher Mr Patrick O'Hanlon. 
Image courtesy Paul Sumner.


A while ago I wrote about school cadets at Coburg State School in an attempt to identify some of the cadets in the above photograph. 

Since then I have done some more research on cadets at the school and have uncovered information about a disturbing incident that occurred later that year.

The photograph was taken in 1910, probably towards the start of the school year. Four of the boys in the photo are wearing their uniforms and two are wearing sailor suits, so may well have been members of the Naval Brigade. However, we also know that most, if not all, of the 19 boys pictured here would have been junior cadets, as military training was compulsory for all boys over 12 at that time. 

This means that all of these boys would regularly make the trek from the school down Urquhart Street along the walls of Pentridge Prison to the Rifle Butts, which were located between Urquhart Street and Murray Road on the banks of the Merri Creek. It was a site at the back of the Prison where there was open country and rifle practice should not be dangerous, although I've read articles about wandering cattle and the occasional pedestrian crossing that area at their peril. (see Coburg Leader, 2 June 1900, 16 June 1900, 14 Sep 1901, 11 April 1903)

A 'regrettable incident' (HT J.E. 'Rusty' Sheehan's words) occurred at the rifle butts in December 1910, so must have involved at least some of the boys in the photograph shown above. 

A letter Sheehan wrote to the Director of Education on 13 December 1910 reveals that some boys had been at the butts with their instructors Lieut of Cadets Downing and Mr Govan (another teacher at the school) for musketry practice. Before their departure from the school at 4.30pm, Govan took the 'senior non-com' to the office to get the necessary ammunition where the boy took an extra packet of ammunition without Govan's knowledge.

At the butts, each boy received one cartridge (they practiced with live ammunition), fired his shot then showed the teachers the cartridge to show that he wasn't hiding anything.

When the teachers left at 5.40pm to catch their train, they left a few boys behind to tidy up. The boys were left in the charge of the 'senior non-com', a boy who had 'always shown himself a serious-minded boy of excellent character and very earnest and particular about cadet work'. 

Boys will be boys and the others started to make fun of the boy in charge. It developed into a row, a stone was thrown that hit the boy and he took up his rifle and threatened to shoot one of the boys teasing him. They got into a fight. There was a struggle and the rifle discharged. Some other boys started to jeer at him and dared him to shoot them as they ran away, so he fired over their heads then threw the remaining cartridges into the Merri Creek. 

The teachers only learned of the incident when the police came to the school to investigate. The boy who fired the shots was expelled from the cadets and it was expected that the police would proceed against him in the Children's Court, although I have found no reference to the incident or any court case in the press of the day. 

The fact that the boy deliberately took live ammunition with him on that day suggests that there was a history of him being teased by other boys in the group and that he was fed up with being bullied. If he was as serious and 'earnest' about his position of responsibility as the headmaster said, it easy to see how the others might have used this to annoy him. It is equally easy to see how it could get out of hand, as it did on this day. Amazingly, no one was hurt (or killed, for that matter). 

I have not named that boy here, but my research reveals that in December 1910 he was 14 years old and lived in Union Street, Coburg. He did not serve in World War One, as many of the other boys did, but did his bit in the Second World War. I can only imagine how hard this incident must have been for his parents, his two brothers and the school. There is no indication in the school correspondence I read that the teachers or the other boys were disciplined, but I'm sure there would have been a thorough investigation of the matter.

(Information on the rifle butts incident comes from Letter 10/14473 dated 13 December 1910, Unit 273, Victorian Public Record Series 640 Central Inward Primary Schools Correpspondence, Public Record Office of Victoria)

The Mr Govan mentioned here was Woolston J. Govan. 

Image couresty Australian War Memorial. Image P05248.052.


Govan was a qualified instructor of Junior Cadet Training and served for three years in the Victorian Scottish Regiment before enlisting in the 13th Light Horse in January 1915. At that time he was teaching at Mangalore. 

Woolston Govan did not survive the war. He was hospitalised in Egypt in December 1915 with hepatitis and rheumatism and again in February 1916 with enteritis. Seemingly recovered, he went to France, disembarking at Marseilles on 23 March 1916. He died of heart failure just over a week later, on 2 April 1916, and was buried at Boeseghem Churchyard, near Aire, France. He was 24 years old.



Monday, 23 May 2016

Clifton Percival - born in Auckland but raised in Coburg




1379 Private Clifton Eric Percival, 39th Infantry Battalion, D Company. Image taken from Coburg State School's Soldiers Record Book, part of the Coburg Historical Society Collection.

When I began my research into Clifton Percival's life, I thought perhaps that there was not much of a story to tell. He was born in Auckland in 1897 but two years later his family had moved to Australia and were living in Prahran. When he was 12 his family moved to Coburg where he attended Coburg State School. He survived his war service despite being gassed and sent home in December 1917 with pulmonary fibrosis and gas poisoning. He married, had children and moved to Canberra where he worked as a surveyor and he died suddenly in December 1948 of heart problems.

However, as I began to unfold the story of the Percival family in New Zealand and then in Melbourne, an interesting picture of the wider family group emerged. 

The first suggestion of something different was when I discovered from his attestation papers that Clifton Percival had been working as a Biograph operator when he enlisted. You can read more about the Biograph Company here. You can see an example of a Biograph silent film here. It's a 1911 D.W. Griffith film called 'The Lonedale Operator' and runs for about 16 minutes. 

What I don't know is where Percival was working, but it might have been at Lake Hall in Coburg which by 1912 was operating as Coburg's first picture theatre. 

Lake Hall, one of Coburg's many bluestone buildings, was built in 1860 as the Presbyterian Church. This image, taken in 1916, shows it during its time as a picture theatre. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


From electoral rolls I know that Clifton Percival worked in surveying after the war and that he had moved to Canberra by 1930. I later discovered that his father's brother, Arthur Percival, was a surveyor of some note and rose to become Australia's Surveyor-General. He was part of the team that surveyed Canberra. You can read about him here and here

Portrait of Federal Capital site surveyors at Camp Hill, Canberra, 1910. Rear (L to R) – J.Morgan, W.G.Chapman. Front (L to R) – F.J.Broinowski, Arthur Percival, Charles Scrivener, Percy Sheaffe. Image courtesy The Mouat Tree


And if you're interested in reading more, you should check out this link to 'Some Historical Aspects of Australian Capital Territory Mapping and its Map Grid'  by Paul Wise and Kevin Wellspring, May 2015. 

I also discovered from electoral rolls and from a death notice that Clifton's father William James Bradley Percival (known as Bradley Percival) worked as a draughtsman for the Public Works Department in Canberra in the early 1930s, so the Percival family were well represented in the development of the ACT.

From electoral rolls in New Zealand and in Australia, it is possible to follow the changing career paths of Clifton Percival's father William James Bradley (WJB) Percival and his grandfather William James Sims (WJS) Percival. 

From the  early 1870s to the 1890s WJS Percival (Clifton's grandfather) lived on the south island of New Zealand and is described variously as an artist, an architect and a draughtsman. By 1896, he was living in Auckland but still calling himself an artist. Although it is unclear whether he ever made a living from his paintings, he was one of the founders of the Otago Art Society in 1876 and exhibited watercolours and oil paintings of southern scenes during this period. 

If you are interested in 19th century New Zealand artists, here's a link to a very useful online copy of Una Platts book, 

'Nineteenth Century New Zealand Artists: A Guide and Handbook'



Some examples of WJS's work can be seen here. By 1912 he had moved to Elsternwick in Melbourne's south and was working as a draughtsman and no further mention of his artist pursuits has been found.

Clifton Percival's father William James Bradley Percival, known as Bradley Percival, first appears in New Zealand records in 1896 when he is described as a violinist living in Beach Road, Auckland. A year later he is listed as a violin teacher and in 1899 and 1900, his first two years in Australia, he is listed as a musician living in Prahran. Clearly there was no living to be made out of music and with a growing family to support, Bradley Percival took up his father's occupation as draughtsman. 

I guess you can see from all of this why I love the serendipitous nature of historical research. I begin my day researching the war experiences of Clifton Percival then find discover an uncle who was part of the team who surveyed Canberra. I look a little further into the past and find a father and grandfather who worked as draughtsmen but who clearly identified as artists - one a painter, the other a musician.

Life is never dull!


Friday, 13 May 2016

School cadets at Coburg State School

After Lord Kitchener's visit to Australia in late 1909, compulsory military training was introduced for all Australian boys aged between 12 and 18 years.




Junior Cadets were aged 12 to 14 years old and had to train for 90 hours each year. They undertook their training at their primary schools, which in those times before government secondary schools went to Grade 8.

At Melbourne Continuation School (later Melbourne High School) where many of the state's teachers were educated prior to taking up teacher training, the boys of the school trained on Wednesday afternoons. The girls, being the future mothers of the nation, trained in the domestic sciences.


Melbourne Continuation School cadets on parade, c.1910. Image H83.140/1. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria. 


The following photograph of the Grade 6+ class at Coburg State School in 1910 features four boys in their cadet uniforms. 

In the centre of the back row is Victor Harder who was killed in action in France on 26 April 1918. To his right is his brother Keith Harder who survived the war. Keith's best friend Les Ward is two down from Victor on the left. Les died of gunshot wounds on 12 March 1917. Two rows down from Keith is the Harder brothers' sister Gladys who was married to George Fowler of Coburg. He was killed in action in France on 29 September 1918. We believe that the boy second from the right in the back row is Leonard Francis whose sister Kathleen married Keith Harder after the war.


Grades 6+ class, Coburg State School, 1910. Teacher Mr O'Hanlon. Image courtesy Paul Sumner.


Working from a list of students listed in the school's prize distribution ceremony held on 8 December 1908 ('Coburg Leader', 2 January 1909, p.4) the following boys of this age group were mentioned: Jack Gould, William Libbis and Leslie Libbis (6th Class); Leonard Francis, Victor Harder, Frank Pridham and Jack Aitken (Upper 5th class); Keith Harder and Ronald Marshall (Lower 5th Class). It is probable, then, that all of these boys are in this photograph.

We have yet to identify the other students in this photograph. Please let me know if you can identify any of them.  




Friday, 6 May 2016

Leslie Libbis is injured

9025 Private Leslie Fookes Libbis, 6th Field Ambulance. Photo courtesy of Coburg Historical Society.


Leslie Libbis and his brother William both served in World War One. William was killed in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 7 August 1915. I've written about Bill Libbis and his connection to the Mayfield Street football team here.

Leslie Libbis served with the 6th Field Ambulance in France. On 22 August 1916 he suffered a fractured right scapula as a result of a shell wound. He was first treated in the #19 Ambulance Train in France then invalided to England from Calais and admitted to the Kitchener Hospital in Brighton. 

A 'standard' ambulance train consisted of sixteen cars, including a pharmacy car, two kitchens, a personnel car and a brake and stores van.

You can read more about the little known story of the ambulance trains here and here.

Leslie's wound continued to give him trouble and he returned to Australia on transport duty in July 1917 and was discharged from the service. 

He married after his return and remained in Coburg until the 1930s when he moved to Parkdale. He served in WW2 and died at the Heidelberg Repat. Hospital in 1970.

Thanks to Barb W. who did the research on Leslie Libbis.






Wednesday, 13 April 2016

3035 Private William Charles Broadbent, 5th Infantry Battalion (later 59th Btn then 57th Btn)


Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

William Broadbent was an 18 year old nailmaker who lived in Croxton when he enlisted in July 1915. His family had strong connections to Coburg. He and his siblings were born in Coburg. He had been a pupil at Coburg State School and is featured on page 44 of the Coburg State School Soldiers Record Book.
William arrived in France in June 1916 and in his own words ‘I was up at Fromelles [for the] 19 July stunt.’ He later did a course at Grenade School, returned to France and in the bitter winter of January 1917 suffered from trench foot. He received a severe gunshot wound to his ankle in July 1918 and was repatriated to England. He was finally discharged in Australia in December 1918 and from 1957 was in receipt of a TPI pension.
William Broadbent’s brother Ernest, who was born in Coburg in 1900, also tried to enlist, but his enlistment was cancelled because his parents refused their consent. Ernest, a dairyman, later moved to Myrtleford where he died in 1971.

Ernest Broadbent’s diary in Kerferd St., Coburg in 1923. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Although his parents Charles and Mabel moved around a bit, they remained in the Coburg area. A cousin, Joseph Grattidge, also an old boy of Coburg State School, served and survived the war. 

5828 Private Joseph Grattidge, 24th Infantry Battalion. Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


Joe Grattidge was a 34 year old married quarryman working for Coburg Council when he enlisted in August 1916. Like his cousin William Broadbent, he served in France where he took part in major actions such as Bullecourt, Ypres, Villeurs-Bretonneux and Mont Saint Quentin. Before and after the war he lived in Barrow St., Coburg. His brothers George, Leslie (KIA France) and Stanley also served. 
Joe Grattidge died in 1961 aged 79. He is buried at Coburg Cemetery and is remembered in a World War One commemorative walk organised by Friends of Coburg Cemetery. 
This walk will take place at 2pm on Sunday 17 April 2016, so if you are interested, please contact Friends of Coburg Cemetery  focc.group@gmail.com



Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Mayfield Street football team

Image 16035, courtesy Coburg Historical Society


This photograph, identified only as the Mayfield Street football team pre-1914, was probably taken in around 1909 or 1910 which is when the Libbis family lived in the street.

The only person to be identified so far is Bill Libbis (6th from left in middle row).





1989 Private William Thomas Libbis, 6th Infantry Battalion and his brother 9025 Private Leslie Fookes Libbis, 6th Field Ambulance were old boys of Coburg State School and are featured in the School's Soldiers Book. Bill Libbis died at Lone Pine on 7 August 1915.






Looking at these photographs of the brothers, neither looks like the young man identified as Bill Libbis in the football photograph and it is possible that he was misidentified. 

Other old boys of the school who served in the war and lived in Mayfield Street at the time were Clive and Frank Callaghan, Dudley Crump and Vernon Hallam. 

These men are all part of Coburg Historical Society's ANZAC project, so if you recognise any of the people in the photo, I would be very interested in hearing from you. I also wondered if anyone recognises the house in the background - a long shot, I know.