Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Robert Norman of 'Normanville', Moreland Road, Coburg

The research for this story began when I was looking through the Duncan MacGregor Papers in the State Library's manuscript collection. (Duncan MacGregor owned the long gone mansion 'Glengyle', on the Merri Creek and is the subject of the book The Enterprising Mr MacGregor by Fay Woodhouse.)

'Glengyle' in the 1890s, courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

In among the many boxes of material in that collection, I came across a solitary letter written in pencil and dated 23 September 1915 from Bob Norman to his employer Jack MacGregor of 'Dalmore', Pakenham. It was written 'In the trenches' and he'd been at the Front for about a fortnight. 

Letter from Bob Norman to Jack MacGregor, Duncan MacGregor papers, 1857-1938,  Box 2.5, MS 12914, Manuscript Collection, State Library of Victoria.

Letter from 1560 Pte Robert (Bob) Norman, A Coy, 21st Battalion:
 ‘We had a bit of an experience coming over being struck by a torpedo... I am sorry to say the water cooked [?] the watch that you gave me but I still have it for old time's sake.’ ‘The Rev McRae Stewart* is our chaplain and I suppose you have heard from him all about it. I had a chat to him about Dalmore [at Pakenham] the other day. He is a fine Chaplain and well liked by all the men...We are in a very quiet part of the trenches at the moment although there are always shells and bullets flying about. The Turks trenches are about 200 yards away from us… We have been in the firing line ever since we lobbed here…’
*The Rev Donald Macrae Stewart was a Presbyterian minister married to Jessie MacGregor, one of the seven children of 'Glengyle' family. He was minister at Brunswick, then Ascot Vale then Malvern where he remained until his death. He enlisted as chaplain to the 21st Battalion and served on the Gallipoli Peninsula then France. On his return to Australia he was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in 1918-19.

Robert Norman continues:
‘We are quite used to shells and bullets now and don’t mind them at all. You cannot catch them and chuck them back again. We sleep through it all when off duty. It’s marvellous. Before coming here if old Spots [his dog, maybe?] barked a bit I couldn’t sleep …’

'Southland', torpedoed 2 September 1915. Accession no(s) H2013.365/1-295. Fetherston family album. Gift of Mrs Audrey Houghton; 1990. Courtesy State Library of Victoria.

I have written about the torpedo attack on the 'Southland' mentioned by Bob before. You can also read about it here

From The Old Boys of Coburg State School Go to War, by Cheryl Griffin, pp 59-60:
As recorded elsewhere, old boy John McCormack was on board the Southland when she was torpedoed on her way to Gallipoli. Another Coburg soldier, Robert Norman, wrote a long and dramatic account of the events to his parents, which was published in the Herald. This is just a small part of his very detailed letter home:

We left port on Monday evening expecting to get here on Thursday. We zigzagged our course all the way, and kept a good lookout for submarines. Everything went well till Thursday morning, when we had just cleaned our rifles and were going to fall in for a bit of instruction. About 5 to 10am we were struck by an Austrian torpedo. We dropped our guns, and rushed downstairs for lifebelts, which were lying on the beds. Talk about shock – we nearly dropped with fright, but soon recovered our nerves, and went to our boat stations on deck.
Charlie and I stuck together, and when we arrived on deck one boat was full and lowered. When it reached the water it turned over, and they all fell into the sea, which had a good swell on at the time. About five of them climbed back on to the top of the boat and clung there. The next boat was let down by only one end, and shot most of the chaps into the sea. That was enough for me. We took off our boots, putties, and tunics, and went astern… We paddled away a bit from the ship, which we thought might sink at any minute. We passed by plenty of boats, but they would not pick us up. Talk about being shipwrecked.
We were on our rafts for about an hour, and were getting pretty cold. I never gave up hope, and kept my head all the while. It was everyone for himself. At last I decided to swim to a boat about 150 yards away… There were 40 of us in a canvas boat. We were in her for about three hours before we got picked up.
The Southland held together marvellously, and a volunteer crew got her into the harbor and beached her. I got all my kit back, and have only to get a pair of boots and putties. The crew went back to their ship on Friday morning, and looted all the officers and soldiers’ kits, stealing razors, etc. I left my tunic on deck when I went over the side, and all they took were my badges.
I was delighted to get the pocket Bible which mother gave me, also my diary. I lost my pipe and tobacco pouch when swimming; they got washed out of my pockets. It took us two or three days to get over the shock, and I am feeling fit and well again now. A lot of the chaps are still very bad; their nerves are gone. Some of the worst cases went back to Alexandria by hospital ship tonight.
From Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 16 June 1916. The letter is dated 23 September 1915, the same day he wrote to Jack MacGregor.

Norman was injured (head and shoulder wound) in France in July 1916 and he returned to Australia in February 1917. Among the belongings sent home with him is the damaged watch he mentioned in his letter.

(from Robert Norman's service record, courtesy National Archives of Australia)

On his return Robert Norman took up a fruit block at Merbein through the Soldiers' Settlement Scheme and lived in the area for the rest of his life. 
Robert died in 1971 and his grave can be found in Merbein Cemetery alongside that of his son VX131759 Staff Sergeant Herbert Charles Norman, 30th Infantry Brigade who served in World War Two and died two years after his father.

There is one more story I'd like to tell you about the Norman family. It's an extraordinary story and quite unexpected. It's bizarre and macabre and it relates to Robert Norman's paternal grandparents. 
Robert's father Charles Norman was a teacher of music and the records suggest that he was a man of independent means. Originally of Newlands, but for many years of 'Normanville', 75 Moreland Road (corner of Barrow Street), he died in 1922 aged 69 and is buried at Coburg Cemetery with other members of the family.
Charles Norman's parents married in Victoria in 1854. He was born in 1856. In 1869, his father William Gore Norman, a Carlton grocer, died in Fiji under extraordinary circumstances - he was eaten by natives.
Many newspapers reported the events. This is just one:
'Our readers will remember that a boat which left Levuka for Nasavusavu about twelve months ago, with 17 New Hebrides labourers, their employer, Mr. Norman, late of Sandhurst (sic), Victoria, and the aforesaid Jimmie, never reached its destination. The boat was thought to have been wrecked and all on board lost. Jimmie Lasulasu informed Captain Field that when on their way to Nasavusavu the natives took possession of the boat, compelling them to steer first one way and then another, and threatened to kill them if they did not land them on their own island. On the seventeenth day they murdered Mr. Norman, splitting his head open with a tomahawk. They cooked and ate the body, thrusting portions of his cooked companion into the face of Jimmie.' (The Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser, Saturday 3 September 1870.)

Probate papers show that William Gore Norman had purchased a cotton [I think it should be coconut] plantation (Matani Kavika) at Wai Ruhu (Wai Ruka?). He had a Frenchman named Simonet Michel as his overseer. In a statement given for probate purposes, his neighbour, Thomas R. Shute, said that Norman had employed native labour and was doing well and doing business with his neighbours. Those men’s term was up so Norman delivered them home and at Levuka hired 17 Tanna men and paid for their passage. There was a disagreement about the cost of the passage so he decided to take them himself even though he was cautioned not to do it. There was another white man on board – a drunk – natives cooked and ate him. Shute didn’t know what happened to Norman. (PROV, VPRS 28/P0 Unit 88)
I wonder what seven year old Charles Norman was told about his father's demise?
His mother, Elizabeth (nee Webber), remarried in 1880 and had built up a considerable portfolio of property in her own name. She had sold the grocer's shop in Carlton after her first husband's death and began to accumulate property, but in 1889, as the era of 'Marvellous Melbourne' began to evaporate, she found herself in financial trouble and committed suicide in a quite gruesome manner. She was just 57 years old. Her son Charles was 33 and her grandson Robert and his twin brother Raymond, were yet to be born. 

It's not often that you come across stories like these, but I think you'll agree that they are quite extraordinary.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Fireman William Brown and his soldier sons

Recently I was going through some images at Coburg Historical Society and came across some interesting material relating to Coburg Fire Station and also to World War One.

This image was found in an envelope with several other photographs on unrelated subjects. It had been donated some time ago, possibly by George Williams, who was a fireman at Coburg Fire Station in the 1920s (and probably earlier). The photograph has written on the back ‘To George Williams, with best wishes, from W. Brown’ The donor has written on the back at the time of donation ‘Horse Stable at Coburg Fire Station with Capt W. Brown and son enlisted in 1914-18 war.’ 

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

It took me very little  time to realise that at the time the photograph was taken (probably 1915 when his sons enlisted), Brown had already left Coburg and was stationed at Mentone, so it is almost certain that this photo was taken at Mentone.

Mentone Fire Station with Fireman William Brown sitting in the fire engine, c1918. Courtesy Mordialloc and District Historical Society. From http://localhistory.kingston.vic.gov.au/htm/article/412.htm

First Class Fireman William Henry Brown had been in charge of the Coburg Fire Station (then located in Victoria Street) from about 1908 to 1913. He and his wife Winifred (nee Whelan) had five sons and a daughter, the two youngest born while they were living in Coburg. As Roman Catholics, their older children probably attended possibly at St Paul's School in Coburg.

Staff of Coburg Fire Station, circa 1920. Note the almost identical placement of the fire truck to the Mentone image above. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

The Coburg Fire Station staff prior to the motorised fire truck. Victoria Street Fire Station, date unknown. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Having settled to my satisfaction the location of the image of William Brown and his soldier son, I was now left trying to decide which of Brown's sons is pictured with him.  

The two older Brown boys, William Henry and Urban Henry Joseph both enlisted in 1915, WIlliam Henry in August when he claimed to be 18 years old and Urban in September when he, too, claimed to be 18. The Victorian birth indexes reveal that William was actually 17 and Urban was only 15.

William, who was working as a farm hand on King Island, Tasmania when he enlisted, survived the war, returned to Australia with gas poisoning in December 1918 and settled on the land at King Island for a few years before returning to Victoria where he worked as a fireman. He died in August 1974 aged 76.

Urban, a telegraph messenger at Mentone, was 15 years old (born 1900) and of diminutive build (5 foot 4 inches tall and weighing only 7 stone - 44.5 kilograms) when he enlisted. He set off with the 5th Battalion and arrived in France in April 1916. By the end of August he had returned to England with pleurisy and pneumonia and was sent back to Australia. The doctor's report on his journey home stated that 'Patient is a very young delicate looking boy', so perhaps they suspected that he wasn't as old as he claimed, although there is no notation to this effect on his service record.

Postcard written by Urban Brown to his parents from Egypt, March 1916. Image courtesy Discovery Anzacs website. (Original source unknown.)

By February 1917, Urban had recovered from his illnesses and decided to re-enlist. By now he was claiming to be 19 years 10 months, although we know that he was actually 17. He had grown four inches taller and was now 8 and a half stone (54 kilograms). He embarked with the 24th Battalion in May and was soon back in action in France. Slightly wounded in August 1918, he returned to the lines where he died of wounds received on 5 October 1918 and was buried at Templeux Le Guerard Cemetery, France.

Looking at the photograph at the top of this entry, my feeling is that the young man standing next to his father is Urban Brown. He is of slight build, very youthful and he's holding a crop in his hands, something Urban Brown did in several other photographs I've seen on the Discovering Anzacs website. I also think it's more likely that his father would send a photo of himself with the son who died back to his old fire station. I wonder whether you agree with my reasoning?

Finally, here's another photo that was with Urban Brown's entry on the Discovering Anzacs website. The contributor is unknown, but says that these are Brown family members. I think it must have been taken in November 1915 just before William junior embarked. (Urban left in December.) My guess is that the soldier on the left is Urban and that his brother William is holding their sister Winnie (then 5 years old). I can't decide whether the man seated in the front is their father William Henry Brown. I have found no evidence that he served in WW1, so perhaps it is another family member. Then again, this man has a splendid moustache and so does Fireman Brown in the first photograph! I think that the child holding the 'gun' at the front must be Eric Brown, born in 1908, so 7 years old at the time. 

These are all guesses, of course, and I would be delighted if anyone can fill in any gaps in the story I've put together!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Coburg Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) (later Returned Services’ League or RSL)

On 19 December 1918 a group of returned soldiers met at the Drill Hall in Reynard Street to establish a returned soldiers association in Coburg. The meeting was presided over by Herbert Rouvray, a returned serviceman who had served with the 6th Battalion. 

Taken c. 13 December 1915. Studio portrait of 4295 Private (Acting Corporal) Herbert Gray Rouvray, 6th Battalion, of Coburg, Vic. Image courtesy AWM. Image DA13067.

Rouvray was a well known personality around Coburg who began the Coburg Courier newspaper and worked as a government auditor. He was the first President of the local RSSILA branch, serving in 1918 and 1919. 
By 1920 Rouvray was the Secretary of the Malvern branch of the RSSILA and Alfred Bernard Scott, who had served with the 7th Battalion, took over the role of Coburg President. 

Coburg Town Hall after the 1920s remodelling. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

In 1924, when extensive renovations took place at the Town Hall, a special Soldiers' Room was created.
It was not until after the end of World War Two that the idea of having a separate memorial hall was proposed. Council had bought land already on the site where today's RSL stands. 
The building was to be in Sydney Road (opposite the Grand Theatre - today the Vizzini Social Club) and extend to Hunt Street).

Coburg Courier, 16 October 1946

In 1946 the Mayor of Coburg Cr A.R. Bateman launched a fund-raising 'Queen' Carnival  in the hope that they could raise £25,000 by the following Anzac Day.
The site remained the same but the RSL did not move into their new building until 1956, a decade later. And when they did, the building bore no resemblance to the artist's impression given above.
Today's RSL building is set well back off Sydney Road, without the two shop fronts that the architects had designed, as you can see here.

The Coburg RSL is Melbourne's oldest sub-branch and is celebrating its centenary this year. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Anzac Days past

54 years ago this Anzac Sunday ceremony took place at the front of Coburg Town Hall, April 1964. 

'Comrades remembered.' Courier, 21 April 1964. 

The Coburg War Memorial, in the form of a cairn and erected in 1924, is out of view, to the right of the photo.

The Coburg War Memorial on Bell Street. Coburg Courier, 17 November 1933.

Most memorials erected after WW1 were obelisks or diggers on pedestals. Coburg did something different. There are no names on the memorial, but inside City Hall is a large honour board listing all the Coburg servicemen. There is also an Avenue of Honour in Lake Reserve and a monument in Rogers Reserve, Pascoe Vale, among others. This memorial lists later conflicts, too.

And although it's not about Coburg, I found this article and its accompanying photograph very moving. It's from Anzac Day 1948, seventy years ago and was published in the Age on 26 April 1948. 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

William Dalton - King’s Own Scottish Borderers to Coburg Drill Hall then the Western Front

William Dalton. 25 February 1883 – 3 September 1917. (From the Tadcaster Memorial website. No source was given.)

William Dalton was born in September 1883 at Tockwith, Yorkshire, the son of a brewery labourer. 

Tockwith, Yorkshire. Photograph by DS Pugh, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4487601 

In 1900, aged 18, he joined the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment. At the time he was a labourer at the Tower Brewery in Tadcaster, Yorkshire. In 1901 he joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers with whom he served until October 1912 by which time he had been promoted to Sergeant. During his time with the Scottish Borderers he served in South Africa (during the latter stages of the Boer War), Burma, Aden and the East Indies.

(Image from the KOSB website)

In December 1909 William Dalton married Isabella Matheson, a nurse working in Edinburgh. Their only child Elsie was born in August 1912 at Dalchalm in Brora on the north-east coast of the Scottish Highlands, Isabella’s home town so perhaps it was the birth of their child that prompted him to give up his career in the military.

Harbour Road, Brora. By Stanley Howe, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13007811

He now had an army pension and a little capital behind him and the Daltons decided to emigrate. They chose Melbourne as their destination.

Taken from a promotional booklet for the new City of Coburg - 'Inception of a New City', 1922.

After their arrival in June 1913, the Daltons settled in Coburg, in Melbourne’s North. Their address in the 1914 electoral roll was 22 Reynards St., Coburg, on the corner of Sydney Road, next to Alfred Miller’s Wood and Coal Yard. Now a member of the Army’s Instructional Staff, Staff Sergeant Major Dalton would have had a short walk up the street to work. He was based at the newly opened Military Drill Hall, 120 Reynard Street, where he worked with the 59th Area cadets.
You can read more about the Coburg Drill Hall here. 

Preparing food at the Broadmeadows Army Camp, 1914. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Not long afterwards, in February 1914, he became Staff Sergeant-Major Instructor in Cookery to the AIF Camps in Australia, based at Broadmeadows. This School of Cookery was a new initiative of the Defence Department.
In January 1916 William Dalton applied for a commission in the AIF. He gave his military qualifications - Baker and slaughtering at Aldershot; Cooking – Aldershot; Musketry – Hythe; Machine Gun – Hythe; Mounted Infantry – 4 courses, Longmore, 1 Hyderabad, SSM Instructional Staff. In total he had been a soldier for 17 years and he must have been optimistic about his future prospects.

Part of William Dalton's unsuccessful application for a Commission in the AIF.

However, any hopes he had of gaining a commission were dashed in late August 1916 when he was court-martialled for having received a large quantity of stolen tea.  Not only that but two days after the theft he had left the Broadmeadows camp and turned up several days later in Albury, NSW where he was arrested by the civil police. He’d been there trying to enlist as a private under an assumed name. He  had passed the medical but was then arrested, given away by a presentation wristlet watch which bore his proper name. He denied the charges, saying there was a conspiracy against him.
He was found guilty of receiving stolen goods and for being absent without leave, reduced to the ranks and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for 90 days. He was, however, given the option of enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force rather than undergoing his sentence. He chose enlistment and his sentence was remitted from 5 September, the date he enlisted. 

Brunswick and Coburg Star, 17 Nov 1916.

5963 Private William Dalton left Melbourne with the 22nd Infantry Battalion, 16th Reinforcements on 2 October 1916 on board HMAT Nestor. Also on board were Joe Grattidge of 24th Battalion, 16th Reinforcements, an old boy of Coburg State School), Patrick Joseph Lynch of May Street, Coburg, who died of wounds on 6 May 1917 and Thomas Reid, a tram driver of Rennie Street, Coburg, 24th Battalion.
Dalton arrived in France on 9 February 1917. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 25 March 1917. He received a gun shot wound to his right arm, face (slight), chest and left thigh on 15 April 1917 and was evacuated to the Norwich 
War Hospital on 20 April. He returned to France on 15 June and was promoted to Sergeant 4 September.

On 3 October 1917 William Dalton was killed in action at Ypres. He was 34 years old. An eye witness, Captain W.H. Bunning of the 22nd Battalion, said that Dalton had just returned from burying the dead and was sitting down in a trench smoking when hit by a shell. He was one of eight men killed. 

From the Red Crossing Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau file.

His widow was sent his personal effects – a pipe, notebook, letter, shaving gear.

Alone in a new country with a small daughter to raise, Isabella Dalton lived at 17 Victoria Street, Coburg for a short time then in Little O’Grady Street, Albert Park before returning to the UK. She and Elsie (now 6) arrived in Liverpool on 28 November 1918, a little over 5 years after their journey to Australia. They returned to Isabella’s home town of Dalchalm in Brora, Scotland.

5963 Sergeant William Dalton is remembered in a number of places:
Memorial cross, Perth China Wall, Military Cemetery, Zillebeke, 1 ¼ miles ESE of Ypres.
Panel 23, Menin Gate North, Ypres. (6396 Pte Tasman Montefiore, A Coy, 22 Btn, KIA at Broodseinde Ridge 5 Oct 1917 is also listed on Panel 23. He’s another Coburg man.)
Australian National War Memorial, Canberra, Panel 96.
Clyne United Free Church War Memorial, in Brora, Scotland.
Memorial Avenue of Trees, Coburg Lake, tree #34.
Town of Coburg Honour Board, WW1, 1914-1918. Located at Coburg Town Hall.
Tadcaster WW1 Memorial in Yorkshire.

 William Dalton's name on the Town of Coburg Honour Board.

UK National Archives, NA WO96/284/196.
UK National Archives, NA WO97/4636/50.
King’s Own Scottish Borderers https://www.kosb.co.uk/  
National Archives of Australia, World War One attestation papers
Clyne Heritage Society (Brora) Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/clyneheritage/posts/1659813487376461
Victorian electoral rolls.
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 13 Feb 1914.
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 25 August 1916.
Brunswick and Coburg Star, 17 November 1916.
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 8 Feb 1918.
‘Menin Gate North: In Memory and in Mourning’, Paul Chapman.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

George Hepworth - an 'Old Contemptible'

I recently came across a newspaper article in the Coburg Courier dated 16 March 1976 entitled 'Final tribute to an 'old Contemptible'.

The 'Old Contemptible' was George Hepworth of Landells Road, Pascoe Vale and he had just died aged 80. The article mentioned that another 'six of Victoria's most famous "Diggers"' were at his funeral, then aged between 80 and 90. One of them, Fred Long, held the 'Old Contemptibles' flag while the Last Post played. The article also mentioned that with his death, only 10 'Old Contemptibles' were left in Victoria.

Age, 25 August 1947. It's possible that George Hepworth is in this photo.

These World War One veterans took their name from the Kaiser's derisive term for them - 'Sir John French's contemptible little army'. Any British Empire Force soldier who served in France or Flanders between 5 August and 22 November 1914 could call themselves an 'Old Contemptible'. 

Sydney Mail, 24 April 1935

The Courier article gives more details:
Sixty thousand of their fellow British soldiers died in the retreat from Mons during the French campaign of World War 1.
 Eight British divisions, pitted against 45 German divisions, managed to inflict heavy German losses.
The Kaiser's order to his officers was to 'wipe the contemptible little British army into the sea.'
After the battle the 20,000 survivors all over the world formed the 'Old Contemptibles Association.

In June 1925 an Old Contemptibles Association was founded and soon it had 178 branches in the UK and 14 branches overseas. Perhaps the most active Australian branch was here in Melbourne.

Age, 23 August 1954.

Herbert George Hepworth (known as George) was a 30 year old hotel porter when he arrived in Melbourne in February 1926. He spent some time in Albury, NSW but after his marriage to Clara (known as Corrie) Newton in 1938, he settled in Melbourne and spent some years in Box Hill before moving to Pascoe Vale. He died in 1976, his wife in 1991. They are buried together at Fawkner Memorial Park.


If you are interested, there is an Old Contemptibles Facebook page. Well worth visiting!

Coburg Courier, 16 March 1976
Victorian Birth, Death, Marriage indexes
UK Outward Shipping Records (accessed via Ancestry)
UK WW1 Military records (accessed via Ancestry)
Fawkner Cemetery records
NSW and Victorian electoral rolls (accessed via Ancestry)
Sydney Mail, 14 November 1934
Sydney Mail, 24 April 1935
Age, 25 August 1947
Age, 26 April 1948
Argus, 25 April 1953
Horsham Times, 23 December 1953
Age, 23 August 1954

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Sister Bannan and her Strathnaver Private Hospital, Merlynston

After the death of Donald Stuart Bain in January 1937, Ellen Sharp Bannan and her husband William set up home at 21 Orvieto Street, Merlynston.

The couple had arrived in Australia in late 1913 from Scotland where William Bannan had worked as a coal miner. They and their 5 year old son James settled in  Korumburra. In February 1914, just four months after their arrival, James died in devastating circumstances: he was bitten by a snake and not realising the seriousness of the situation, they did not seek medical attention until it was too late.

Great Southern Advocate, 26 Feb 1914

Argus, 27 Feb 1914   

In September 1915 William Bannan enlisted at Wonthaggi. 482 Pte William Bannan, 2nd Tunnelling Company embarked on 20 February 1916, two years after the death of his son, his only child. He was wounded in France on 29 September 1918 and invalided to the UK. He returned to Australia on 12 December 1918 with a shell wound to the back.

In late October 1916, some months after William’s departure for the war, Ellen Bannan (known as 502 Nellie Sharp Bannan in the nursing registers) returned to her occupation as a registered nurse. From this point until her death in 1972 she is referred to as a nurse in the electoral rolls. At first she worked as a midwife in the Foster area of Gippsland. In mid-1917 she was nursing at the Base Hospital in St Kilda Road (No. 5 AGH) until its closure in September 1918.

Argus, 18 September 1918

On his return, William Bannan applied successfully for a Soldier’s Settlement block at Numurkah. There Nellie continued her work as a midwife while William farmed their block ‘Penman’ at Mundoona.

Views of Numurkah, c1907. Image H90.140/848. Courtesy State Library of Victoria. 

Like so many other soldier settlers, the Bannans did not remain on the land. By the end of 1926 they were back in Melbourne where they settled in Whitelaw Street, Reservoir and Nellie Bannan resumed work as a registered nurse.

High Street, Reservoir, c1920-1954. Image H32492/1757. Courtesy State Library of Victoria.

In the 1930s the Bannans moved to 30 Mary Street, Preston where Nellie, now Sister Bannan, conducted her Willhellar Private Hospital. As well as midwifery, she looked after dying patients, at least one of whom was the widow of returned Anzac hero 46 Sergeant James S. Hopkins DCM MM, a Preston resident.

In 1937, not long after the death of Donald Stuart Bain, Nellie and William Bannan moved into 21 Orvieto Street, Merlynston and it was from there that Sister Bannan ran her small private hospital ‘Strathaven’, named after William Bannan’s birthplace in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

William Bannan died on 14 October 1942 aged 55 years. In July the following year Nellie sold the business and returned to the Preston/Reservoir area where she continued to nurse. Between 1954 and her death in 1972, she lived in Plenty Road, Reservoir. She died aged 84 and in electoral rolls and on her death certificate her occupation is given as nursing sister, so presumably she never gave up working.

The Bannans are buried together in the Baptist section of Fawkner Memorial Park. Their only child James is buried in Korumburra. Until the very end of my research I assumed they had no other family in Australia. However, in William Bannan’s death notice there is a son Jack listed and when Ellen Bannan died in 1972 her foster son John Ball, of Munro Street, Brunswick was the informant. 

Nothing else is known of John Ball or how he came to be part of the Bannan household. One can only hope that theirs was a happy home.

Scottish Census records (accessed via Ancestry)
Victorian electoral rolls (accessed via Ancestry)
Sands and MacDougall Street Directories
Victorian Birth, Death, Marriage Indexes
Victorian Death Certificates for James and William Bannan
Victorian Shipping Records (accessed via PROV website)
WW1 records of William Bannan and James Stanley Hopkins (accessed via the NAA website)
State Library of Victoria Picture Collection
Great Southern Advocate, 26 February 1914
Argus, 27 February 1914
South Gippsland Shire Echo, 1, 8, 15, 22 December 1916
Argus, 18 September 1918
Argus, 25 November 1918
Victorian Government Gazette, December 1920, December 1926, December 1929, March 1938
Age, 18 May 1927
Age, 2 May 1930
Age, 25 April 1936
Age, 25 January 1937
Age, 5 March 1938
Coburg Courier, 6 July 1938
Shepparton Advertiser, 5 May 1941
Argus, 15 October 1942
Argus, 17 July 1943
Numurkah Leader, 16 May 1944
Age, 14 July 1945
Age, 13 June, 1946