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, 

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,

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  
National Archives of Australia, World War One attestation papers
Clyne Heritage Society (Brora) Facebook page
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

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Donald Stuart Bain, founder of Merlynston

Donald Stuart Bain, c1935. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Donald Stuart Bain was born at Berwick in 1880 and his early military training was undertaken as a member of the Berwick Cadet Corps. As a 20 year old he enlisted in the Boer War and served as a Trooper in the Kaffrarian Rifles then as a Lieutenant in Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts (2nd Battalion).

Members of the 2nd Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, from the Anglo Boer War website but taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News, 13 February 1902, p2.

In 1910 Bain married Lillian Nathan, daughter of Simeon Nathan, furniture merchant and local government councillor. The Nathans were a well connected family. Lillian’s brother Harold was the managing director of Patersons Pty Ltd. (and his son Sir Maurice Nathan served as Lord Mayor of Melbourne from 1961 to 1963.) So his marriage into the Nathan family brought with it links to the business world, to local government and to a world of privilege.

In 1911, the Bain’s only child Merlyn was born at Malvern. Three years later, 34 year old Donald Bain, veteran of the Boer War then working as a stock and station agent based in Collins Street, enlisted in the 5th Battalian AIF. He embarked as part of the first convoy on 21 October 1914 on board its flagship, HMAT A3 Orvieto.

Orvieto at Alexandria, courtesy Australian War Memorial. Image PS0368.

You can read about some of the others who were on board the Orvieto here. 

Bain served briefly on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but by October 1915 he was in hospital in Egypt suffering from nervous debility. He was there for two months, by which time the Anzacs had withdrawn from the Peninsula. He made his way to France with the Australian troops in March 1916 but by June he was in hospital in Belgium with shell shock and neurasthenia after being blown up by a shell. A month later he was moved to London and then sent home to Australia where he was admitted to the 11th Australian General Hospital (Caulfield Military Hospital) for further treatment. Later still he was a resident of what the newspapers of 1923 referred to as a ‘mental home’ in Burwood. It is likely that this was ‘Hethersett’ Convalescent Hospital, run by Dr Ramsay Mailer, another man with connections to Coburg. You can read more about ‘Hethersett’ here.

You might also be interested to read Marina Larsson’s excellent book, Shattered Anzacs and Janet Lynch’s interesting article ‘The families of World War I veterans, mental illness and the campaigns for admission to Mont Park Military Hospital’ in Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 14, 2015. You can read it online here.

By October 1917, Bain had recovered sufficiently to begin work at the Domain Camp in St Kilda Road, where we are told he was appointed to the command of the Guard.

By July 1919 it was clear that his marriage was in trouble. His wife left him, taking their 8 year old daughter with her. In the same year he bought the 80 acre Station Heights Estate in what was then called North Coburg. He subdivided it into 200  blocks and began to sell land and build ‘spec’ houses, firstly from his home in Boundary Road and then from his newly built residence in Orvieto Street. 

Age, 8 May 1920

Herald, 8 October 1920

Herald, 13 October 1920

Argus, 23 November 1920

He called the area Merlynston after his daughter.

Argus, 29 November 1920

Merlyn Stuart Bain, aged 12, in her aunt’s wedding party. Table Talk, 31 May 1923. 

Merlyn Stuart Bain, aged 18 years, about to go on an extended trip abroad with her mother. During this trip to England, she was presented at Court. Table Talk, 28 March 1929.

Merlynston Estate looking south, c1925. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

From 1921 to 1924 Bain served as a Coburg Councillor. Protracted divorce proceedings began in June 1923 and the Bain’s private lives hit the news stands. Both parties aired their grievances. He wrote to his father-in-law: ‘Give her plenty of money, take her to the races, allow her to gamble until the early hours of the morning, give her no housework to do, let her have breakfast in bed, and let her rise at 10 or 11 o’clock, then she may be a fairly contended woman.’ His wife accused him of drunkenness and ‘brutal conduct towards her’. Both claimed they had been deserted. He wanted to reconcile. She wouldn’t take the risk. Their petition was denied and they went to the High Court where their petition was denied again. They remained married but lived separately.

Bain moved to 21 Orvieto Street, Merlynston in the mid-1920s. He had named the street after the ship he sailed in in 1914. Despite his unhappy war experience, he called the house ‘The Dug Out’ and some of the streets in the area bear the names of ships or places that featured in his WW1 experience, for example, Marama Street, after the hospital ship in which he returned to Australia.

On the last day of the year in 1924, Bain returned home to find his housekeeper had set herself alight, presumably accidentally with a cigarette. The housekeeper, 62 year old widow Mary Wight, died in the Melbourne Hospital. No more is known of Mrs Wight or how long she had worked for Bain, just what is told in the newspapers.

Age, 15 January 1925

Now a major investor in the area, a valuer of war service homes and a Justice of the Peace, Bain served again on the Coburg Council in 1932-33. Around this time, his daughter Merlyn married John Osboldstone at St John’s, Toorak but it appears that neither her father, who had named an entire suburb in her name, nor members of his family, attended.

His estranged wife Lillian died in March 1935 and was buried at Brighton Cemetery.

Lillian Bain, from Who’s Who in the World of Women, Vol 2., 1934, reproduced on the People Australia website.

Bain died in January 1937 aged 57 and his cremation took place at Fawkner Memorial Park on 25 January. Members of the 5th Battalion Association attended and Coburg Councillor Stnaley Cole read ‘The Soldiers’ Ritual’. The chief mourner was his son-in-law John Osboldstone, so perhaps he and his daughter were in contact after all.

Eighteen months later, Bain’s ‘Dug Out’ in Orvieto Street had transformed into the ‘Strathaven’ Private Hospital. But more of this in a later blog entry.

Victorian electoral rolls (accessed via Ancestry)
Victorian Birth, Death, Marriage indexes
National Archives of Australia (WW1 attestation papers)
Australian War Memorial
Richard Broome, Coburg between two creeks
Argus, 5 Nov 1901
South Bourke and Mornington Journal, 22 Jan 1902
Punch, 24 Feb 1910
Table Talk, 31 May 1923
West Australian, 29 June 1923
Age, 29 June 1923
Age, 3 July 1923
Argus, 1 August 1923
Argus, 10 Nov 1923
Age, 30 Nov 1928
Table Talk, 28 March 1929
Argus, 18 March 1935
Argus, 16 March 1936
Argus, 17 Aug 1936
Argus, 25 Jan 1937
Age, 25 Jan 1937
Argus, 26 Jan 1937
Coburg Courier, 6 July 1938
Argus, 17 July 1943
Anglo Boer War website