Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Shawe brothers of The Grove: Coburg’s connection to the British Raj

When the Shawe family took up residence at 50 The Grove, Coburg in the early 1900s, they had been in Australia for only 10 years. Before that the family had been residents of Madras (now Chennai), the base of the British India Office for almost a hundred years.

For three generations, members of the family had been baptised, married and buried at St Andrew’s Church, Madras, pictured here in the 1840s and again in more modern times. 

Coloured aquatint with etching by J.V. Gantz of St. Andrew's Church at Madras, dated 1841, courtesy British Library online gallery

John, Patrick and William Shawe were all born in the Madras area in the 1880s and baptised at St. Andrew's. Their father, Charles Barron Shawe, an Inspector in the Salt Revenue Department of the India Office, had been baptised there and married the boys’ mother Annie Eleanor Walker there. His parents had been married there in 1833 and his father's siblings were also baptised there. It was their parish church.

Merchants’ Buildings 1829. Courtesy British Library online gallery

What motivated the family to come to Australia is not known. It seems an unusual choice. The 1851 census shows that their father and his sisters had been sent back to England to be educated. Charles Shawe’s sisters had settled in Notting Hill in London and his father had retired there and died there in 1891, not long before Charles brought his family to Victoria.  

For whatever reason, Charles Shawe chose Melbourne as his retirement destination. He lived comfortably on his British Office pension, buying a home in one of Coburg's most exclusive locations. His sons attended nearby Carlton College where they excelled academically. Three of the sons, John, his twin brother George and Patrick, took up banking careers. The fourth brother, William, chose a different path, moved to Pyramid Hill and became a farmer. 

1190 Pte John Fawcett Shawe, 7th Infantry Battalion

The first son to enlist was Jack, the second son of the family. His twin brother George did not enlist. He was the older of the two, so perhaps he chose not to enlist because he was the eldest son, even if only by minutes.  Jack enlisted in September 1914. Just a few months later, at the end of December, the boys’ mother Annie died aged 62. Their sister Hester was on hand to look after her father and brothers, but it must have been a sad household that new year.

Jack’s was not a long war. He was wounded three times on the Gallipoli Peninsula - on 25 April 1915 (gun shot wound to right leg), July 1915 (gunshot wound to chest) and August 1915 (gunshot wound to sides and thigh). By March 1916 he was on his way home.

It seems that Jack Shawe did not marry. He left Victoria in the 1930s and by the 1940s he was working as a clerk in Wynnum in Queensland. His last entry in the electoral rolls was in 1968, so it is likely that he died around this time.

6901 Private Patrick Henry Villiers Washington Shawe, 24th Infantry Battalion

The next brother to enlist was the youngest, Patrick, on 31 August 1915. He served without injury until September 1918 when he was wounded and invalided to England with a severe gunshot wound to his head and neck. His war was over and he chose to return to Australia via America in April 1919 at his own expense.

Patrick married Mary Hatton at Christ Church, South Yarra in 1920 and they moved to Lismore, NSW. He did not return to the Coburg area, but by the mid-1930s he was back in Melbourne, living in the south-eastern suburbs. He died in 1945 aged 56. His wife died in 1974.

 3249 Pte William Charles Shawe, 21st Infantry Battalion

Middle brother William, the farmer from Pyramid Hill, enlisted on 31 August 1916. By 19 July 1917 he was dead, a casualty of the Battle of Fromelles. An eye witness said that he was ‘one of the first to be knocked out during the stunt.’ William Shawe must have died not long after the following photograph was taken.

AWM. Image A02555. Taken on 19 July 1916. Looking from a sandbag trench to the bombardment of the German lines, ten minutes prior to the attack on Fleurbaix which was fought on the 19 July 1916 and 20 July 1916.

In just a few years, Charles Barron Shawe, now an elderly man, suffered the loss of his wife, welcomed home his injured sons and experienced the loss of another. Looked after by his unmarried daughter Hester, he remained at The Grove where he died on 11 August 1919 aged 75. He and his wife are buried in the Church of England section of Coburg Cemetery, a long way from their homeland, British India.

The sons who did return from the war did not remain in the Coburg area. Although their sister Hester was buried at Coburg Cemetery when she died in 1935, she was then living in East St. Kilda. So it seems that with the death of Charles Barron Shawe in 1919, Coburg’s short connection to the British Raj came to an end.


  1. The Shawe brothers' names appear as College Collegians on the Roll of Honour of St Thomas' Grammar School, Essendon. This board is now located at the junior campus of the Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School in Essendon.

  2. Love how the family crammed all the names they could on to the last born son Patrick Henry Villiers Washington Shawe. Wonder what they were trying to tell us? ;)

  3. Thanks for this information, Lenore. The Grove was so different from almost any other street in Coburg. I wonder how many private school students I would find, if I did a complete study? The street provides an unusual concentration of well off, academically ambitious families with solid middle class credentials. Unusual for Coburg, that is!

  4. I was interested in their names, too. It would be great if there were a family member out there who could tell us how the children's names came about. It always helps to have the family story. My grandfather's sister was called Ruby Victoria because she was born in Queen Victoria's Ruby Jubilee year. Mum went to school with a girl called Queenie Victoria. Hm. Would have been born about the same time as mum, so 1916ish. Not sure why she got that name, then. Then there was Maffy - full name Mafeking. and then there were the sons of one of my grandfather's unmarried sisters who all had three or four given names, as though she wasn't sure who they should be named after! I think I like my dad's parents system best. Each of their children had one given name only and none were family names and reasonably unusual for our family that was full of Thomases, Johns, Sarahs and Marys (they were Eric, Marjorie,Winifred, Mona, Alice and Bruce), so each child felt like an individual in his or her own right.Oh yes, and I once taught a girl called Ypres, so named because her grandfather had fought at Ypres. She said she liked it, but I wonder ...