Friday, 9 February 2018

Peg Maltby’s connection to Coburg (and the First World War)

Agnes Newberry (Peg) Orchard married George Bradley Maltby in Nottingham, England in 1917. She was the daughter of a doctor. His father owned a lace warehouse.

Maltby served with the Nottingham and Derby (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment from October 1912 until he took up a commission with the 152nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in March 1915.

Part of George Maltby’s Attestation Papers for the Sherwood Foresters, accessed on Findmypast.

Lieutenant Maltby served in France for a year, then shortly after his marriage was sent to India where he remained until 1919. In early 1924 George emigrated to Western Australia where he took up 2,000 acres of land in Western Australia. Peg and their three year old daughter Dorothy followed in October 1924, but went on to Melbourne, following an onboard romance that did not last. In early 1926 George arrived in Melbourne and attempted to take custody of his daughter.

After this shaky start to their marriage the couple reconciled and from 1928 until 1937 (and maybe later) they lived in Coburg where George worked as a hosiery worker/foreman (at Lincoln Mills, perhaps?). For most of that time they lived at 3 Merribell Avenue, very close to the Merri Creek and the Harding Street Bridge.

Harding Street Bridge, c1924, only a few years before the Maltby family arrived in Coburg. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

During the 1930s, while she was living in Coburg, Peg, a member of the Victorian Artists' Society, exhibited her work and helped support her family of four children by painting chocolate box lids, birthday cards and the like. 

Peg Maltby in 1937, during the period she was living in Coburg. Women’s Weekly, 15 May 1937.

George Maltby served in the Australian Army during World War Two and it was around this time, in the early 1940s, that they moved away from Coburg – to Mentone. In 1947 the Maltbys moved to Olinda in the Dandeong Ranges. From this point, Peg described herself as an artist in the electoral rolls and her husband as an author or art dealer. They had built a studio and gallery in Olinda and made a good living from her artwork, until the federal government opened the floodgates to book imports, according to their daughter Cheryl.

Over the years Peg Maltby painted many, many pixies and fairies and romanticised portraits of aboriginal people, most of which made their way into children’s books. She also painted Australian wildflowers and native birds. A good representation of her work can be seen on the Dandenong Ranges Scrapbook website.

Examples of Peg Maltby’s work, courtesy Dandenong Ranges Scrapbook website:

Publicity for Peg Maltby’s Fairyland, the ‘Highlight of the Dandenongs’.

Christmas Bells, Geraldton Wax Flower, Hare Bells.

In a 2010 newspaper article, George and Peg’s daughter Cheryl (known as Roo) wrote of her childhood: ‘I had a wonderful early childhood with both my parents filling my head with their incredible stories about the fantasy world they created for children in their books.’ She went on to say that ‘my mother, who eventually became a Hyacinth Bucket sort of person, was absolutely adored by my protective military father, George.’

George Maltby died in 1972, Peg in 1984. Towards the end of her life her work enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Her Peg’s Fairy Book was reissued with new drawings (by her) and Myer Melbourne chose her characters for their famous window display.

An example of Peg’s 1970s illustrations reproduced in the Women’s Weekly, 27 October 1976.

Peg Maltby in 1976, Women’s Weekly, 27 October 1976.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to discover any photographs of George Maltby.

It’s pure coincidence, but in May last year I wrote about another Sherwood Forester, James Atkin of Willow Grove, Coburg. You can read about him here and here. It is highly unlikely that the two men ever met in the UK as George Maltby joined a few months after James Atkin and his wife Gertrude left for Australia. However, from 1927 until 1932 when James Atkin died, the two men lived in the same Melbourne suburb, not all that far away from each other. Did they ever meet, I wonder?


National Archives of Australia (World War Two details)

UK military records for Nottingham and Derby (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment, accessed via Findmypast

UK Outward Shipping records, accessed via Ancestry

Fremantle, WA Passengers, Inward, accessed via Ancestry

Victorian electoral rolls, accessed via Ancestry

1911 English census records, accessed via Ancestry

Geelong Advertiser, 31 March 1926

Age, 8 May 1926

Women’s Weekly, 15 May 1937

Women’s Weekly, 27 October 1976

‘Roo’s back with the fairies’, Fraser Coast Chronicle, 4 September 2010

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