Tuesday, February 22, 2011

ANCESTORS 14 - THE PAST CATCHES UP

UNCOVERING THE TRUTH ABOUT GRANDFATHER

THE PAST CATCHES UP

1924 – Since the Mildura 'tar and feather' incident the Brown Parkers have been constantly on the move.  It almost seems Grandfather is trying to keep one step ahead of something...or someone.  

oOo

Brisbane once again: For a while Maggie quietly hopes they might finally settle down, enjoy a normal family life.  The boys become involved in local sport, Bill is stepping out with a red haired beauty May Irwin, Viti attends a local school while the youngest, Rewa, though inclined to be sickly is thriving in the warmer climate.

Then suddenly, almost on a whim my Grandfather with the dual identity Charles Nelson Brown-Parker uproots the family yet again and sets sail on a coastal steamer for Queensland’s far north, Townsville.

Townsville taken from Castle Hill – 1980’s

Townsville taking in Castle Hill, 1920’s
 Photographs from Picture Queensland

For some women this would be a step back, but Grandmother, brought up in the small Fiji town of Levuka has always enjoyed the sea and the tropics and maybe she hoped this move, this town would be their final destination.

Up to now life has been one long trail of upheaval; I wonder how many times she thought back to her wedding day, to the disapproval of her brothers.  It would take a remarkable woman not to wallow in self pity.  But despite Grandfather’s track record life wasn’t all doom and gloom. 

I don’t for a moment believe she condoned the uglier sides of her husband’s character but I do think she accepted and loved Chas for his better qualities.  

I doubt Grandfather was a mean man, when times were good he treated his Marama as he liked to call her, like a queen.  Viti remembered times they would spend together, playing duets on a piano in a rented house, going to dances, bringing home an exquisite pair of jewelled earrings, admittedly won by Chas in a late night gambling session.

The love affair that began in a small Fijian town never really faltered.

For me this journey through the past has helped to understand why Maggie had never spoken of her life with Grandfather, why in the few photographs of her from those early days, there is not one smile to be seen.

The years when Maggie had little to smile about- constant upheaval, children and grandchildren
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WHY THE SUDDEN MOVE

I guessed Chas was chasing the promise of a business deal when he headed north, nothing as mundane as a printing job because once on Townsville electoral rolls he describes himself rather grandly as a promoter.

Look again at the photo of Chas with his sons taken in Townsville in 1925.  Bob, far right is 20, Bill the eldest is 24, and the tallest one in the middle is Bert, just 18 years old. Grandfather has carefully groomed his sons for a life in the boxing ring. 


 
Just before that picture was taken twenty three year old Bill was living in Brisbane with his sweetheart May, when his father sent a telegram from Townsville telling him to drop whatever he was doing and hop on the next train north. It must have been a hasty move because Uncle Bill is registered twice on Queensland’s 1925 Electoral Rolls; in Grays Rd, Gaythorne in Brisbane, and in the district of Herbert in Townsville. 

My Aunt Viti told the story that Bill and May weren’t married  at this stage and Grandfather told Bill to ‘get on with it and marry the girl’;  which he did.

oOo
 
Chas now wearing his promoter cap, engineers big fights in the northern city featuring his more than able sons in resulting bouts.  Both Bill and Bob show promise in their featherweight division.


 
By late 1924 Grandfather has acquired the showman’s tents and paraphernalia needed for touring.  He organises fund raising carnivals for local Ambulance Brigades and Returned Servicemen’s organisations, fanning out into nearby towns, Ayr, Innisfail and the Atherton.

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Landing a croc in Geraldton before it became Innisfail - Picture Queensland

 
TENT SHOWS AND TROUBLE

I had no idea the extent of Grandfather’s business activities in the north until in a trawl through Trove’s Australian Archive of Newspapers I found this item about a court case in Innisfail in 1925.


 'I  will run my car through the lot of these tents.'

The defendant in the court case, a man named Frank Hamilton, according to evidence, has been sabotaging a Carnival Chas has organised, at the same time harassing the Brown Parker family. A violent attack by the accused  where he drove his car into and damaged show tents owned by Chas is the focus of the current charges.

Evidence is given that Chas has also accused the defendant of causing him to lose a great deal of money in the current Queen contests being run in conjunction with the Carnival.

Evidence is then given that Grandfather also blamed the defendant, Frank Hamilton of bad mouthing him to the local Australian Labour Party association in Innisfail resulting in loss of a business contract.

The case is settled out of court, but the whole affair leaves a question mark, that only gets more puzzling as time passes.

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PUBLICITY GOOD AND BAD

Grandfather did indeed lose a great deal of money at that time. 
The above court case was heard on August 1st of 1925. Early in July advertisements began appearing in local and Cairns newspapers for a Carnival and Monster Queen Contest to be held in Innisfail in July. The assault Hamilton is charged with, occurred towards the end of July..

But coincidentally another curious event hit the newspapers on that same day, August 1st.  A satirical report in the Cairns Post allegedly written by ‘one of the boys’ about a ‘BALL THAT WASN’T’.

The event, the local Australian Labour Party’s first annual Ball to be held in the Innisfail Shire Hall, was the sprat that Grandfather had hoped would win him a lucrative contract to fund raise for the political party.

Apparently this was to be a stylish affair, a professional band had been hired, caterers provided, only the best beer and wines to be offered and tickets to the event on sale at ten shillings each.

But no one entered the hall, no one turned up, apart from a group of lolling youths who had bought their tickets earlier and now prevented anyone who might wish to, to enter the hall.  The night was a complete and costly flop.

But had Mr Hamilton’s victimisation of Grandfather extended to the ALP Ball or was there another more devious, vindictive and experienced force at work?

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ENTER NOW THE TAR AND FEATHER VICTIM


 
Hervey aka Cochrane

 
Grant Madison Hervey was born in Victoria in 1880 as George Henry Cochrane.  A complex and puzzling man Hervey was a one time journalist who wrote poetry and novels on the side.  

At various times Hervey had been convicted of blackmail, forgery and uttering,  jailed accused of attempted murder and suspected of bigamy.  In 1921, he had also been tarred and feathered in Mildura by Charles Nelson Brown Parker and several other supporters of local hero Clement J. De Garis.

Described by the police prosecutor  at one Sydney court hearing as a ‘Domain or soapbox orator’ Hervey made a practice of taking on public notables, attacking without cause their politics, religion or business dealings.  In fact, in much the same way he hounded De Garis in Mildura,  Hervey at various times took on the Catholic Archbishop of Queensland, Archbishop Duhig, and the Queensland Premier in 1923, ‘Red Ted’ Theodore.

At the time Grandfather was in Townsville, the northern part of the State was crippled with a railway strike. The Queensland Government was in a shaky position and newspapers of the day featured ‘for and against’ opinions.


Townsville Strikers 1925- Picture Queensland

 
Hervey by now, with breath taking self confidence, has nominated himself to run in parliament against Theodore, and in that same time period, 1924-1926, was publicised in the press in the towns of Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Bundaberg. Sometimes in direct interviews, other times in letters to the Editor.

In February of 1924 the Cairns Post even ran a special article about the Mildura incident slanting the story in Hervey's favour. No reward for guessing who put them up to that. Grandfather’s nemesis, in the form of Grant Madison Hervey was indeed catching up.

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ANOTHER MOVE ANOTHER COUNTRY TOWN

1926-1927.  Out of work and out of money Grandfather makes another sudden move, this time south to the Burnett River port town of Bundaberg taking up a print setting position with the Daily Times.

The family has down sized: only fourteen year old Viti and eight year old Rewa are still with their parents. Viti joins the local Bundaberg Swimming Club performing well in swim meets.

 Now Chas is in charge of printing and publishing but, and this I’m guessing, he really wants to be running the show.  According to the eventual letter of recommendation and severance dated March 1927 that he would in due course receive from the newspaper’s Managing Editor, Mr. J. Grainger, he has ‘improved the mechanical side of the paper in a wonderful manner’.

But Grandfather, not surprisingly has also managed to ruffle a few feathers.


We have this one snap from their Bundaberg days. The camera took unusual frames and Chas unfortunately is largely obscured by the overlap. This shot was taken at Bargara on the mid Queensland coast, a few miles outside the river port town of Bundaberg. Note my long suffering Grandmother is still not smiling.

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WHITE POINTED HOODS & A LITTLE GIRLS MEMORY

It’s time now to tell you about the hazy memories of a little girl, my mother Rewa, just eight years old in 1926. The memory was prodded when I asked both my aged Aunt Viti and my not quite as old mother before both died what were their earliest memories of Bundaberg.

Viti recalled them having to move because of a tarring and feathering that I later assumed she was confusing with Mildura; but no,  what she actually remembered was the ongoing fuss that in turn occurred  four years later in Bundaberg. But baby of the family Rewa remembered a separate incident that both puzzled and played on her mind for many years.  

Her father driving at the time a small car,  took his youngest daughter with him on a business call to a farm house a short distance out of town.

Mother remembered it was approaching dusk, and her father told her to wait in the car, he wouldn’t be long.  But as she watched him walk to the farm house she saw several people approaching dressed in long white coats and wearing pointed cone shaped hoods on their heads.  The small child was terrified.

It would be many years before she saw a photo in a newspaper referring to the Ku Klux Klan in America and remembered what she had seen in Bundaberg.

Could this have been an innocent moment, something like a similar theatrical gimmick Chas used in a fund raising gymkhana in Brisbane a few years earlier?

oOo

Rewa aged seven or eight years.

Viti, aged 14 third from left with school friends & Rewa in front, 1924

 
OPPOSING NEWSPAPERS

I’ll give Grandfather the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the white garb and hoods was actually part of yet another publicity stunt, something similar to the KKK horsemen he featured in the Brisbane Gymkhana of 1924.  But now as he soon realised, his Mildura past was being raked up once again, this time by Bundaberg’s News and Mail.

In 1926 Bundaberg had two prominent newspapers, one was the ‘Daily Times’ where Chas was employed, the other, the opposition, was the ‘News and Mail’. A similar situation to his time in Mildura a few years earlier when Chas worked for De Garis and Grant Madison Hervey was a journalist and editor on the opposition rag.

 As Bundaberg events unfolded it became obvious that journalists on the ‘News and Mail’ had been checking up on Grandfather’s background and unearthed newspaper reports about the Mildura tar and feather incident.

But why the need to look into his past; there had to have been some reason for the paper to suspect he was anything other than what he appeared to be. Could he, for instance, have been associating with questionable people?

When I pieced together various parts of three letters to the Editor of the Daily Times an overall story began to emerge.  The clippings were found in Grandfather’s effects by Bert’s daughter Barbara long after his death.  We have no dateline for them other than March 1927.

The first indication that everything is not rosy or above board is headed ‘Truth about the Fight’ and has been written by Chas in reply to an unfavourable article in the opposition paper. We have only Grandfather’s comments about the article’s content, not the actual opposition article itself.

 In their story the ‘News and Mail’ has referred to him as being ‘portly’, which I guess in itself  had a stinging affect, but then they go on to mention the Mildura tar and feather incident together with the gentleman in question’s (Chas) two previous assault charges. 

Obviously the journalists had been doing their homework, or perhaps even being fed their copy by a third party.

Grandfather was quick to reply.  In a signed Letter to the Editor he writes...
‘Some people are prepared to attack in the open and by their actions earn the title of good sports, while others adopt the coward’s course and by innuendoes suggest certain things, with the object of creating a false impression.
Yesterday the ‘News and Mail’ resorting to the latter means, made certain vague suggestions regarding a tarring and feathering...’

The journalists on the ‘News and Mail’, only too aware of the    libellous nature of any accusations have obviously only hinted at Grandfather’s part in the Mildura affair; but their barbs have elicited the very response they were fishing for.  Chas has fallen into the trap and publicly admitted his part in the affair.

Not only does he admit the part he played in the tar and feather, he glorifies it, while at the same time downplaying the convictions for his ‘minor assaults’.

oOo

But what had prompted all this negative publicity in the first place?
A gathering of spectators in an out of town location has witnessed a rowdy public fight or fights and in reporting this, the opposition ‘News and Mail’ has described the ‘rampant hooliganism’ infecting Bundaberg and tied it all in with referee Brown Parkers dubious past.  Chas, quick to justify his actions, replies...
...  ‘Truth about the Fight’,

 ‘On Wednesday night a well known and highly respected business man of Bundaberg came to “The Times” office and informed me he was holding stakes for a fight, assured me that everything was fair and above board and explained the circumstances that led to their decision of settling a grievance in this manner, as neither had any desire for street fighting.   He asked me if I would attend at 2pm next day and act as referee, knowing that I am a keen sportsman and a lover of fair play.’ 
 
Chas went on to refute the ‘News and Mail’ report that forty cars and two hundred people were involved, instead claiming there were only four cars, twenty four people and one lorry.

oOo

...The other anonymous clipping, supposedly written by someone signing himself  Citizen claims... ‘Brown-Parker is a complete stranger to me’ and goes on to list his glowing qualities... 

(ChasBert always did harbour an ambition to be a journalist.) 

...and ends with the paragraph - Mr Parker is to be admired for his courage in inviting the public of Bundaberg to a mass meeting and putting before them his views on a matter which your contemporary, (other paper) indirectly, involved him.’

oOo

There are at least two ways to interpret the truth behind these statements.

A fight has been organised, though it may or may not have been to settle a disagreement between gentlemen.  I doubt a ‘well known and highly respected business man’ would put himself publicly in such a position in the first place. And if the dispute was a personal one why the need to hold stakes? Were wagers being taken on the outcome?  More than likely Chas himself was the instigator and organiser of the fight, and the alleged stake holder was a bookmaker who may even have been Chas himself.

MAIN STREET OF BUNDABERG 1926- Picture Queensland
 
It’s difficult to know what was really behind all this claim and counter claim. The various letters to the Editor, a supposedly anonymous one and those actually signed by Chas only heaped more fuel on the fire.  It all seemed to have gotten out of hand and can’t have been pleasant for Maggie and the girls.

For all this upset to cause such an uproar I soon realised there could be more to Mother’s childhood memory.

The act of tarring and feathering  has always been associated with the notorious American secret society, the Ku Klux Klan. The very notion of tarring a person’s body wasn’t unheard of in Australia, but the actual act itself wasn’t widespread; though as early as 1921 Australian newspapers were printing USA cable reports about KKK ‘Tarring and Feathering’ in Texas.

Perhaps the ‘News and Mail’ had been given sufficient reason to consider this interesting but even more libelous association as well.
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HERVEY’S REVENGE
 

I shouldn’t have found it hard to believe Hervey would go to such extremes to extract his revenge on Grandfather.  I mean no one would exactly enjoy being tarred and feathered. Retaliation would have been uppermost on the victims mind.

A further trawl through Trove, Australia’s newspaper archive provided the clincher.   The Rockhampton Bulletin features an electioneering interview on February 2nd 1927 where Hervey ridicules the Premier, Theodore, and sarcastically quotes a legitimate news story from the Bundaberg Daily Times where they quote the Premier referring to the current train strike.


Bingo!  In one fell swoop I had all the proof I needed. Clearly Grant Madison Hervey was a man on a mission. 

Suddenly it all seemed feasible, the Brown Parker’s sudden flight from Brisbane to the north, the trouble in Innisfail with Frank Hamilton,( himself a man with a history of minor run ins with the law), the odd story in the Cairns Post written by someone allegedly ‘in the know’ about the ‘Ball that Wasn’t’ and now the adverse publicity tumbling out from the opposition paper in Bundaberg.  

oOo
 
By now Grandfather knows he is a beaten man. He writes two Letters to the Editor for publication. I’ve transcribed the faded and now delicate newspaper cuttings my cousin Barbara found in her father Bert’s files.  I really can’t understand why Chas wanted to keep these ‘trophies’ of notoriety in the first place, though I’m pleased he did...

They give a revealing insight into his thinking processes, and about the man himself.  I wonder, though, what Maggie thought about all this.  She after all had to face the mothers at her daughters school, the shopkeepers in the town.  Bundaberg wasn’t a large city, it was really a small provincial centre where everyone knew everyone else and gossip was a primary form of  entertainment.

By now all of Bundaberg must have been talking about the fight, and the man at the centre of it all.  Chas probably knows he’s flogging a dead horse, but he decides to go out in a blaze of glory.

In a last ditch attempt to dispel negative publicity he arranges a public lecture where the Mayor of  Bundaberg presents supporting testimony lauding the upstanding Chas Brown Parker and his many charitable achievements. 

oOo

Throughout his career Chas has portrayed himself as larger than life, a man of decency defending his honour.   In playing out the final chapter on his foray into Bundaberg, it’s interesting to read his own slant on the Mildura incident where he mixes parts of an actual 1923 ‘Sunraysia Daily’  story with his own self congratulatory opinion of the part he played in assaulting Hervey. 

This is the final paragraph from his Letter to the Editor, a puzzling confusion of whitewash and rhetoric...

‘It takes all sorts to make a world, and it is a rather notable thing that in all the crowd that took part in the punishment of Hervey, the police should not have been able to find one larrikin, one criminal, one man with a black past.  The episode was not an outbreak of the viler passions, but an ebullition of decency.’ signed  C.N. Brown-Parker

Chas could huff and puff as much as he liked but in the end Grant Madison Hervey, aka George Henry Cochrane, convicted and jailed swindler, bigamist, blackmailer, journalist and troublemaker had finally got the better of him.

oOo

But I’ll let Grandfather exit Bundaberg with one last echo of fleeting success...his final Daily Times Newspaper Banner featuring his title...

Printed and Published by Charles Nelson Brown Parker



And the words written by his boss the Managing Editor Mr Grainger on that last fateful day, March 4th...

‘It is with extreme regret that I learn of your decision to sever your connections with The Daily Times’... 
  
 The letter goes on to reiterate..

 ...the ‘very warm feeling of personal friendship that has existed between us’, and ...‘trusts you will meet with the success your undoubted talents deserve.’

oOo


Next –  Part 15 ChasBert’s final chapter

Future Posts – From Sussex a WW1 Pilot
                     -  Fiji -  Maggie’s legacy

Robyn Mortimer©2011