Friday, February 11, 2011



From this point on, recounting the story of Grandfather becomes a bit  awkward. Keep in mind I knew him only from a small child’s point of view; to small me he had no faults.

Now, seventy odd years on I have uncovered a vastly different picture and I think I know now why my Grandmother Maggie’s brothers in Fiji didn’t approve her choice of husband way back in 1900.

 To remind you, Grandfathers journey thus far.*

Born in Indiana into a Quaker background, with a father at odds with his family, an inexplicable name change, an early life on the road in America, boxing, the navy, living on his wits.  A precarious voyage across the Pacific, then Fiji and marriage to Maggie, ten years roaming New Zealand, a new career on the stage, minor brushes with the law and a growing family.  His life in a nutshell.

Certainly not the simple life of an ordinary man.

Perhaps if we consider the era, not all that long ago, before the advent of government handouts, before controlled borders, before compulsory this and mandatory that, you and I might just begin to understand the mind of this under-educated but extremely sharp and ambitious man.

ChasBert was ambitious but he had, happily I hope, taken on a growing number of responsibilities that all needed to be fed, clothed and sheltered.  Consequently his every waking moment was spent dreaming up news ways to make a quid.

And so we find him in Australia’s ‘big smoke’, Sydney where it is said, and my Grandfather firmly believed this to be true,  a fool waiting to be parted from his money is born every minute.


Sydney before the motor car

...and before the Harbour Bridge was completed.


After leaving Brisbane sometime around 1912, Grandfather arrives in Sydney, enrols his young sons in the Liverpool Rugby Union football club and promptly joins the committee.  Maggie’s mother, Geraldine, and three of her Foreman sisters have moved from Fiji to Australia and are now living in Auburn, a short distance from Liverpool.

Grandfather seems to have kept a low profile for most of 1912, or maybe he was busy establishing a new network of contacts because in 1913, in partnership with a clutch of prominent Sydney businessmen he floats the ‘National Sporting Club of Australia’ with substantial cash stakes from the gentlemen in question.

The club was planned to open in the Haymarket district of Sydney’s inner city and the prospectus promised large profits for shareholders.  Directors involved in the scheme forecast high returns. In an expose the Truth Newspaper did their sums and came to the conclusion that a minimum return for an £800 per annum rental property sub lease should earn Brown Parker £2500 in cash plus 3500 fully paid up £1 shares.  A fortune for those days.

Needless to say’, the Truth reporter later wrote ‘the scheme did not get off the ground.’

Though I wonder how much of that floating capital stuck to Grandfather’s fingers.

Yet this was an ambitious project, a considerable amount of planning must have gone into the scheme’s creation, bankers, solicitors, auditors, directors of apparent repute.  Somehow I can’t see Chasbert as the controlling force though his name appears as the Vendor.

Sydney’s Haymarket – courtesy Powerhouse Museum Collection

Just months later though we find the family in Melbourne with ChasBert working the same scam.

Cosmopolitan Melbourne

Changing fashions Melbourne

 Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station 1910

A cashed up consortium of prominent businessmen with plans to build a massive boxing stadium, this time in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. Planning permission and details are well advanced with an opening date announced for October 7, 1914.  Five men including two hotel keepers and three prominent businessmen put their names and money to the project, a site adjacent to the Brunswick Railway Station is chosen and work begins.

However the stadium or amphitheatre as it’s described attracts a great deal of opposition together with negative publicity from church groups and before long the deal collapses.

There is a lot more to both these debacles than meets the eye. Consortiums of this size and scope don’t just suddenly appear out of thin air.   The question should be asked, was there a master puppeteer pulling Grandfather’s strings?

You have to forgive me for thinking back to Brisbane’s stadium and the far reaching Mr. Wren.


Into the midst of all this Maggie gives birth to a second daughter she names Viti May, a tribute to Fiji, and no doubt, thoughts of home.

Maggie is kept busy with the new baby, but of Grandfather there is absolute silence.  No scams, no news stories, nothing.  


Then suddenly the world is at war and Grandfather becomes a Sergeant Major.  But before he could join up he had first to become an Australian citizen.

Curiously, in filling out his whereabouts over the past fourteen or so years, he ignores the time he spent in New Zealand, instead inflating his time in various Australian states, though at one stage claims to have taken out New Zealand nationality.  He admits to his birth in Indiana and grudgingly owns up to the surname of plain unembellished Brown, throwing in the Parker as an alias.

The Charles however remains a constant.

His age is brought back a peg but it is still not his real one, and then when he gives his home address he fills in the street name in the two different slots as Lava in one and  Lobb Street in another.

Accepted into the army, Chas is sent to Broadmeadows Army Camp and Officers School.  Described in army documents as an Athletics Instructor he organises boxing matches in the camp and even manages occasionally to push his young sons into the program billed as the Mighty Midgets, to box for coins thrown in the ring.

At Broadmeadows tongues wag and he ruffles a few feathers; a piece is published in the Truth newspaper headed ‘Playing at Soldiers’ calling Chas ‘a cold footed coward’.  Together with some mates in uniform, he confronts the editor, punching him in the nose and pouring a pot of ink over the astonished man’s head.

The Argus later reported the District Court proceedings of the case against Brown Parker, heading their story- ‘Annoyed by Criticism’

Handling his own defence, Chas says he enlisted as a private working his way to Company Sergeant Major and has no money to take the paper in question to court.  He added it was only his wife and six children that prevented him going to the front.  He was fined £5 with costs in default 1 month imprisonment.

In presenting the prosecution it was revealed Chas had been in trouble fifteen years before for assault in Liverpool, Sydney. (That offence could only have occurred in the year following his Fiji marriage, about the time he was boxing at the Gaiety in 1901.) 

 The Truth newspaper though doesn’t forget ChasBert’s murky past. Some months later, in  November 1915, they publish in New Zealand’s version of the Truth newspaper an expose with the heading, “KID-STAKES” PARKER – A ROTTEN ROUGHS BRUTAL BASHING...
The Truth story was a vicious attack but one that shouldn't have surprised New Zealand newspapers;  they had after all been hinting at his fists for hire for many years.
Not for the first time I wondered how Maggie continued to stand by him.  There again she probably had little choice.  No doubt Grandmother found it easier to believe his excuses and tall stories; absolutely dependent with six children I would probably have done the same.

The ‘Truth’ expose may well have touched a nerve because soon after the ‘ink bottle’ court case Charles completes his training, is passed fit for active service and ten months later sent to Egypt as Company Sergeant Major with the Camel Transport Corps.

He doesn’t last long with the camels.  

Three months after landing in Egypt Grandfather is admitted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital in Abassia.  Within the month, July 1916, he is invalided to England on board the H.S. Galena. The following year sees him returned to Australia suffering from rectal incontinence and ‘Neurasthania’. Not my spelling, blame the army clerk.

For Charles at least, it appears the war had been a jolly good sightseeing tour. 

Once back in Melbourne he secures a ‘very important recruiting tour’ position and complete with embossed calling card, ‘Company Sergeant Major C.N. Brown-Parker JP’, becomes the official organiser of Henty and Kooyong Electorate for the State Recruiting Committee.

Grandfather had found a new niche in life, one that came with a uniform and a licence to swagger.  But all good things must come to an end and he soon finds himself back on Civvy Street, with a newly pregnant wife and very soon an additional mouth to feed. 


ChasBert then turned to cinema management to keep the wolf from the door, putting all the kids and Maggie to work.  While their mother played piano for the silent movies the older children manned the ticket box, ushered in the public, worked the lolly concession in the foyer.  Even Viti had a job hand churning the ice cream machine.

Their last child, a daughter Rewa is born in the midst of the 1919 Influenza Pandemic circling the world in the wake of the Great War killing millions of victims. Maggie is hospitalised and given up for dead, the new baby fostered out, six year old Viti sent away to live with her Foreman aunts. 
Maggie & Rewa left – sisters Viti & Leota extreme right.
It would be many months before mother and baby are reunited, even longer before Viti is returned home.

Eldest daughter Leota recalled an unhappy memory of her father from those Melbourne days. She had long, as she described it, luxuriant hair, and like any young woman was proud of her crowning glory. Grandfather made an appointment at a nearby hairdresser and when Leota arrived she was shattered to find he had sold her hair to the proprietor of the shop.

She never forgave him.


 These were tough days for everyone; Depression had become Australia and the world’s new enemy.  Soup kitchens appeared on city streets.  ChasBert takes to the road as a travelling salesman. 

The big cities have no further use of the glib tongued Yank; they’ve eaten him up and spat him out.  He moves the family to Mildura, a small fruit growing town near Victoria’s border with South Australia.

There he manages another of Wrens Stadiums.  The younger children take root, both Bert and Viti joining local swimming and football clubs.  He is mentioned occasionally in newspaper stories mostly in relation to mediocre boxing bouts.

But another high flyer of impeccable background has made Mildura his home, and like all men of fame and position he has attracted a conniving and jealous opponent.



The year 1921 brought perhaps the most lasting shame to my Grandfather’s reputation, and would haunt him through the years to come. Surpassing even the ‘Ink bottle’ conviction it became known at the time as the ‘Mildura Tar and Feather Incident’.

By 1921 an ambitious highflyer had established a name in the fruit growing region of Victoria.  He was Clement John De Garis described in various biographies as possibly the most brilliant public relations man Australia has known. It is said he had a winning smile, classic good looks and the figure of an athlete, and he could charm money from even the hardest of bankers.   Not unlike a younger Chas Brown Parker. 

Everything De Garis touched turned to gold.  No wonder Grandfather latched on to him.  De Garis started a furniture store, a garage and then launched the Sunraysia Daily Newspaper:  Newspapers need compositors, and so Chas Brown Parker joined the De Garis admiration society. But had De Garis merely employed an out of work printsetter, or did he choose Grandfather with additional job skills in mind?  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Enter another man with a huge ego, a criminal past and numerous aliases, George Henry Cochrane, who wrote for the Bulletin as Grant Hervey.  Now passing himself off as an American ex army officer, Hervey G. Madison, a ‘man with a gigantic brain who would lead Mildura to its destiny’. Madison used his role as editor on an opposition paper to launch a fraudulent scheme to secede from Victoria.

The two men, fraudster and business man indulged in a growing number of public attacks.  The fraudsters past was revealed by De Garis showing him working under a third alias as a journalist on the Truth Newspaper and had even been jailed for attempting to blackmail the papers wealthy editor.

The mud slinging came to a head when a vigilante group of Mildura locals ambushed two policemen escorting the fraudster Hervey out of town. The mob pulled Hervey from the car and tarred and feathered him.  The man leading the vigilantes was Charles Nelson Brown Parker.

A charge of grievous bodily harm was later brought against 14 members of the mob when the case was heard in the Mildura Police Court. Evidence was given that when the mob forced the car carrying Hervey and two policemen to stop, Brown Parker was heard to yell, ‘Jump out Hervey - you’re going to get it’.

A tin of tar was produced and Brown Parker told the victim to take off his clothes telling him ‘I have had it in for you for a long time – now you’re going to get it properly.’

Brown Parker then took the brush and applied the tar before turning to his associates and saying, ‘C’mon you lot – you’re all in on it.’  Others began applying the tar over Grant Hervey’s naked body and then Brown Parker called for the kapok.

The court proceedings were heard in stifling heat, public interest was high and the courtroom was packed leaving standing room only.  All the accused pleaded not guilty.

The defence revealed Cochrane’s alias’s, and alluded to statements and threats he had made regarding various skeletons in closets with planned blackmail in mind.

The case went on to the Supreme Court where further evidence was heard that Hervey had attempted to blackmail Brown Parker as well as De Garis.  Hervey denied the allegation causing the gallery to laugh when he scornfully replied, ‘No, he (Brown-Parker) has got nothing (worth blackmailing) '.

Surprisingly no one pursued a possible connection between Hervey and Chas Brown Parker in relation to the suggestion of blackmail.  Nor was anything made of Grandfather’s reported words to Hervey on the day of the assault, when he said- 
     ‘I’ve had it in for you (Hervey) for a very long time’... 

Had they probed further the court may have been told about the 1915 occasion when Chas attacked an editor of the Truth Newspaper and was fined £5.

But the fraudster and former employee Grant Hervey alias George Cochrane had also fallen foul of the law while working for the Truth Newspaper; in that same year, 1915 he was jailed for forgery and uttering.
Perhaps Hervey and Brown Parker did have a history of mutual animosity that went back a number of years.  In any case Hervey received scant attention from the court whose sympathy obviously rested with the Mildura men charged with assaulting him.  The case dragged on into 1922, when finally a judge decided though the men had been provoked by Hervey they had unwisely taken the law into their own hands.  ChasBert and several others were found guilty, fined £25 and 3 months jail to be suspended on their entering into a £50 good behaviour bond.


 Again Maggie and the children are on the move.  Public scrutiny in a small town is too much to bear. In the wake of unsavoury publicity Grandfather moves the family back to New South Wales.

He may think he is leaving the Tar and Feather incident behind him, but as he will eventually find out he is not.

Ahead for Maggie is more heartbreak, for ChasBert there are new fields to conquer in northern Queensland ,and for a favourite son a violent death.


*See previous chapters beginning with Four Girls from Sussex