Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Davis family of ‘Nassau’, Moreland


When I began my research into the various Davis families of Coburg I thought I would not need to search very far, as I had taken at face value the statement by Richard Broome on page 192 of Coburg: between two creeks that the Mayor of the day, Cr Albert Davis of ‘Moreland Hall’, had three sons at the Front.


Cr Albert Davis.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society



Those of you who have ever tried to research families with very common names like Smith, Jones, Davies or Davis will know that it is never easy to establish the truth and on this occasion the information contained in what is considered the Coburg ‘Bible’ is wrong. Cr Davis had only one son, Roy. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 4 June 1915, p. 2 mentions that ‘Roy Davis, only son of the Mayor, on Monday volunteered for service.’)

There was an extensive Davis family network in the area, however, and two of Roy’s relatives Richard Stanley Davis and Nassau William James Davis also served. I’ve yet to establish the exact relationship of Stanley (as he was known) and Nassau (often recorded mistakenly as Nassan) to Roy Davis, but I think that perhaps their father was the brother of Roy's grandfather William Davis of ‘Nassau’, Moreland Road, Moreland.
You might wonder how the following information fits into an account of Coburg during the First World War, but I’ve included it here to show one piece of research can lead to another and another and another … Besides, the Davis family became great fund-raisers during the War years and without them, the patriotic efforts of the Coburg community would have been much the poorer.
Irishman William Davis, his wife Elizabeth (nee Johnston) and their eleven children lived at ‘Nassau Villa’ in Moreland Road. Broome records that he worked for a short time as a warder at Pentridge but took up residence at ‘Nassau’ in 1866 where he raised sheep. He also operated a flock mill until it burnt down in 1894. The Coburg Leader (12 March 1898) refers to him as a collector for the Coburg Council and another article in May 1908 says he had a 40 year connection with the City Council, but when he died in 1900, his occupation was given as landowner and he certainly owned a lot of land.
In the 1890s he leased land between Albion Street and Moreland Road to the Melbourne Sparrow Shooting Club and although my research into this Club and sparrow shooting as a sport has led me down many paths, I won’t go into that here!
I will mention one other act by William Davis that speaks to his character as a generous and compassionate man:
Petty criminal Ernest Knox was 18 when he killed the owner’s son while robbing Michael Crawcoar’s  pawnbroker’s premises in Williamstown. He was executed at the Melbourne Gaol in 1894 and buried on site, the initials E.K. marking the place of his burial. In 1929 when the remains of those executed at the Gaol were being removed to Pentridge, a workman named Ted Baxter stole the skull he found there in the mistaken belief that it was Ned Kelly’s skull he had taken. That belief remained ‘fact’ for over a hundred years, but it is now known that the skull in question was not Ned’s but that of Ernest Knox.
Ernest Knox’s mother, a Mrs Webb, was left bereft and impoverished when Ernest was executed. William Davis stepped in and provided her with a small cottage for life. (Coburg Leader, 28 April 1894).
William Davis died in 1900 and the Nassau estate was soon broken up by sub-division, but William’s generosity of spirit continued in the fund-raising activities of his widow Elizabeth and their son Albert and his family during the years of World War One. After his wife’s death in 1927 aged 94 the estate was further reduced when land was sold for the construction of the Sacred Heart (now John Fawkner) Hospital.

Sacred Heart Hospital, Moreland Road, Coburg
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society



Wednesday, 11 June 2014

When those left behind can’t cope


Occasionally I stumble over a family situation that adds another level of sadness to the World War One story.
In the past week I’ve been researching the seven soldiers from Coburg with the surname Davis. The first hurdle was to identify them all, because there are 999 men with the surname Davis listed on the embarkation rolls! I still cannot identify two of the men on my list, but I now have a clearer idea of who the others were. Three of them were cousins, one enlisted in Western Australia (although he was born in Coburg) and the other is the subject of this post.
2961 Private John William Davis, 9th Reinforcements, 5th Infantry Battalion, embarked on 10 September 1915. He was an old boy of Coburg State School and belonged to the congregation of the Coburg Methodist Church. Prior to enlistment he had been a Senior Cadet in the 49th Battalion for one and a half years and had served in the 60th Infantry Citizen Forces, North Melbourne for three years.

When he enlisted, he named his father Charles of 50 Munro Street, Coburg as his next of kin. However, by February 1916, his allotment was being paid to his step-mother Christina because his father was by then an inmate of the Kew Lunatic Asylum

Kew Lunatic Asylum, mid 1880s. Photographer Charles Nettleton. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria. Image H82.246/2.

The Kew Asylum Register (Available online from the Public Record Office of Victoria website) reveals that 65 year old Charles Davis was admitted to the Asylum as early as 3 October 1915, less than a month after his son left for the front. He was suffering from ‘mania’ and the cause given was ‘fretting about his sons going to war’. By that stage he had been unwell for two weeks already and I can imagine the distress in the household as John prepared to go to war knowing he was leaving his step-mother Christina behind to cope with his father’s fragile mental state. (Charles junior was living in Sydney.)
Things did not improve. Charles remained in the Kew Asylum and died there on 9 September 1916, almost a year to the day after John’s departure for the front. I wonder whether Charles knew that his son John received shrapnel wounds to his arms at Armentieres on 22 July 1916. There would scarcely have been time for the news to filter through, I think.
This family’s troubles did not end there, however. Although his wounds were not life threatening, John developed ‘wrist drop’ and was deemed medically unfit. He returned to Australia in February 1917 and lived for a short time with his step-mother at 34 Moreland Road, Coburg. I wonder, though, whether he was able to return to his trade as a mechanic or as a glass and china repairer, which was the other occupation stated on his war record. Unlikely, I think, given that he received a war pension on his return.

An example of the Memorial Plaque (often referred to as the Dead Man's Penny) found on Wikipedia.

At some stage after his return he married but the marriage was short lived as John died on 13 February 1921 aged only 26. His widow Kathleen remarried three years later. I have yet to discover a cause of death, but given that his widow received a Memorial Plaque and Scroll in his memory, his death must have been considered war related.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The usefulness of church newsletters


You’ve probably already considered tracking down Honour Boards and other memorials in churches, sports groups, lodges and so on. There are certainly plenty of those in the Coburg Historical Society collection and I have used them to add to the information in my database of service personnel with Coburg connections.

However, it wasn’t until I stumbled on a single, rather fragile copy of ‘The Coburg Presbyterian Chronicle’ for July 1915 that I realised there’s another vast resource out there that I hadn’t really ever thought about: church newsletters.


I found only one issue of the local Presbyterian newsletter in the Coburg Historical Society collection, but it had quite a lot to tell me. I learned that church members Norman Hunter (he was there at the sinking of the ‘Emden’ in September 1914), J. Wallace Ross, John Ross, Dan Scott and Roy Yorke had just enlisted and that choir member J. Buchanan had joined up and was preparing to go to the front. I also learned that Victor Clark, Archie Fedderson, John Ross, J. Wallace Ross, A.C. Thompson and Don S. Walker had been wounded and read an account of Archie Fedderson’s wounding in his letter home. It also told me that Harold E. Baxter had died, as had C.B.J. McKay. 


Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.



182 Sapper Harold Evelyn Baxter’s service record told me that he was a telephone mechanic at the time of his enlistment, but the newsletter added that he had worked for the Railway Department, something I did not know. Harold Baxter is remembered at the Memorial Avenue of Trees at Lake Reserve, Coburg and was allocated tree number 132 in the original planting.

An Australian cemetery on the beach at Anzac Cove. The grave at the far right is of 182 Sapper (Spr) Harold Evelyn Baxter, 2nd Field Company Australian Engineers.
Image courtesy AWM. Image C01435.


1157 Charles Bernard James McKay was born in Balmain, Sydney in 1885 but was living in Service Street, Coburg at the time of his enlistment. He served with the 7th Battalion and died of wounds on 7 June 1915. Like Harold Baxter he is remembered at the Memorial Avenue of Trees at Lake Reserve, Coburg and was allocated tree number 92 in the original planting.



Several pages from Charles McKay's service record, giving some family background. It is interesting to note that his 1914/15 Star ended up with his father's brother in Edinburgh. It would be interesting to know whether the medal was returned to a family member (his sister, perhaps?) in Australia after his uncle's death in 1945.


Of the others,Victor Clarke died  at Lone Pine in August 1915, just after this newsletter was issued, and John Ross died in France in August 1918.



Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Archie and John Fedderson


219 Private Archibald Ernest Fedderson, 7th Infantry Battalion, left Australia with the first contingent in October 1914. He had been born in Casterton, although his Danish grandfather had settled in the Yackandandah area in the 1850s. By 1910 the family was living in Munro Street, Coburg. The family’s connection to the area continued after the war, until the death of his brother Ewen in 1963.

Archie Fedderson was a 20 year old electrician (he was a dynamo attendant) when he enlisted. His was not an easy war. He was wounded at Lone Pine in May 1915 with a bullet wound to his right side and chest. In August  1915, he received a bomb wound to the head. The next month he was sent to hospital with kidney trouble. Then in July 1917 he sustained an injury to his foot. In April 1918 he was wounded in action again and in July that year he was hospitalised with influenza.

His father, stung by the listing of his April 1918 wounding as the second time he’d been wounded, wrote to the authorities on 1 May 1918 saying that it was actually the third time his son had been wounded and said:  ‘I have no other object in writing this than to let, if possible, the public see how many times previously wounded men have to return to the line to fight for strong able-bodied men who stay at home.’

Archie Fedderson was a member of the Coburg Presbyterian Church and it is through the church newsletter (‘The Presbyterian Chronicle’) for July 1915, that a small glimpse of the early part of his war emerges. Note that in this account of his wounding, he mentions Wen Shore, whom I wrote about a short time ago.

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Archie Fedderson survived all this and returned to Australia in 1918. He is remembered on the Town of Coburg Honour Board located in the Coburg Town Hall. He lived another 19 years, dying on 17 May 1937 aged only 40.

Archie’s younger brother was 4570 Private John Jorgen Fedderson of the 14th Infantry Battalion. He enlisted in September 1915 as an 18 year old clerk. In an attempt to fool the authorities about his age (he clearly didn’t have his parents’ consent), he enlisted as John McKinnon and it wasn’t until January 1918 that his ruse was discovered. He was wounded by mustard gas in France in October 1918 and returned to Australia in May 1919.

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


John Fedderson was an old boy of Coburg State School and is featured in the school’s Soldiers Book, which is now available online through the Moreland City Libraries local history catalogue. He also attended Coburg High School and is remembered on the school’s Roll of Honour.