Thomas Andrew Hamilton and Margaret Jane (nee Hamilton) Hamilton
Thomas was about 12 when he finished school but he never stopped learning. His first job as the bottom man in a sawpit was very unpleasant work and he soon joined his father in the workshop. Under his father’s guidance, he learned about timber and carpentry, as well as blacksmith and business skills, and then succumbed to the lure of owning his own land.
Prospectors rushed to the new goldfields at Gympie over rough tracks. Cobb & Co started a service to Gympie as soon as the road became trafficable in 1868 and within a few years, selectors moved to Cobb’s Camp, later known as Woombye, to take advantage of the road and coach link with the Brisbane markets.1
Karl Stumpf was the earliest settler at Cobb’s Camp in 1877. Others soon followed and settled the area. Good farming land, fertile soil, a warm climate and plenty of rain attracted them. The selectors burned and cleared thick forests and vine scrubs, built fences and then began to grow crops - maize, pineapples and fruit trees, potatoes, pumpkins and other vegetables. Some went into dairying. They sent their produce to the Brisbane markets in carts, wagons and drays pulled by horse or bullock teams. Pettigrew’s boats took logs and timber to Mooloolah and Maroochy Heads.2
Thomas selected 160 acres fronting Paynter Creek in August 1884. Selectors had to meet certain conditions and it took Thomas six years of hard work to fulfill them. He built a shingle-roofed two room slab house and outhouses, cleared and fenced some of the land and at last grew crops - pineapples, maize, coffee, guava, jack fruit, and orange, apple, plum, peach and mulberry trees. It must have seemed like Eden but all the crops required constant attention. The improvements amounted to £154/6/- and he, and later his wife, lived on the property for most of that time. He finally received the deed of grant in March 1890.3
Another attraction of the area was that his mother’s sister, and her family, Magdalene and William McClintock, had arrived from Ireland and selected two blocks of land along the Diddillibah Road, originally a timber track at Cobb’s Camp, in 1884.4 Thomas selected land next to the McClintock’s and the families remained very close for the rest of their lives. One of the sons, Thomas, later became an apprentice to his uncle, Andrew Hamilton of Downfall Creek, where he learnt the trades of blacksmith, coachbuilder and wheelwright.5
Thomas Andrew Hamilton married his cousin, Margaret Jane Hamilton, at his parents’ home at Downfall Creek, in 1887, and the young couple lived on the farm at Cobb’s Camp. Thomas always referred to his wife as MJ – there must have been some confusion in the family with all the “Margaret Hamiltons.” As soon as Thomas fulfilled the selection conditions, he and MJ returned to live at Downfall Creek. There could have been a few reasons that influenced them to leave the farm - his parents’ ages and maybe the birth of their first child caused them to think about the future. Thomas also realized that, at heart, he wasn’t really a farmer but he remembered the beauty of the Woombye area for the rest of his life. On his later frequent visits to his relatives, he listened to the many birds chirping and whistling as their ancestors did many years ago but many were missing owing to scrub and forest being cleared. 6 He sold the land in 1900 to A.Pringle.7
Thomas operated the Albion and Lutwyche Fuel Depot on his return to Downfall Creek. There were many fuel depots in Brisbane and timber was used in domestic stoves and industry. The brickworks at Lutwyche needed a reliable and regular source of timber and Thomas bought a steam engine for £135. He collected timber from the bush, cut it into various lengths and sold some of it as coke to businesses in the city. When he was busy with other work, he employed Jimmy the Aboriginal to cut wood in the bush all day.8
Life changed dramatically for Thomas when his father died. Thomas managed the wheelwright/coachbuilding business; he regularly visited his mother at Burnie Brae to compile the accounts and make detailed quotes, quite often late at night, and after a long and hot day in the workshop; he delivered accounts and quotes to his customers; he drove his horse and sulky along the dusty Gympie Road into the city to do his banking, attend to church business, buy parts and do some household shopping.
Thomas and MJ were living at Cobb’s Camp when their first child was expected and they returned to Burnie Brae for the birth of Frances Matilda, in 1889. The family returned permanently to Downfall Creek in 1890 and lived in a house built for them by MJ’s brother, James. It was next to the family business and many years later the house was shifted to Kallangur where it still stands. All the other children were also born there - Hugh Faulkner Montgomery 1890, Thomas Andrew Edward 1892, Clara Alice 1894, Rebecca Charlotte Ruth 1896, Alexander Robert Cyrus 1898, and William Hector James 1899.
The eldest children, Frances, Hugh, and Thomas walked to the Aspley School, but sometimes their father drove them and they were very early for school on those days. The population of Downfall Creek had increased and MJ and Thomas, with other parents, saw the need for a local school. Thomas attended public meetings called to discuss the possibilities of setting up a new school. How many children would attend? How far would they walk? How much money could they raise for a building? He and MJ drove around the district, looking for possible school sites and checking land prices. The parents who formed the first committee were Lou Campbell, George Hack, James Hamilton, Thomas Hamilton, Ludwig Herrmann, John King, Paul Maggs, Frederick and Charles Murr, Thomas Powell, and William Sammells. This committee chose the site on Cock’s Road (now Rode Road). Concerts in the Alliance Hall raised money for the new school, which opened on 9th July 1900 with fifty-four children. James Youatt was the head teacher.9
The community was very proud of its school, later known as Chermside School, and Thomas often referred to our school, long after his children had finished their school days. They continued their involvement with the school and went to concerts, fetes and children’s displays. The school celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1925 in the School of Arts Hall and all members of the original committee were present and honoured for their foresight. Every child received a book and the brass band from the Pine Rivers made it a splendid occasion.10
More people came to live at Downfall Creek and the name was changed to Chermside in 1903. Local people went into the city to do their banking and shopping. Mrs Goodwin and her family operated a bus service for many years, carrying mail and passengers into the city. Mr Sieman later bought the business. The Brisbane Motor Bus Company bought out many local bus services in 1912 and cancelled the one to Chermside. Residents had no public transport to take them to the city or to the train at Wooloowin11 At a public meeting in the School of Arts Hall on 28 May 1912, 50 people decided to form a company, the Kedron Omnibus Company Limited, to run a horse bus service from Aspley to the Wooloowin station. Thomas became one of the directors and after several meetings in his home, the company decided to buy two buses and six horses. The company also had a mail contract. The service started on 29 June 1912 and used the new stables on Margaret Hamilton’s land in Hall Street.12
The first annual report showed that the Company was paying its way. It had 3 buses and 15 horses and improvements included the larger stables and a new bus shed. There were two trips a day to Stafford.13 Unfortunately the Company soon had serious problems - the cost of horse feed had risen and there were just not enough paying passengers. The shareholders decided to wind up the Company and it was sold in June 1915.14
Thomas was about ten-year-old when he came to the district and all his long life remained deeply attached to the small community. He worked in many ways to improve it and always with the support and involvement of his family. His greatest affection and commitment was to the congregation of the local Methodist Church but he served the whole community through several organisations.
At a public meeting in 1898 in the Alliance Hall, on the corner of Gympie Road and Hall Street, he was elected secretary of the newly formed Downfall Creek Recreation Club. It was the forerunner of the School of Arts and members hoped to improve the lives and amenities of the local community. Although the committee consisted of men only, ladies could use the library if they paid 6d. a month.15
The School of Arts bought the Alliance Hall from the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society in 1909 and the hall was THE place to hold all the social functions in the district.16 School of Arts members paid 10/- a year membership and the Hamilton family attended functions ranging from political meetings, church services, Sunday School concerts and Christmas trees, wedding parties, lodge meetings and lantern lectures. There were also public farewells to the local young men who enlisted in two world wars. The committee was just as eager to welcome and thank the returned soldiers.
The Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australasia (P.A.F.S.O.A.) was formed in Victoria partly to counter the influence of the Roman Catholic church in education but by the time Thomas joined the new branch, the Perseverance Lodge, Number 54, in 1901, its objectives had changed.17 Its main function was to support members when they were sick and couldn’t work. There was also provision for funeral benefits and assistance for widows. Members contributed to a fund - in 1901, men contributed 2d. per week and women 1d.18 “The first proposals of a national insurance fund were based on the ideas of the Friendly Societies”.19
Sick members visited Doctor Clowes if they wanted to go on the Lodge and he gave them a certificate which allowed them to collect sick pay from the group. Thomas applied for the benefit in 1919 and had assistance for about two months when his face was slightly affected by paralysis, later known as Bell’s Palsy.
Thomas, the branch treasurer for 11 years, encouraged Hugh, Eddie, Clara and Alex to join the branch. Members organised concerts to raise money and conducted some public installations. The State organization held bi-annual meetings when members had some very heated discussions on how to invest money for their members. Thomas was probably a delegate to meetings in Toowoomba and Warwick.20
Downfall Creek residents had no difficulty in keeping in touch with events in the outside world. There were daily, weekly and monthly newspapers and so much choice – The Courier, The Evening Observer, The Telegraph, but also The Queenslander and the Queensland Herald. They knew of the Boer War in South Africa and famines in India and they read the local news in The Sandgate and Nundah Despatch.21
Many people belonged to the same organisations. William Sammells and Thomas, both members of the Downfall Creek Recreation Club, started the Downfall Creek Musical Society (later known as the Chermside Musical Society) in 1900. Its aims were to raise money for charity, and it also hoped to “promote the welfare of the district”. The Society’s choir performed cantatas such as Captive Maid of Israel and Esther, the Beautiful Queen. Thomas was the conductor and was very surprised when the choir presented him with a silver-tipped baton and a collapsible music stand.
Each family paid 1d. a week and enjoyed social outings such as a trip on the SS Otter to Moreton Bay. The members raised £100 in six years and gave the money to the Indian Famine Relief Fund, the widow and children of F. Hardy, the new Athletics Club, Brisbane and Townsville Hospitals, the Alliance Hall and the City Ambulance Brigade. The group was probably too successful in raising money for amenities for the district - the new tennis and cricket clubs were more popular than attending choir practice and the Society closed in 1906. Many of its members belonged to the Methodist Church choir.22
Residents in the small rural community took part in many local activities. Many people belonged to the Methodist Church and it was a focal point for the district. Thomas and his family continued the Hamilton association with the congregation.
In 1926, the members felt that the church needed a more central location.23 Thomas sold land from the family’s Fivemiletown Estate to the congregation for £300. Family members helped in the work of shifting the wooden building from the hill on Gympie Road to its new site on Hamilton Road.24 The inside of the church looked different as new electric lights replaced the old Wizard lighting system. More people came to the district during and after World War 11 and the congregation grew too large for the building. A new brick church was dedicated in September 1950. Members proudly invited Thomas and Mrs Craig, John Patterson’s daughter, to attend the ceremony.25
Music was an important part of the church service, and at 16 Thomas became the conductor of the choir with nothing more than enthusiasm and a tuning fork.26 He conducted the choir for 60 years. An orchestra was also formed and Thomas played the violin but he had no formal musical training and learnt the theory of music from books. He also wrote the parts for the various instruments in the orchestra.
The choir and orchestra practiced at Burnie Brae every week in the large lounge room. Thomas was always looking for suitable music to present at local or neighbouring congregations. Elija was a favourite oratorio and the choir and orchestra presented it at fund-raising concerts for other congregations - as far away as Kelvin Grove, Norman Park, Cleveland, even Woombye. There was much fun and laughter as the members held their picnics at George Carseldine’s farm at Bald Hills – plenty of games, boating, bathing, music and singing at night.27 In 1940, at the age of 80, he asked to be relieved of conductor of the choir and orchestra as he was not physically fit.28 His main thought as he retired from the position was that he hoped that it’s been as great a blessing to others as to himself.29
Thomas’ manual skills and his musical abilities combined as he repaired violins and the church organ. In later years, he composed music – the Chermside March and anthems for the choir. He set Psalms 8 and 67 to music, and wrote music for the cello.30 He taught several children to play the violin – Eileen Gunston, Leslie Harris, Leonard Jackson, as well as some of his grandchildren – Herb, Keith and Joan. His students later played with the Church orchestra - it was great progress to play in public! He was proud of their playing and was a “great encourager” of all his grandchildren’s musical activities. Where did he learn these abilities?
The church was the centre of much of the family’s social life. All the children attended Sunday School and whole families enjoyed Sunday School picnics held in the Hamilton’s paddock. Eight-Hour Day (or Labour Day as it was later known), the first Monday in May, was the usual day to have the picnic. Children loved the games and class races and ate plenty of fruit and sweets. There were prize-giving and anniversary functions to attend and Christmas tree parties in the Hall were popular. Thomas had a glorious time at the Diamond Jubilee tea in 1937 - it was the largest gathering he could remember at the church.31
Thomas worked for the congregation in several positions – secretary 1896-1903, Sunday School superintendent in 1913-1914, church treasurer from 1922-1935 and trustee until he died in 1951. He also found time to read and study the Bible, read books from his extensive library and occasionally preached the sermon when the regular minister was unable to attend. He especially loved to debate with people from other religions and door-knocking evangelists were surprised at his knowledge. When he was no longer physically able to attend church services, he took a keen interest in religious broadcasts on the wireless. He listened to all denominations and was amazed that one particular Roman Catholic priest sounded more like a Protestant.32
Sunday was often as busy as any weekday. There were many times when the congregation did not have its own minister and preachers came from other suburbs, usually by train, to Northgate or Albion stations. Who collected them, by horse and buggy, from the station, attended morning and evening church services, Sunday School in the afternoon, fed the minister and his wife, and took them back to the station in time for the last train? Thomas, MJ, and later their adult children. He and MJ had very busy Sundays, and in later years, it was also a happy day when their growing family came to visit. Fortunately, Burnie Brae could cope with large numbers of people.
After the deaths of Andrew and Margaret, Maggie lived in the family home until January 1917 when she moved to her own home at Sandgate. In the following month, MJ and Thomas moved into Burnie Brae, the house he had helped his father to build over the years since 1873. They found that there was much work to do on the house. He began to build the attic room over the front verandah that had been long planned but never built. The track to the road had to be cleared – many people visited the house. There were the usual maintenance items, such as fixing the pump at the well, painting, and replacing floor coverings with linoleum. The kitchen was also enlarged. One lesson Thomas never forgot from his childhood in Liverpool and Brisbane was to pay insurance premiums and the house was duly insured in MJ’s name.
Other improvements included lining and painting the dining room and installing a new Wizard lighting system with its three lights. However, Thomas took great delight in converting to electricity in 1925 – the house was all lit up. The old shingle roof was replaced with iron sheets. He was so pleased with the introduction of a regular sanitary service that he underlined the entry in his diary. However, there were still plenty of tanneries and slaughteryards in the district to create unpleasant smells. He and MJ were very pleased with their family’s gift of a lovely enammelled bath for their birthday presents – of course, the bathroom had to be altered to accommodate it.
The usual farm work of planting and harvesting vegetables and corn continued. Elephant grass and lucerne were planted as fodder for the cow and the horse; mango, orange, mandarin, pawpaw and macadamia nut trees produced more than enough for their needs. Thomas kept fowls, for eggs and meat, and had many customers. He built a large fowl house, partly from the packing case timbers used to transport the new Thornycroft trucks – nothing was wasted in the Depression. The only pests were goannas and Thomas valued their oil – nothing wasted again. Large trees still on the property provided plenty of firewood.
Burnie Brae was a magnet for all the family and many Christmas and birthday parties were celebrated there. The growing families kept in touch with each other and grandchildren were always welcome and loved to visit. MJ and Thomas hosted many church socials, and singsongs around the piano were popular.
Thomas and MJ owned several large blocks of land in the Chermside area. He sold 21 allotments of the Chermside Township estate in 1926 for £1458 but still had more available. He hoped the new bridge over Kedron Brook in 1927, with tramlines connecting Kedron to Lutwyche, would encourage buyers. There were also new electricity and water services to entice buyers but the sale did not go as well as expected. Many allotments were not sold.33 He later had to repossess some allotments when the buyers could not pay either the installments or the rates.34
With his sisters, Charlotte Jane and Maggie, he also had interests in land bequeathed from his parents, most of it known as the Fivemiletown Estate. After every sale, he gave his sisters their shares and kept detailed accounts of his land dealings. The last allotment in this estate was sold in 1939. His financial arrangements became so complicated over the years that he thought it would take a lawyer to sort it all out.35 But he still managed the details of his family’s taxes, as well as those of his sisters. Apparently they were more than happy for Thomas to sort out the finer details of their linked financial arrangements.
He and MJ owned houses in Ascot, Northgate, and Nundah and mostly the tenants were very prompt with their rent. A few tenants lost their jobs in the early part of the Depression and found it difficult to pay the rent, one even offering to repay by painting the house. There were very few buyers for the Hamiltons’ land during the Depression. On 2nd September 1931, the Federal Bank, where Thomas was a loyal customer, had to close its doors but several days later managed to pay him in full. An understanding City Council allowed Thomas to defer his rates during the early years of the Depression. Thomas and MJ decided to rent out Burnie Brae to help pay the rates and went to live with Alex and Mary in Duff Street, not all that far from Burnie Brae, in 1932.
The Andrews family moved into the house and hoped to establish a poultry farm, but they also fell behind with their rent. The retiring head teacher from Chermside School, Mr Menarey, next moved into the house and stayed for a few years. After the Menarey family left, several other tenants moved into the large house and eventually found that they could not pay the rent. Mr Wiltshire had the same problem. The final blow for the house came when the Public Curator resumed the property for public housing. The family sold the house and land to the Public Curator in 1947 for £1350. Four generations of the family enjoyed Burnie Brae before it was demolished in 1952. The name has been given to a Senior Citizens’ Centre built near the spot where the original house stood. Thomas and MJ would have approved of the use of the name that meant so much to them and the family.
Kedron Shire Council
Thomas was elected as a councillor for the Number 2 Division of the Kedron Shire Council in 1911, and as usual, he threw himself into the work, as well as working at his blacksmith business. The Kedron Shire Council was a large one and extended from Stafford to Bald Hills, and from Aspley to Zillmere. Kedron Brook just about bisected the area and there were other small creeks.
In case councillors forgot their responsibilities, there were local progress groups like the Kedron Central Progress Association, the Kedron Ratepayers Association or the Zillmere Progress Association to remind them of their duties. And they did, frequently. Progress associations kept up to date with the latest trends and at their request, the Council approved certain innovations – the new public phone and post box and a new street light, (only on trial).36 Many ratepayers wrote to the Council about the poor roads, and a sub-committee used Thomas’ expertise to assess new road making equipment. He also advised the Council on the rock quality in the local quarry at Stafford.37
The Council’s major problem was how to deal with pollution. Many tanneries and wool scours were built along the creeks and emptied their waste into the nearest watercourse. Piggeries and slaughteryards were scattered over the Shire and they added to the problem. Kedron Brook was described as “a pool of evil smelling fluid” on the land below Gallagher’s tanyard.38 Council committees regularly inspected problem sites and it was difficult to enforce regulations. Filters weren’t always successful and there was so little knowledge of how to fix the problem.
Thomas was an enthusiastic supporter of an extension of the tramline to Chermside. In 1914, the terminus was at the Kedron Park Hotel corner and passengers had to walk across the small wooden bridge to connect with a small tramcar. The line was extended to Lutwyche Cemetery in 1925 and the new bridge, built in 1927, meant that passengers could travel all the way from Lutwyche into the city by tram.39 Thomas took part in many delegations, both before and after his term as a councillor, appealing for bridge and tram improvements. It was a red-letter day on 29th March 1947 when he noted in his diary - the tram line opened and he helped to cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony. It was only a short walk to the new terminus at the corner of Gympie and Hamilton Roads.40
There were two nominations for the position of Chairman in 1915 – J.Gibson and Thomas Hamilton but the Council was deadlocked. The Governor-in-Council eventually appointed J.Gibson as chairman. The position was offered again to Thomas in 1916 but he declined and was happy to finish his second term as a Councillor in 1917. He continued to attend War council meetings.
World War 1 began in 1914 and almost immediately the local community felt the effects. Many young men, including Thomas and MJ’s son, Eddie, Harold Hack, Joe Fisher and Charles Fellsmann, enlisted and were given formal farewells at the School of Arts Hall. The Army established a camp in Sparkes Paddock and the Council was soon concerned with the “furious driving of motorists between the military camp and Kedron Park”.41
Thomas was chairman of the Shire Council meeting which recorded its appreciation of the Australian troops at the Dardanelles. He agreed with Premier T.J.Ryan’s suggestion that April 25 should be regarded as Anzac Day, as a remembrance of the fallen soldiers at Gallipoli. The first public holiday for Anzac Day was celebrated in 1917 with a parade and meeting in the Exhibition Grounds. It was such a popular function, a monster meeting, that many people were turned away from the grounds.42
Thomas collected donations for the Queensland Patriotic Fund and the Red Cross. Fetes also raised money for the War effort and people entertained soldiers in the Hall with concerts and teas. The community voted on conscription and after the war welcomed returning soldiers with basket picnics and concerts – some had several welcomes. On 12th November 1918, the family joined the procession to the Exhibition grounds to celebrate the end of the war. Everybody seemed to be nearly mad with excitement and joy on account of victory and peace.43
Once again, Thomas worked with William Sammells – this time to collect donations for the Soldiers’ Memorial Fund which paid for the Memorial Gates. They were officially unveiled on 3rd May 1924 at the entrance to Marchant Park and were dedicated to local soldiers killed in action. The names of local men who had enlisted in the Boer War were added to the gates.44
Thomas was interested in the idea of Federation, even when he was living at Cobb’s Camp. MJ wrote to her mother-in-law that Thomas attended debating classes which discussed protectionism and free trade. His interest continued when they returned to Downfall Creek and he again took part in debates. He was all for it, which was not the general feeling in Brisbane. Many businessmen feared that Federation would bring more competition and a majority voted against it. However Queensland as a whole voted to join the Commonwealth.45
People gathered at the School of Arts to listen to hopeful politicians. Thomas chaired meetings that ranged from rowdy to quiet and orderly. With MJ and Clara, Thomas joined the Kedron branch of a liberal political organization called the National Democratic Council and he became the secretary in 1917.46 It contested local Shire council elections and, for the time, had some advanced ideas. The National Democratic Council did not believe in paying sitting councillors but was forward-looking in that it proposed health and nursing services and a municipal lending library.47 The Queensland United Party also formed a branch in Chermside with William Sammells as its secretary. Thomas agreed with its aims - individual enterprise, loyalty to the Empire and encouragement to all industries.48
In spite of all his commitments, Thomas found time to relax and he enjoyed fishing and cricket. He fished with friends or family at his favourite spots –the Brisbane River at Hamilton, Deep Water Bend on the Pine River, Burleigh in the surf or the creek, Redcliffe and Scarborough. He liked to keep a tally of how many fish had been caught. During the months after MJ died, he found fishing more of a solace than a sport and he had the company of some of his children or grandchildren.
He was a keen cricketer, both as a player and an umpire. Public holidays, such as Queen Victoria’s birthday, Foundation Day and Eight-Hour Day offered a chance to play matches with church and lodge teams. They played against teams from the Commercial Bank of Australia and the Waratahs Cricket Club. Cedar Creek players came to Chermside and many games were played on local grounds at Early’s Paddock, Marchant Park, and even in his own paddock. On Christmas Day, the growing family enjoyed a game together. The Chermside Pastimes Cricket Club unanimously elected him as Vice President and he was happy to accept and glad there was no play on Sunday. 49 English and Australian teams played at the Exhibition Grounds and he enjoyed being part of the large crowd.
The new crystal sets introduced people to the magic of wireless and Thomas and MJ soon had their own set. We heard every word clearly on our own crystal set when the Duke of York officially opened Parliament House in Canberra on 9th May 1927 and the reception was just as good for the coronation broadcast in 1937 - it was wonderfully clear, especially the King’s replies. They listened to church services, news, some very fine music, and descriptions of Anzac Day services and marches. Ball-by-ball descriptions of cricket matches in England gave him some sleepless nights. It seemed a long time since the family enjoyed singsongs around the piano or the magic lantern shows in the Hall.
After his father’s death, Thomas managed the business for his mother and sisters and continued to build carts, wagons, drays, and sulkies.
Many of his customers had to make daily deliveries of meat, milk and bread. Refrigeration was unknown and daily deliveries of perishable food were essential.50 Road surfaces caused problems for vehicles and horses, and rain could change a road from a dust bowl into a quagmire. Floods were a common inconvenience in summer.
John King, a grocer at Kedron, ordered a medium weight grocer’s cart. Thomas built spring carts and dairy farmers used them to take their milk and cream to the nearest railway station, Northgate or Zillmere. Dairy products were processed at Caboolture. Ross & Co ordered a lorry, a flat top general carrying vehicle. Thomas had only a photograph of a Sydney vehicle to work from. The manager was so pleased with it that he eventually ordered three and said they were the best built in either Sydney or Brisbane.
Thomas rarely advertised his business and his reputation spread by personal recommendation. Robert Strain came from Lacey’s Creek, Upper North Pine, to order a light German wagon. Mrs Phillips paid £45 for a new phaeton with leather trimming, spring cushions, a child’s seat, good lamps and a folding hood.51
Sulkies were light two-wheeled vehicles and were the most popular and inexpensive vehicles to transport people between home and town. The styles changed over the years and Mrs G. Gray’s new sulky in 1911 had bent shafts which meant that she did not have to step so high into the vehicle. It cost £28/10/- and had rubber tyres, spring cushion, duck trim, and wrought iron driving rail and handles – the latest technology available.
Local horticultural shows were popular methods of promotion of goods and Thomas entered his sulkies in the districts’ shows. His entry in the 1903 Zillmere Horticultural Society Show won first prize. He also exhibited a fruit wagon in the 1922 Nundah Show.
Many blacksmiths began to use modern machinery and to run power tools from internal combustion engines.52 Thomas’ workshop carried a good range of the necessary tools to build vehicles – saws, squares, levels, various hammers, braces, chisels, clamps, pliers, punches, leather cutters, oilstones, and sharpening stones. He kept them in good working order and the first part of any job was to prepare his tools.
Blacksmiths often did odd-job repairs and Thomas’ skills were in great demand among other local tradesmen. George Early, storekeeper, and George Lemke, butcher, regularly brought their saws and knives to Thomas’ workshop for sharpening. Even in his 60s, Thomas was able to work as the striker for the blacksmith in his son’s workshop.
The Hamilton workshop employed many local men in different trades. George Newleaves, J. R. Hewitt and James Wilson were general wheelwrights who worked for Thomas at various times. Wheelwrights were paid £3 a week and had the precise job of making felloe joints, spokes and rims and fitting them together, first using heat and then rapidly cooling the wheel in water. The shrinkage gave a slight dish effect to the wheel and this allowed some flexibility and lateral strain.53 A well-made wheel could last for years but he repaired many and used some on other vehicles, such as barrows or carts.54
His blacksmiths made the ironwork for drays and wagons, and built the turntables for vehicles. In the early part of the 20th century, there was plenty of work for blacksmiths and Thomas went to the Immigration Office looking for possible employees. In later years, he trained local boys, Bert Carr and Leonard Robinson in the art of blacksmithing. He also employed “improvers” - a tradesman who had done a 5-year apprenticeship followed by 2 years further training.55 Ernest Farrelly of Lutwyche and Leonard Robinson of Chermside worked as improvers to the blacksmith. A new employee earned 1/- an hour in 1909.56 Coachbuilders, painters and upholsterers had special sections in the workshop and in busy times, they helped each other with jobs outside their own particular trade.
There were other blacksmiths in the area – Barron, Maunsell, Rojohn, Ballanger, Westphal, Buck, Carr, Vellnagel and Murr and they were all kept busy – making new vehicles, repairing farmers’ carts and wagons, as well as shoeing horses. They met to discuss prices and new ideas they read in trade magazines, such as The Australasian Coachbuilder and Wheelwright. A meeting in the Alliance Hall in 1909 discussed prices for shoeing horses and agreed to certain prices provided others in the district did the same – plain shoes – 5/- per set; slippers and removes – 2/6 per set; steeling 3d. per shoe.57 Thomas did not enjoy working with horses and took his own, Twinkle and later, Dolly, to William Hamilton, at Nundah for shoeing. Thomas and William, besides being brothers-in-law, co-operated in their business dealings and helped each other in blacksmith, wheelwright and carpenter trades.
By the time Thomas began to manage the business, changes in manufacture were creeping in. Factories produced nearly all horse drawn vehicles in Britain by 1900.58 The same trends were happening in Australia. Thomas could, and very often did, make the basic parts for sulkies, spring drays and carts but gradually prefabricated items, such as felloes, spokes and naves, axles and bent timbers became available, as did rubber tyres. He bought cast wheels from Harvey’s Foundry for 5/6 each.59 On his weekly shopping trips into Brisbane, he bought parts from ironmongers such as Smellie and Company. Many items were imported from the United States and England and his blacksmiths made fewer of the small items, such as bolts.
Thomas kept up to date with the new trends and ideas in coachbuilding and subscribed to Bishop’s Coachbuilders’ Catalogue, which contained Australian and overseas information. It published plans of horse drawn vehicles and gave practical advice, including how to store vehicles – wealthy clients used coach houses and farmers used sheds. It had advertisements for axles, varnishes, rubber tyres, also hardware merchants and ironmongers.60
But great changes were about to happen and very quickly. The first motor cars appeared in Australia in 1896 and The Australasian Coachbuilder and Wheelwright admitted in 1906 that the “automobile has come to stay”. 61 Motor vehicles generally were expensive at first and petrol was not widely available. There were 47 cars registered in Brisbane in 1907 but by 1913, the Brisbane motor division had registered 600 motor cars, 130 motor cycles and 14 trucks.62 The first Model-T Ford was imported into Australia in 1907 and doctors, businessmen, commercial travellers and some farmers bought the new motor cars. Advances in tyres and battery technology ensured that the new vehicles were more reliable.63
These changes had a great affect on the Hamilton’s business. Farmers and tradesmen still ordered the heavy drays to carry their goods but Thomas, as well as other blacksmiths and coachbuilders, saw that the need for horse-drawn equipment would decrease as cars and trucks became more popular.64 He consulted with his mother and they decided to sell the business. On 21 June 1913, the Chermside Engineering and Manufacturing Company Limited, (CEMC) became the new owners with a deposit of £100.
The CEMC carried on the business in Hamilton’s old premises and bought adjoining land to extend the business. Thomas kept his association with the company, as a Director, and travelled as far as Petrie and Dayboro canvassing for orders for CEMC. It built sulkies, beef wagons, vans, spring tip drays, water carts and furniture vans for customers and the usual repair work continued. CEMC paid Thomas a commission on these orders and he agreed not to start a similar business in the area for six years. His reputation was so good that some customers, such as the soft drink and cordial manufacturer, T. Tristram, ordered a new lorry, exactly the same as the last. And paid £52 for it. This was the time that one of Thomas’ sons, Alex, began his career as a vehicle painter.
Some customers were very specific about the details of the paintwork on their new vehicles. One of them, Laycock, Littledyke & Co, bedding and furniture manufacturers, ordered a dray whose colours would be easily recognized. The dray had to have a red body lined with broad black square panels and a fine blue line inside the black line; wheels and undercarriage yellow and the pin striping on the wheels had to have a broad blue line with a narrow red line.65 Drays and wagons were impressive sights when new, but exposure to the weather, dust and horses soon dulled the effect and many came back to the workshop for repainting of timber and iron surfaces.
After a slow start, business began to improve for the CEMC. Thomas lent the Company £100 to buy machinery for the workshop. One of the other directors, Colonel Plant, paid for the building of a large shed and the growing business also found that it needed a new paint shed. Thomas was elected as a board member for another year in 1917 and occasionally lent money to CEMC.66
A special directors’ meeting in 1919 demanded that the business either sell up or get a new manager and Thomas reluctantly agreed to become managing director. Mr Mainwaring, the new manager, appointed some members of the Hamilton family to assist in the workshop. Alex rented the paint shed for one month to paint sulkies and a car. Thomas was his able assistant. The stopgap measures were unsuccessful. Mr Mainwaring thought it was utterly useless to carry on and a special meeting of the shareholders voted to put the Company into liquidation.67 Mr Mainwaring left to work for Stephen Pill at his tannery and the Company went into voluntary liquidation in May 1920.68 CEMC asked Thomas to try to sell business for £550, offering him a commission of £15. And the buyer was in his own family - Hugh leased the old shop for 12 months with right of purchase after that time. That was the start of Thomas’ new career – working for his son Hugh – the blacksmith now worked on motor cars and lorries in addition to other general blacksmith activities. Thomas received the final payment from the liquidation of CEMC in April 1926.
After the sale of the family business in 1913, Thomas was never idle and filled every moment of a five-and-a-half-day working week. Apart from CEMC director’s activities and later working for Hugh in busy times, he built houses, some for rental and others for sale. He was aware of changes in house construction and noted new trends. Timber merchants like Brown and Broad produced catalogues advertising kit houses.
Thomas’ preparations for house building included sharpening his tools and taking them to the site, ordering and collecting timber from Campbell’s, and sometimes drawing the plans. He travelled daily to and from some sites by horse and buggy but other sites were not so convenient. When building houses in the Sandgate area, he arranged to stay with his sister Maggie who lived there. He always paid board and arranged to be home on Saturday afternoon. Who knows when he did his preparations for his commitments for church on Sunday or wrote his diary? Other building sites sometimes caused more complicated arrangements, such as camping on the site of the new house for Rev. Dinning at Coorparoo. He usually worked with one assistant, sometimes the new owner, an employee or a member of his family. He kept a meticulous account of all expenses and times and his diary shows that he paid Mrs Conradi £5 for 96 meals and 24 nights’ lodging while building the Conradi’s new house at Sandgate.69
When there was a lull in house building, he did work for other businesses such as tanneries and stores in the district. Paul Maggs, from Kedron, extended his tannery and Thomas built and installed vats in the dynamo room for Gallagher’s tannery. Another project for Gallagher’s involved converting an old shed to store their new motor lorries. Stephen Pill’s growing tannery business needed more space. Thomas’ work for local shopkeepers, Joe Fisher and William Hacker, involved extensions and renovations for their shops. There were always improvements to be done at Burnie Brae and as his family grew and married, he helped either in the building or the renovation of their homes.
He and MJ also lived in many of them. They left Burnie Brae in May 1932, and while Thomas never hinted at his feelings, he was sick for several days after the move. They spent a short holiday with Mr and Mrs Dalton at Burleigh Heads and returned to Chermside to live with Alex and his family in Duff Street. Thomas and MJ were nomads for a few years and lived with Alex, Fanny or Hugh at various times before moving into a house in Rode Road. He kept a horse and sulky and later bought a car but after a few lessons, he was happy to let his sons drive the car.70
Margaret Jane (MJ)
Margaret Jane Hamilton was born in 1860 at Cornafannoge, a townland in the parish of Aghavea, County Fermanagh, Ireland, the eldest child of Jane and Thomas Hamilton.71 She was well educated and lived with her grandparents, William and Jane Forster until she was 18. She probably learned her dressmaking skills from her grandfather who was a tailor.72 When she returned to her parents’ home, she taught in the village school established by Sir Henry Brooke about 1834.73 Her parents were proud of her and of her position but knew that her opportunities would be limited if she stayed in Ireland. 74 After some correspondence with their Australian relations, MJ and her brothers, James and William, travelled to London to board the Quetta for the trip to Brisbane. They arrived on 19th November 1885.75 One of her first activities in Brisbane was to attend a Band of Hope meeting with her new family.76 She worked for Foy and Gibson in Fortitude Valley as a seamstress.
MJ married her cousin, Thomas Andrew Hamilton, and left the comforts of her uncle and aunt’s home at Downfall Creek to live in the new settlement at Cobb’s Camp where Thomas had been living since 1884. The slab hut had no floors and she must have been uncomfortable in her long heavy clothing in hot and humid weather. She learned to cope with floods, snakes and separation from family and friends. They came to Downfall Creek for the birth of their first child, Frances Matilda, in 1889 and the new family soon returned to Cobb’s Camp.
They left the farm the following year and returned permanently to Downfall Creek and MJ spent the rest of her life in the area, surrounded by her growing family. Her father, Thomas, did not want to leave Ireland and he died there in 1892. His widow, Jane and adult children, Matilda, Hugh and Mary Ann came to join the rest of the family at Downfall Creek in August 1897.77 MJ’s children were then able to visit “Grandma-on-the-hill” (Margaret Hamilton) and “Grandma’s-next-door”(Jane Hamilton).
MJ was also involved in church activities, although not to the same extent as her husband. She attended church and welcomed the many visiting ministers and their wives. The members of the choir and the orchestra practiced at Burnie Brae. She was concerned with her children’s education and travelled around the district looking for pupils for the proposed school. Her sewing skills were well known and she made the children’s clothes. Thomas appreciated her contributions to the workshop – she often made the leather covers for the upholstered seats and other trimmings for new vehicles.
She had her own bank account and she lent her husband money to buy land and houses. Did Margaret Hamilton, senior, play any part in shaping MJ’s business acumen? When Thomas was sick in 1919, the deeds of Burnie Brae were put in her name. There was always a warm welcome for her family and later, grandchildren. Mr H.W. Barfoot, a surveyor working on their land, wrote to MJ that “he liked the glimpse of your protective wings around the family and they each seem content to work and pull together”.78
MJ read widely and, not surprisingly, kept a scrapbook of items that appealed to her. She kept her treasures in an old copy of the Colonial Compendium and Export Catalogue, 1923 and the scrapbook contains poems about grandmothers, a soldier, and Anzac Day. It also shows that her interests ranged from gardening hints, the royal family, concert reviews, Mary Card’s crochet patterns and pioneers’ reminiscences. The cuttings came from magazines such as New Idea, Everylady’s Journal, War Cry, The Delineator (from New York), and Australian Women’s Weekly and local newspapers – Sunday Mail, Telegraph, Courier, Courier Mail, and The Queenslander. She subscribed to the Methodist Leader.
World War 1 brought changes to the family, not only with Eddie’s enlistment. Young relatives from the McClintock families at Woombye also joined the Army and visited their Chermside relations when they were on leave. MJ attended meetings with Thomas in support of a repatriation fund set up to assist returning soldiers. Eddie returned from the War in 1919 and because he had been ill before leaving England, he was quarantined for several days at Kangaroo Point. The safe, if sick, arrival of her son was all the encouragement that MJ needed to use “the instrument” – the telephone - which she had previously avoided using. She knew for certain, then, that he was safe, and home.
The Spanish flu virus spread throughout the community and most members of the family were sick over a period of several months. As they recovered MJ and Thomas followed the popular treatment for convalescents – to go to the beach to recuperate. For them, Southport was the perfect place. They walked along the beach and the Esplanade, rested and read, enjoyed picnics and swam and paddled their way back to good health. As Thomas said, they had a real good time.79
Thomas often went on holidays, especially to Burleigh, with his friends, the Daltons, but MJ preferred to stay at home. Perhaps she didn’t really enjoy camping! In later years, she did go there, as well as to Redcliffe, Woombye and Caloundra.
Thomas was born in Liverpool and it is unlikely that he ever went to Ireland. His parents and MJ were born in the Protestant North of the country but he was proud of his Irish heritage. In his diary, he occasionally referred to keeping the holiday for St Patrick’s Day (17th March) and MJ enjoyed annual visits to the Brisbane City Hall to join in the celebrations for the Battle of the Boyne. They went to the first public procession of the lodges associated with the Orange Institution in Queensland on 12th July 1890. Crowds watched 600 marchers, with banners and bands, walk through the city streets to Cintra House, the Premier’s residence, and back to Wickham Street where the marchers listened to many loyal speeches.80 In later years, whenever family members marched with the Loyal Orange Lodges, MJ’s support was always evident.
MJ and Thomas celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in February 1937. The family, cousins, sisters, all, had a party in the Kedron Methodist Church Hall and Thomas wrote that they were honoured in every way by the whole party.81 The Chermside church choir also honoured them with a surprise party and two of Chermside’s oldest residents thoroughly enjoyed themselves. After a short illness, MJ died on 21st February 1938 and a grieving Thomas wrote that God has been with us blessing us with health and happiness and our love for God and each other increased with age. And though I have sustained the greatest loss during my life God has enabled me to say His will be done.82
Thomas lived with Alex and Mary after MJ’s death and was determined to be a useful member of the family. He helped in Hugh’s shop whenever necessary, answering the telephone, doing messages and offering advice. He quite often met other “early pioneers” doing their shopping in Gympie Road near Hugh’s shop and they enjoyed long chats about old times. Many relations and friends visited him at Duff Street and there was hardly a day when there were no visitors.
Reading and writing filled a lot of time. He re-read some of his diaries and wrote his memoirs about the early days in Chermside. Newspapers and the wireless kept him up to date with events during World War 11 and he lent books from his large collection to friends. He had always enjoyed working with his hands and learned to knit. With granddaughter Joan’s encouragement, he knitted many face washers for the family and some for sale at church fetes.
Over the years, he tried many cures for a facial paralysis, Bells Palsy, which began in 1919 and probably occurred as a result of contracting the Spanish flu virus. Most sufferers recover within a few months but Thomas must have had severe nerve damage, as he never regained the use of the muscles on the left side of his face. 83 The twitching distressed him and the suggested cures included massage, rubbing in salt and brandy, even using a battery on the affected part of his face. He had a beard all his adult life and this partially disguised the problem. With his usual thoroughness, he worked on a cure for asthma – a mixture of whisky and garlic. He visited various members of his family but lived mainly with Alex and Mary. He died on 6th October 1951.