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Vellnagels - the last Blacksmith in Chermside.

Smiting the Black Metal

The blacksmith is one who smites the black iron and moulds it using forge, anvil and hammer. One of the oldest trades, the Smithy goes back at least 3000 years when the Iron Age began. In those days the hammer and the anvil consisted of stones, but things have improved somewhat since then. Basically the process remains much the same, the iron has to be heated and hammered. The process takes place in dim forges so the smith can judge the temperature of the iron by its colour and know when to strike.

The blacksmiths of Chermside did this ever since Andrew Hamilton set up a forge beside his carriage works and hired a smith to work his magic in about 1870.

August Christian Vellnagel arrived in Brisbane from Horrheim, Wurttenberg, Germany via London in 1891. After a time on the cane fields he worked for Charlie Murr, a blacksmith in Downfall Creek. In 1897 August bought 4 acres on the corner of Murphy and Gympie Roads from John Ballinger in William (Billy) Hacker's name and set up his forge; Hacker was August's brother-in-law. Jack Ford records that in 1899 the business was registered in the name of A C Vellnagel and he became the official owner of the land. This could only be done after August was naturalised as a British Citizen; there was no Australia then, only the Colony of Queensland which was part of the British Empire.

Original forge still in place since 1921
The heart of the smithy's shop, where the iron is forged, shaped and made useful. This photo was taken when the roof was being renewed and allowed a lot of light into the otherwise dim interior.

The Original Position.

In the 19th and early 20th Centuries the blacksmiths worked the iron, on which our society was built; they forged the iron and steel that made the tools, machines, hardware for houses, the parts for machines in the days before spare parts, sharpened tools, made tools to order, shod the horses and put the iron tyres on cart wheels, forged the axels to hold the wheels on and made the bolts that held the carts together. The small village of Chermside and the surrounding farms needed five forges in the early 1900s; Hamilton, Plucknett, Carr, Murr and Vellnagel; they were the mechanics of pre-motor car era.

Vellnagels forge on the earlier site pre 1921
Originally on the east side of Gympie Road the forge and the house were a little higher above the creek. The exact location was on the present site of the World War I Memorial Gates to Marchant Park. The signpost in the foreground probably pointed along Gympie Road.

The Original Blacksmith Shop

Today, well over a century later the original forge still stands with its dim interior, now artificially lit, its earthen floor, now concreted, but the original vertical wooden slabs still form the south side wall. These slabs are unique; they measure about 2m in length, between 50-70mm thick and between 406-304mm wide. The slabs were split on site from local timber by skilled workers using steel wedges and wooden maul, trimmed with an adze or broad axe and cut to length with a cross-cut saw. And, like blacksmithing, it was hard, heavy manual work.

The present forge has weatherboards on the front and other sides and they may have been later additions but they were all cut on a circular saw.

Alf Vellnagel assured me that the slabs were the original ones used in the first forge; they are still holding up well in 2009.

The south side of the forge had a vertical slab wall.
After 113 years the original slab wall is still in place today on the south side of the forge.

The Great War 1914-1918

Anti-German Feeling

The Great War lasted from 1914-1918 and 284, mostly very young men from Kedron Shire fought in it, 53 of them being killed and twice that number wounded. Some people were suspicious of anyone of German origin or descent, in fact General Monash, Australia's greatest soldier, was under suspicion of being untrustworthy because he was of German descent. Fortunately the Australian military authorities ignored the innuendoes and he went on to save the lives of many Australian soldiers with his skilful battle tactics.

Jack Ford writes that while there was some acrimony, in the local area it was mainly verbal with some vandalism but on the whole it was muted. He does recount one vicious act of vandalism that occurred on Armistice Day 1918 when a group of young men went and wrecked Saint John's Lutheran Church on Church Road Zillmere. The decent citizens reacted in horror because the German settlers were among the men at the front. August Vellnagel possibly suffered some discrimination as shown by the following minute of the Chermside Shire Council in 1916.

Councillor Burgess asked why Vellnagel is not getting a share of our blacksmith work.
Shire Clerk replied that little blacksmith work was done outside our own forge; if anything else is required it is easily executed by British workmen, thus carrying out Council's instructions to employ British workmen only.
Councillor Burgess failed to get a seconder for more work for Vellnagel.

August Vellnagel had been living in Queensland since about 1891 and from 1897 was a naturalised British Citizen while all the children were native born. The family had been living in Chermside for about 20 years when the war started. How long does it take for some earlier immigrants to accept later immigrants as Australian?

A few years before he died, Alf Vellnagel, recounted that the Vellnagels did not have much trouble with anti German sentiment.

The Great war was fought on the other side of the world but the people of Kedron Shire were acutely aware of it. Almost every family in the Shire either had a member in, or knew someone, in the armed forces. Everyone dreaded getting the telegram from the Government advising them that one of their own was dead or wounded or missing. The photo shows Australian troops in Ypres, Belgium around which three massive battles were fought leaving half a million men dead. Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library.

Relocation in 1921

In April 1921, under great protest, Vellnagel's house, Blacksmith's Shop, Paint Shop and Stables were moved by the Kedron Shire Council from the east side of Gympie Road to the present site on the Council Reserve on the west side at a cost of 180 pounds. In October 1921 the Council's Residence and Office were moved from the reserve into Marchant Park facing Gympie Road at a cost of 89 pounds 15 shillings. It was placed two chains from Marchant House which was a caretaker's cottage later occupied by Mrs. Jesser.
This was part of a deal with George Marchant who was donating, to the people of Chermside, the 100 acre park that bears his name. Marchant wanted to include in the new park the four acres owned by August Vellnagel who was moved in such a way that he was able to keep working while the shift was underway. He demanded and received 300 pounds compensation but he had to fight for it.

The family thinks this photo is in the 1930s.
In 1921 the forge and house were shifted across Gympie Road to the Council Reserve. The horse rider is Harold Vellnagel and the horse is Prince. The blacksmiths are shown wearing their characteristic leather aprons.

Change of Management but the same Family.

When August died in 1932, the business, renamed Vellnagel Brothers, continued under the direction of August's sons Alf, Charlie and Harold. While the work continued to be largely heavy and manual, a pump engine was installed to power some of the machines they used. Still later, in 1938 when electricity was connected an electric motor replaced the old engine.

After WWI the motor car appeared in increasing numbers and animal transport declined so also did the work of the smith. With the end of petrol rationing in 1949 the horse almost vanished and with it, more smith's work. Tractors and new types of farming equipment appeared, all of which used mass produced spare parts for repairs and so reduced the smith's maintenance and repair work.

In the 1950s and 1960s housing was replacing the farms and the hardware stores supplied most of the builders' needs so Vellnagels had to adapt to find work and compete with large scale manufacturers of hardware.

August died as a result of complications following surgery. The name changed but the work continued. At the time there were five blacksmiths in Chermside, Hamilton, Plucknett, Carr, Murr and Vellnagel. But work was becoming harder to get and their days were numbered and Vellnagles would outlast the rest.

The Battle to Continue in Changing Times

The brothers grew older but didn't give up, they looked for niche markets where specially designed work had to be executed and could not be done by the mass production factories. Cattle brands, estate gates, lifting devices for heavy stones, a left-handed plough, detailed adjustments to trucks, roof-top racks for cars and anything that nobody else could make.

Much of their success was due to being able to adapt to changing demand and they had to turn their hand to virtually anything in the art of moulding iron. In the 1990s they made security doors and grilles, decorative gates, lattice and elaborate garden furniture.

The third generation represented by grandson Peter, son of Harold, continued till 2004 when the site was sold and the firm relocated to Kremzow Road, Brendale in the Pine Rivers Shire where it continues as Wrought Ironsmiths.

For the first time in 129 years since Andrew Hamilton lit his forge, Chermside was without a smith and most people didn't even notice.

The old site was bought by a firm called Towrite Qld - Manufacturers of Trailers and Chassis who, in turn, sold out to Dixon Homes in 2006. While retaining the original forge, the latter firm have refurbished the whole site as a sales office for the homes they build.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

The Forge in 2009
In 2009 the old forge still stands but the name has changed as has the function. After two new owners the buildings house a sales office for Dixon Homes.