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Jesser Family - Railway Builders and a Champion Cook

England to Australia

Peter Jesser suggests that the family name may have come from Falconry as when the falcon lands on the glove of the master and is attached to the "Jess" strap.

1817 Charles Thomas Jesser, also known as Flash Charlie, was born in London on 10th November 1817 he and his wife had nine children but four died in childhood. Of the survivors two were girls and three were boys.

The family lived in Cape Town, South Africa for about four years before sailing to Victoria on the US ship Baltimore which arrived in Melbourne on the 28th May 1853.

The Family in Australia
The three sons who survived and carried on the Jesser name were:
Charles Thomas, known as Tom to distinguish him from his father, was born in Friern Barnet, an outer northern suburb of Greater London, on 22nd October 1845. He founded the Queensland branch of the family and died at Redbank on 21st May 1913.
William, born 2nd August 1848 founded the South Australian branch.
Robert, born at Chewton, Victoria on 1st October 1860 formed the Victorian branch.

The Queensland Branch of the Family

Ann Lamont continues:

Will (William) John Jesser was born on the 6th of March 1877 at Dunkeld, Victoria. He was the third son of Thomas Charles Jesser and Elizabeth Mary Jesser (nee Spink). At the time, his father Tom was a civil engineer building railway lines in Victoria.

Tom and Bessie Jesser then moved to South Australia where Tom was manager of several railway construction jobs - Kapunda to North-West Bend of the Murray River (later called Morgan), and Port Augusta to Hergott Springs (later called Maree). Tom employed his brother, William Jesser (known as Bill) as a blacksmith. (This was probably who Will (William) was named after.) Tom and Bessie had four more children whilst Tom was working in South Australia but one of them died as an infant.

In 1885, Tom Jesser moved to Queensland and built a section of the Western Line from Dulbydilla to Charleville. At the same time, Tom was involved in artesian boring contracts at Laidley, Clermont, and other places in Queensland. Tom and Bessie's next child was born in 1886 in South Australia. Tom then built a section of the Queensland north coast line from Caboolture to the Maroochy River.

Tom and Bessie had 3 more children while Tom was working between Caboolture and Gympie, one of whom died at the age of 1 year, this was the second child of Tom and Bessie Jesser who died during infancy.

In 1891, Tom built a section of the Queensland North Coast Line north of Bowen. Tom Jesser left the railway construction business in 1892 and bought a grazing property near Morven.

Three more children were born to Tom and Bessie while they lived at Morven, making 14 altogether, born between 1870 and 1891 (2 of whom died as infants). A severe drought in 1902 forced Tom Jesser to sell up and purchase a dairy farm at Ipswich.

Tom Jesser's first 4 sons Tom (Jr.), Charles, Will (William), and George all became civil construction engineers like their father. All worked on railways and all except Tom Jr. who worked on other engineering jobs as well. Consequently, they frequently moved locations as their father had done. Tom's other 3 sons worked in the wholesale fruit and vegetable industry in Brisbane.

William (Will) Jesser

Will Jesser probably began his working life about 1892.
William Jesser was working as a labourer at a camp on the Calliope River near Gladstone in 1903 during the time that his brother Tom was an engineer working on building the railway from Gladstone to Rockhampton. That is, he was presumably, being employed by his brother Tom on the construction of the railway.

The Electoral Roll for 1903 lists William as being a labourer living in a tent at the Calliope River Bridge. However in September 1911 the Brisbane Courier notes that he was the second engineer building the Marburg Branch line, which seems to indicate that the occupation of engineer must have been learned on the job. However Peter Jesser notes "According to Jaye (Edith Jesser wife of Will), Will went to night school and graduated as an engineer "mid-life". (This practice was not uncommon in the 19th and early 20th Centuries when there were Mechanic's Institutes and other agencies which provided further education.)

Marriage of Will and Jaye (Edith)

Alex &Elizabeth Rodgers (Parents of the bride), Elsie Rodgers (Chief Bridesmaid), Will JESSER (Groom), Edith RODGERS (Bride), Tom & Bessie Jesser (Parents of the groom) Seated on ground: Jessie Rodgers & Ivy Dolling (Maids of honour/ flower girls) Standing at rear: UNKNOWN but at least one would have been a brother of Will

The Brisbane Courier reported in 1912 - A pretty wedding was celebrated in St Luke's Anglican Church, Rosewood, on April 8 (writes our Rosewood correspondent) The bridegroom was Mr W Jesser (of the Engineers' Branch, Railway Department, third son of Mr and Mrs T Jesser, Prior's Pocket, Moggill), and the bride Miss Edith Rodgers (eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Alex Rodgers, Torrens Vale, Rosewood).
Peter adds: "Jaye's (Edith's) father Alexander Rodgers arrived in Rockhampton from County Armagh (Northern Ireland) in 1872." (Athol & Ann note that the bride was born as Edith Muriel Rodgers but married as Edith Maud Rodgers - Peter comments: "All of her immediate family clearly knew her as Edith Maud and any change from Edith Muriel was certainly with their knowledge and would appear to have occurred prior to her having reached the age 22."

Rail Building and the Birth of Marcus

The Electoral Roll for 1913 listed William (Will) as a civil engineer located at Pialba while the Brisbane Courier reported in June: "The Urangan railway was started on Monday, Mr Jesser, the resident engineer at Pialba, having got his gang together. It is fully anticipated that the line, which is only 41/2 miles in length, will be fully completed before Christmas." The line was to connect the two suburbs of Maryborough along the beach front from Point Vernon eastward.

It would appear that the line was completed as the Brisbane Courier in March 1914 reported: "The line down the Dawson Valley has been commenced under the direction of Mr Jesser, who was resident engineer on the line to Urangan Point, recently completed." He was still there when the Minister for Railways visited the work in May 1914. The railway line was to connect Mt. Morgan gold mine with coal from the Dawson Valley in the vicinity of Baralaba, it was completed in July 1917.

In July 1915 "The Worker" (AWU paper?) reporting on a union matter noted that Wm. Jesser was the Resident Engineer on the Winton Railway

The Townsville Daily Bulletin February 1916 reported in the Personal section: "Mr Jesser, constructing engineer for the Winton-Springvale line, was in town on Monday, returning to the west at night." While the State Government approved the building of the line in 1910 as part of the Great Western Railway, the line was never built. (Winton Shire Website) Neither, it seems, was the Great Western Railway. Another website: Authorised but not built/Queensland/Forums/Railpage - claims that 30km of line was built west of Winton and later removed.

In October 1916 the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported in the DUCHESS NOTES: The main camp of the Construction Department is again being moved from near Butra to Carbine Creek. Mr Jack Brogan has the matter in hand; the line is still moving forward in the Territory direction. Mr Jesser, Chief Engineer on the construction, has gone through to Townsville. (Carbine Creek is north of Emerald and west of Capella)

The Queenslander in April 1917 reported: "JESSER.--At Strath Avon, Nurse Berrill's Private Nursing Home, Rockhampton, the wife of W. Jesser, Butru, via Cloncurry-a son, on March 7. It seems that the family home was at Butru (Butra) which could have been a property. (Ann Lamont notes that they had two sons but one died as an infant.)

In May 1917 The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported: "Mr W Jesser, who has been resident engineer on the Malbon to Sulieman Creek construction works since March 1916, was tendered a farewell by the members of the staff and employees of the works on the eve of the departure south."

Neither Malbon nor Sulieman Creek can be located but since the item is under the heading DUCHESS NOTES then it is probable that they are in the area of Duchess which is between Djarra and Mt. Isa.

Rockhampton to Chermside

The family may have gone directly to Rockhampton as The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) in July 1918 mentioned Mr Jesser indicating that he worked for the Rockhampton Council. Again in August it reports that "Mr Jesser to be in charge in Mr Dobbs' absence" as Foreman of Works. While in September Mrs Jesser was informed that her cousin, Signaller G. W. Rodgers, was killed in action.

At the time they were living at Omnea, 194 Cambridge Street, Rockhampton and the following year the Electoral Roll, 1919, indicated they were still there.

The family seems to have left Rockhampton in about May 1921 when an advertisement of a Furniture Auction of their possessions appeared in the Morning Bulletin. Peter Jesser notes: "The family spent the time 1921 - 1924 at Gin Gin where I think my grandfather was working on railroad construction. The family may have spent some time at the Rodgers' place at Rosewood before they settled into Brisbane."

Brisbane Courier Children's Corner July 1924 records that Marcus Jesser of Jin Jin, aged 7, joined the Children's Corner and later in July he sent a second letter advising that he would be going to live in Brisbane.

The 1925 Electoral Roll records William Jesser, engineer was living at Gympie Road, Chermside. If they were living in Marchant Park, which seems likely, then he must have been working for the Kedron Shire Council. When the Brisbane City Council was formed in 1925 he was appointed an Overseer according to a letter from Brisbane City Council to Mr R Jesser in 16th July 1974

Home in Marchant Park to 1947

The Cairns Post in October 1931 Mrs E Jesser won the Gold Crest Cake Baking Championship of Brisbane and the Lady Mayoress presented her with the Gold Crest Silver Cup and the 1931 Championship Sash.
Morning Bulletin Rockhampton 31st December 1931 Advertisement - Can you make a sponge sandwich with Self-Raising Flour?

The Brisbane Courier, Tues. 9th August 1932, p.8 reported a cooking competition in which Mrs Jesser came either first or second in each of the six sections. The same year in March William Jesser was promoted to Assistant Engineer in the BCC and in May 1933 he was appointed Engineer for the Windsor district.

Sunday Mail (Brisbane) Sunday 6 March 1938 p 33 Article
21st Birthdays: Relatives and his brother officers of the 105th F.A. (Field Artillery) Brigade combined in celebrating the 21st birthday of Mr. Marcus Jesser on Saturday night. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. Jesser, entertained 30 guests at a birthday dinner at the Hotel Canton, where the tables were decked with red. (This excerpt is incomplete and does not give much information. Marcus may have already joined the army or it may have been the militia. He was serving in the 2/2 Tank Attack Regiment when he was discharged after World War II in October 1945.)

The Courier Mail August 1938 carried an advertisement for Agistment of Stock in Marchant Park at the cost of one shilling per week per head; Mrs Jesser was in charge of the park.

Marcus Jesser married on 20th July 1940 and Peter adds: "The Jaye is for Jesser and came into effect for family and friends after my mother became the 2nd Mrs E. M. Jesser after her marriage to Marcus on 20 July 1940."

Courier Mail December 1944 noted that W. Jesser was District Engineer for several suburbs. Two years later in March 1946 Mrs Jesser is mentioned in the Courier Mail as being on the Grounds Committee for the Women's Hockey Intercity Games.

The Australian War Memorial Museum supplied the following information dated 9-10-1945:
Service Record
Australian Army
Service Number
Date of Birth
7 Mar 1917
Place of Birth
Date of Enlistment
15 May 1940
Locality on Enlistment
Place of Enlistment
Next of Kin
Date of Discharge
9 Oct 1945
Posting at Discharge

William Jesser was appointed Acting Parks Superintendent from 24th June 1946 according to the 1974 letter from Brisbane City Council. Peter Jesser adds: "Will and Jaye built their own house at 19 Colton Avenue, Lutwyche (corner of Perry Street) in 1946 but had not moved in before Will's death in 1947. Jaye continued on at Marchant Park and our family moved in in 1947. My father sold the property after Jaye's death on the 24th June 1967. The house is one of the few left standing after the recent roadworks necessitated the demolition of most of our neighbours, the street, and adjacent streets."

Will Jesser died on 21st November 1947 and the funeral notice of Council Engineer William (Will) Jesser appeared in the Courier Mail 22nd November 1947 he was survived by Edith (Jaye) and Marcus; Mrs Jesser continued to live in house in Marchant Park

Mrs. Jesser - Champion Cook of Brisbane

The Lady Mayoress, Mrs. P. M. Green, is presenting Mrs. Jesser with the Gold Crest Silver Cup, and a Championship Sash for 1931. (Unfortunately it is impossible to distinguish between the two ladies. Ed.)

The earliest record of Mrs. Jesser as a champion cook was in the Cairns Post of 13th October 1931 when she won the Champion Cook of Brisbane.

"After a series of 17 heats and a keen final Mrs. E. Jesser won the Gold Crest Cake Baking Championship of Brisbane. The competition aroused great interest, all the cakes entered were sold and the Laey Mayoress's funds were considerably augmented. The competition was arranged by Messrs. R. M. Gow and Co. Ltd., the manufactures of Gold Crest Self Raising Flour."

Mrs. Jesser and Self-Raising Flour

This may have been the beginning of a campaign to popularise self-raising flour. Or it may have just been a new player finding a place in the market.

This advertisement from the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin of 31stDecember 1931 asks a question and then quotes Mrs. Jesser answering it from her own experience. Advertising methods, at least in the print media, have not changed much over the decades. Today colour would be used and the print section would be followed by TV commercials with professional actors.

The Brisbane Courier, Tues. 9th August 1932, p.8 reported a cooking competition in which Mrs Jesser came either first or second in each of the six sections

The Secret of my Baking Success

We almost have a photo of Mrs. Jesser but alas the graphic artist thought this was better for the advertising; keep the emphasis on the product.

The Morning Bulletin Rockhampton of the 15th December 1948 is quoting Mrs. Jesser as the Champion Cook of Queensland. This is a step up from the Champion of Brisbane in 1931. It is possible that another, state wide, competition was held or maybe it was 'advertising licence' on the part of the local paper.

However and important part of the picture is the profile of Mrs. Jesser's face. It is the only photo available apart from her wedding photo.

Advice to Brides New and Not so New

Notice how the package is nearer Mrs. Jessers finger, she is pointing driectly at it.

Morning Bulletin Rockhampton 22nd January 1949 seems to be capitalising on the fact there were many newly weds in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

During the war many marriages were put on hold as the boys were away fighting the war. These brides would be the mothers of the 'baby boomer' generation so there was a big and growing market to be supplied.

Mrs. Jesser is still the Champion Cook of Queensland so the main market for the product could well be Queensland. It could have been an early attempt to get people to buy locally.

According to these records Mrs. Jesser was a champion cook of Brisbane and/or Queensland from at least 1931 till at least 1949, a period of some 19 years. For all this time she was in the spotlight of the Queensland press; a remarkable achievement!

Cricket, Hockey and Marchant Park

From 1928 to the present Warehouse Cricket and from 1933 to 1959 Brisbane Women's Hockey Association played in Marchant Park and it is probable that Mrs Jesser was involved from the start with both organisations. William was head of the Warehouse Cricket Umpires Association for many years and Edith (Jaye) ran a canteen at the park for the players.
The following is an excerpt from Brisbane Women's Hockey Association 1933-1983 by Eileen Grealy:

The hockey players were enamoured of Mrs Jesser who ran the canteen and was the caretaker of the park. She used to keep a slice of cake under the counter for her favourites among the players and made tea in a large pot with hot water from an old fuel boiler near the rainwater tank.

She made three varieties of cake: Jelly Cake with red jelly on mock cream with a light sponge base, Chocolate double sponge, iced between and on top, and a Double Jam Sponge dusted with icing sugar. She won a Cook of the Year competition and her picture appeared on Gold Crest Self-Rising Flour for a number of years during the 1930s and 1940s. She was, without doubt, the best known Jesser in Queensland.

Today cricket is played all year round but earlier the year was divided into summer for Cricket and winter for Hockey; the changeover could be a little tense at times. Mrs Jesser acted as an intermediary between the Cricketers and the Hockey players especially at the Hockey grand final time when the cricketers were getting ready for the summer season as Eileen Grealy writes:

The best part of the park was staked out for prime cricket wickets, with their covering of black sticky goo. They were almost sacred sites, and woe betide the hockey girl who ventured on them; it was pointed out ad nauseaum how damaging it was to the pitch preparation. Come to remember, it wasn't so good for us either - we came off it a bit like the Footrot Flats Dog after a saunter through a stock paddock.

Peter Jesser's Childhood and Marchant Park

The Kedron Shire Council Office and Residence was originally built on the west side of Gympie Road opposite Murphy Road. In 1921 it was moved to the east side of Gympie Road into Marchant Park. It stood facing the road on the ridge between the present No. 1 and No. 2 Cricket Ovals. I am sure that it was the only house in the park. It may have been altered as Lindsay Staib remembers that when his father, Frederick, built their new house in about 1930 he, Frederick, used the fancy barge boards from the Council House.

Peter Jesser adds:

As a young boy I spent much time at Marchant Park, especially during the decade 1945 to 1955. I remember vividly Will's home office and all his text books and instruments. Jaye (Mrs Jesser) wanted me to have them and follow in Will's footsteps as a civil engineer.

At that time Marchant Park consisted of two picket fence enclosed ovals, (ovals 7 and 8) and six other non-enclosed, turf cricket ovals. There was one concrete cricket pitch (oval number 9). There were five cricket sheds as well as the large kiosk.

During cricket country week my grandmother would provide two sittings of sit down lunch (over 50 people per sitting) at the kiosk which was located in the centre of the park. Two or three of the shade trees that were planted in the early days were still standing as of a few years ago when I went back there. As were the palm trees that defined the front path to the Council owned residence at the top of the hill fronting Gympie Road that was demolished following Jaye's death in 1967.

The house was situated in a fenced off area of the park, about two and a half acres (one hectare), and adjacent to the area that housed the old dray horse. It was used to pull the heavy roller which was used to roll the turf cricket pitches.

The main hockey field, for the women in winter, was an area between cricket pitches number two and three that ran north-south flanked on the southern end by the kiosk. There was no old furnace by the rainwater tank for making tea. Depending on the anticipated number of customers there were one, two, or three old Billies kept boiling over an open fire.

Google Map of Marchant Park

This Google image shows the present Marchant Park. The 'Council House' was originally sited opposite Murphy Road at the bottom of the picture. In 1921 it was shifted to the spot between the two cricket pitches on Gympie Road.

The Grand Old Lady of Marchant Park

Ian Jesser comments:

When she retired in 1966 she was hailed as "the grand old lady of Marchant Park". She completed almost 50 years in the job, having started in 1928. (I think the Jessers were living in the park from the time the family moved to Brisbane from Gin Gin in 1924. Ed.) In the early days she even helped to prepare the wickets by catching the horse and harnessing it to the heavy roller. Mrs Jesser continued to live in her house in a corner of the park.

Peter Jesser noted that his grandmother, Mrs. Edith (Jaye) Jesser died on 24th June 1967. She was indeed "the grand old lady of Marchant Park" retiring only the year before she died at 77 years.

Mrs. Jesser (Jaye) is still remembered by some of the older Chermside women such as Mrs. Jean Tune who first told me about her cooking prowess. They remember her from their childhood when their mothers were either competing with her in cooking competitions or reading of her in the newspaper advertisements.

Herbert Carr who contacted the Jesser family for me used to deliver milk to Mrs. Jesser when he was a child, he is now in his mid-80s - how time flies.