Plunckett Carriage Builder & Blacksmith

James Plunckett from Somerset to Chermside

James Vincent Plucknett 300
James Vincent Plunckett found blacksmithing and carriage building better than farming. Andrew Hamilton made the same discovery thirty years previously.

James Vincent Plunckett was born in Somerset, England, 7th June 1864. He married Charlotte Ann Tovey in Bristol, just prior to sailing to Australia. They came on the Kapunda, an iron sailing ship of 1084 tons, out of London with 365 passengers arriving at Urangan (Harvey Bay) Maryborough on the 19th July 1883.

On a later voyage the Kapunda collided with another sailing ship, the Ada Melmore, on the 20th January 1887 with the loss of both vessels and 299 lives off the coast of Brazil. The survivors sailed in lifeboats to Maceio on the coast of Brazil.

After arriving in Australia, the Pluncketts eventually made their way to Wollongong, where James worked as a blacksmith, before coming to Brisbane to farm a small acreage at Geebung near the present Piccadilly Street.

They had three children; Vincent, Charlotte (known as Lottie) and Grenville. The oldest child, Vincent died 3rd December 1903 aged 18 and is buried in the family enclosure in Lutwyche Cemetery with his mother Charlotte, who died 30th August 1947 aged 83.

Charlotte Ann died 1947 (BDM)
Thomas Hamilton recorded in his 1947 Diary:
29th August: Mrs Charlotte Anne Plunckett died in the General Hospital after a severe operation.
30th August: Mrs Plunckett's funeral to Lutwyche Cemetery.
1st September: Posted a sympathy card to Mr Plunckett

James Vincent Plunckett died on 27th July 1949 - Thomas Hamilton recorded in his 1949 Diary on the following day:
The remains of the late James Vincent Plunckett were cremated at the Mt. Thompson Crematory today. He was a retired Blacksmith & Coachbuilder of Chermside.

Blacksmith & Carriage Builder

Plucknett Workshop Chermside
The Plunckett workshop has a skillion roof across the front and around the side, which increases the working area. The forge looks to be in the middle with carriage workplaces on either side. Sulkies on the left and a very heavy haulage wagon on the right. There are nine adults in the photo some wearing the black leather aprons of the blacksmith, other with white aprons of the woodworkers. One adult could be a woman holding a child.

In about 1902 the family moved to Chermside where James started a business as a blacksmith and then began building horse drawn vehicles. He did all the woodwork, including the wheelwrighting, and so the carrage building business developed.

The main focus seemed to be on making sulkies. The sulkies were of a very high standard and won first prize at shows in 1904, 1910 and maybe others; at least one was at the Zillmere show. Arnold, son of Grenville Plunckett, tells how Mr. Early, a Chermside store keeper, liked one of the sulkies at the show and asked James Vincent Plunckett, to make him two.

The Elegant Sulky

Plucknett Sulky and Horse with Driver and Dog
The sulky was the run about of the horse era. Small and light its large wheels enabled it to bridge the hollows and pot holes of the rough roads and bush tracks.

This elegant vehicle, a gem of the carriage builder's art is driven by Grenville Plunckett with his dog Canooli Fusty, while the patient steed has no known name. Grenville has a rug over his knees and is sheltered from the horse by the dashboard. Behind him is a folding roof partly thrown back. He holds the reins which reach the blinkered horse's mouth bit. The long thin sharve passes along the horse past the girth leather and the large collar which rests on the horse's shoulders and is where the horse throws its weight. The pulling power travels back along the leathers to the draw bar attached to the sulky. All very neat, very efficient and very elegant.

Restored Plunckett Sulky-Samford Museum-Side

The sulky is in an open sided shed in a rather cramped position, but with a bit of cropping and enhancing you can see the conveyance. The lady may be just going to get into the sulky but with the ankle length skirt; this is going to be interesting to watch.

Item from the Oct-Nov Newsletter 2011

Geoff Harris rang to tell me the Samford Historical Society and Museum had been given an old sulky which they were in the process of restoring. They pulled it apart and were cleaning the different parts when a maker's name plate was found. The maker was J. Plunckett of Chermside.

Now after a visit to the Samford Museum, in October 2013, I have photographed the sulky in all its splendour complete with the lining and scrolling. And, something surprised me, rubber tyres instead of iron tyres. Of course it is a very long time since I rode in my grandparent's sulky, and time plays some very interesting tricks on memory!

Restored Plunckett Sulky-Samford Museum-Front

The frontal view shows the scrolling on the dashboard; have you ever thought why they called it a dashboard? Doesn't look like the dashboard in our cars! And the 'modern' car doesn't backfire any more

The horse behind the sulky is harnessed up ready to be backed into the shafts. This was sometimes pronounced sharves.

The name sulky is thought to come from the fact that sulkies were often driven by a sole driver. The word sulkie was also used to describe a person who sulked and that was usually done on their own.

The most common form of sulky today are the gigs that are used in trotting races and driven by professional jockies.

The Otto Brothers and their Racing Billy Cart

Les, Arthur and Eric Otto with their trained billy goat, properly harnessed, in a specially built, spring cart with cast iron wheels. The photo is dated C 1916 and is used courtesy of the Otto Family.

In old Chermside billy cart races were held with billy goats in the shafts pulling the small carts driven by small boys.

The driver would harness up his billy goat, drive to the race paddock or roadway, take part in the races and drive home again. All in a day's racing.

The Massive Table Top Wagon

Table Top Wagon No.203653
These massive wagons were the long distance 'big rigs' of the horse era. There is a similar wagon in the photo of Plunckett's workshop in Chermside above. It illustrates the versatility of the local industry in Chermside. (Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library No. 203653)

This massive heavy duty wagon with its huge wheels is a contrast to the elegant light sulky. This slow moving juggernaut could travel the rough bush tracks or the built roads. It was slow but as long as it got where it was going nobody worried much. The driver worked as long as the horses worked, a day or a week longer, then people just had to wait.

The front wheels were small so that they could turn under the table top and allow the wagon a smaller turning circle. The horses were draft animals, big, strong with massive shoulders to hold their collars and pull the chains that linked them to the wagon. They worked as a well trained team, pulling together.

The driver walked beside the horses talking to them keeping them moving while his dog kept under the wagon in the shade.

It was exhausting work wearing out men and animals. No wonder the automobile was popular.

Change to Motor Body Building

Table Top Lorry built by Plucknett for Packer & Knox
This solid rubber tyre Thornycroft was built for Packer & Knox, Felmongers and Tanners, Chermside. The chassis and motor would be imported from England while the cabin and tray would be built by Pluncketts. (Photo courtesy Doug Packer)

When automobiles began to replace horse drawn vehicles Pluncketts began to build motor bodies for specific uses as shown in the photos. They were motor body builders for Thornycroft vehicles sold by Packer Brothers & Begrie, who had the agency for Thornycroft. They also worked for individual customers, one of whom was George Early (Junior) who had his father's 1908 Belsize tourer modified to carry groceries.

Tipping Truck by Plucknett for Caboolture Shire
This pneumatic tyred tip truck was built for the Caboolture Shire Council. The tipping pully is at the back of the cabin and is wound by hand using a crank handle. (Photo courtesy of Doug Packer)

James' son, Grenville, worked in the business mainly painting and scrolling on the sulkies and vehicles and finally took over the management from his father. He continued to operate the firm and, according to Neil Chesney, "In 1950 Alex Chesney paid 2,000 pounds or more, to Grenville Plunckett to buy his blacksmith and carriage building property which was the third block on Gympie Road from Rode Road."

Blacksmithing Dying Out

First Service Station in Chermside 1920s Carl Murr
This photo taken in the 1920s illustrates the change over from blacksmithing to service station at the beginning of the automobile age in Chermside. The first service station in Chermside was built by Carl (Charlie) Murr a blacksmith and Bill Auld a butcher. The photo shows the service station beside a large shed (workshop) and, on the right, was probably Murr's blacksmith forge.

Times were changing forcing businesses to change with them and the change from horse drawn vehicles to automobiles was very big. The small local blacksmith bodybuilder could build the complete horse drawn vehicle but the automobile could only be made by huge overseas manufacturing companies. Since the demand was for automobiles the local bodybuilder had to rely on local people wanting changes made to the imported vehicles.

When the automobile age in Australia became noticeable in the early 20th Century there were about five blacksmiths working in Chermside. Two, Hamilton and Plunckett, made the transition to motor body building; one, Charlie Murr, became the first service station in Chermside repairing automobiles and selling fuel; Vellnagel continued as a blacksmith till the firm moved to Brendale in 2004. The remaining blacksmith, Herbert Carr, went to work for Hamiltons; the lone blacksmith was disappearing.

Arnold Plunckett

Grenville's son, Arnold, was born 15th December 1914, lived at 401 Rode Road, attended Chermside State School and belonged to Chermside Methodist Church, where he played his violin for many years. His mother, Bertha Susannah Plunckett (nee Stabe), died in 1919 when he was only four years old, and so he was raised by his grandmother Charlotte Ann Plunckett (nee Tovey).

Arnold worked in the family business from approximately 1927 to 1935, as well as the Dawn Theatre.

He was the tray-boy selling lollies and ice creams on opening night in 1928. He often tells the story of Pearl Tilley, the daughter of the owner, Maurice, asking him to do this. He eventually ran the snack bar, installing malted milk machines, ice cream vats, lollies, chocolates, etc beside the Dawn on the corner of Norman Terrace and Gympie Road. He eventually sold the shop to William Jackson who traded there for many years.

Arnold was living in Chermside at Emmaus in Wheller Gardens, when the History of Chermside and District was published. It was a walk back through time for him and it gave him much pleasure to browse through it and add information from his experience to it. He had many tales to tell and often shared some of them with the wonderful staff at Emmaus.

Arnold passed on at the age of 97 years and 7 months on 20th July 2012. He was one of the oldest residents of Chermside, a pioneer who lived through the amazing growth of Chermside in the 20th Century from a country village to a vibrant centre of 21st Century Northside. Vale and farewell.

Some New Light on an Old Tragedy

George Early & Family in the Belsize Tourer
This photo shows George Early and members of the family in the car which had a registered number A125. This car would have been the first car many people in the local area had ever seen. And some thought it would never replace the horse! How did the women keep their flowery hats on while speeding at 30kph, very long hat pins?

In 1908 George Early was the owner of a Belsize Tourer which was reputed to be the first car garaged in Chermside and it was possibly the first car to kill a person in the area; it rolled over George and badly injured him.

Arnold Plunckett says that George was doing something to the car on the old Plunckett property at Geebung and he failed to put the hand brake on properly. Arnold thinks that instead of pulling the brake lever back he pushed it forward as one would do with the foot brake in a sulky; maybe he did not put it on at all! However the car must have been steady until he did something to it, possibly trying to crank start it, and his actions started it moving over him. He died in the General Hospital on the 18th June 1909. (Brisbane Courier)

The Belsize in 2002

Early's Belsize Tourer Restored 2002
This photo of the restored Early's Belsize Tourer was taken in 2002. The driver and passengers are members of the CDHS on a visit to Crow's Nest to see the old vehicle. Note the lady in the front seat has her hat tied on with a scarf.

The car was kept by the Early's long after the accident which killed George. In 1940 a young boy, Allan Nut from Kingaroy, became interested in it and eventually purchased the vehicle. Over many years he gradually restored it to its former shape after its use as a delivery vehicle for groceries.

Allan's son Mark took over the old car and maintained it for some years until it may have been sold some time after 2002.