Friday, 29 November 2019

Memorial to Sidney Webb in Narre Warren

In the last post I looked at the Mornington Hotel in Narre Warren - it's a bit of  a mystery, as I can find very little information about it. Here's another story with a bit of  a mystery - the creator of the  memorial to Sidney Webb (1844 - 1920)  at Narre Warren. When I was reading about the Hotel in Early days of Berwick (published 1948, updated 1959) I came across this about Sidney Webb The beautiful oak trees which he planted on the sides of the Princes Highway at Narre Warren stand as a living emblem to his memory. A tablet erected to his memory at the intersection of the North Narre Warren Road and Prince's Highway and unveiled by Sir George Knox in February 1955, at which the Shire President, Cr C. Harris, presided. The tablet bears the inscription -
who planted this row of 
Oak Trees in the year 1890.
The trees as young seedlings came from the Nobelius Nursery at Emerald, a pioneer family of nursery men now in its fourth generation. Mr J. Nobelius of Narre Warren is a member of this well-known family. Mr Smith, the man who designed the memorial was present at the unveiling. He also designed that well-known memorial near the Shrine of Remembrance in St Kilda Road, 'The Man with the Donkey'

The Sidney Webb memorial, unveiled Sunday, February 20, 1955 by Sir George Knox. You can see one of Sidney's oak trees in the background.

There was a report in the Pakenham Gazette of February 25, 1955 about the opening and we will quote from this to add a bit more detail about the occasion  - In a simple but impressive ceremony in the presence if about 200 district residents, a memorial to the late Mr Sidney John Webb was unveiled at Narre Warren last Sunday afternoon. An unobtrusive, yet pleasing memorial at the junction of Prince's Highway and Webb St., it is set amidst an even more impressive and lasting memorial - the magnificent row of oak trees which Mr Webb planted 55 years ago.  Mr Pat Sweeney, President of the Progress Association spoke, followed by the Shire President, Cr C. Harris. Cr Harris mentioned the battle that the Shire had with the Country Roads Board to save the trees when the Highway was widened. [The trees on the south side have since been removed.] The Federal Member, Mr R. Lindsay then spoke and he was followed by Sir George Knox. Sir George spoke about the outstanding qualities of Mr Webb who generally had the record of an outstanding citizen, with a vision into the future. In unveiling the monument Sir George said he did so to the Glory of God and in honour and memory of Sidney John Webb, who planted this row of oak trees in the year 1890. May his memory and all he worked for and achieved be a guide and inspiration to those who come after him. Sidney Webb's son, Harry, responded on behalf of the family and then all present were entertained at afternoon tea in the Narre Warren Hall.

Sir George also mentions the designer of the memorial Mr Smith, who was responsible  for that wonderful memorial in Melbourne, "The Man with the Donkey." He was pleased to see Mr Smith present that day. 

The 'Man with the Donkey' monument, designed by Wallace Anderson and unveiled June 20, 1936.
Image: Photographer: Rose Stereograph Co., State Library of Victoria  H32492/5212.

The 'Man with the Donkey', was  John Simpson Kirkpatrick, known as Jack Simpson, who rescued many wounded soldiers and carted them back to medical help on Gallipoli. You can read his Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) entry, here.

The mystery is that the 'Man with the Donkey' monument  was designed by Wallace Anderson (1888 - 1975, read his ADB entry, here) and not Mr Smith, so why is it attributed to Mr Smith and who is he? I do not know, but here are three scenarios - 
1. There is more than one 'Man with a Donkey' monument at the Shrine, one designed by Anderson and one by Smith.  I don't believe that is the case.
2. The book and the newspaper both made a mistake attributing the monument to Mr Smith. That is possible but even if the newspaper account is incorrect, then surely that mistake would not have been repeated four years later in 1959 when the second edition of Early  Days of Berwick was published? Or did the book use the Pakenham Gazette as the source? More than possible given that Herb Thomas, the publisher of the Gazette was a founding member of the Historical Society of the Berwick Shire (in 1962) along with Norman Beaumont, an author of Early Days of Berwick. 
3. Mr Smith had a role in the design of the monument. We know that Wallace Anderson was the sculptor and the statue was cast in bronze in Italy. Did Mr Smith design the granite base? The Sidney Webb monument looks plain but it does have some carved detail at the top - the initials SJW - Sidney John Webb, thus Mr Smith has skill in stone carving. I cannot, however,  find any newspaper reports about  the 'Man with the Donkey' monument which mention Mr Smith. However, keep reading as some evidence has come to light on this matter.

The top of the Sidney John Webb monument showing  his initials, S.J.W. 
Image: cropped from the photo at the top of this post.

Whether or not Mr Smith had a role in the design of the 'Man with the Donkey' monument he did design the Sidney Webb memorial, but who was he? The book and the newspaper refer to him only as 'Mr Smith' not even a first initial. I have done some research on Trove, and have not found any evidence as to the identity of  Mr Smith, so I would be happy if anyone could tell me.

I wrote this in November 2019 and in January 2020 - part of the Mr Smith mystery was solved. I borrowed a book called Real Life Portrait: The life of Wallace Anderson Australian War Artist by Roderic Anderson (Big Sky Publishing, 2010) Roderic is Wallace's son. On page 297 Roderic writes Wallace received a few good commissions, working on them in partnership with Alec Hall who designed all the stonework and Bill Smith who made it. So this gives us Mr Smith's first name, Bill, and the fact that he was stone mason and worked with Wallace Anderson. This leads me believe that it was Bill Smith who did carve the stone base of the 'Man with the Donkey' statue.  There was another mention of Bill Smith on page 298 of the  book - Though further out of town than he would have chosen if he had more money to spend on it Wallace liked the house in Surrey Hills and he wasn't cut off from his family and friends. Peter and Ruth Newbury, Les and Mary Bowles, Arthur and Amy Lawrence and Bill Smith and his wife often drove out there.  So now we have discovered something else about Bill Smith - he was married. 

Now I knew his first name I looked at the Probate records on the Public Records Office of Victoria website, and came across a William Smith, occupation Master Mason, who died on March 29, 1961. His address was Footscray. I then checked the Footscray Cemetery records and there was a 95 year old William Smith who was buried on April 4, 1961. Also in the grave was a Jean Alves Smith, buried October 13, 1936 aged 63 and an Isabella Smith who was buried May 22, 1943, aged 42.  I then went to the Electoral rolls and in 1926 William Smith, stonemason, was at 111 Cowper Street, Footscray,  and Jean Alves Smith was at 109 Cowper Street. In 1931 there was a William Smith, occupation mason, at 11 Greig Street, Footscray and also at the same address was an Isabella Smith. In 1954 William Smith, occupation stone mason, was at 113 Cowper Street in Footscray.  Isabella was the daughter of William Smith and Jane Alves according to the Indexes to the Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages. So, this confirms to me that the William Smith buried at Footscray was the stone mason. Was he the Bill Smith, stone mason, who created the Sidney Webb memorial? The obvious flaw in my argument is that would an 89 year have been capable of creating this  monument in 1955? I do not know. So we have progressed a  little further and can now at least give our Mr Smith a first name - Bill. But, once again if you have any information on the life of Bill Smith, I would love to hear from you.

Advertisement for the dance held to raise money for the Sidney Webb memorial.
Dandenong Journal, July 7, 1954.

The memorial was funded by the Narre Warren & District Progress Association.  They spent a few months in 1954 arguing with the Shire of Berwick and the Country Roads Board to have the memorial erected in their preferred location. An article in the Dandenong Journal of July 29, 1954, quoting Cr Rae said that he understood the memorial was already completed, inscribed and ready to place in position. Unfortunately it gives us no details about the artist.  I have created  a list of newspaper articles on Trove, on the monument, you can access it here. They are from the Dandenong Journal and only go up to 1954, so they are just about the planning and fundraising for the Memorial.

Even though I borrowed the Wallace Anderson book, I did not actually read it, however my friend and fellow historian, Isaac Hermann, did read the book (it is unindexed) and found the two references to Bill Smith, so I am very grateful to him for helping solve the mystery of Mr Smith.

Trove list
I have also created a list on Trove, of articles on the 'Man with the Donkey' monument. You can access it here

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