My great-grandfather Charles Clarson jnr was a successful poultry breeder and a not-so-successful dairy farmer, who lived at Esk, Queensland for most of his life.
Charles Clarson junior was born on 10 November 1879 at Eastrington, Yorkshire East Riding, England, the eldest of five children of Charles Clarson senior and his wife Anna Nicholson. Charles’s parents were school teachers, who had married at New Brentford, London, Middlesex in December 1878. Charles jnr was the third in line of the same name, and was called Charles junior during his lifetime. His descendants called him Pop. I am going to call him Pop in this blog, to help differentiate him from his father of the same name. Pop’s grandfather Charles was a bricklayer’s labourer in Tamworth, Staffordshire, who died in 1898.
At the time of the March 1881 census, young Charles was aged 1, living at the School House in Coppull, Lancashire with his parents Charles 31 and Anna 25.
His parents successfully applied for teaching positions in Queensland, Australia, which had been advertised in the English press, and despite opposition from Anna’s brother George Nicholson (who had a low opinion of the colonies), on the last day of 1884 they boarded the “Duke of Buccleuch” in London with their young children Charles (Pop) aged 5, May 3 and Amy 1. Anna’s younger sister Amy Nicholson accompanied them, to “help look after the children”. The “Duke of Buccleuch” arrived in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, Queensland on 3 March 1885.
- Also on board was another teacher, James Gill, who subsequently married Anna’s sister Amy Nicholson. They were the parents of the three unmarried “Gill girls” of Brisbane, ie Amy, Mabel and Flo, who were therefore cousins to both Reg Gill and Billie Clarson. Reg and Billie, who were not cousins to each other, married in 1943.
The “Duke of Buccleuch” was built in 1873, an iron barque-rigged, four-masted sailing ship, but it also had 500 horsepower engines with a central funnel, so could operate by steam power when necessary.
Charles snr taught at Rosevale, Queensland for a year, then at Esk from 1886 to 1901. Pop’s sister Ethel was born at Esk, and a younger brother Kenneth was born at Ipswich (the family was still living at Esk at the time). Clarsons have been living at Esk in south-east Queensland from 1886 until very recently. The Clarson name died out at Esk with the deaths of brothers Barry in 2017 and Grant in 2018.
In his teenage years, Pop was a Pupil Teacher at Esk, where his father was schoolmaster. He had ambitions to become a builder using concrete, but was thwarted by his parents who could not agree about their son’s future. His mother wanted him to become a doctor, and his father wanted him to become an architect. In the end, he pursued none of these options. He became a farmer, and was quite ill-suited for it, according to daughter Billie. She thought he would have been better off in the building trade, where he showed considerable skill. Ironically, if he had achieved his original goal, he would have been following in the footsteps of his paternal ancestors who were bricklayers.
In 1896 when Pop was 17, he and two school friends went ‘up the river’ (ie about 50km to the Moore district) ringbarking trees. For several years they lived rough, camping in tents.
It appears that Charles Clarson jnr was one of those who “came forward to volunteer” for the Boer War at a mass meeting at Esk in February 1900, according to a report in the Brisbane Courier, 21 Feb 1900, page 5. There is no evidence that he enlisted, so maybe it was just a momentary flash of patriotism on his part.
Pop did not accompany his family to Barcaldine, when his father was transferred to teach there in January 1902. Perhaps he was already courting his future bride Mary Ann Peters of “Gullinanie”, a property at Biarra north of Esk.
Mary Ann was a granddaughter of the owner of Gullinanie, Thomas Peters, who together with his young family had migrated from Cornwall to Queensland over 50 years earlier, in 1848. Mary Ann’s father Henry had recently retired from his carrier business in northern NSW due to ill health, and was working for his father at Gullinanie.
Pop aged 23 and Mary Ann 18 married on 17 December 1902 at Gullinanie homestead, according to the rites of the Methodist Church. The marriage certificate refers to Charles Clarson, bachelor, born Yorkshire, England; grazier of Oakdale, Redbank, Esk, parents Charles Clarson (teacher State School) and Anna Nicholson; married Mary Ann Peters, spinster, born Dundee, Goth, NSW, of Gullinanie, Esk, parents Henry Peters (labourer) and Alice Chater. The witnesses Thomas Peters and Henry Peters were Mary Ann’s grandfather and father. Pop’s family were unlikely to have attended the wedding, as they were at Barcaldine, 1000km north-west of Esk.
Mary Ann’s parents and paternal grandparents had attended her wedding, but within seven years, all were deceased. Her parents Henry and Alice were 62 and 55 when they died.
Pop and Mary Ann had three children – Anna 1903, Charlie 1908, and Norman 1912. In 1928 they formally adopted Anna’s illegitimate daughter Billie, who was born in 1923.
Pop must have saved a sufficient amount of money from ring-barking over several years, to set himself up with some land. He was not a drinker or a smoker, and living rough would have also also saved money.
In January 1901 Pop selected a homestead block of over 200 acres at Mt Hallen (assuming I am right in thinking that Sonoma is portion number 42v, Esk parish). At about the same time, he also purchased adjoining Abbott’s paddock, creating a dairy farm of 880 acres in total. The property was named “Sonoma”, a Native American word meaning “Valley of the Moon”, which Pop knew from his extensive reading.
Around the same time, Pop’s father Charles snr, now aged over 50, bought some land next door to Sonoma for his future. Charles snr had visions of farming at Esk after retiring from teaching.
While Charles snr was teaching at Barcaldine, Pop managed both Sonoma and his father’s retirement farm. At first Pop and Mary Ann lived in the big house on the retirement farm. Then Pop built their own small house close to the border with the retirement farm. I expect he did this to satisfy the residency obligations that were usually associated with selecting land and would have applied to Sonoma.
Charles snr did not retire from teaching until 1919, aged 69, at which time he returned to Esk. It seems likely that the Great War of 1914-1918 had delayed his retirement plans. At some stage, Pop paid Fred Drew to move his small house about 3km, either to put more distance between him and his father, or to be more centrally located on Sonoma land, or both.
Charles snr soon decided farming did not suit him – not surprising given his age and lack of practical experience. He sold out to Rudy and Auguste Limberg in 1921 (after which his retirement farm became known locally as “Limbergs place”). The Limbergs’ son Rudy jnr married Anna Clarson in 1928.
Charles snr and Anna moved to suburban Sandgate, in Brisbane, and named their Sandgate house “Sharow” (for Anna’s home town in Yorkshire, England).
Pop described his residence as “Oakdale, Redbank, Esk”, in December 1902 when he married Mary Ann Peters. From 1903 to 1936, “Charles Clarson, grazier” and “Mary Ann Clarson, home duties” appeared in the Australian Electoral Rolls, living at “Redbank, Esk”. From 1936 to 1954, their address in the electoral rolls was “Oakdale, Redbank Creek”. Anna‘s album includes a photo of a house, inscribed “Oakdale home 1919”. Charles snr’s address in the 1919 electoral roll was recorded as “Oakdale, Esk”.
From this, it seemed that the name of the Clarson retirement farm must have been Oakdale. The problem with this scenario is that the word Oakdale was added to Pop’s address in the electoral rolls from 1936, when the retirement farm was no longer owned by the Clarsons.
However noting that the occupations for Charles snr and Pop were regularly transposed in the electoral rolls when they were both living in Esk, perhaps one explanation might be that registration at the electoral office was a more casual process than it is today, and that the staff at the electoral office made several mistaken assumptions.
Pop originally called his poultry business “Oakdale Poultry Farm”, before changing it to “Clarson’s Poultry Yards”. So the name Oakdale was somehow significant to Charles, even if daughter Billie born 1923 was not familiar with it.
Anna‘s photo of “Oakdale home 1919” looks remarkably like a house that was shown to me by Anna and her mother Mary Ann, in the early 1960s, when I was aged about ten. This house was a short car ride from Sonoma, and it was obviously significant to Mary Ann and Anna. I believe it was the house on Charles snr’s retirement farm, which they both would have known well. It was unoccupied, which I could not understand at the time. But now I know that Rudy Limberg snr died in 1951, and I understand the house was left vacant until it burnt down accidentally in the 1970s.
I was perplexed when cousin Barry, a historian of the Peters, Jones and Findlay families, advised that Oakdale was a property owned by the Findlay family, and was at Redbank on the way to Hampton, west of Esk. A 1932 article in the “Queensland Times” noted that Charles Findlay of “Oakdale, Redbank”, was kicked by a horse, so Oakdale was still with the Findlay family in 1932.
My cousin Ray has suggested, and I think he must be right, that the senior Clarsons might have bought their retirement farm from the Findlays, and it was carved from (or adjacent to) their original Oakdale property. The Clarsons, knowing this history, simply called their retirement farm Oakdale to distinguish it from Sonoma. Goodness knows why they did not take the opportunity to give it a new name. The Limbergs, not knowing that history, did not use the Oakdale name.
Sonoma was a dairy farm, and the Clarsons had an average of 50 milking cows. The family (Pop, Mary Ann and any available children) milked twice a day, and once a day in winter. The cream was separated, and sold to the Esk Butter Factory. I don’t know how it was delivered prior to 1930, but from then son Norman delivered it by car. After he left home with the car (because no one else could drive it) in 1938, the cream was delivered to Esk via the rail motor from Mt Hallen. For the family, this meant a 30 minute/3km drive with horse and sulky to the railway stop. The separated milk was fed to the animals, ie calves, pigs and dogs.
The little house at Sonoma burnt down accidentally in October 1992, long after it passed out of Clarson ownership.
By 1945, all four Clarson children had married and left home:
- Charlie married Jo Stephens in 1932, when he was a stockman on Bellevue Station near Esk. He later worked as a carpenter for Queensland Railways at Ipswich;
- Anna married Rudy Limberg jnr in 1928, and they were farmers in the Esk district;
- Norman married Cora Feldhahn in 1938, and he was a grader driver and farmer in the Esk district; and
- Billie married soldier Reg Gill in 1943. He was a sugar cane farmer and they settled in Innisfail, North Queensland.
After Pop retired from farming in about 1948 (when he was 69, the same age his father was when he retired), he and Mary Ann moved to the town of Esk. They sold Sonoma to their son Norman, and bought Norm’s house at South Street, Esk. Norm, together with his son Barry, ran Sonoma for about 20 years.
Pop’s sister Ethel, who never married, lived with them at South Street for a few years, when she was teaching at the Esk school. Ethel retired to Sandgate in 1955.
Anna and Rudy also lived in the South Street house, first with her mother Mary Ann until her death in 1968. Anna was widowed in 1972, and lived at South Street alone until her own death in 1989.
The South Street house was located at the top of a steep drive. One of my abiding memories of Anna is her dragging her rubbish bin down to the side of the road, refusing any help, when she was in her 80s. After her death, the new owners moved the house down the hill, so it is now closer to the road.
Pop enjoyed carpentry, and was good at it. As already mentioned, he built his own house. The cattle yards that he built were renowned in the district for good reason. His trademark was large thick corner and gate posts. When grandson Eric aged 8 visited him in Esk in 1952, Charles showed him how to make a chair using a spokeshave tool. Pop’s son Charlie was a carpenter.
Tennis was (and still is) an important part of the social life of rural communities and Esk was no exception. In about 1927 Pop built a tennis court at Sonoma, the base of which was made from termite mounds, a common practice at the time. For a while, all visitors were handed a mattock and invited to help break up termite mounds. The new tennis court was launched with a large afternoon party, and was a resounding success.
Pop and his son Norman were keen cricketers, and both were spectators at the Fourth Test match against England at Brisbane in February 1933, in the controversial “bodyline” series. Pop was a noted wicket-keeper, and was associated with several clubs in the district.
He was a captain of the local Esk Rifle Club in the 1920s, and was a good shot, several times winning first prize at the club.
He loved reading and would read everything he could get his hands on. Shakespeare was a long time favourite. He also enjoyed debating, or what the rest of the family called arguing.
During the 1910s there were regular local press reports of his involvement with shooting, cricket, and poultry breeding.
Pop must have been interested in poultry from a young age, as he was winning prizes and donating trophies in 1907, aged 28. His special interest was breeding Indian Game fowl, and from the 1930s, Old English Game. He became the best known and foremost breeder of Indian Game fowl in Australia, as well as a successful exhibitor at the Brisbane Exhibition and Royal Poultry Club of Queensland. He also exhibited in the Sydney Royal Easter Show several times. He became a well-known poultry judge, and was invited to towns all over southern Queensland to judge, limited only by his capacity to travel. He was the chief poultry steward at the Esk show.
One of his favourite trophies was the Chaille Cup, which was presented by Harold Mapon Chaille, when he was president of the Esk Show Society. It was for the Show’s Champion Hard Feather Game Bird, and had to be won twice in succession or three times in all. Pop’s name was on the cup three times, as another person won it the second time. Pop and Harold were best friends ever since they were in the same class at the Esk school.
The following press article provides background to Pop’s interest in Indian Game birds, with the caveat that the reporter wrongly made Mary Ann the focus of the story, rather than Pop.
POULTRY BREEDING WOMAN’S OUTSTANDING SUCCESS. “First import, then export,” seems to be the principle on which Mrs C Clarson, of the Esk district, operates her poultry breeding activities. Having started with a trio of Indian Game birds from England, supplemented later by a larger consignment from the same source, she has built up one of the purest strains of this breed in Australia, and from the original foundation stock she has supplied breeders in every part of Australia and New Zealand. This year she carried off the championship for Indian Game birds at the Royal National, in addition to two first prizes for breeding pens and several other awards. Importing breeding stock even under ordinary conditions, is an expensive proposition, whether it be poultry, sheep, cattle or pigs, but when the shipping date coincides with a shipping strike, then the costs are even higher, as Mrs Clarson discovered when bringing out her second consignment. That the birds arrived alive was due to the co-operation of the passengers on the ship who undertook to feed and care for them during the voyage [and the additional time spent at Capetown due to a shipping strike]. Unfortunately for the freight bill, however, they used cinders instead of straw for bedding, and as no-one thought to remove the accumulation from the cages on arrival at Sydney, Mrs Clarson paid freight on a large quantity of ship’s clinkers as well as her English fowls. However, even with this extra expense, she considered herself very lucky to receive the birds at all. Her breeding stock came from Mr W Northcott [of St Austell, Cornwall], a noted English poultry fancier, who met his death shortly after the first shipment was made. Realising that with the dispersal of his flock, it would be impossible to obtain any more of this particular strain, Mrs Clarson hurriedly ordered a second consignment of 14 birds, and by scientific breeding has maintained their original purity. Her service to the Australian poultry industry in this respect has been very valuable. As she has had 30 years’ experience, it is not surprising to find that her output is in keen demand. On their farm at Esk Mr and Mrs Clarson combine dairying and poultry raising, and are always among the successful exhibitors at major Queensland shows (Queensland Country Life, 13 Oct 1938, p12).
When the second consignment of birds arrived in Brisbane, there wasn’t room for them to stand up straight due to the build up of clinkers, and many had Bumblefoot from standing on the clinkers for months. The hold-up at Capetown was caused by the seamen’s strike of August 1925.
Charles continued showing poultry, probably till his death; after which his daughter Anna took over the fowls.
The Clarson family had a memorable three month holiday at Maroochydore in 1933. They spent a lot of time fishing. Pop bought a half-share in a run-down fishing boat called “Cromarty Bell” which provided the family with much interest for several years, but no profits.
Pop bought a Model T Ford car in the early 1930s, but as neither he nor Mary Ann learned to drive, son Norman was responsible for the car. It was replaced by a Lady Betty within a few years. When Norm left home to get married in 1938, he was allowed to take the car with him, and the family reverted to one-horse power.
Pop’s mother Anna and his sisters May and Amy were somewhat estranged from Charles and Mary Ann – reason not known. Siblings Ethel and Ken, who were both schoolteachers, remained friendly. Ken and his family visited Sonoma about 1930.
The Clarsons were very friendly with their three impoverished Gill cousins – Amy, Mabel and Flo – who lived in Brisbane. There were many happy visits back and forth between Esk and Brisbane.
Pop had insulin dependent type 2 diabetes in his later years.
Charles Clarson died on 6 February 1957 at Stanley Hospital (ie Esk Hospital), Esk, Queensland, aged 77 years, parents Charles Clarson (school teacher) and Anna Nicholson. The cause of death was cerebral thrombosis and arteriosclerosis which he had about 10 weeks. The informant was Jean Dunlop, the Administrator of the Hospital.
His death certificate was reasonably accurate, noting that he was born in Yorkshire, England, and had been in Queensland for 72 years. He married aged 23 at Gullinanie, Esk to Mary Anne Peters. His living children were Mary Alice Anna 53; Charles Irwin 49 and Norman 44, with no deceased children.
Billie was not listed on Pop’s death certificate. However Charlie was not listed on Mary Ann’s 1968 death certificate, so we should not read too much into what was no doubt an accidental omission. Anna informed Mary Ann’s death, and no doubt provided the information to the hospital for Pop’s death certificate.
The funeral service on 7 February was at the St Agnes Church of England, Esk, and Pop was buried at the Esk Cemetery. There is a simple headstone on his grave.
A short obituary was published in the “Brisbane Valley Star” on 8 February 1957.
ANOTHER CLARSON FAMILY
Pop traded in poultry with Arden Davenport Clarson (Ardie) of Yangan, Queensland, who exhibited Light Sussex fowls. They did not know that they were related.
Pop’s younger brother Ken used to play tennis with the Yangan Clarsons, when he was teaching at Freestone from 1920-1924. They also did not know they were related.
As the surname Clarson is relatively rare, and they both came from Tamworth families in England, they could have assumed that there was a relationship. However, given that someone who prepared a family tree in England during the 1880s could not establish the relationship between the two branches of the Clarson family living at Tamworth, it would have been too much to expect someone in the next generation living in Australia to do so.
The gap in family knowledge seems to have occurred with John Clarson born 1787. He was a soldier who fought in the Peninsula Wars and served in Ireland. After his army career, he settled at his birthplace Tamworth, and died aged 43 in 1830. His three surviving sons were bricklayer’s labourers. These sons apparently had little or no contact with their Clarson first cousins, even though they lived in the same town. Their cousins were successful businessmen in the building industry (except for Abel who was a draper), and these middle-class Clarsons probably had little in common with their working-class cousins. Apart from that, I suspect that John the soldier may have been an embittered man, and possibly refused to have anything to do with his brother’s family.
John the soldier married in Ireland, and his surviving sons were born at Macclesfield, so there were few records at Tamworth giving clues to the origins of the three working-class Clarson brothers. It is no wonder that the next generation in Tamworth could not establish what their relationship was, especially if they were not on speaking terms.
In fact, Ardie born 1880 and Pop born 1879 were third cousins. Ardie arrived in Australia in 1910. Their fathers Arthur born 1840 and Charles born 1851 were second cousins; their grandfathers Abel born 1817 and Charles born 1823 were first cousins; and their great-grandfathers Joseph born 1775 and John born 1787 were brothers. Their mutual great-great grandfather was Joseph Clarson born 1748 at Tamworth.