ROBERT EDWARD KERR; At Bondi Junction
JUNE 1, 2011
I was fourteen years of age when my Grandfather, Robert Edward died in November 1945. Luckily I had grown up in his presence and had got to know and love him. Since about 1934 I had lived only two doors away from his home in Gowrie Avenue, Bondi Junction and I saw him on a daily basis.
But I did not really know him as a person and to understand what a wonderful and dedicated family man he was. It was only until my late years when I started Family research and switched from the Dumbrell family to the Kerrs that I fully understood what a wonderful person he was.
I was fascinated when I “found” Robert’s father, Samuel and discovered the things that he had experienced when he left Northern Ireland by joining the British army in 1842. My interest suddenly soured to a maximum when I read his exploits during the Maori War and his early days in Sydney in the 1850s where he commenced his business and family.
I got to know were they lived and understand the conditions that confronted them when he opened his bootmaking shop in North George Street, The Rocks. But, Robert Edward was a baby in the family and he was mainly hidden by his elder sibling’s activities.
My research, since then, has concentrated on his family and it has discovered many wonderful aspects that I never knew.
I have and still am very close to Robert and his family and I can recall many loving happenings and people that I was associated with over the years.
I look back knowing how lucky I was to have a wonderful grandfather and to thank him and his wife, Elizabeth for developing such as a group of family that continues in his footsteps.
ROBERT’S SINGLE DAYS.
Like many “Babies” in families, little is known about his childhood except Robert was born in Sydney on September 14, 1872 His parents Samuel and Jane had lived in Sydney’s “Rocks” since the early 1850s and with six older siblings arriving progressively. Robert’s first few years were spent at 187 George Street North which was a ground floor bootshop with dwelling on the upper floor. The combined business and dwelling moved to 728 George Street Haymarket in 1875. Samuel then opened another site at 92 Miller Street, Victoria (North Sydney). The family remained in the Lower North Shore for about 10 years but still conducted the business section in Sydney and North Sydney. I’m sure that the domestic area was much more space that in their early years.
NOTE: Samuel's Journal is available on this site.
So Robert’s earlier years were spent moving his home to a number of locations. Perhaps this constant change became part of his culture as it continued right to his final destination at Bondi Junction in the early 1930s
Robert was the second last child in the family. The last was Catherine who was born in 1876 but died the next year. However, his six older siblings ranged from two years to 19 years older than him.
Samuel business progress had steadily increased since his first days in The Rocks. By 1880 he had purchased a number of premises in Cumberland Street and in 92 Miller Street, Victoria which is now part of North Sydney. He had moved into the furniture dealing area and had operated a number of warehouses for this practice. One was at 187 Cumberland Street next to his home at 189.
This gave Robert the opportunity to enter a new field of employment that would be very handy in the family business I believe that Robert was signed up as a carpenter’s apprentice about 1886 and joined his elder brother in the Kerr’s enterprise. His occupation was noted by his daughter, Wynne in her family Journal when she remarked that during the 1929 depression Dad found it hard to earn a living as a builder.
Like most families of the age, music was a great part of their lives. The Kerrs were in this category. Robert was able to develop a very good baritone voice which he put to great use by giving many musical recitals. He also was gifted as a good flute player.
His most determined action that I have found so far was to sailed to Western Australian when he left Sydney at the age of 19 to go prospecting at Kalgoolie and Coolgardie. Stepping ashore at Freemantle he and his mates commenced the walk across the desert. How long that he was panning is not known but is known that he and his mates found no gold to speak of. Only food was damper. He was broke.
Luckily, he had a gold sovereign that his mother had sowed into his jacket That lasted a short time. How he got home is a story to be told.
The next few years would probably be put to good use with Robert developing his musical skill, work in the family business especially with his eldest brother Samuel Joseph and learning building techniques. His father was in his 70s and mother in her 60s. They moved to Paddington in the mid 1890 where Jane, his mother died in 1896
His future had a dramatic change on one occasion as reported in this extract from his daughter, Wynne Linda family document:
“My father, Robert Kerr and my mother Annie Robson met at a ball in the Paddington Town Hall in 1898. My mother was a good pianist and she was asked to play the piano to accompany a man to sing, while the orchestra was at Supper."
The next year they were married at Paddington and had seven daughters.”
Their story that my mother told me was very similar:
“However, before one performance his partner was unable to attend so he obtained the temporary services of a Anne Elizabeth Robson who lived around the corner at 53 Elizabeth Street, Paddington. Some how, this situation became permanent and the two became closer.
It is not known if the couple were acquainted but as they lived only a stone’s throw from each other in Paddington so the odds were favorable. They married in Paddington in 1899. It is not known which church that they were wed. They were of different religions but all the children were baptized Catholics. What’s your guess?
Anne’s parents were born in North Ireland. John Robson was a policeman attached to Paddington Police and he was born in County Fermanagh. His wife, Margaret nee McAdam was born at Derrycorr in County Armargh. Anne had five sisters of which she was the second eldest.
Robert courted Elizabeth until they married in Paddington on September 22, 1899. It is not known which church that they were wed. They were of different religions but all the children were baptized Catholics. What’s your guess?
THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF MARRIAGE. (1899 - )
Their first residence may have been in Paddington but they soon moved to Newtown.
The NSW Sands Directory shows that Robert operated a Draper shop at 198 Enmore Road, Newtown and was there until 1902. I‘m sure that his experience assisting his father in the shoe trade was a big help. His first baby and the first of eight daughters and no sons was born in 1901 and register at Enmore. She was Florence Doris and I believe that she was named after her mother’s aunt, Sarah Florenda who was born in 1873 and died in 1874.
Florenda was baptized at St. Patrick’s at Church Hill which opens an interesting story to this document. Robert and Anne were living at their business site at Newtown and Father Samuel at Paddington. Yet St Patrick’s was chosen as the venue for the ceremony. Well remember that the family had spent many years living at George Street North and St Patrick’s was their old Parish Church. And this leads to the fact that Robert’s elder brother, John Alexander had married Sophia Carlson in the same church the previous year. These two facts open the door to Sophia’s family story and the couple’s future married life.
The second item is that Robert’s eldest brother, Samuel Joseph was living in Erskinville and he may have been an influence in attraction his much younger sibling to the busy shopping area of Newtown. Also, Samuel Joseph had many years experience in the retail industry and this could help Robert’s early days in his first business.
1903 was a sad one for the Kerr family with the passing of Samuel at Paddington. He was 80 years of age and had a very colourful life that embraced Ulster, England, NSW and the first Maori wars in northern island of New Zealand and back to Sydney. He was buried with his wife and children at Rookwood cemetery Joy did arrive with John Alexander and Sophia’s first born with John Alex (junior) coming that same year.
Robert, Annie and baby Florenda carried on their lives at Newtown over 1902 and then moved back to their family from whence they came in Paddington. Samuel and the remaining single family were living at 83 Paddington Street near Elizabeth Street. Robert’s actual residence has not been found as yet. This seems to be the start of a number of times that they moved over the over the next twenty years.
But things were not all bad as Mabel (Mamie) Roberta was born there in 1903.
The Sands Directory then records Robert and Anne residing at 141 Denison Street, Camperdown and then Adelaide Street, Woollahra in 1905 with their third child and daughter, Anne Esma arriving in that year.
My early research could not find any evidence relating to the work that Robert was engaged in since he left Newtown. Examining the Sands report it shows no details of the old family shoe and furniture business being conducted in the Sydney area after for a number of years before Samuel’s death. Sure, it does reveal that Samuel owned a number of properties in the Rocks area and that they were rented out. But these disappeared from the directory after Samuel’s passing.
My initial thoughts are that Robert followed his eldest brother, Samuel Joseph in the shoe trade. I remember seeing a host of good shoe implements and tools in his Gowrie Avenue home in the forties. Then recently I received a copy of the Kerr’s family history written by his daughter, Winifred, She stated that Robert worked as a builder and watchmaker in the twenties. There is no indication if he preformed this work in this these early years.
I have a number of the Kerr’s musical sheets and one collection of about a dozen items bound to form a set has Robert’s writing with the date, 1900 and address, Enmore Road. They are well worn but worn well. Again, my thoughts are that he used the large, home made album in his recitals over the coming years and in the entertainment welfare of his guests at Katoomba- which I will discuss below.
The movements between residences and the girls kept coming in before 1911.
They spent 1906 in Adelaide Street, Woollahra and then made a surprise move to the Dulwich Hill area and remain local until the twenties. 1907 was Wardell Road where Dorothy Margaret was born on July 11.
The next few years is shown below:
1908 to 1909 5 Pile Street, Marrickville
1910 to 1914 246 Livingston Road, Marrickville
1915 to 1916 8 Barnsby Grove, Dulwich Hill
1918 to 1920 5 Pile Street, Marrickville
1921 to 1922 141 Wardell Road, Dulwich Hill
In this period of time, the daughters kept coming:
1910 July 5 Wynne and Zophia
1914 October 4 Vida
Florenda being the eldest was elected to help with the growing family. She left school after completing her primary education and then was a regular carer of her younger siblings.
THE NEXT BIG MOVE
Florenda Doris celebrated her 21st birthday on March 13, 1921 and Robert was sitting in a draughty position in the home in Wardle Street on that day.. He became ill and was taken to Marrickville Hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. It was a very serious illness at that period as there were no drugs to assist in his care. He nearly died. Luckily, with careful nursing he recovered.
Even so, he needed time to be nursed back to good health. The decision was made to sell the house and leave Sydney to move to the Blue Mountains which were very popular at that time. The family sold their Wardell Street house and bought a house at 22 Loftus Street, Katoomba. The year was 1923.
They settled in number 22 and to maintain their financial level they took in borders.
It must have been a reasonable large cottage with Robert and Anne with seven daughters between the ages of 21 down to seven years of age. And then the borders.
At last, Robert Edward occupation is clearly understood.
Florenda, the eldest daughter was need in the household and Mamie at 19, opened a Millinery and dressmaker Academy in Katoomba and probably at Loftus Street.
Esma, in her final year at school was 16 and helping at home and also helped caring for her younger sisters, Dorothy, 14. Winifred and Sophia (Zoe), the twins 10 and Vida 7 at school.
Sometime in those early years as the business became more popular it was advertised as the “Wrexham Guest House”. The building was extended and the Tennis Court was a great social area. The girls all played tennis and photos in my possession show many happy occasion on or in group photos outside the court.
A Tourist advertisement is a follows:
“WREXHAM GUEST HOUSE
22 LOFTUS STREET,
Wrexham House is full of 19th Century charm secluded, peaceful and quiet. Nestled in extensive mature gardens offering shaded outdoor eating areas and a clay tennis court. Quaint rooms sleep up to 7 with private entrance. Includes 2 bathrooms, cosy sitting/TV/library room as well as self contained kitchenette with cooking facilities.
Centrally located in the heart of South Katoomba with an easy five minute walk to Katoomba village, cafes, transport, magical cliff top walks and Scenic rail/skyway.”
Don’t forget the family’s musical ability. It was an important segment of the Guest house facilities which was a major part of attracting guests. Robert and Anne was still a musical couple and this feature was handled down to their off springs. It wasn’t just the parents who provided the musical entertainment in the evenings as the girls had a very experienced and professional teacher in her mother and she developed and directed them into ablely be part of the evening’s show.
And then there were the car tours to take the guest to see the wonderful mountain views and facilities that had attacked them to the area. The Guest House provided a tourist car with one of the older girls driver to ensure that no view was not missed
My Kerr musical relics include many of the Kerr’s musical sheets and many have the owner’s name and date written on the front cover. From what I was told and examining the many photos taken on the premises it appears that the Kerrs were a very happy group and made many friends. One family that remained very close to Anne and the girls in the mid 1960s was Lillie Rankins and her two daughters Dorothy and Lillian. They too can be seen in a number of snaps in and around the mountains,
Contact was maintained with their family in Sydney. Being a popular area and now within easy reach a number of family would visit and stay at the Wrexham.
The younger girls who attended the local primary school would sit for the “Qualifying Certificate” at the end of their primary training. Most students left school at that stage and looked for work. But, finding a position proved very difficult.
This was particularly difficult for the twins, Wynne and Zophia. They were unable to find a job outside the Guest House responsibilies.
Let me insert a section of Wynne’s Family Journal describing the family’s predicament at the time.
“My mother decided to take us to Sydney to get work. Mum, Mamie, Dorothy and us twins found a flat in Woollahra. Mamie had been trained as a Millinery, Dorothy found work at Anthony Horderns And Sophia at a photographers and me (Wynne) in an office and I went to business College at night to train as a shorthand typist”
However, the link to the Wrexham was not immediately broken. Sands Directory stated that a Mrs. Robert Edward Kerr was the proprietor until 1931. Robert stayed on with Florenda, Esma and young Vida. My thoughts are that this happened in 1928 as Vida was 16 and completing her at the local school. “Qualifying Certificate”
at the local school.
“We moved to Dulwich Hill and Dad, Flo, Esma and Vida came down and we rented a house (at 34 Kays Street) so we were all together again.
But the depression was beginning about 1930. I lost my position but was fortunate having a friend of the family working as Secretary of the Public Service Board. I had a dictation and typing test and passed so was given a position in the Family Endowment Department.”
To aid confusion to this situation Sands Directory stated that a Mrs. Robert Edward Kerr was the proprietor of the Wrexham until 1931.
The Thrifty Thirties
The 3rd GENERATION
Early 1930 were to prove a very difficult time the whole world. But it started with tragic circumstances for the Kerrs when Mamie suddenly died in Sydney in October of that year she was a young beautiful woman of 28 years with the world at her feet.
The girls talked of her to me on many occasions and their deep loss of their beloved sister was evident over many decades. Although gone, she was still around and part of the ever day activities of the Kerr family.
Mamie as laid to rest in Sutherland Cemetery.
Earlier in the year on March 1 saw Florenda become the first of the girls to marry. The lucky man was Garnet Stanley Grover Dumbrell, a joiner / cabinet maker by trade. His first wife, Alice Cooper had also died suddenly the previous year in Brookvale leaving Garnet with a 7 year son, Allan. Mamie had been Florenda’s matron of Honor at the wedding at St Bridget’s Marrickville. The reception was held at the Marrickville Masonic Hall.
The most popular honeymoon area was Katoomba but I’m sure that Florence and Garnet did not go there.
The newly married, with Allan in tow repaired to 62 Hill Street, Dulwich Hill, a house that I believe, but can’t prove, is where Garnet and Allan lived before the wedding..
Garnet, a carpenter and cabinet maker had built and contracted the building of a number of fine houses including two for his father, Henry. The first was at Victoria Street, Greenwich about 1920 and the other at Roger Street, Brookvale.
Again, Wynne comes to our aid by reporting:
In spite of the very gloomy financial condition:
“we managed to enjoy ourselves, playing tennis and moved out to Bondi when Mamie died. We could go swimming at weekends and then there ewer Balls on, held in the Ballrooms of the large stores.”
An example was the Empress Ballroom at Mark Foys Department Store in Liverpool Street, Sydney where the popular venue was situated on the top level.
Their new home was at 9 Gowrie Avenue, Bondi Junction a large three bedroom semi very close the Oxford Street’s busy shopping centre.
Early 1931 saw the family situation suddenly improve with the arrival of the first grandchild to the family. Florenda and Garnet, still living in Dulwich Hill saw the arrival of a son that they named after several family members:
Robert after Robert Edward his mother’s father
Henry after Henry Dumbrell his father’s father
John after John Alexander his mother’s cousin
Robert Henry John was not only the first grandchild but the first boy born in Robert Edward direct line since his birth in 1873 and the first boy born in Annie Elizabeth direct line since her father’s birth in 1837’
What a change in the household with some glad tiding putting a thin sheet over the sadness that they had experience the year before. But Mamie was still strongly in their thoughts.
In the meantime what was Robert Edward doing?
(Remember, there are two Roberts now!)
In 1932 he was 60 years of age and had gone through a life-time of adventures including raising seven daughters. The Wrexham was behind him and Anne Elizabeth was back to complete the present day family. Now a boy had arrived. What could be next?
The family were a very close group but I believe that Florenda felt isolated living in Dulwich Hill and yearned to be closer to them. Dulwich Hill to Bondi was a long way in those days. This probably persuaded Garnet to move to the Eastern Suburb. This was achieved by finding and opening a hardware shop on the north-west corner of Oxford and Adelaide Street, Bondi Junction. A “flat” on the second floor of the building was included in the contract. This was a ten minutes walk to Gowrie Avenue and they were sitting in Bondi Junction major shopping centre.
(This is now part of the large Westfield shopping Complex)
My judge is that I was 3 years old when we moved to “the Junction”. The “Flat” was on the second floor and looking across Oxford Street to Pine Street. About 10 narrow, dark steps led down from Adelaide Street to a dim backyard. For some reason I was given a three wheel metal bike with the handle bars taller than I. I found it great but it was soon retrieved when I was discovered riding it on the downhill footpath of Adelaide Street towards Grafton Street.
Next image is Gowrie Avenue with me licking a McNivens’s icecream “bucket” and viewing the empty one on the window ledge when I was recovering from the “popular” adenoid and tonsillitis operation at the War Memorial Hospital in Waverley. Actually, I believe I was the first of our family to be admitted to this hospital.
In the mean time, Dorothy Margaret was keeping company with Patrick Francis (Frank) Moran, a young Clerk of Petty Sessions Officer with the NSW Government Legal Department. The association developed and they were married at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Adelaide Street, Woollahra in 1932. I believed that they lived at Bondi. Beach. Frank was born and raised in Mudgee. His early rural life seemed to be a great influence in his later life.
Their first child, a boy they named John who was born in 1934.
Amazing, two boys in a row. Keep it up!
The War Memorial Hospital was the local general hospital for the Bondi population and I would image that John was born there.
The remaining single girls were all working in the city. Esma used her dressmaking skills to work in the industry with the workshop situated near Elizabeth and Reserve Street. Wynne was still in the Public Service, Zoe at the photographers and Vida was employed as a shop assistant at Coles Liverpool Street.
The depression was still hurting but the girls were still the happy group and getting around enjoying themselves. I have a number of photos taken at Bondi Beach showing the girls with family and many friends, And they had two young babies to enjoy.
As this decade slowly moved onwards, things also slowly continued to improve for Robert Edward and his slowly increasing family. Luck was in when the semi just two down from Robert at number 5 Gowrie Avenue became vacant. Garnet and especially Florenda jump in very quickly and moved into the rented property. My initial recollection of the new home was very happy as it was very similar to my Grand parent’s place which included a small backyard which I could put good use to.
I also clearly remember being hospitalized at the War Memorial with the common young child’s (in those days) illness Adenoids and tonsils.
TO BE CONTINUED
Tradition returned back in 1936 when Janice was born at The War Manorial to Dorothy and Frank. The family was still living at North Bondi.
but this changed when Frank was commissioned to the Law Court at Milton.
THINGS TO COME.
• JANICE WAS BORN IN 1936, WHERE ? War Memorial
• FRANK MOVES TO MILTON WHEN ? Mid 1939
• ANNE WAS BORN IN 1939. WHERE ? MILTON
• WW2 STARTS IN 1939
• Zoe married Harry in 1939
TO BE CONTINUED 07 MAY 2011
* 1940 to 1945