Monday, January 31, 2011



Denmark was another stopover for the Reluctant Traveller and me on that long jaunt around the world some years back.  Again we knew of Stan’s Danish heritage but had no firm details to base a search on.  Put it down to the ignorance of youth.  I might add it was pretty darn cold while we were there!



My husband, the man you’ve come to know as The Reluctant Traveller remembers his Danish grandfather well, so too does Marius Sorensen’s step sister Helene Olesen’s descendents, living now in the Laidley district of Queensland.

Teenagers, Marius and Helene arrived in Australia on the steam ship Dacca in 1887.  But before I discovered how they arrived here, and in fact uncovered Helene's existence I faced the daunting task of researching a Denmark born ancestor. 

I thought it would be easy, after all I had Marius and Louisa Jane Powell’s wedding certificate that clearly showed Stan’s grandfather was  born in 1875 to Soren Larsen and Ane Kristensen in the town of Sijs, Linna.

Easy?  Just confirming these details proved to be a linguistic and cultural nightmare.  

For a start, in Denmark a wife will keep her own name in a marriage though any child’s surname will be derived from the father’s Christian name.  Therefore Ane Kristensen retained her father’s name, Kristensen, and may even have been known as Ane Kristendattr;  or another woman might be Jensdattr or Jensen, or Christensen or Christendattr; in other words Jens daughter or Jens son. 

In the case of Stan’s grandfather, he was known as Marius Sorensen, the son of Soren Larsen who in turn was obviously the son of Lars. To compound the problem there are literally thousands of Ane Kristensen’s in Danish records, even narrowing it down to Ane Marie Kristensen, courtesy of a fellow family researcher didn’t help. 

Denmark provides a comprehensive online family history centre,, but this site works well only if someone like me has an even rudimentary understanding of the language.  I quickly found to my embarrassment that I couldn’t even get past the simple action of entering my allotted password.

When much later, with the help of others, I did succeed, I found it difficult to understand the frequent marriages of young men to much older women. I kept thinking I had skipped back a generation and had logged onto a mother or a grandmother’s marriage. It was all very puzzling until an internet contact explained; when a farmer died, to keep the land in the family the widow married a younger relation, and then when the widow died the farm became his.  In many cases, marriages such as these would have been in name only.

That may have been the case with Marius Sorensen’s mother:  On the death of her husband Soren Larsen she could have been snapped up by Rasmus Olesen.  But tracing his family, or even pinning down the death of either Soren Larsen or Ane Marie Kristensen has proven almost impossible mired down, as Danish history is, in the naming of successive children. 

Finally I begged the help of a professional researcher but even she could find only the one following entry for Marius Sorensen, and that was in the 1880 Denmark census.

The 1880 census entry for Skanderborg, Gjern, Linaa, Seis, Linaa Sogn shows:

Rasmus Olesen             age 35 married   Husfader      born Harlev S.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           AarhusAmt
Ane Marie Kristensen   age 54 married   Hans Kone   born Randers Amt
Marius Sorensen            age 12 child                               born here in Sognet
Helene Olesen                 age 9 child                                born here in Sognet
Rasmus is shown as a Skovarbejder, a forestry worker.

 Helene is Rasmus’s daughter, but not necessarily Ane Marie’s; while Marius, we assume is Ane Marie’s son, but is not the son of Rasmus. Indeed Rasmus Olesen may even have been Swedish.

And that is about as far as I got with my husbands Danish history.


Original picture of immigrants at dock side held in the Kronborg Castle Museum


The reasons for migration were, and are, many and varied.  Marius and his family were labourers and farm workers and times then were harsh.  If young people wanted a better life, perhaps a plot of land to call their own, then migration to a far away country was the only option.  Some went to America and Canada, Marius headed to Australia.

In 1887 Marius and his step sister Helene embarked most probably in Glasgow, Scotland on the Steam Ship Dacca, the ship making a further stop in London before continuing on to Queensland.
In London the vessel took on more passengers and one particular item of cargo.

Marius and Helene probably didn’t know at the time but the ship was carrying a 2856 kg bell from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London destined for the future St Stephens Cathedral in Brisbane.

Cathedral Bell 1888-1988

Cast : Mears & Stainbank
Whitechapel Bell Foundry (London) est 1570
(maker of America's famous "Liberty Bell")
Arrival : Brisbane July 1887 - R.M.S. "Dacca"
Blessed - Archbishop Robert Dunne - 15 April 1888
Donor - Mrs Kelly Boundary Street Brisbane
Cost 250 pounds
Weight : 2856 kg

To put the times and year, 1887, in historical perspective, the church bell was probably first cast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry at the same time and in the same locality the notorious Jack the Ripper was terrorising London.


Actually the Denmark census entry helped me find their arrival on the Dacca.  Another Marius Sorensen arrived in 1878 on the Herschell and for a while I thought he was our Marius.  Then later I found the shipping records for 19 year old Marius on board the Dacca with step sister Helene Olesen aged 17, and of course the presence of Helene confirmed the arrival.

Helene Olesen Hermansen with her family

Helene married Herman Hermansen in 1888, and they went on to produce ten children, their name still prominent in the Gatton, Laidley district of South Queensland, recently inundated in the 2011 floods. Hermansen may even have sponsored the youngsters voyage to Australia.

Marius worked as a farmer or labourer in Queensland’s Wallumbilla area before marrying 22 year old Louisa Jane Powell, second daughter of Mary Jane and Cornelius Powell, in Roma in 1897. (The ancestor with the Welsh and Wiltshire background.)

Louisa’s parents Cornelius and Mary Jane Powell

In 1903 we find the Sorensen’s living in the small town of Dulbydilla, around that time the terminus for trains from Brisbane, and not far from Mungallala. At this point they have two children, Bill and Edith. Marius has found work as a ‘lengthsman’ on the rabbit fence while Louisa is employed as a gatekeeper for the 412 mile Gate.  Rabbit fence workers were provided with houses, a welcome bonus for the young couple.  Perhaps they have dreams of owning their own property and are taking on any available job towards achieving that end goal.

(No doubt readers not familiar with outback Australia will be wondering about the rabbit fence.  These pesky, overly fertile little creatures had been inadvertently introduced into Australia some years before, had bred like...well to put it bluntly, like rabbits...and were now eroding valuable farming and grazing land.  In an effort to halt their rampant destructive march a rabbit fence, variously estimated at over 2,000 kilometres, was built along the Queensland, New South Wales and South Australian borders.

Louisa and Marius listed on roll of electors in Dulbydilla in 1903

Women in Queensland at this stage could be listed on electoral rolls but would not be allowed to vote until 1905.

Marius and his good friend Fred Muller
Just ten years later in 1913 Marius is farming his own property, Alison Vale in Mungallala.  On current maps the township appears as no more than a dot on the railway line linking Brisbane to Roma, Dalby and the Maranoa.  Their family has levelled out to four sons and three daughters all born and raised in outback Queensland.

From the few surviving photos, Marius presents an impressive and calm manner, not all that tall but solid and sturdy. You can see he is a hard worker, and certainly a loyal friend.

A Hermansen grandchild, now himself elderly, remembers Marius at family gatherings happily smoking his pipe and playing an accordion. 

Thanks to Jeanette Sorensen in New Zealand whose husband John, like mine is a grandson, and an early photographer we have a posed study of the entire Sorensen family together with family friend Fred Muller, and a lady known as Lorna Green. 

Sitting in front of her mother we catch a glimpse of a small, very young Lucy Jane Constance; this child will become Stan Mortimer’s mother Connie

While the image has been copied many times and the quality is poor, it reveals a great deal about the family.  We can date the year to approximately 1914 by placing the youngest daughter Lucy Jane Constance at perhaps five or six years of age.  Fred Muller is still a close friend and may even be a partner in the Alison Vale property.

The younger children appear hesitant and wary while the four older siblings show they are no strangers to the photographer’s lens. Like their parents they appear relaxed.

The Queensland Electoral Rolls proved especially helpful in tracing the Sorensen family’s movements.  They showed the Sorensen’s, father and son, were working as fencers at Cargara near Augathella in 1925 with Louisa Jane and her daughter Edith keeping house for the men. 

 I suspect Marius was undertaking odd fencing contracts around this time because they are also listed in the 1925 Rolls for Mungallala where they are shown in the  photograph below.
By 1930 though, the family is living in Charleville where both Marius junior and senior are working as gardeners, and Bill as a stockman at Ambathalla.

The Sorensen’s were still living on their Alison Vale property in 1925 when this photograph was taken.  Around that time their youngest daughter, the student nurse Lucy Jane Constance was keeping company with her shearer boyfriend Jack Mortimer in nearby Charleville.

While the Sorensen’s  didn’t reap a fortune from their outback endeavours they did enjoy a close happy life with children and friends ending their days together in suburban Brisbane where my husband lived for a while with his grandparents.


The circle is closing, Marius has travelled the great distance from Denmark, Louisa Jane, Australian born has only her grandmother Jane Williams memories of Somerset and Wales; these children of European heritage have firmly imprinted themselves on Australian soil and in its history.  

But before we complete this part of our ancestors story you need to meet the Mortimer's of Yorkshire.


Next – The Mortimers of Yorkshire
Robyn Mortimer ©2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011



I was always especially close to  Grandmother Maggie.  Delving into her past has been an eerie experience; at times I’ve felt she has been guiding my thoughts, telling me which trail to follow, what to write.  

When I started this project I had no knowledge of her early life with Grandfather, the American from Indiana with the identity problem.  She never spoke of those early years, my cousins and I knew nothing about their life together in Fiji and New Zealand. 

 I wonder now, were those years perhaps too painful to remember...

This Ancestor series, necessarily condensed into blog size chapters has been marking time recounting just the one family member, Chas/Bert’s exploits.  Now, with this final NZ chapter  even more family secrets are exposed... 


The  Brown Parker family has grown, Charles Andrew is born in the southern island city of Christchurch.  Maggie now has three children under the age of  four and is living a transient life in New Zealand with a husband who all too frequently changes his work description.


Sydney born William Nelson Brown Parker -NZ 1903

Grandfather, the American with the double identity has moved his family further south to fresher fields where he is largely unknown.  Behind him in the North Island he has left a teetering reputation that hovers between the theatre, boxing, gymnasiums and increasingly, gambling.

Maggie and the children are now frequently left behind while he tours: Parked conveniently in rented houses or with obliging friends as Chas travels from one locality to another. 

In his wake he leaves a trail of newspaper clippings,  without these footprints from the past I would never have known the many chaotic facets of Life with Charles Nelson Brown-Parker.



Chas has tasted the sweet smell of showbiz success.   He has seen at close hand the clever creation of theatrical performance by the masters Harry Rickard and Percy Dix, and now he feels if they can do it, so can he. With confidence and bravado he begins to put together his own touring company.

Two important ingredients he lacks; money and credibility:  But Grandfather has chutzpah aplenty and a silver tongue to match and it doesn’t take him long to find willing creditors amongst the business community of Dunedin. We find our first hint of the Net Ball Variety Company in a July 1904 edition of the New Zealand Free Lance.

Grandfather builds his stage show around a game of Net Ball played by two ‘five a side’ teams comprising ‘attractive young ladies wearing suitably brief and becoming costumes’.  A newspaper review describes the ‘young ladies infusing great dash and animation into their play, taking frequent falls with serenity and mirth, collaring their opponents with determination; using hands and heads to great advantage in something imitating the game of Rugby.'

The audience enjoys the performance; but while the net ball part of the show was a first for Dunedin, the concept elsewhere was not. The format had already been used to great advantage in Wellington by the girls of the J.C. Williamson Musical Company when they played a comic cricket match to raise funds for the Elingamite ship wreck fund. Used too in 1901 in Melbourne staging a mock female challenge between New South Wales and Victoria by the well known entrepreneur Harry Rickard who even went to the trouble of copywriting the act.

Grandfather's Net Ball stage show was a great success, initially. But then on August 17, 1904 just eleven days after the opening, a brief paragraph appeared in the Otago Witness that put not only the Company’s success in doubt, but also my concept of Maggie and ChasBert’s happy marriage.


A news item appears in the Otago Witness on August 17th announcing the death of Mr Brown Parker’s eldest son in Fiji.  I read and reread that brief paragraph and was stunned.  The death of their eldest son?  But my Uncle Bill certainly didn’t die as a child; he lived to a ripe old age, as my cousins Leota, Gloria and Barry could testify. 

Could the reporter have made a mistake? But that hardly seemed likely, after all the reference to Levuka couldn’t be associated with anyone else.

This was a child Grandmother’s surviving family, including me, knew nothing about, a bombshell I could scarcely believe. 

Within the tight timeframe there were only three possible explanations to mull over.  The first that Grandfather arrived in the South Pacific with a child from a former relationship... highly unlikely.  The second, they already had a child when they married in Levuka on the 14th June 1900... possible.  

The third I didn’t really want to believe...and yet I had to admit, ChasBert, after all wasn’t exactly a novice at the fibbing game.

The day to day working of the Net Ball Variety Company, ChasBert’s first solo production attempt I’m sure was more difficult than he first imagined.  We know he put the company together with financial help from a local ‘syndicate of influential businessmen’ who no doubt kept a close watch on their investment.  

Grandfather wouldn’t have had the resources nor the support of a Harry Rickards or the Dix company for instance; and if takings were poor and costs high he may have been looking for ways to do a runner and avoid or deter the inevitable debt collector. 

With Maggie already in Levuka he concocts a convenient death in the family, feeds it to the newspaper and makes the move further south to Invercargill.

Despicable I agree, but, if this was the case perhaps he was surviving under the maxim ‘desperate needs need desperate deeds’.

Another brief item in the gossip columns of September 1904 just a month after the ‘death’ of his son, however, reveals another good reason for Maggie to have taken the children, the three we knew about or the four there may have been,  and hightailed it back to Fiji and the comforts of home.



Ever the publicity hound, Grandfather seeks and is gratified by the amount of press coverage he receives as he struggles to succeed in this first attempt at stage production.  But I can’t help wondering how he reacted when he sighted the brief few lines presented in the New Zealand Free Lance of September 10th 1904.

 I was puzzled by the journalists jargon in mentioning Chas ‘straying’ around New Zealand.  The words he used had a certain suggestive almost hidden agenda to them. If Chas was literally ‘straying’ around New Zealand as the journalist suggested then his liaisons may have been a poorly kept secret...especially from his wife.

 At the time I pondered but didn’t dwell on the reporter’s choice of words until my attention was later drawn to an internet Boxing site. 

Buried in the list of contenders and their bouts was a young New Zealand featherweight featuring in United States and Canadian bouts between 1924 and 1929.  The young man’s name was Bert Brown and his birth was listed in boxing records as Palmerston North, Wellington, on the 1st of January, 1905.

Immediately two old conversations sprang to mind; my mother recalling two young men visiting her father in Sydney before the war, and the impression they were his sons from a previous marriage or liason; then later my Aunt Viti, a few years after Mother’s death, confirming the story but adding only one of the boys was Grandfather's son.

Bert Brown, the young fighter, was interviewed in 1925 prior to leaving for Australia where he hoped to ‘try his luck’.  Later in 1929 he was reported losing a match to Bobby Delaney at the Opera House venue in Palmerston, North NZ.  With the young boxer in Australia at the time the sisters were between 12 and 17, it makes Rewa and Viti’s story all the more plausible.

 If this young man was ChasBert’s illegitimate son, then the boy turned out a better boxer than his father.  Out of 34 listed bouts he won 20, lost 11 and drew 3.


I wrote the following paragraphs months before either of these events surfaced.  I’ve left the content unchanged, my thoughts at the time curiously parallel the facts and possibilities we now have difficulty verifying.

... Dunedin enjoyed the net ball show but 1905 seems to have brought Chas Bert the showman back to earth with a decisive thud.  Maggie has returned home to Levuka for the birth of their fourth child, a son Robert Alfred. 

Chas doesn’t appear to have made the trip to Fiji with his young family and the birth register is signed by Robert Foreman storekeeper of Levuka; stepfather or half brother Robert we don’t know.

Has Maggie Brown Parker had enough?  Is she fed up with their constant moving from town to town, the upheaval of babies and toddlers; is she hankering for the warmth of Fiji and the ready and willing hands of unlimited baby sitters?  Perhaps she is: who wouldn’t be.  

Or is her absence because ChasBert’s philandering ways have become more public? Six months would pass before we sight him again in Greymouth, on the opposite side of New Zealand’s South Island, with Maggie apparently still in Fiji...


These events did mark the approaching end of my grandparents sojourn in New Zealand.  Chas takes up a position as a compositor with a newspaper in the small, very small township of Kohukohu in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island.  Newspapers couldn’t resist reporting the move with a snide hint at his ever ready fists for hire.

Is it possible that Charles is now offering himself for sale to the highest bidder?  Has something been said during the interview to indicate the Kohukohu paper apart from needing a new man in the composing room is also in the market for a handy pair of fists?  Has ChasBert attracted a reputation around New Zealand as a ‘heavy’ who isn’t slow to hit back?

Street scene Kohukohu by Trish Fisk – building to left was once the newspaper office where Chas worked as foreman compositor.

Old photograph - Kohukohu 

This small sleepy part of New Zealand’s North Island probably wasn’t to Grandfather’s liking but I think it reminded Maggie of her home town, Levuka.  Small, but beautiful with lush foliage and a generous sweep of water.  A perfect place to rekindle a marriage.  A partnership that at that stage may have needed a great deal of rekindling.

Considering this is the first time we’ve seen ChasBert working in a normal occupation I imagine Grandmother has issued a gentle but firm ultimatum. 

My cousins, the Young family in Melbourne, provide another anecdote from their mother, Leota.  She remembers her father working in the Kohukohu newspaper and writing a column about comings and goings in the town.  According to Aunt Leota, Grandfather had her reporting back to him all the gossip she heard while attending the local school, useful grist for his mill.  A bit dodgy I would think, using a six year old as a primary source of information.


The next few years report no activity for the publicity conscious Chas.  Has he lost touch with his showbiz connections, opted instead for a quiet family life?  Another son, Bert Everett, is born in 1907 so perhaps domestic obligations have taken precedence over the glitz of the stage. 

There again, perhaps not...

Not surprisingly he does tire of life in the slow lane and the family move back to Wellington in the south.  But a return to ball punching, the occasional boxing match, a stint managing a moving picture theatre and the managing of yet another cycling troupe keeps the wolf from the door but doesn’t offer the riches and fame Grandfather really hankers after.

He makes one last attempt at running a gymnasium and athletic academy in Wanganui.  Business must have looked promising, over the next few months we find him spending a large amount of money on advertising. Grandfather has even splurged on a phone connection.  The telephone directory reads:

No. 382, Mr.C.Brown-Parker’s residence, Bell Street, Wanganui. 

Settled at last in a comfortable home complete with telephone, and a husband in an apparently successful business, Maggie must have felt on top of the world. 

I’m sure by now though,  she knew it couldn’t last. In most people’s lives four weeks would be of little consequence, but when it came to the highs and lows of ‘Life with Chas’ an awful lot could happen in just one month: as it did in October of 1909.

Leaving behind a trail of court appearances relating to gambling and non payment of debts, at  this point our treasure trove of New Zealand Papers Past news clips just about runs out.  On 4th December of 1909 Chas gives a final interview to a columnist on the New Zealand Free Lance in Wellington. 

The journalist conducting the interview makes a vain attempt to mimic and make fun of Charles' broad Yankee accent by way of exaggerated spelling. A crude few paragraphs, but revealing all too well my Grandfather's heavy American twang.

All in all it’s an unmemorable way for Chas to end his nearly ten years of New Zealand showbiz.
Chas and Maggie’s life in the Great South Land limps on for the next few months until it is finally left to a columnist in the Grey River Argus of 24th March 1910 to close the Brown-Parker’s New Zealand saga with the following press item from Australia.

Tellingly brief, it does little to explain the move, or detail their departure.

Brown Parker well known over here is now Manager of the new Brisbane Stadium.’


My Grandmother’s patience, no doubt sorely tested in New Zealand, is about to be stretched to the limit when she experiences the highs and utter lows of ‘Life in Australia with Chas.’

New Zealanders though will have to wait five more years before they learn a few bitter home truths about the outwardly genial, but duplicitous, ball puncher and show biz entrepreneur from the United States of America, my grandfather Charles Nelson Brown Parker.


We leave the Brown Parkers in cyber space for a short while, its time now to look in on the Reluctant Travellers side of the family....


Robyn Mortimer ©2011


Monday, January 24, 2011



Wartime Sydney – no shortage of clothing coupons for small me


I guess by now you’ve realised my Grandfather, Charles Nelson Brown-Parker had quite an influence on my life.  I knew him for barely five of those years but despite my young age I loved him fiercely.  My earliest ever memory relates to Grandfather.

We lived in the Sydney beach side suburb of Bondi, grandparents, mother, father, aunt and uncle and two grown up cousins. The flat, unit, apartment was, as real estate today would describe it, compact, 2 bedrooms, sleep out, one bathroom. 

But this was war time and accommodation was scarce, hence the slight overcrowding.   Grandpa loved playing the gee gees.  Horse racing and the placing of wagers for those of you in other countries. 

Saturdays it was my job to toddle along from the apartment where we lived past perhaps no more than a dozen houses to the one where the illegal SP bookmaker conducted his business.  There a very small me would hand over Grandpa’s bets written on a piece of paper while sucking happily on the black and white humbug or peppermint lolly we were both addicted to.  

 Knowing now our family’s track record regarding horse racing I rather think my American grandfather’s gee gees have yet to pass the post.


Looking back on the many chapters relating to this particular ancestor’s arrival in the land of Oz, I realise his journey is taking one hell of a long time to get to the point.  I do apologise,  but Grandfather Chas, or Bert - whichever you prefer, managed to dangle in this limbo of double life for so long I really had no choice.  So far I've covered his home country, the USA,  his time in Fiji, a brief early flirtation with Australia and now New Zealand.

You have to admire his perseverance if not at times his methods....


1902 -  Grandfather arrives back in New Zealand to  the accompaniment of gushing publicity. No longer the would be boxing champ ChasBert is now a lead performer with Dix’s Gaiety Company at Auckland’s Theatre Royal.  

New Zealand Free Lance, 15 November 1902

Only the Irish comedians Callahan and Mack precede him on the billboard. In publicity lead-ups Grandfather is described as the young gentleman athlete and expert ball-puncher.

 Journalists write about his surprising ambidexterity... Brown Parker is a clean, wholesome, handsome young fellow;  well set up and as active as a cat.  His personal attractions not less than his excellent turn have made his ten minute appearance very popular...

Grandfather’s show biz career has taken off, his big show stopper is the popular ball punching routine.  But before long he branches out into comedy and theatre teaming up with a fellow performer Sam Rowley in burlesque boxing acts.  The week before the pantomime he had shared the bill with the Merlin Illusionists appearing at the Exchange Hall with the Fraser Shaw Company. He even takes a lead role in the Dix’s pantomime production ‘Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves’.

His publicity interviews with various reporters show an increasing tendency to Walter Mitty type bragging.  To one reporter he speaks of a... rough time with a rifle during the Samoan trouble and fighting with American troops in the Spanish American War...  The reporter goes on to comment that Brown Parker a useful man to have around during elections or any other kind of national disturbance... When I first read that item I took it at face value never suspecting the words had a hidden meaning.

Later though I will have serious cause to stop and ponder on some parts of  ChasBert’s life and that last comment by the columnist will chill me to the bone... a useful man to have around...

While all this glitter and hoo ha is going on you have to wonder how Maggie is coping.  Two small children, the vagaries of New Zealand’s climate, no permanent abode and a husband who has become addicted to the bright lights of showbiz and fame, and rarely seems to be home;  something obviously had to give.  A return to a normal life perhaps.

And it did, more or less.  February 1903 sees Grandfather forming a partnership with two New Zealand gentlemen, no doubt of similar mind and ambition, to form yet another school of boxing, this time the Wellington Athletic Academy.  Percy Brady and W.Von Keisenberg Jnr feature in the publicity surrounding the opening.  But who was the mastermind behind this latest scam; I simply couldn’t describe this new venture in any other way.

Wellington Athletic Academy- Papers Past Feb 1903

In the newspaper interview Grandfather claims he was ...for years instructor of several large athletic clubs in America prior to joining the Rickard's Tivoli Company...a special feature of the Academy will be boxing and ball punching and the Sandow system of physical culture will be taught in all its reads the blurb.

The Great Sandow, internationally renowned, had just completed a tour of New Zealand,  Charles had met him and his entourage when both toured Australia with the Rickard's Theatre Company.  To ChasBert and his mates the very name leant legitimacy to their own venture.

German born Sandow began his career as a sideshow strongman before moving to England. Later in America, impresario Florenz Ziegfeld designed a series of popular stage shows around Sandow’s strong man attributes. The strongman soon became a household name attracting publicity wherever he went. 

Back in England Sandow developed a successful mail order business and was one of the first to advocate free school lunches for children. A friend of royalty and famous figures of the time including the author Arthur Conan Doyle, he gave generously to charity and to the early London Olympics.

Sandow sold his fitness regime to the world, Grandfather and others like him merely piggy backed on the great man’s fame.


Within a month the failing Academy attempts to drum up business by advertising weightlifting demonstrations and vaudeville style comedy acts courtesy of the visiting Fitzgerald Circus and Menagerie, a touring circus group Grandfather had met when he was performing in Sydney.

Then a month later the Wellington City Council condemns the Academy’s premises and the trio is forced to move to new premises at Carlton Hall.  The business venture limps on for a while at its new location but the much touted Academy is not a success, especially with profits shared three ways.

The academy partnership, like his previous venture, is short lived.  Percy Brady goes on to manage touring shows for the Dix Brothers before finally settling for the hum drum of the retail trade. Von Keisenberg will turn his hand to writing short stories before, oddly enough, ending up in 1930 as the New Zealand Government’s Assistant Censor.

About now Grandfather, with his glib tongue, attempts to legitimise his boxing endeavours by hosting a highly publicised meeting with the top men of the New Zealand Boxing Association at the newly named Olympic Club in the Carlton Hall.  This meeting takes place in May of 1903, with the purpose of instigating a boxing tournament.

Within a day another par in the same newspaper announces that Mr C. Brown Parker has removed his boxing classes in connection with the Wellington Athletic Academy to new rooms at the Exchange Building.  He also announces he is no longer connected with the Olympic Club classes.  There has been a split, a separation of some sort.


When the Wellington Athletic Academy first folds, it changes its name and becomes known as the Olympic Club.  For a short while Grandfather was associated with this new club before publicly breaking away.  But was all this just a case of pretence, sleight of hand, a smoke screen?

Located as it was in the upstairs portion of the Carlton Hall the Olympic Club retained much of its sporting affiliations and was taken over and managed by old friends, Frank ‘Snowy’ Sturgeon (remember him from the Sydney boxing bouts) and a dubious gentleman who answered on this occasion to the name William Eagar.  Not so much a gentleman’s club it was nonetheless run on the lines of a home well away from home:  A place where a man could relax, sip a few ales, play a game of cards, bet on a boxing match or if they felt the need utilise its punching ball and exercise facilities:  and on perhaps many occasions even enjoy the popular but illegal game of two-up.

It was indeed a gambling house and one has to wonder whether ChasBert did completely sever his connections with the Club or whether he continued to pay the occasional visit.  I would be surprised if he didn’t.  But keep in mind his growing family and a some time showbiz career that was paying a bit more than any of his previous athletic schools had. 

Advertisements for the club began appearing in Wellington newspapers around August  1903.  I imagine one of the Club’s most popular attractions was the Wednesday night ‘Smoke Concerts’. In fact these may have in reality been a smoke screen for what actually took place.

N.Z. Free Lance August 8th 1903

But by October events at the Olympic Club are coming to a head.  Police surveillance of the club’s premises indicates some dodgy goings on.

The headlines read...


The raid was sensationalised in newspapers throughout New Zealand.  The principals charged with keeping a common gaming house were named, Frank Sturgeon and William Eager who was also known as Richard Oxenham.  Thirty three others described as labourers, clerks and theatrical men were charged with being found without lawful excuse on premises used as a gaming house.

Subsequent trials, failure by juries to reach a decision, retrials and public condemnation went down in the annals of New Zealand’s legal history. Charles Nelson Brown Parker was called to give evidence and escaped prosecution only when the newspaper item was presented referring to his split from the club.   A narrow escape for Grandfather, but he wouldn’t be so lucky in the future.



It’s obvious Grandfather is struggling financially.  He has been forced to find other ways to earn a crust, first by opening his own academy, then working for others in a more legitimate  enterprise. His mind must have been wound to fever pitch searching for new ways to make an easy dollar. 

Finally with debts mounting he sets up a fight with the successful Australian boxer, Tim Tracey in Wellington’s Exchange Hall billing himself as a prominent titleholder from the States.  ChasBert was many things but he wasn’t a fool, he knew his limitations as a professional boxer, but recognized his ability to fudge a match.  He also knew it was just about impossible to check his boxing credentials in far away USA.

Grandfather was the opponent you lined up when you didn’t want your boy to lose, the opponent who acknowledged he didn’t have a hope in hell of winning, but knew enough to look convincing when he lost.  And lose he did, on just about every occasion he entered the ring.

True to form he loses the match with Tracey.  In the boxing world at least it seems ChasBert is a born loser.  Keep in mind though even the losers received  payment.

Two items in the New Zealand Free Lance around this time give us an enlightening description of an aging Chas as a ‘chunky little man with a hard face and hard muscles’. Whatever happened to the ‘clean wholesome young athlete’ of earlier years?

PAPERS PAST - New Zealand Free Lance 2 January 1904

Grandfather is still spinning tall stories yet somewhere in the interview he mentions his original trade; the first time I’ve seen him admitting to being a compositor or newspaper print setter – picking up stamps.  Again the reference to being able to look after  anyone requiring to be ‘dealt with’.

Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor – World Champion Cyclist

By 1904 Grandfather really is thirty years of age and maybe finding it difficult to match his youthful dexterity with the punch ball.  A visiting sportsman, the world champion American cyclist Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor arrives in town and who does he choose as his local trainer cum manager, cum bodyguard? The affable athletic instructor, and fellow countryman, Charles Brown Parker of course.  

I suspect the choice was made though with a lot of help from ChasBert’s gift of the gab the cyclist having no real choice in the matter. ‘Major’ Taylor was a quiet religious man of strong principals.  Though Kentucky born he had been raised in Indiana and perhaps there lay another link to Grandfather.

His success in the world of competitive cycling had been marred by constant racial taunts and physical threats and there was a real need for a resident minder or bodyguard; hence the presence of ChasBert.  I have to wonder though is this the first time Chas has been hired for his hard hitting fists because it certainly won’t be the last.

But in light of future revelations yet to surface in Australia the partnership between Grandfather and the cyclist, though brief, was a puzzling one.


Ahead, in his final years in New Zealand Grandfather forms his own theatrical company, an ambitious move involving chorus girls and large sums of other people's money.  As his family grows and Maggie seeks refuge in Fiji, Chas makes a sympathy seeking announcement to the press, but is he telling the truth?


Next –   Grandfather – Death of a Son - True or False...
Robyn Mortimer ©2011