Opinion | Yesterday today with Alan McRae

BALANCING ACT: Three unnamed clowns with a penny-farthing bicycle helped Bathurst celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet.

BALANCING ACT: Three unnamed clowns with a penny-farthing bicycle helped Bathurst celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet.

This week’s image, which is from a postcard, features three unnamed clowns with a penny-farthing bicycle taking part in Bathurst’s 1938 anniversary celebration procession marking the arrival of the First Fleet. This is the fourth and final part in this series.

One unique feature of the Bathurst pageant was an historic horse-drawn hearse which was then over 100 years old. Many changes had taken place in the funeral profession during the previous century, but none as far-reaching as the horse-drawn hearse when compared with the modern vehicle.

It was connected to Bathurst as the old-time mourning coach had been bought from Sydney by Mr W.S. Hodge, an undertaker of Bathurst, to take part in the procession, after which it would be returned to Vaucluse House to rest for another 100 years or more. It was considered at the time in the undertaking profession to be the finest vehicle of its kind in the world.

The carriage was brought to NSW from Scotland by George Ranken of Saltram and conveyed to Bathurst. The carriage was purchased in 1861 by Mr Hodge’s father, the late Sebastian Hodge, who at that time was in business as a funeral director in Bathurst. Later, it passed into the possession of Mr W.S. Hodge, who used it as a mourning coach for 12 years.

When motor cars finally took the place of the horse-drawn funeral carriage, it was presented to the Royal Historical Society and sent to Vaucluse House. During its years of service, the funeral coach carried many loads of mourners to Bathurst cemeteries, and quite a few at Vaucluse House could recall riding in the coach 60 years ago. The vehicle was remarkably well-preserved for its age.

Many of the business houses dressed up their windows. Some had fascinating old Bathurst relics which were lent for the celebrations. The window of E. Webb and Co.’s store in George Street arranged for numerous displays chock full of memories from the early days which were made available by residents.

Mrs H. Flanagan, of William Street, loaned a lady’s black dolman which was bought at the opening at Webb’s store on February 24, 1851 by the late Mrs Flanagan; a scarf bought 54 years previously; and a lady’s top hat purchased 50 years previously. A bridal veil bought from Webb’s in 1863 was also on view. It had been worn at a Bathurst wedding two months before.

Another item on display was an early hand-made plate which was lent by Mr R. Taylor, of Kelso, who could trace it back 135 years. Mrs A.M. Bland, of Yetholme, made available some relics connected with the Piper family. There were two portraits – Captain John Piper and his wife Mary Anne Piper, pioneers who arrived in Sydney and resided at Point Piper until they moved with their family to Alloway Bank, the Bathurst property then owned by L. Williams. There were full portraits identical with those in the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

There are only two black and white drawings in Australia of Mitchell’s guide ‘Piper’. One was in Webb’s window and the other in the Mitchell Library. Christening bowls were and still are comparatively rare, but Bathurst people could see what one looked like in the collection of bowls used for the christening of 13 members of the Piper family, the first of which was used in 1806. When Captain Piper came to Australia, he brought with him a Chinese drinking bowl and a hand-made plate.

The final financial figures for the celebrations looked good and it made a good profit. At the time, the mayor said Bathurst could be “assured of the fact that the celebrations were the most expensive and enjoyable celebrations ever held in Bathurst’s history”.

“As a substantial surplus was certain, any leftover would be divided amongst the Bathurst District and St. Vincent's Hospitals, the Ambulance, the Diggers’ Fund and the Western Travellers’ Cot Fund,” he said.

- Alan McRae is with the Bathurst District Historical Society