Sunday, July 21, 2013

A sporting Michael Conlon obituary

Michael CONLON (1841-1913) was a successful businessman, local political identity, a 'sportsman', and part of a large family in Glebe. No wonder then that he has thrown up multiple interesting articles in the newspapers of Sydney and beyond, including obituaries. These helped me to write a reasonably comprehensive biography, but as the NLA Newspapers constantly adds new material, interesting details arise.

In this case, it is an obituary published in the Saturday Referee and the Arrow'. It is clearly a sporting paper, apparently published from 1912-1916, and while it clearly covers a range of topics, 'the turf' (horse racing) was its bread and butter. In the issue for the 29th November 1913 (a sporting Saturday) ran an obituary for Michael J Conlon. As one might expect, his pottery business was not the centre of attention, but rather his lawn bowls career. Being a sporting paper, its praise for Conlon's bowling prowess is worth noting. The reporter clearly did his (presumably) homework, as he also identifies that the invaliding of Conlon that took place around the turn of the century was actually due to a buggy accident.

The obituary is quite long, and the digital image is poor, so in this instance I will not reproduce the original article here, and have not the portion of article that is illegible. The author is probably the dedicated lawn bowls correspondent on the staff, based on the bowling terminology used throughout (' The great Umpire called the last end').

Saturday Referee and the Arrow
Saturday 29 November 1913
Death has removed one of the greatest of New South Wales bowlers in the person of Mr. Michael J. Conlon. The great Umpire called the last end soon after midnight on Tuesday, and at 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning he passed painlessly  away. He was a man in every sense of the word, and played his game, as on the green, right out. It was not my fortune to see this master mind in play, but bowlers in his life time with one accord, gave Mr. Conlon the palm, as being tho best bowler New South Wales has produced, for he was born at Fairy Meadow, Wollongong. He demonstrated this superiority on many occasions, for, besides winning his club — the defunct Glebe— championship five times, he carried off the championship medal in 1891-2, 1892-3, and 1894-5. In the 1893-4 season he missed the singles, but captained the rink which won the championship. He, too, played a great part in capturing the John Young Shield for the Glebe Club. Here was a competition the main condition of which was that the trophy should be won three times in succession, or four times in all. The City had won it three times in 1882, 1885-6, 1886-7, and then the Glebe men gained their first win. They won again in 1888-9, and played off with the City on the Balmain green in 1890. After play had been in progress 1hr 20min. heavy rain stopped the play the City men then being 11 up. On the following Saturday it was resumed. Glebe made un the leeway and won by four points. Few ot the players who participated in that victory are still with us, and only three now play, as the following list will show: J. G. Purves (Victoria Park), R. Briant. H. Halls, J. Wirth, ...  (Hunter's Hill).... In the N.S.W. Bowlers  Annual of 1896 the author, Mr. E. Llncoln, writes of the deceased : 'Mr. M. J. Conlon, of Broughton-street, Glebe, was one of the most remarkable bowlers in his time that Sydney - or Australia ever produced, and in his day he was undoubtedly the first bowler in Australia. He had a wonderful eye for measuring distances and his hand had a marvellous cunning for placing his bowls. All veteran bowlers who knew him in his palmy days of bowling willingly admit that his skill in dealing with a bowl was quite incomprehensible to all ordinary or average bowlers. Three times he was champion of New South Wales and five times of his club. It was whilst he was skipper of the now defunct Glebe Club, that the John Young trophy was wrested from the City Club, and this feat is said to have been largely due to his skill and tuition. When the Glebe Club died, he joined the Redfern Club, and for some years was a star of the first magnitude in that club. Of late years he has been laid aside by a painful affliction, and a considerable time has now elapsed since he had to abandon bowling, the game he loved so well. When he drove out, he visited some of the greens, particularly the City, and was always made very welcome As he could not alight from his carriage, however, and as there are only two greens in the metropolis in which his carriage could be driven, he did not see much of bowling in those days. His former prowess, however, is still talked about with enthusiasm among veterans. 

Apart from his bowling, he was a man of many parts. Possessing a bright disposition, his hand was ever ready to assist in any charitable cause. It is told of him that once when in a police court, two small boys were charged with some offence and were fined 10/. One boy's mother was present and paid the fine but the other boy said he had no money and his mother was at work. His father, he said, was dead. 'What's That' said Mr. Conlon, and on the story being repeated, Mr. Conlon paid the fine. That boy went to work for Mr. Conlon, and, though it is 26 years ago, he is still in the same employ, and under the kindly guidance, has become one of tho most valued men in the potteries. There are many men in the City who owe their first start to the efforts of the deceased. He was a great Shakesperian scbolar, and his recitations of these works and Shamus O'Brien are said to have been particularly fine. He was a born actor, and at times when in the Glebe Council, convinced his colleagues against their previous decisions to give effect to some proposal. On one occasion, he stood for Parliament, but was beaten by 64 votes. During this campaign, he found his election posters disappearing as quickly as they were put up, and a watch being set, his friends found the man responsible, was one Mr. Conlon had benefited when sadly in need of assistance. His retirement from bowls was due to a vehicular accident. When leaving the Victoria Park green with Sam Pritchard and other boon companions, the buggy broke down. Mr. Conlon sustained a broken leg, and Mr. Pritchard had his ribs broken. The bone did not knit properly, and, gout setting in, put him hors-de-combat completely. Despite his affliction, he maintained his kindly disposition. Towards the close his thoughts went back to the old game. He asked for his bowls. He had given his woods long years before to his old comrade, Harvey Taft, and, hearing of the request the City skipper dispatched the bowls to Glebe Point. But the old champion did not again handle his bowls. He had then sunk into unconsciousness, and passed quietly away but rounded by the members of his family. 

Tho late Mr. Conlon, in addition to being an accomplished orator, also dabbled in verso, and wrote as follows In commemoration of the first Interstate match between Victoria and New South Wales on tho late Mr. John Young's green at Annandale. The match was won by the Victorians, and Mr. Conlon wrote to the air of 'There Is Nae Luck About the House' : 

1'vt sat with sage in festive halls
With great historians been ; 
Gazed on blue eyes that rivalled a' 
That's deemed on earth supreme ; 
And when I think upon the rink
Arrayed in contest keen. 
A wild delight, surpassing bright 
Surrounds the bowling green. 

When bowling on the  green, oh, then
What social joy is seen ; 
See drivers then, 'mongst happy men, 
Hooraying on the green. 

The very air is fragrant there. 
No sordid project named ; 
The 'jack' our goal, and round it rolls 
The bowls for trophies famed. 
The Curlew sends a thrilling sound 
When bowls are gliding seen. 
And kangaroos rejoicing, bound 
Enraptured o'er the green . 

Some boast of blood of purple hue. 
Of filbert fingers fine ; 
A race o'er hist'ry's page, who threw 
A glory most sublims. 
Their training education, birth
Are bombast all. I ween ; 
True dignity, refinement, worth 
Like sunshine deck the green. 

Let mighty men of conquest rave. 
And fools of honor dream : 
Let rich men boast of what they have 
And knaves of what they seem. 
Give me the men of sense and lore,
 Whose stature, mind, and mien 
Proclaim them paragons who score
The highest on the green. 

Give Bishops grandeur, power, and ease, 
Ambition baubles bring ; 
Let crafty nobles titles seize
Of genius ceaseless sing
And fortune freely favors fling
The hemispheres between
But round me bring glad souls who sing 
The glories of the green. 


Pet kangaroos and curlews were kept upon the green at the time this was written —22  years ago.

Quite the song to have all the lyrics still in circulation. I imagine it has been many years since this one has been belted out.

 One interesting point in this obituary is the reference to the accident that occurred to Michael Conlon, as other obituaries state that he played his last game after collapsing on the green. It seems that this was no bolt from the blue, but rather the result of a buggy accident.  Sure enough, a newspaper report of the accident provides support for the above article, at exactly the time (1901) that other obituaries state he played his last match:

Evening News Sydney 
Mon 30 Sep 1901BUGGY ACCIDENT.
At about 6 o'clock on Saturday evening a buggy accident occurred in Ivy-street, Redfern, as a result of which three men were injured to such an extent as to require treatment at Prince Alfred Hospital. Mr. M. J. Conlon, of the Glebe, Mr. J. Pritchard, of Camperdown, and Mr. S. Pritchard, of Ivy-street, Redfern, were the occupants of the vehicle. They were driving along the thoroughfare named, when the king-belt of the buggy broke, and they were all thrown heavily to the roadway. Mr. Conlon's left leg was broken, and he also had lacerations to the hands and head. Mr. J. Pritchard had his left arm broken, and his right leg cut. Mr. S. Pritchard had no bones broken, but was badly cut and bruised about the head. The Civil Ambulance Brigade removed tbe three men to the hospital, but after treatment they left for their homes.