Thomas Bevan, Undertaker and more

Thomas Bevan was a man of many pursuits. Born in Camarthenshire in Wales, Bevan emigrated to Australia with an older brother and younger sister in 1884 when he was just 22 years of age. They settled in Lambton and soon afterwards their father, mother and nine other siblings, including 13 year old brother Jonah, joined them.

Thomas’ immigration document lists him as a “builder and wheelwright”, but by the following year in a legal document his occupational description had expanded to “furniture dealer, upholsterer, and undertaker.” In 1887 he married Jennet Davies in Lambton and two years later they purchased a block of land in Pearson Street, for the family home and undertaker’s business. 

However, with three undertakers in Lambton at that time, and a population of just three thousand, the task of tending to the dead was not sufficient to make a living. Bevan had to diversify, as the sign on his house attests. He was also a “cabinet maker, carpenter, joiner” and could be engaged to have “saws set and sharpened” and “glass cut to order”.

After living and working in Lambton for 25 years, Bevan made a complete change in occupation. In 1910 he sold his house and property, and moved to the Richmond River area near Casino to become a dairy farmer. He lived on a number of properties in the area and retired in 1927. He and Jennet celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Lismore in 1937 and later moved to Sydney where Thomas died in 1941 and Jennet in 1953.

Although Thomas left Lambton in 1910, the Bevan name remained in Newcastle. His younger brother Jonah had become an undertaker in Stockton in a business that continues to this day. One difference to note though – because of the large increase in our city’s population, funeral providers today can have a singular focus that is in marked contrast to the multi-tasking of Thomas Bevan.

Thomas Bevan and family, Pearson St Lambton, 1890s. Photo by Ralph Snowball, Living Histories @ UON.
Jonah Bevan Funerals, Stockton, 2021.

The article above was first published in the April 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Thomas, William and Serviah Bevan travelled from Wales to Australia on the steamship Texas, in 1884 as assisted emigrants. The passenger list shows Thomas’ aged 22, occupation “builder and wheelwright”, and native place and county as “Carmarthen”.

Emigration list 1884, showing William and Thomas Bevan. Assisted Emigrant records, FamilySearch.org
Emigration list 1886, showing Jonah Bevan aged 13, with two older brothers. Assisted Emigrant records, FamilySearch.org

Newcastle Properties

Page 93 of the Federal Directory of Newcastle and District 1901, lists “T. Bevan” as an undertaker in Pearson St. Vol-Fol 796-107 shows that Thomas Bevan purchased the north half of Lot 6 Section K in July 1889.

Purchase by Thomas Bevan, Vol-Fol 796-107.

Lot 6 corresponds to current day address 41 Pearson St.

In the 1904 photographic panorama of Lambton, taken from the North Lambton hill, Bevan’s house and shed can be seen in Pearson St.

Thomas Bevan’s house and shed, seen in a 1904 photograph. Living Histories @ UON
41 Pearson St Lambton, March 2021.

In May 1910, the following advertisement appeared in Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate.

Property No 1 was the double storey house formerly owned by W T Dent, located at 18 Pearson St. Thomas and Jennet Bevan purchased the property in June 1908. (See Vol-Fol 262-127.) Although advertised for sale in 1910, the property was not sold until October 1919.

W T Dent’s house at 18 Pearson Street Lambton, in 1897. Thomas and Jennet Bevan purchased the house in June 1908. Living Histories @ UON

Property No 2 in the advertisement was the house and undertaker’s business at 41 Pearson St Lambton. The property sold to William James Hanlon, a blacksmith’s assistant, in July 1910.

Property No 3 was at 127 Michael Street Jesmond. Thomas Bevan purchased this property in October 1905. (See Vol-Fol 816-189.) Although advertised for sale in 1910, the property was not sold until October 1919.

Life in the Casino Area

On leaving Newcastle in May 1910, Thomas Bevan moved to the Casino area and lived and worked on a number of properties.

  • “Nunga” homestead, Fairy Hill, north-west of Casino.
  • “Carmarthen” property, McKees Hill, east of Casino
  • “Brynteg” property, Spring Grove, east of Casino

Bevan was a tenant of the “Nunga” property at Fairy Hill from 1910 until August 1914.

“Nunga” homestead, Fairy Hill, NSW. Google Maps. Imagery (c) 2021, CNES/Airbus, Maxar Technologies.

The exact location of Bevan’s property “Carmarthen” at McKees Hill is unknown. It would seem that he only rented this property as there is no record of a purchase, and the advertisement in April 1919 only mentions livestock and farm implements for sale, not the land or house.

In September 1919, Thomas Bevan purchased a property of about 280 acres at Spring Grove. (See Vol-Fol 2689-249) Presumably this purchase was funded by the sale of his Lambton and Jesmond properties in the same year.

Purchase of land by “Thomas Bevan of near Casino, Dairy Farmer.” Vol-Fol 2689-249.
Thomas Bevan’s property purchase in 1919 at Spring Grove.
Location of Thomas Bevan’s property “Brynweg”, to the east of the village of Spring Grove. SIX maps.

Bevan subsequently sold this property in July 1931.

Thomas and Jennet Bevan’s Golden wedding anniversary in Lismore. Western Mail, 23 Dec 1937.

Undertaker ratios

In the article I make the contrast between Thomas Bevan who had to diversify into a myriad of other activities beyond undertaking to make a living, compared to modern day undertakers who are focused solely on the funeral business. A rough comparison of the ratio of undertakers to population is revealing. The Federal Directory of Newcastle and District 1901, lists three undertakers in Lambton:

  • T Bevan, Pearson St
  • R Thomas, Dixon St
  • R and C Evans, Pearson St

With the population of Lambton shown as 3434 in the 1891 census, this equates to about one undertaker per 1000 people. Compare this with the modern day by looking at the area covered by the Newcastle federal electorate. The 2016 census shows a population of 152,948, and a Google search for funeral directors and undertakers in this area reveals eleven businesses. This equates to one undertaker per 14000 population, a fourteen-fold difference from the ratio that Thomas Bevan had to deal with in 1901.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
28 Aug 1885Indenture of assignment notification for "William Bevan, of Wallsend, in the Colony of New South Wales, furniture dealer, upholsterer, and undertaker, and Thomas Bevan, of the same place, furniture dealer, upholsterer, and undertaker, trading at Wallsend and Lambton, in the Colony aforesaid, under the style and firm of 'Bevan Brothers'."
29 Dec 1885Advertisement inserted by "THOMAS H. BEVAN, Undertaker, Elder-street, Lambton."
3 Jan 1887"H. BEVAN & SON, UNDERTAKERS, Elder and Kendall Streets, LAMBTON, BEG to announce to the inhabitants of Lambton and surrounding districts that they are now in a position to CONDUCT FUNERALS in the most respectable manner, and CHEAPER than any other place in the district. N.B.- Hearses and Mourning Coaches supplied on the shortest notice."
21 Jan 1887Funeral of Thomas Bevan's mother Catherine.
29 Oct 1887
27 Oct 1887
"Marriage. BEVAN-DAVIES.- October 27th, 1887, at the bride's father's house, Lambton, by the Rev. Richard Erwyd Davies, Thomas Bevan, contractor, Lambton, eldest son of Hopkin Bevan, contractor, Stockton, to Janet [sic], daughter of William Davies, merchant, Lambton."
7 Nov 1887First mention of "H. Bevan & Sons, Undertakers" in Stockton.
3 Jan 1891First mention of "Thomas Bevan, Undertaker" in Lambton, after some years being advertised as "H. Bevan and Sons".
5 May 1900
15 Apr 1900
Death of Thomas Bevan's father Hopkin, aged 66, at Stockton.
14 May 1910Thomas Bevan advertises the sale of three properties, two in Lambton and one in Jesmond.
26 May 1910
24 May 1910
"A social evening, promoted by the members of the Lambton Choral Society, was held in the Empire Hall on Tuesday night … to bid farewell to the conductor, Mr. Thomas Bevan."
26 May 1910"The members of the Lambton Congregation Church entertained Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bevan and family at a social on Monday evening in the schoolroom, on the eve of their departure from Lambton … Mr. and Mrs. Bevan and family leave Newcastle this morning by boat for their new home on the Richmond River."
1 Nov 1913
28 Oct 1913
Marriage of William Hopkin Bevan, "eldest son of Thomas Bevan, Fairy Hill, Casino (late of Lambton)."
19 Jun 1914"On Wednesday last at 'Nunga,' Fairy Hill, the residence, of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bevan, a quiet but pretty wedding was celebrated between Miss Catherine Bevan and Mr. W. H. Winslow Bassan."
17 Apr 1915In a court case over the dealing with noxious weeds on the "Nunga" property at Fairy Hill, "Thomas Bevan said he took possession in 1910 and remained a tenant till August, 1914."
28 Apr 1919On account of MR. THOS. BEVAN, 'CARMARTHEN,' McKEE'S HILL. VTIRTUE, NOBLE and CO., LTD., under instructions from Mr. Thomas Bevan, of McKee's Hill, will submit to public auction the whole of his Choice Little Dairy Herd, Plant, Horses, Pigs, Farm Implements, Galvanised Iron, Piping, Timber, etc."
27 Jan 1932After the death of Hopkin Bevan in 1900, the undertaking business at Stockton contined to trade for many years (up to at least 1932) as "H. Bevan & Sons."
23 Dec 1937
22 Nov 1937
Golden wedding anniversary celebration of Thomas and Jennet Bevan in Lismore.
13 Feb 1941Death of Thomas Bevan, aged 80, at Arncliffe.
11 Jan 1945
9 Jan 1945
Death of Jonah Bevan, aged 71, brother of Thomas.
26 Dec 1953
23 Dec 1953
Death of Jennet Bevan, aged 86, widow of Thomas.

Gittins and Eastham Store

Broadmeadow Co-Operative Society

The 19th century saw the birth of a new mode of grocery retailing – the Cooperative Society movement. Begun in the UK and brought to Australia by immigrants, the core idea was for consumers to own, control and benefit from their local store. Membership was open to all through the purchase of shares, controlled through democratically elected officers and regular meetings, and profits returned to members as dividends.

In April 1887 the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society formed with 17 initial members, and rented a four-room house in Lambton Rd to operate a store. At the second quarterly meeting in November 1887, the society reported the business to be “in a flourishing and prosperous condition.” In 1889 the society purchased their own premises (the small wooden building in Snowball’s photo) in Brunker Road adjacent to the Premier Hotel. Membership had increased to over 170, and a bakery department was soon added.

However, in the 1890s a prolonged economic depression put the society under financial strain. With many miners out of work, trade fell dramatically. The working capital of the society slowly eroded with over-optimistic dividend payments in the face of declining profits, and members withdrawing from the cooperative. By April 1897 the financial position was untenable, and the society closed. Only the largest cooperative societies, with many members and multiple stores, survived the downturn.

In May 1897 the Broadmeadow store was taken over by Robert Gittins and George Eastham, who soon erected a large brick building adjacent to the original building. Gittins and Eastham had emigrated from the UK to Australia around 1887, and after a brief stint working as pit mates at the Bullock Island colliery, opened grocery stores in Wickham and Carrington. They traded at Broadmeadow for 10 years until selling to Thomas Hughes, who then ran the store for the next quarter century.

Independent, locally owned stores such as this were the norm until the 1960s, when the big supermarket chains rapidly rose to a dominance in grocery retailing they maintain to this day.

Gittins and Eastham Store, Broadmeadow, September 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball, Living Histories @ UON,
The store was located at 3 Brunker Rd Broadmeadow, where the Premier Hotel carpark is today.

The article above was first published in the March 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The Broadmeadow Co-operative Society

The Broadmeadow Co-operative Society got off to a good start. After six months of operation, at their second quarterly meeting pm 31 October 1887, the secretary Mr W Roe presented a report and balance-sheet …

… which showed the society to be in a flourishing and prosperous condition, both with regard to members and financially. The shareholders number 69; paid-up shares, 104; unpaid-up shares, 22. The weekly takings at the store average over £50 per week. There is also a large number of non-members who purchase their goods at the store. The balance-sheet also showed that a large sum had been spent during the quarter in procuring a horse and cart and other necessaries required in the business; but despite this expense the society was enabled to declare a dividend of ten per cent. The report and balance-sheet were unanimously adopted, and the shareholders were very jubilant over the progressiveness of the society.

Location of Broadmeadow Co-operative Society Store. 10 Lambton Rd (April 1887 to April 1889) and 3 Brunker Rd (May 1889 to April 1897).

At the district Co-operative Conference held at Burwood on Saturday 13 July 1889, Mr R Gray, manager of the Pioneer Society at Burwood delivered a speech on “The rise and progress of cooperation in this district.” In the speech Mr Gray described the essence of the Co-operative movement as being …

“… that the profits of an undertaking do not go into the pocket of an employer, be that employer an individual, or several individuals united in partnership; but that they should be shared by the largest possible number of those who engage in the undertaking, either as consumers or workers. In our distributive co-operative societies the net profits on sales, after paying working expenses, interest on capital etc, go to the consumer.”

Mr Gray gave detailed statistics on each of the district societies, including the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, which …

“… started business on April 17th, 1887, with 17 members, and a share capital of £14, and a loan of £50, making in all £94. They have paid away in dividends to members on their purchases alone, since they commenced, £1037 6s. Their share capital at the end of this quarter is £685 11s 10d, and the number of members on their books is 173. These facts speak for themselves. Then there is the fact of their having purchased the premises which they now occupy, their fixed stock account amounting to £200.”

The premises purchased by the society was on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (Commonage). The location can therefore be identified from the Land Court Sittings in July 1890, when people of the Commonage were finally able to apply for legal title to the land they were residing on. From the sitting of the court on 28 July 1890

“Portion 2102; applicants, the Broadmeadow Cooperative Society, Limited. The district surveyor reported that the land was valued at £103 4s, and he submitted that the applicants should prove ownership of the improvements. James Raine stated that he was president of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, Limited, and he appeared in support of an application made by John A. Davidson, the then secretary of the society, for portion 2102. The society owned the improvements on the portion, which consisted of a shop and outbuildings. The land had been purchased from Charles Heath, who had been in occupation prior to 1888, and the purchase was completed on the 25th May of that year. Witness claimed that the society had a perfect right under the Act to make application for the portion, as they had been in continued occupation since purchasing. Heath had not, to witness’s knowledge, made application for the land. After a short discussion, the board stated that they would adjourn the further consideration of the appraisement until they were dealing with other portions in the same vicinity. In the meantime, they would recommend that the application be accepted.”

Subsequently on 4 September 1890, the Land Court formally accepted the application of …

“Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, Limited, lot 2102, £163 4s”

The Co-operative’s store is just visible on the right hand side of Snowballs 1892 photograph of the Premier Hotel surrounded by floodwaters.

Premier Hotel, Broadmeadow, NSW, 18 March 1892. Ralph Snowball, Living Histories @ UON
Broadmeadow Cooperative Store, 1892.

The rise of the Supermarkets

The Australian food history timeline website indicates that Farr’s of Newcastle may have been the first Australian supermarket. In 1957 the Chermside Drive-in Shopping Centre opened in Brisbane, including a supermarket that was soon afterwards bought by Woolworths. Coles then opened their first Australian supermarket in North Balwyn in Victoria in 1960.

By the early 1970s the big supermarket chains (Woolworths, Coles, Supa Value, Foodland, Franklins, FAL) had 50% share of the grocery retail market, and by 2020, the two major chains (Woolworths/Coles) had a 67% market share.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Apr 1887
4 Apr 1887
"A public meeting will be held at the junction of Adamstown and Broadmeadow Roads on MONDAY, 4th inst., at 7 p.m. All in favour of establishing a Co-operative Society are requested to attend."
6 Apr 1887"The meeting advertised to be held on the Commonage for the establishment of a co-operative society was, on account of the wet weather, adjourned to Mr. Raine's residence, where a very successful meeting was held. About 21 persons enrolled themselves as members, and gave the newly-formed society the name of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society. "
9 Apr 1887
8 Apr 1887
Meeting of the newly-formed Broadmeadow Co-operative Society … "A letter was read from a Mrs. Dickford, offering a four-roomed house, with outhouse and stable, facing the Lambton-road … it was agreed to take the building from Wednesday next, which would allow ample time to commence business by next pay."
2 Nov 1887
31 Oct 1887
Second quarterly meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society reported "the society to be in a flourishing and prosperous condition."
12 Nov 1887William Roe, secretary of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society authorised to sell postage stamps.
8 May 1889
4 May 1889
Broadmeadow Co-operative Society annual meeting. The co-operative now had 174 members and was in a good financial position, attributed to the fact that "the society has now premises of its own, which is a great saving in rent."
17 Jul 1889An essay on "The rise and progress of cooperation in this district" read by Mr. R. Gray, manager of the Pioneer Society, Burwood, at the Co-operative Conference. It has some good insights into the history and goals of the Co-operative movement, as well as detailed statistics on the current state of the Co-operative movement in Newcastle.
29 Jul 1890Commonage Allotments land court sitting, where the application by the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society for portion 2102 was considered. The application was adjourned, but with an intimation that it would be approved.
6 Sep 1890
4 Sep 1890
Sitting of the Land Court formally accepts the application of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society for lot 2102.
14 Jan 1892At the quarterly general meeting … "The report showed the number of members on the books to be 217" and "special attention was drawn to the bakery department, which is now in full working order."
28 Oct 1893Tensions at the Quarterly meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society regarding: withdrawal of members, lack of support from members, paying of dividends, bakery accounts.
31 Jan 1896
29 Jan 1896
Correspondence to Hamilton Council: "From Mr. A. Sharp, manager of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Store, complaining of the bad state of the road in front of the store, and asking council to effect the necessary repairs. It was resolved that the request be complied with."
20 Apr 1897"A special meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society will be held this evening for the purpose of considering the financial position of the society."
6 May 1897"The Assigned Estate Broadmeadow Co-operative Society. WE have This Day DISPOSED of the BOOK DEBTS of this Estate to Messrs. Gettins (sic) and Eastham, Grocers, Broadmeadow, whose receipt will be a sufficient discharge."
9 Aug 1897"Messrs. Gittens and Eastham, who have secured the property and business of the now defunct Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, have made good progress since they opened a branch store at Broadmeadow. The experience of the firm has been such that they have near completion a large brick building that is to be used for a store. The building adjoins the old store on the Brunker-road frontage, and is a splendid site from a business standpoint. Mr John Francis is managing the business on behalf of the firm."
25 Oct 1897"By the opening of the large branch store by Messrs Gittans (sic) and Eastham on the site of the old Co-operative Store the thoroughfare has been given a brighter aspect and the surroundings more enticing."
5 Nov 1907"PUBLIC NOTICE, TOM HUGHES WISHES to announce to the General Public of Broadmeadow and Surrounding Districts that he has Purchased the Business lately carried on by GITTENS & EASTHAM, at Broadmeadow."
29 Apr 1919
29 Apr 1919
"Mr. Robert Gittins, of Hannell-street, Wickham, the principal partner in the firm of Messrs. Gittins and Eastham, died at an early hour this morning at Waratah Hospital. Mr. Gittins was 65 years of age, and a well known and highly respected resident of Wickham for upwards of 30 years. His son is Alderman Reece Gittins, of the Wickham Council."
29 Apr 1919"PUBLIC NOTICES. GITTINS & EASTHAM. THE BUSINESS PREMISES of the above Firm at Wickham, Carrington, and Steel-street, Newcastle will be CLOSED ALL DAY TO-MORROW (WEDNESDAY), on account of the death of Mr. Robert Gittins"
30 Apr 1919Obituary of Robert Gittins.
5 Oct 1931Obituary of George Eastham.
23 Jan 1937Obituary of Thomas Hughes.

A new level of survey stupid

I’m not a fan of surveys. As a rule I ignore invitations to participate in a survey, particularly from commercial entities. I have two main objections.

  1. The asymmetry of work vs reward. If I complete a survey, I’m doing the work, but the business is getting the reward. I lose my time, they gain details to help them make more money.
  2. Most surveys ask stupid questions.

Like this one, after I recently purchased a Ryobi power tool and registered the product on their website to get an extended warranty period …

 

Stupid survey

Really? On the basis of my experience of using their website, they want to know if I’d recommend their product? The two have the most tenuous of connections. It’s like me asking you …

“Thinking of your recent experience of reading this blog post, how likely are you to recommend me to perform brain surgery on your family and friends?”

UnlikelyVery likely
012345678910

P.S. I was very satisfied with the power tool. Totally unimpressed by the follow up customer survey.

Bile Beans Bull****

My September article for “The Local” is now out, this month on Lawson Crichton, manager of the Lambton Cooperative Society Store.

One interesting side discovery from researching this article came from Ralph Snowball’s 1898 photo of the Cooperative Store, where I noticed that one of the advertisements on the front wall of the store was for a product called “Bile Beans For Biliousness”.

Bile Beans was a completely fraudulent product created by Charles Edward Fulford and Ernest Albert Gilbert, and first sold in Australia in 1897. The product was a relatively harmless concoction of plant and vegetable matter, but was heavily marketed with pseudo-scientific attestations as a cure for all kinds of maladies, including constipation, indigestion, rheumatism, influenza, and anaemia.

By the 1930s the product was being marketed as a weight loss pill for women with advertisements proclaiming that …

“Slenderness can be yours without dieting or fatiguing exercise if you just take Bile Beans. Just a couple nightly and you’ll slim while you sleep.”

Thankfully the marketing of ineffective weight loss solutions using pseudo-scientific claims of efficacy, gushing about the natural origins of the ingredients, and targeting women with insecurities about their body image – that could never happen in our modern day and age, could it?

Survey madness again

Can Kathmandu do mad? Yes they Kan-mad-du.

For years retailers have been engaging in the annoying  practice of asking customers to fill in a meaningless surveys to rate their performance. They are meaningless because the respondents are not a genuine random sample, the questions asked are often ambiguous and sometimes downright leading in the responses they are trying to elicit, and because the results of the survey probably just end up in some inscrutable graph in a PowerPoint presentation of a middle manager in the quarterly sales meeting.

On Friday I experienced a new extremity of survey madness when I made a purchase at Kathmandu. When I went to pay for the purchase with a credit card, the staff member asked me to key in ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to answer the question on the screen which was something like “Did you find us upbeat and friendly today?” Yeah, so asking customers to answer that while the staff member watches on is going to elicit reliable data. Not.

The December quarter saw a 37.4% improvement in upbeatedness!

 

Thin on thins

Shopping is not one of my favourite things, but after putting off a number of needed purchases for some time, today I spent more hours in shopping centres than I would normally endure. Here are some things I learnt.

  1. Size labels on clothing are meaningless. In the course of purchasing shirts I tried on many size L shirts, some of which were too small, some too big, and some the right size.
  2. A depressing number of retail outlets ask you to join their ‘loyalty’ programs so that they can track your purchases and send you junk e-mail.
  3. There are a number of perfumery outlets emanating such a stink that I wonder whether they ought to be reported to the EPA?
  4. Thin glasses cords are very thin in stock at the moment. There’s no problem acquiring a thick glasses cord (one that is visually distracting and reminiscent of rope for lashing down loads of freight) but it seems that the thin cords are in short supply. I had to visit 11 stores/chemists/optometrists before finally being able to purchase two thin glasses cord at Bupa Optical Kotara. It turns out they were the last two in their stock. So now there’s at least 12 places across Newcastle that doesn’t stock them.