James Gray, Undertaker

James Gray of Adamstown, was a leading businessman, citizen, and alderman who died on 30 May 1916 while holidaying in Blackheath, just a few days before his 73rd birthday.

Gray arrived in Australia from the north of England around 1878, and lived in Brunker Rd Hamilton West (now Broadmeadow) working as an undertaker. In 1885 he moved to Adamstown, and while continuing as an undertaker he also worked as a carpenter, ran a hardware and furniture shop and accumulated a substantial property portfolio.

Gray was one of the early proponents for the establishment of Adamstown Council in 1885. His desire to serve as an alderman was a model of perseverance, with multiple unsuccessful attempts to be elected. Conceding defeat on the fourth occasion in 1894 he was undaunted, stating that he “would again make an effort to get in to the council.” The following year he finally gained a place when elected to fill a casual vacancy. He went on to serve as an alderman for 15 years and was elected Mayor on three occasions.

Ralph Snowball’s photograph of 8 December 1910 shows James Gray in front of his business premises in Glebe Rd. Dressed in black, standing with his hand on the wheel of his Beeston Humber motor car, Gray is at work as an undertaker for the funeral of Jane Gilpin. Her son Edward is presumably the man standing at the front of the car.

This is one of Snowball’s finest carefully composed photographs, and in the dead centre is a very curious detail. In the glass windshield beside the reflection of Edward Gilpin, there is a slightly blurred image of a woman in a hat. But there is no woman standing next to Gilpin. Is this a ghostly apparition? Is it an accidental double exposure?  Or are we witnessing a clever piece of photographic artistry performed by Snowball, paying homage to Edward Gilpin’s beloved mother?

James Gray, undertaker, 8 December 1910. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
The mysterious reflection of a woman in the car windshield.

The article above was first published in the November 2019 edition of The Local.


Location of the photo

Although I am not 100% certain of the location of James Gray’s premises in Snowball’s photograph, my best guess is that it was on the south-east corner of Glebe Road and Teralba Road.

Probable location of James Gray’s business.
The corner of Glebe and Teralba Roads, Adamstown. September 2019.
Old street directory of Adamstown showing the location of Crown St and Thomas St.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
30 Mar 1880First mention of James Gray as an undertaker. His address is given as “Commonage, Hamilton”.
26 Jan 1884James Gray is one of the 153 petitioners calling for the establishment of Adamstown Council.
21 Oct 1884For Sale: A four-roomed house and shop. Commonage, Hamilton.
5 Dec 1884Last advertisment for JAMES GRAY, Undertaker, with the address given as "Commonage, Hamilton."
26 Jan 1885First advertisement for JAMES GRAY, Undertaker, with the address given as "Adamstown".
13 Feb 1888
11 Feb 1888
James Gray's first unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Adamstown Council.
10 Feb 1890
8 Feb 1890
James Gray's second unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Adamstown Council.
5 Jul 1890James Gray leading a movement to have Adamstown Council divided into wards.
5 Jan 1891James Gray is instrumental in submitting a petition to the government to have the Municipality of Adamstown divided into 3 wards. Interestingly the name before Gray’s in the petition is “Jane Gilpin”, the woman whose funeral he would organise as undertaker nearly 20 years later, and be the subject of Ralph Snowball's photograph.
30 May 1891At an appeals court, the property of James Gray described as a "carpenter's shop and residence, Glebe-road."
24 Oct 1891Further evidence of James Gray's subsantial property holdings - an advertisement to let a butcher's shop in Crown-street. (Crown St was the short section of Teralba Rd to the south of Glebe Rd.)
14 May 1892In municipal appeal court, James Gray's property portfolio is described as consisting of "six four-roomed cottages assessed at an annual value of £16 5s each."
13 Feb 1893
11 Feb 1893
James Gray's third unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Adamstown Council. In giving thanks to those who voted for him, Gray stated that "it was improbable that he would again offer his services to the ratepayers." That was a short-lived sentiment, as he stood as a candidate again the following year.
30 Dec 1893At an inquest concerning a fire in one of James Gray's rental cottages, his occupation is stated as "undertaker and carpenter". Gray "had an overdraft at the A.J.S. Bank for £150 … for seven or eight years, and had built five houses."
12 Feb 1894
10 Feb 1894
James Gray's fourth unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Adamstown Council. "Mr. GRAY said he had contested for a seat in the council and been defeated four times. He had a large interest in the municipality, and would again make an effort to get in to the council."
21 Jan 1895
19 Jan 1895
Mrs Gray, the wife of James Gray, accidentally kills her niece, Eleanor Turner, aged 13.
22 Jan 1895
21 Jan 1895
The inquest into the death of Eleanor Turner hears that she died from injuries inflicted by a knife thrown in anger at her by Mrs Anne Gray, after a dispute with her niece. The jury hands down a decision of manslaughter and Mrs Gray was released on bail to await trial.
21 Feb 1895
20 Feb 1895
Anne Gray sentenced to six months in Maitland Gaol for the manslaughter of Eleanor Turner.
15 Jun 1895"Mrs. Anne Gray, the woman who, on February 21 last, was sentenced to six months in Maitland Gaol for the manslaughter of Eleanor Turner, has been released by order of the Department of Justice. She arrived at her home in Adamstown on Thursday, having served four months of her sentence."
29 Sep 1908
28 Sep 1908
Death of James Gray's first wife.
13 Apr 1910James Gray advertises his Beeston-Humber motor car for sale for £450.
8 Dec 1910"Relatives and friends of Mr. EDWARD GILPIN are invited to attend the Funeral of his beloved Mother, JANE GILPIN. To move from her late residence, Thomas-street, Adamstown, THIS AFTERNOON, at a quarter to 3 o'clock, for Methodist Cemetery, Sandgate, JAMES GRAY, Undertaker."
(Thomas St is now the northern end of Date St in Adamstown.)
14 Jan 1915David Lloyd acquires Gray’s undertaking business.
21 Apr 1915First mention of James Gray's second wife.
2 Jun 1916
30 May 1916
Death of James Gray.
1 Jun 1916Funeral of James Gray.

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