Alfred Wilson Chisholm (1867-1928)

Joseph Wilson Chisholm and his wife Elizabeth were struggling financially in 1867 when the opportunity arose to lease a farm in the developing area of Porirua. The reasons for the change must have been compelling as it saw them moving at a time when his wife was heavily pregnant with their fifth child and with four children under the age of six: John Arthur Daniel born in 1861; Walter Edward born in 1862; Frederick James born in 1864 and Annie Elizabeth born in 1866.

It was in the midst of this change that Alfred Wilson Chisholm arrived into the world on 20 August 1867. The location on his birth certificate (NZ ref 1867/425/395) shows his place of birth as Porirua Road, Porirua. In her book, Audrey Barney describes the location as north from Johnsonville, a settlement that was little more than a clearing in the heavily timbered hills with a church, a school and a store (Barney, Audrey. Chisholm Cameos: Joseph Wilson Chisholm’s Yorkshire Ancestors and New Zealand Descendants. 2004). A missionary who was visiting the area during this time was less than impressed by the township.

“[We] turned into a valley or gorge winding for six or eight miles up. The appearance of the sides was very grand.  They rose about 200 feet high and were covered with rich foliage of deep green and here and there beautiful whins. …. After reaching the end of the valley we came by a small village …named Johnsonville…… Some of the houses are such miserable huts, not much bigger than a large hatbox, and literally buried in mud”

 (Watt, Agnes C.P. Twenty five years mission life on Tanna New Hebrides. 1896).

View of Johnsonville. Photographed 1885 – 1888. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, p1066,1897.

Despite the less than appealing description, the family appears to have thrived during their time there and Walter, one of the older brothers is recorded as fondly remembering his time “as a boy on the farm at Johnsonville” (Chisholm Cameos). Two more children were born while at Johnsonville, Horace in 1869 and Edith Martha in 1871.

In May 1872 the family moved back to Wellington then moved again in 1875 to Wanganui. Despite the changes in where they lived Alfred received a sound education evidenced by his future career as well as a newspaper article listing him as attending the Wanganui Grammar School and being awarded an unspecified prize (Wanganui Chronicle, 23 December 1876). Unfortunately, due to the family’s poor financial situation, he was not able to stay at school and by the time he was fourteen, he was in employment as a messenger boy with the Wanganui post office delivering telegrams (Chisholm Cameos).


Wanganui Post Office staff taken 1880s. Held at Wanganui Library, Ref NZC2.1.24

The people in the photograph are not identified other than the comment that it is post office staff with telegram boys in the foreground . It is dated as being taken in the 1880s, probably around 1881 when a new clock tower was added to the building and the post office was amalgamated with the telegraph service. It is possible that Alfred or his older brothers Walter and Fred are in the photo as they were also employed by the Wanganui post office in the 1880s.

Alfred did not want to follow his brothers with a career in the post office and began employment with Arthur Gyles, printer, rubber stamp maker and importer of type and printers requisites located in Manners Street, Wellington. The business was established in 1884 and Alfred commenced employment with the firm around 1885 (The Capricornian, 20 June 1896, page 10). It is here that Alfred learnt the skills of a compositor and saw the possibility of a career in the newspaper industry.

Although the Centennial Exhibition held in Melbourne closed at the beginning of 1889 reports on the amazing exhibits would have made Australia seem like the perfect opportunity for a young man seeking adventure and the chance to make something of himself. New Zealand did not seem to offer the opportunities he was seeking and he decided to immigrate to Australia. He boarded the Tepako in Wellington and arrived in Sydney on 6 May 1889.

It has not been possible to find a record of his movements in the first two years in Australia, although he does appear to have spent some time in Brisbane as it was here that he met Sarah Ann Wood, the daughter of Michael Wood, the railway station master at Wooloowin. Sarah was living with her family in Brisbane and her father was obviously concerned about the relationship and inserted a notice in the newspapers alerting ministers that she was underage in September 1890.


Public Notice. Telegraph, 9 Sep 1890. pg 7


This undoubtedly provided the impetus Alfred needed to find a permanent position and income that would meet her father’s approval. By April 1891 Alfred had moved to Rockhampton in Northern Queensland and commenced employment as a compositor and proofreader with “The Daily Northern Argus”. Three months after she turned 21 years and no longer required her father’s approval they married in Rockhampton on 6 August 1891.

Alfred became a well-respected member of the community working in the newspaper industry as a journalist and sub-editor of local Northern Queensland newspapers. He had settled into life in Rockhampton and welcomed their first child, Hazel Annie in May 1892 and their second daughter Ethel Edith in July 1893.


Alfred’s wife and two daughters at their home at South Street, Rockhampton. Described as the second house from the Ship Inn in the 1901 Electoral Roll

Known by the abbreviated name of Alf, he had become involved in sporting activities shortly after arriving in Rockhampton. He is recorded as playing either halfback or quarterback with the Rockhampton Waratah Football team over the next few years. By 1896 he was the Hon. Secretary of the club (The Morning Bulletin, 16 June 1896. Page 2). He was also a member of the Rockhampton Library and Debating Society (The Morning Bulletin, 27 April 1901, Page 1).

However, his greatest passion during this period appears to have been for cycling. He won numerous races and set a club record for the ride between Rockhampton and Mount Isa as well as becoming the secretary of the Rockhampton Gymnasium and Cycling Club. (Numerous articles in the Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton Queensland. 1892 -1901). The club was responsible for producing some leading cyclists during this period including Ben Godson who represented Australia and won the World Amateur Championship in Montreal Canada in 1899. Alfred raced against this great rider a number of times in Rockhampton however the closest he came to beating him was a third place.

His passion for cycling saw a letter published in the Daily Northern Argus (2 April 1895, page 3) with a very brittle response from the editor:


In April 1900 their first son was born, Albert Joseph Chisholm. (Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton Queensland. 27 April 1901.). Their life in Rockhampton was comfortable and Alfred seemed content with his career. Various newspaper reports show that he had become president of the “Central League of Wheelmen” (Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton Queensland. 17 February 1902), was involved in politics endorsing a candidate for the seat of Rockhampton and belonged to an organisation that supported the British government regarding the war in South Africa.

Unfortunately, this was to come to an end around 1902 when Alfred was removed or left his position as sub-editor with “The Daily Record”. According to newspaper reports, he had instigated a wager that involved another man impersonating a bushranger who was notorious in Queensland. Alfred strenuously denied this during the man’s trial but regardless of whether he was involved or not the event had left his name sullied.

..that individual who masqueraded us one of the Kenniffs at Rockhampton turns out to be practical joker. Any man who can swallow swords would not be much concerned in swallowing a wager for a fair sum that he was not game to play the pantaloon in public. But who is the newspaper man who wanted good “copy” and was willing to pay so liberally for it? Has he not federal “Hansard ” hard by? Is his library not furnished with the “Anatomy of Melancholy”? Is he so devoid of journalistic enterprise that he must hire a mountebank to provide it for him ?Fie, oh fie !
The Telegraph, Brisbane, 2 May 1902. Page 4.

It seems likely that he was transferred as he shortly after this he took up the position as a journalist with the “Cairns Daily Argus”. This meant that the family left behind their life and connections in Rockhampton to move to the recently declared town of Cairns with a population of 3,500.  Alfred quickly established himself in Cairns and once again became actively involved with the community. He was a member of the Cairns School of Arts (Morning Post, 26 Jan 1904 pg 2) and the  Cairns Boating Club (Morning Post, 13 May 1904 pg 5)

The family lived in Sach Street (later renamed Grafton Street) known as the Chinese area of Cairns and centrally located to the town activities and businesses. A severe cyclone hit the Cairns region in January 1906 causing major damaging to the town. The photo below shows Sachs street after the cyclone with some of the buildings damaged while others appear to be still intact. It also made me wonder if the woman crossing the street with the two girls may have been Alfred’s wife and daughter’s and one of the young boys in the shop front his son, Albert.


It is around this time that the family’s location changed again. The newspaper industry, even in the late 19th and early 20th Century was highly competitive and Alfred had seemingly made some enemies in the course of his work.  Unfortunately, the history of the trial in 1902 and Alfred’s involvement was to follow him. In 1905 The Truth printed a satirical story under the heading of “A Comical Card is Chissy”. Whether this provided the impetus for another move, or the damage caused by the cyclone and the fear of its repeat or other family reasons, by 1908, the family had moved to Brisbane (Australian Electoral Rolls, 1901-1936) and were recorded as living with his wife’s parents.


Article from the Truth newspaper 1 October 1905, page 6


Sketch of Alfred made during the trial. The Truth, Brisbane. 20 July 1913, page 5

Apart from electoral roll records showing the family living in Brisbane, there is a gap in records that would enlighten us as to Alfred’s activities. He reappears in early 1913 with the family having moved to an address at Milton. Alfred was working as bookkeeper and correspondence clerk with Alfred William Klatt, an estate agent and auctioneer. This job came to an end on 23 June 1913 when Mr Klatt was charged with stealing a rental bond and found guilty in August 1913. Alfred’s name once again appeared in the newspapers in relation to this trial.

Alfred had separated from his wife and children and his wife had taken in boarders in order to support the family around this time. It appears that Alfred had difficulty finding employment following the loss of this job and he was also charged with drunkenness and fined (Telegraph, Brisbane Qld, 4 July 1913).

His daughter Hazel had met a young man name, William Shute,  marrying him on 29 June 1913.  The wedding was announced in the Brisbane Courier and other Queensland papers, however, her father remained separated from his family and in his absence the bride was given away by Mr R Lord, an old family friend according to the paper reports.

Alfred was still living in Brisbane over the next two years and actively involved in politics. In 1915 he was Organising Secretary for the Liberal party candidate for Paddington, Mr George Sweetman. At the time Alfred became embroiled in a court case involving the salary of an organiser.  During the hearing Mr Sweetman described Alfred as “a truthful man, a journalist by profession and a long time resident of Brisbane….never found anything wrong with him except twice he was under the influence of drink (Daily Standard, Brisbane Qld, 2 June 1915). The election was a landslide for the Labor Party, with the previous premier Digby Denham and many of the Denham Ministry losing their parliamentary seats. Once again Alfred was without employment.

It is not long after this, in 1916, that Alfred returned to his profession as a journalist moving to Mackay to work on the “Daily Mercury”. He continued to battle his problems with alcohol and was charged with breaches of the Liquor Act in 1920 and 1924 and was fined.

Alfred continued his separation from his family. His son, Albert, was anxious to join the war effort and enlisted at just 17 years of age to fight in WWI.   In a letter to the enlistment officer, as he was underage, his mother states that she agrees to his enlistment in the absence of his father whose whereabouts have been unknown for some time. There is no record of contact by Alfred when his son was seriously wounded or on his son’s return as an invalid from the war. He was, however, involved in the Repatriation Fund Committee for returned soldiers as part of the publicity committee and representative of the “Daily Mail”. (Cairns Post. 11 April 1917, page 6).

For the next ten years, Alfred continued to work as a journalist and editor for newspapers in Northern Queensland. In 1927 he was working for the “Cairns Argus”. The electoral roll shows him living at the Norman Park Boarding House in Cairns in 1927.

His career as a journalist came to an end in 1928, when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He returned to Brisbane from Cairns reuniting with his family. Now suffering from a malignant growth on his tongue he was hospitalised and died on 24 May 1928 at Brisbane Hospital. He was 60 years of age. He was buried in Toowong cemetery on 25 May 1928.