The John Gelme Carriage and Waggon Manufactory

The coach-building and wheelwright business established by John Gelme in Wagga Wagga at the turn of the 20th Century started in a small way but very quickly grew to become one of Wagga’s premier manufacturing businesses.

Gelme’s first premises were in Johnston Street, he having taken over the business of Rae and Wright in 1899. At that time the staff consisted only of himself and two other men.

John Gelme Coachbuilders, etc., 1908 [RW88.1]

The John Gelme Ltd building circa 1908. As his business grew, Gelme moved the business to Baylis Street (the site later became the Plaza Theatre, in the vicinity of what is now La Porchetta RW88.1)

By 1905, the business grew to be known as “The John Gelme Carriage and Waggon Manufactory” and had moved to Baylis Street. Gelme designed the new building with a frontage of 100 feet and, with a staff of twenty men, he had one of the largest manufacturing businesses in Wagga Wagga.

When advertising the change of address from his Johnston Street premises, Gelme apologised for having to refuse work because of being so busy. The introduction of his new complete plant, the latest machinery and increased staff, would alleviate this problem and all orders would be able to be fulfilled.

One of the additions to his new premises was a large showroom for display of his “high class sulky and buggy exhibits.”

Just a couple of years later, Gelme branched out into engineering, adding the department to his factory and employing Mr George Blackie as engineer.

In November 1911, registration was granted to the new company of John Gelme Ltd with capital of £10,000 in £1 shares. John Gelme became Managing Director, with TWW Burgess and WJ Monks as Office Managers.

John Gelme Ltd

The John Gelme Ltd building, circa 1926, Tompson Street: the car and wagon together show how the business was adapting to changing times (RW88.2).

In 1913, the business was relocated to Tompson Street and the Strand Theatre was built in its place (later known as the Plaza Theatre).

John Gelme retired from his position as Managing Director and moved to Sydney after a long and successful business career in Wagga Wagga.

Wagon made by John Gelme (RW88)


John Gelme Coachbuilders, etc., n.d. [RW88.7]


John Gelme Coachbuilders, etc., n.d. [RW88.9]


John Gelme Coachbuilders, etc., n.d. [RW88.12]


John Gelme Coachbuilders, etc., n.d. [RW88.5]

Pubs We Have Known

The 1960s and 70s was a time of demolition in Wagga.  “Get rid of the old to make way for the new” seems to have been the motto at the time and quite a few of the huge hotels lining the main streets of Wagga simply could not escape their fate.

The Grand Hotel midway through the process of demolition.

The Grand Hotel in Fitzmaurice Street (between Kincaid and Crampton Streets) closed early in 1964 and was replaced by a service station [from the Tom Lennon Collection RW1574/1560].

The Pastoral Hotel in Fitzmaurice Street, c.1960.

The Pastoral Hotel closed in November 1973 and was demolished a short time later. It was situated where the ABC Riverina radio station is now located [from the Tom Lennon Collection, RW1574/1560].

The Criterion Hotel, partway demolished.

The Criterion Hotel in Fitzmaurice Street, next to Romano’s, was demolished in 1961.

There were exceptions.  The Union Club Hotel is the obvious one, with its wide verandah still spanning two sides of the building today. Many survived the wrecking ball but had to “modernise” their look by removing their verandahs altogether. The changeover from verandah to cantilever awnings was a process the whole of the main street was going through, starting back in the 1940s, but discussions around such a change had been going on since 1929.

The Sportsmen's Club Hotel's verandahs coming down

The Sportsmen’s Club Hotel’s verandahs coming down [from the Tom Lennon Collection, RW1574/1560].

A close view of the demolition of the Home Hotel's verandahs.

The verandahs on the Home Hotel being pulled apart. The Prince of Wales Hotel’s verandahs in the background weren’t long for this life either [from the Tom Lennon Collection, RW1574/596].

 A few hotels were pulled down and then rebuilt to suit the changing times…

The Wagga Hotel, c.1960

The Wagga Hotel, on the corner of Edward Street and Station Place, c.1960 [from the Tom Lennon Collection, RW1574/1560], which became….

The new Astor Motel, c. 1960

The new Astor Motel in the 1960s [from the O’Hehir Collection, RW3048].

The Royal Hotel in the 1800s.

The Royal Hotel on the corner of Baylis and Forsyth Streets, as it was in the 1800s [from the Tom Lennon Collection, RW1574/1560].

Carmody's Royal Hotel, c. 1960s.

The new Royal Hotel, built in 1939 by Mrs Carmody. It was demolished in 1979 to make way for a new Coles, which later became the Sturt Mall [from the Tom Lennon Collection, RW1574/1560].

The main street of Wagga was once dominated by hotels.  But the needs and wants of a population are continually changing and the disappearing hotels with their bars, accommodation and meeting spaces, were a visible sign of the changing face of central Wagga.

Daily Advertiser on microfilm


CSU Regional Archives holds an extensive collection of local and national newspapers on microfilm. We have in excess of 60 different newspapers, including the Daily Advertiser, Wagga Wagga Express, Albury Border Post, Coolamon-Ganmain Farmers’ Review, Junee Southern Cross, Riverine Grazier and the Tumut and Adelong Times. You can view a full list of newspapers on the Genealogical Resources page of our website.

Recently, we received a large consignment of microfilm from the CSU Library which contains copies of the Daily Advertiser from March 1964 to April 2015. We have taken up a subscription in order for us to receive the latest editions of the Advertiser as they are released on microfilm. This means that we will hold copies of the Daily Advertiser from it’s first edition in 1868 up to the present day.

We have two ScanPro microfilm readers in our search room which researchers can use to make digital copies from the microfilmed newspapers. The copy can then either be saved to a portable data storage device or printed. Researchers are welcome to visit the Archives at any time during our opening hours.


John Peter – ‘The Prince of Squatters’

John Peter emigrated from Scotland in 1832, and by 1839 he had already acquired the runs that were to later become known as ‘Toganmain’, ‘Borambola’ and ‘Pulletop’. When he married the widow Mary Bourke in 1837, the ‘Gumly Gumly’ run was also attained under his name.

In 1853, Peter first acquired part of his ‘Tubbo’ run, which he transformed into one of the largest and most successful pastoral ventures in NSW. By 1872, it stood at an enormous 450,000 acres (700 square miles), and boasted 17 miles of frontage to the Murrumbidgee River. Incredibly, Peter left the colony in 1860, returned to Scotland and never again revisited ‘Tubbo’ or even set foot in Australia.

John Peter, 1812-1878

John Peter, 1812-1878 (from the Wagga Wagga and District Historical Society Collection, RW2893/252).

Stories abound about John Peter and it was reported that when the Government Surveyor, T.S. Townsend, was choosing the site for a new township (which was eventually to become Wagga Wagga), he was very interested in some high ground near the river which happened to be within the boundaries of Peter’s ‘Gumly Gumly’ Run. Peter apparently provided Townsend with a lavish dinner, and the site for Wagga Wagga was subsequently changed to the low-lying ground on Robert Best’s ‘Wagga Wagga’ Run.

John Peter’s success as a squatter was such that by 1866 he managed almost twenty runs in the Riverina area totalling some three quarters of a million acres, not to mention other holdings in the Lachlan area and further leases in Queensland. However, he obviously trod on a number of toes as he acquired his empire, being referred to as “…the greediest man in NSW”.  James Gormly said that Peter was found to be “grasping and aggressive” by adjoining station holders, and had had several long running disputes with Robert Best on his ‘Wagga Wagga’ run which bordered Peter’s ‘Gumly Gumly’. After several years of disagreements, a plough furrow was finally drawn to mark the division between the two holdings.

John Peter died in 1878, and in 1887 his ‘Tubbo’ empire sold for £360,000.

CSU Foundation Day

Charles Sturt University is celebrating its Foundation Day tomorrow. Now, the actual anniversary day was on Sunday (19 July) but it was decided we should do our celebrating on the Wednesday following. So what exactly happened on 19 July 1989?

Article from The Daily Advertiser,

from The Daily Advertiser, 20 July 1989, pg. 3

“… the strengths of their communities combined can create a university much more powerful in knowledge and skill than either of the colleges it has subsumed…”

Image of Dr Mel McMichael, Prof. Bruce Mansfield and Dr Terry Metherell with the commemorative plaques.

Dr Mel McMichael, Principal of MCAE, Prof Bruce Mansfield, Council Chairman of MCAE, and Dr Terry Metherell, NSW Minister for Education, at the launch of  Charles Sturt University on 19 July 1989.

On that day in Bathurst, on the campus of Mitchell College of Advanced Education (MCAE), Charles Sturt University was officially launched.  The NSW Minister for Education, Dr Terry Metherell, unveiled the commemorative plaques and the inaugural meeting of the Interim Board of Governors was held.

During this meeting, the Board appointed Professor Michael Birt as Acting Vice-Chancellor of the new University.  Professor Birt was, at the time, also the Vice-Chancellor of the University of NSW which was the “sponsoring institution” of Charles Sturt University.

Article in The Daily Advertiser regarding the launching of  Charles Sturt University in Bathurst the next day.

from The Daily Advertiser, 19 July 1989, pg. 5

“The university’s particular mission will be to serve the needs and aspirations of western and south western NSW. It must also strive to be a university of the highest standards and serve the needs of the whole of NSW and Australia.”

The Hillston Jubilee Show

I recently stumbled across this photograph in the archive collection which, I must confess, I had no idea we even had.  It depicts the members of the Hillston Pastoral and Agricultural Association in 1931.

Members of the Hillston Pastoral and Agricultural Association Committee, 1931

The Hillston Pastoral and Agricultural Association Committee, 1931 [CSURA RW225]

On it’s own, it’s probably not the most exciting photograph in our collection. However, wonder of wonders, some kind soul has written the names of each man on the reverse side!

Standing, left to right:

Mr Parker, H Ordew, C Seton, W Lathane, C Harris, J Web, S Gordon (secretary, light suit), A Cashmere, Mr Pentland, R Peters snr, Jno Dutchison, R Peters jnr, J Bush.

Sitting, left to right:

J Rose (vice president), J Morant (president), P MacKinnon (vice president), L Buckman.

The 1931 Hillston Show was their Jubilee Show, the first show being held in 1881.  The town also took the opportunity to incorporate a “Back to Hillston” event in the same week, to celebrate the town’s beginnings and encouraging old residents to return to the town.

It’s worth taking a moment to consider that 1931 was also a “depression year.” The editor of the Hillston Spectator felt that it was unfortunate the two events had coincided, saying such an occasion as a jubilee, “demands additional impetus and attraction.” But he thought the Committee was to be commended for going ahead anyway.

“We feel sure that the people of Hillston and district will do their best to assist the Association. Let everyone endeavor to prepare something as an exhibit. Entries in large numbers help to make a Show – and a good Show helps to place a town and district in the forefront of progressive communities.”

Gundagai’s Great Flood

The 24th & 25th June 2015 will mark the 163rd anniversary of the Great Flood of 1852 which descended upon the Murrumbidgee River and in particular the township of Gundagai. To this day, the 1852 flood remains as the worst flood in Australian history due to the loss of life which occurred at Gundagai.

The original settlement of Gundagai was officially gazetted in 1838 and a township soon began to develop on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River at a place that had been known as “The Crossing”. It seemed natural that a development would spring up at a location that was one of the main crossing places on the road between Sydney and Melbourne. This particular site had even been identified by Captain Charles Sturt on his explorations as a favourable place for crossing the Murrumbidgee.

Unfortunately, the growth, development and surveying of the fledgling village coincided with one of the worst droughts of the 19th century, which was particularly bad in 1838-39. This meant that the first buildings were constructed along the banks of the river and the adjacent river flats. Allotments of land were sold and the plan for the township was laid out with inns, hotels, stores, schools and homes all being built on a tongue of land between the Murrumbidgee River and a tributary called Morley’s Creek.

Despite dire warnings about building on the river flats and possible future floods from the local Indigenous population, Gundagai began to thrive. The first real signs of trouble were in 1844 when a serious flood inundated most of the buildings in Gundagai to a level of approximately three feet. This experience was enough for many locals to petition Governor Gipps for land on higher ground to be released, however this request was denied. Understandably, the Government was later subjected to severe criticism for this decision following the devastation of the 1852 flood.

By 1852 Gundagai had a population of approximately 250 people. The month of June had been incredibly wet with almost three weeks of heavy rain. By the morning of Thursday 24th June the township was isolated, and later in the afternoon the river flats were also completely under water. On Thursday night and during Friday the floodwaters continued to rise as the waters from the upper catchment areas began to hit the township.

During Friday night (25th June) people were forced to clamber onto the roofs of the buildings to avoid being swept away. Others braved the raging waters and tried to swim to find the safety of a tree. The floodwaters were flowing through the houses and buildings at a height of six and a half feet.

One survivor who was obviously deeply traumatised by the whole ordeal later recounted,

“Men, women and children never ceased screaming the whole time… A lull would come for a few moments, we could hear the most heartrending shrieks from those who were on the tops of their houses, crying for help, but none could be given them… We could now see a few poor creatures clinging on the trees calling for help; as the day drew on, their voices became more weak, their cries more faint; one after another dropped, and were swept away… those shrieks are now in my ears – never shall I forget the horrors of that dreadful time… the once happy and thriving town of Gundagai was now a desolate, wretched waste. The finding of dead bodies continued for eight or nine weeks.”

Some survivors who were able to find safety in the branches of a tree on Thursday night remained there until Saturday afternoon, through two days and nights of bitter June temperatures. Two such survivors were the young Gormly brothers, James and Thomas (their parents and three other siblings perished). The former was to later become one of Wagga Wagga’s most prominent citizens in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a politician and public figure.

When the Murrumbidgee River eventually peaked early in the morning of Saturday 26 June, it was a mile (1.6km) wide. The township had been almost completely washed away with some reports saying that only three buildings had been left standing. Whilst estimates vary on the number of inhabitants drowned, it is believed that at least 89 people perished as a result of the flood. This accounts for at least 35% of the entire population of Gundagai in 1852.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the calamity in the following manner:

“Never within the memory of either black or white man has there been such a disastrous and fatal visitation in these unhappy districts… One of the most fearful catastrophes which it has ever been our lot to record… The village of Gundagai has been almost entirely destroyed.”

As is often the case with devastating natural disasters, many stories of heroism come to the fore. In the Great Flood of 1852 at Gundagai, several young Indigenous men distinguished themselves with acts of bravery that resulted in dozens of people being rescued from rooftops and trees. Some reports say that one of the Aboriginal men, called “Yarri”, single-handedly saved 49 people by paddling out into the raging river in a small bark canoe. Fittingly there is now a memorial to “Yarri” where he is buried in the Gundagai cemetery. Two other Aboriginal men, “Jacky Jacky” and “Long Jimmy”, also helped save a large number of people stranded by the floodwaters. For their bravery, the men were presented with inscribed breastplates as a token of appreciation from the township.

Not surprisingly, after the destructive events of June 1852, Gundagai was rebuilt on the higher slopes above the Murrumbidgee River, as depicted in this photograph of the 1896 flood.

Gundagai Flood, 1896 [RW98/25]

Gundagai during the later flood of 1896 clearly showing the floodplains where the original township was situated. (from the Gormly Family Collection RW98/25)

References: Sydney Morning Herald 05/07/1852, 06/07/1852, 07/07/1852, 08/07/1852, 10/07/1852, 03/03/1855; The Argus 08/10/1932; The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser 24/07/1852; Australian Parliamentary Papers – NSW Legislative Council Votes & Proceedings, 1824-1855, Reel 8, pp. 239-249; The Daily Advertiser, 01/08/1998, pp. 16-17 & 07/07/2010; NSW Government Gazette, 09/10/1838, 22/11/1844, 22/10/1852; “Yarri – A Frontier Story”, Lateline Transcript, ABC, Published 22/09/2003;;;