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Frederick Thomas Montgomery Palmer 1888-1975

Born: 1888, died Newcastle Australia 1975.

Son of: Frederick Thomas Palmer (1858-1890) and Edith Caroline Palmer nee Bull.

Brother of:

  1. Paul Palmer.

Half brother of:

  1. Jack Bridgeford.
  2. Richard Bridgeford.

Frederick married: Norah Violet Gerard (1911-2009) at Grafton Cathedral Australia on 26th October 1931.

Frederick and Norah had issue:

  1. Ianthe Monica Asquith (nee Palmer, born 12 October 1932).
  2. Dara Gibbs (nee Palmer, born 13 February 1934 and died 7 December 2001).
  3. Freya Ferguson (nee Palmer, born 8 April 1935).
  4. Rosalind McLeod (nee Palmer, born 31 August 1938).
  5. Joseph Gerard Palmer (born 27 February 1946).
  6. Primrose Nelson (nee Palmer, born 19 February 1948).


By Reverend Frederick Thomas Montgomery Palmer 1888-1975


Part One - England.

"Truth is Stranger than Fiction"

"Goodnight Miss Sanson". "Goodnight, goodnight" came the ready reply, as the boys and girls readily moved out of Miss Sampson's London Academy. That was is the "gay nineties" and in the days when London fairly roared with industry and the poet Browning could cry, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world!"

For the little boy however, that trooped out of that dusty dingy house in Islington, life was far from gay, although of course with all children, "All was right with the world".  Yes all was still right so far, but how different it was to be! Both for him and the world!  As yet he did not know how far he was to travel, what strange sights he was to see, what tragedies to know, what heights to climb, what joys to feel!

From the first he loved the heights, if his stepfather who was a doctor, moved to a new house, up he would fly to the attic and try to find a way onto the roof.  In later years his mother related how on coming down the street she was horrified to see him calmly walking along the parapet of the house forty feet above the hard pavement below!

He was known as "Bubbles" from a fancied resemblance to a famous picture by Millais, showing a little fellow in green velvet and lace collar blowing bubbles from a clay pipe.  Almost an orphan, for his father (Frederick Thomas Palmer) had died before he could remember him, he was brought up by a stepfather who had been a great friend of his own father, as well as by a host of relations who did their best not to spoil him.  This stepfather (Dr John Sawyer Bridgeford) had lived a most adventurous life, having fought under Garibaldi and during the first South African war, during which his horse was shot from under him.  Although a surgeon, he was unable to attend to his own wounds and lay all night under the animal until released by the Boers the next morning.  He carried those ghastly holes in his leg for many a day after and had to dress them every day.  He used a heavy walking stick, and on one occasion was attacked by some London roughs who tried to rob him.  The next day the police came round to ask for some identification of these men.  The doctor replied, " It was too dark to see but if you find some good black eyes about Hackney Road, they will be the men."  They had attacked what they thought was an old cripple, but this was a man of instant action well versed in danger and fearing none.  His life, if it had been written, would have read like a Marryat novel.  It was lived in a generation that was, compared to ours, romantic, and at a time when freedom was not dead and adventure and even fame, called at the door of every man.  In a word it was individualistic.

Thus our little man learned to stand on his own feet, an accomplishment likely to be lost in our own time.  Thus we behold him one fine morning trotting off with his little cart and getting completely lost in the maze of London traffic.  The frantic mother eventually finds him at a Police Station blissfully asleep under a big blue overcoat, "he was dragging his cart right out in the midst of all the traffic" explains the policeman.  Every part of London is explored.  Where is his schooling someone asks?  In those days only one thing mattered to the lad who attended a "Board School" as they were called, was the cane a thick one or a thin one?  If the former, your hands and sometimes your back was going to be hit hard and they would ache for days after, if the latter they were going to sting like the devil.  The buildings themselves were monstrosities in stone or brick, calculated to make the trembling little pupils feel they were going to gaol.  Going to the headmaster to be admitted to a new school was a nightmare, and so school was hated as a good place to be out of.  Nor did it matter how much one played the wag as long as one was never caught!  And our little man was very hard to catch!

Moreover, money could be made by doing little jobs for tradesmen and others.  There were many people of the Jewish faith in the Highbury district and on Saturdays, their Sabbath, they must light no fire, so little boys could earn pennies from heaven by merely lighting a gas jet with a match.  You could also take a sniff at the broiled chicken cooking in the pot, but that was all.  How hungry little boys get in the wintertime and how little money there was to go round in those days!  There used to be incredible numbers of shops in those long long streets. Some of them were "Cook shops" bearing fetching titles such as "A good 'pull up' for Carmen".  One look in the window was enough, one smell of those viands sufficient to send the gastric juices pulsing through the tummy!  But, alas!  How much of those piles of rich steaming roast beef, those plentiful vegetables, those tasty puddings swimming in syrup or peering under mounds of sugar could one afford with but a penny in the pocket?  So it all ended in buying a "College pudding", a pitifully small plum pudding made with stale bread and a few plums.  Yet how satisfying it managed to be!

He gradually drifted to many and any jobs that would bring in a little money, which was always taken to his mother (Edith Caroline Bull).  This mother was a remarkable woman.  In spite of the incredible hardships and bad luck that always dogged her footsteps, she always came up smiling and seldom resorted to tears.  Another thing about her is that she preferred men's company, and was a most agreeable companion, for she was well versed in the world's ways and had a remarkable flair for literature. It was her settled opinion that her son Fred should be an artist, and in this she was perhaps right.  But let truth be told, his nature and circumstances were such that this was not easy.  Apart from the fact that artists were more often starving than not, his character partook of the nature of Dryden's Zimri, "A man so various he seemed to be, not one but all mankind's epitome - - - was everything by starts and nothing long".

After his stepfather's death, he had the good fortune to be taken under the wing of a worthy gentleman, Mr Mildmay, a man of extraordinary character.  He was the son of a nobleman and a member of one of England's most distinguished families.  Of independent means, he owned several beautiful little seaside bungalows, in one of which he lived.  Whether from the fact of his eccentricities, his independence, or perhaps a mere dislike of work, he seldom held a parish and seldom even preached.  When he did, he would lean over the pulpit and grasp the lecturn, lifting it clean off the floor, to the dismay and amusement of the congregation.

There was at that time a tiny little church called Lilliput, standing in lovely pinewoods at Westbourne in Hampshire.  It was lit by innumeral candles and was attended chiefly by girls from a school for "The Ladies of the Aristocracy".  Mr Mildmay was a bachelor who eventually married the daughter of a Bombay judge, but at this time it can be said that "Bubbles" was his principle interest.  A man of uncertain temper, he would get angry with him and send him away, afterwards imploring him to come back again.  After some years of happy life in this man's household in one of what used to be one of England's loveliest spots, "Branksome on Chine", Frederick is soon to experience the first great change in his life.

Our aristocratic parson had quite naturally concluded that the lad's father was an ordinary working man and had begun to look for some future employment for Frederick in keeping with his lowly birth.  About this time motor cars were becoming more in use and he suggested that driving a taxicab would provide a useful and profitable job for his young protégé who was now some eighteen years of age.  It was always a mystery that no mention was ever made of the boy's father or his family.  As the boy grew older however his curiosity was naturally aroused.

While walking along a street in London one day, trying to keep up with his mother who was a rapid walker, a Naval officer passed.  The lad said "Oh mum isn't he grand, how I would love to be him!"  She replied  "Well your cousins are Naval officers".  Shortly afterwards Mr. Mildmay made a trip to Ireland and in his travels called upon the Reverend Montgomery Palmer in County Wicklow.  Here he was amazed to find a man who affirmed that he once had a brother who had married a London girl, but that he had never heard of her or her children since his brother's death.  Questioned about the family, he stated that another brother was a very well known surgeon in Armagh, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County, and High Sheriff.  That the family, which originally came from England and had been settled in Ireland for three centuries, and though hardly rich was certainly not inferior to his own.  The eldest son in this family was a Naval officer and an A.D.C. to the king.  The other sons were all in the army or navy, as were the worthy clergyman's sons.  This was a matter which Mr. Mildmay felt was hard to reconcile with the obscure and poverty stricken case of their first cousin, who like his father, had done nothing to merit such misfortune.  An arrangement was speedily made whereby the young man should be consulted about his future.

There was at that time, another brother in Australia who being a bachelor would perhaps be prepared to take Frederick under his care.  This man, who was a Crown Land Commissioner in Queensland agreed.  He had left Dublin with his brother Frederick, the writer's father, to go to Australia for the reason that they both suffered from lung trouble.  Frederick (the father) was destined never to reach Australia, but to marry Miss Bull and in a few years to die in London.  He was a man of the strictest religious principles, and the preaching tours he made in all kinds of weather undermined his health.  By one of those coincidences common to men, the son was now to take his father's place, and to join that brother his father never saw again.

As to Carey Harvey St John Mildmay, he appears to have grown more eccentric than ever, for he used to send strange letters and enclose weird snapshots of himself, showing that scion of the old nobility in coarse looking caps and a far away look in his eye that one sees in the slightly mental.  His brother, the Baronet, told me he died at Rouen having been received into the Roman Catholic church, which might account for his leaving no money to his former protégé which he once promised to do.



Part Two - Australia.

"How good is man's life, the mere living! How fit to employ,

All the heart and the soul and the senses, for ever in joy!"

That which is commonplace in age is high adventure in one's youth.  Thus it was that on the day when a fair fresh youth sailed from Tilbury in what would now be regarded as an old tub, to make the trip to Australia, it was like Ulysses of old bidding his mariners embark on the "dark broad seas" to gain more of that "experience like an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades forever and forever as we move".  To "follow knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bound of human thought", to "drink life to the lees" that "something ere the end, some work of noble note may yet be done" and to join those who have been touched by the spirit and rank with those heroic hearts "strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield".  But let him now speak for himself.

The ship on which I sailed to Australia was called the Rippingham Grange, at another time reputedly known as the Seean Bee.  It was an emigrant ship, there were few separate cabins and the food was poor.  Those on board were a happy lot and perhaps far more so than those on board the majestic liners that passed us at sea.  They had a strong entertainment committee, and such was their zeal that they even got me into their concerts&ldots;.It was a sad story about a chap who wooed a lady "underneath the old umbrella" and had the father's dog bite him.  In one of the plays put on by these enthusiasts, the author made the actor say, "Ah, the plot thickens, unlike Seean Bee soup!"  Like myself, these people were working people and mostly jolly Londoners full of jokes and good sense.  I have never seen any of them since but I expect they made good.

Fortunately for us, the ship called at many ports.  At Suez the orange men, for a few pence hurled oranges onto the iron deck, how delicious they were!  None on board could tell whether the stuff served up at meals was tea or coffee.  Most of us slept on deck in the tropics.  We had the great fortune too of sailing through the Timor sea calling at Batavia, then around the north east of Queensland and Thursday Island, an experience few of us ever had again.  The beauty of the barrier reef was unforgettable and of course in 1909, places like Cairns were very primitive.  Thus we poor emigrants had all the advantage of wealthy tourists in seeing one of the world's wonders, and an unspoiled paradise of green.

We arrived in Brisbane on one of those glorious days in winter when all nature is clean, calm, and bright.  Probably only one who has been reared in the semidarkness and grime of a great city can appreciate the unrivalled brilliance of Queensland in winter.  As I stood on the deck of the ship looking out over the city, it was to gaze on a sight that has cheered many a man on his arrival in the "old yet new land".  Dull would he be of soul that could not rejoice in the prospect before him.  Here was a country that surely could have been made by God for his elect - vast, rich, sunbathed, with boundless possibilities for all.  What we Australians are making of it I pass no judgement upon, but I often wonder how much better it would have been for us, if all those people in this land, instead of taking for granted the richness of their inheritance, had lived as I have in dire poverty and obscurity in a great city, where there were none of these things except for a few.  It is the fashion now to compare the so called high standard of living here with the so called low standard in England; what I ask is, why is our whole standard of life not far higher than it is, when the greater advantages we enjoy are taken into consideration? 

My uncle was out west at the time of my arrival and I was met by distant relatives who proved exceedingly kind.  Robert Exton was a self made man of the highest probity, like so many Queensland men in those days.  He made a fine business in Brisbane but passed it into other hands than his own sons.  It was a great experience to be taken up to "One Tree Hill" which then of course had the same glorious view as today but what a difference in the size of the city!  All those many houses that now crowd round its base was then virgin scrub, and the great skyscrapers that tower up in Queen street, two story buildings.  After staying some time at the comfortable home of these worthy people, the time came for me to "go west" and accordingly I bordered the Charleville train for the real Australia.

Many places in the world are remembered for their sights, many for their sounds, but one remembers Roma for the strong odour of the Pepperina trees that lined its streets, and the slight odour from the bore water.  Another was the smell of the oil bore gas which then lit up the town and which subsequently caught on fire.  A large metal "cap" was erected over it, which extinguished the vast sheet of flame that arose vertically from its depths.  Of course it was a moving experience to meet my uncle whose name was Abraham.  He was not the "father of a multitude" however, being a confirmed bachelor.  There was little in the amusements of today in the west, but one could enjoy the many picnics and musical evenings which gave us all the pleasure we wanted, and which I for one would gladly give in exchange for those of today.

Soon however, I started for a station called Dalmally at which I was to gain "Colonial experience".  It certainly was not a hard one.  It was not far from Surat and carried about 15,000 sheep.  Many of these big runs were later converted to vast sheep runs.  The job of a jackeroo is chiefly riding.  A party rides out to a distant paddock to round up sheep, either for removal to another paddock, or to attend to the sheep for fly trouble or injury.  Getting home for a good shower and an ample dinner was the chief enjoyment of that life, although sometimes a party would be made up for a visit to another station.  On these occasions a fresh lot of horses would be obtained.  A walk down to the stockyard where the fresh horses were run, enabled one to pick one according to fancy.  On one occasion I picked an animal which looked quiet enough, but which got away with me on the home run and all but killed me at the home fence.  The owner of the place told me afterwards, this mare was the worst one I could have picked. The horse was an old rogue which had won many a race and had the hardest mouth he'd ever known.  Another time a big bay horse bolted with me right under a bullock gallows, it was a near thing.  The manager remarked "your shaping well".

After a short time I returned to Roma and entered the Lands Department.  At that time there was a Rector of the parish of Roma named Henry.  He had worked in a bank but took orders.  He built a fine stone church there by straightgiving methods and would buttonhole the squatters for their cheques.  One day my uncle said to me "Mr. Henry wishes to know if you would like to enter the ministry".  Accordingly I entered the Nundah Theological College in the Diocese of Brisbane, under the excellent guidance of Canon Tomlin.  The Archbishop of Brisbane at this time - 1910, was the well known Bishop Donaldson, whose father had been the first premier of New South Wales.  There were many men in the Brisbane Diocese who afterwards became dignitaries in the church throughout the world, this outstanding man having attracted some of England's best men in his time.  After a year or two, the college was unlucky to loose Canon Tomlin and Mr. Micklem succeeded him.  Micklem was a fine scholar who afterward became Dean of Chester Cathedral.  He was a very poor horseman and had a lively little mare named Susan from which he often fell off.

I passed my final examinations with honours, and the Archbishop picked me to go to the Cathedral as curate.  Owing to the death of the Dean, I was then drafted to a slum parish (as it then was), Fortitude Valley.  I will not venture to say what my future career would have been had I not suffered this great disappointment.  I had won the college prize for reading and loved music, and I may say had the right instinct for beauty in architecture, this much the Bishop admitted.  Instead of this, there began that unhappy period of curacies to anybody and anywhere, which in spite of my earnest struggles to get out of them, ended in the wilderness.  At last I secured the Parish of Noosa, it was a district that had been abandoned during the war.  "I am sorry for you", said Reverend Perry.  On one occasion there was a man said to me "It's not much use you coming here, the Methodists have got the C of E people now".  Nevertheless I have come to stay, I replied.  I believe this is quite a good Parish today.  There was a fine man named Edwards there, he was a nephew of the artist "Edwards".  I built the church there at Pomona.

At this time I thought it might be possible to improve my position if I had a go at University.  This had been another piecrust promise on the part of the Diocese which came to nothing, another man had been sent who did little good there.  I had not got over my nostalgia for England, and it occurred to me that I might be able to enter Oxford University.  I gained the consent of the Bishop (Sharp) who gave me a good letter to the University, and after a sorrowful farewell to my mother and half brothers, whom I had brought out from London, sailed for England. Little did I think at that time, that this period was to be the happiest in my life, and I would gladly give anything to have it back once again.  When one compares life today after the two world wars both here and in England, the differences are very great.  To begin with, the post war period (i.e. first world war) was among most people not without hope.  It was felt that we had learned our lesson and that a period of reconstruction could begin.  Since the second world war ended there has been a spirit of defeatism and that in the countries we have conquered!  Secondly, since that time the fountains of the great deep have opened up, and we today are the victims of a revolution that threatens to cast up the great traditions of the past onto a strand where they will remain high and dry for some years to come.  It is appalling to hear some authorities talking airily about atomic warfare bringing about the extinction of mankind.  The extinction of mankind will only come about when men no longer desire to live.  All this talk is unthinkable to the true Englishman, and it was here at the fountain of freedom of the individual spirit I returned. In those days I knew little of these things, and enjoyed to the full the wonderful spirit of "joy in life" which always prevails at least in most quarters of that great Institution.

I always had and still have the greatest veneration for what is best in history and learning.  Oxford therefore was a place where I could be truly happy in this respect.  I spent every morning in attending lectures, and the afternoon and evening in study.  At every weekend I took Sunday services at country churches near and far, and during the vacations, frequently spent the entire period relieving in some parish.  In this way a great deal of information was obtained of the antiquities of England, and the charm of the country revealed on one's travels.  I can think of no holiday more restful and fascinating than this, but of course one must have a love for these haunts of ancient peace.  There was much that was trivial and even bombastic about out ancestors, but when shall we look upon their like again?

I often think of that old saying "If age but could, if youth but knew"!  I do not think we have begun to live until we have learned to appreciate how much we can get out of life if we try.  This blessing was vouchsafed to me in a large measure, but we do not know "the time of our visitation" and accordingly loose many opportunities.  "So much to do, so little time".  Thus it was, I could have stayed but still the urge to succeed came back, as the Archbishop had encouraged me to return and had promised me a parish.  I sailed for Australia once more, and after the usual fascinating voyage reached Sydney in 1925.

I forgot to mention that I paid a most happy visit to Ireland whilst over that other side, and was cordially received by both the Wicklow and Armagh families.  The old clergyman in Wicklow (Montgomery) had grown quite jovial in age, and the Armagh folk appeared to be still living in the aristocratic manner to which they had always been accustomed.  I paid a visit to the tomb of my ancestor Joseph Palmer who rests in the cathedral grounds beside his lifelong friend Primate D'Arcy.  I also had a delightful time on Admiral Alexander Palmer's battleship, and it was naturally a satisfaction to meet him.  His mother told me he is not a very gifted man, but that his men would gladly die for him, and that at any rate is very useful in war.  This man is the head of the Palmer family, which is one that holds a line of ancestry that stretches back to the time of Queen Elizabeth 1st when it appears to have been a family of considerably more consequence than it is today.  By the time my children come to read these things in this new land, they will probably wonder what I am talking about, but "blood will tell" and does tell, and it is helpful to know one's ancestors were "worthies" and has saved many a family from disgrace.

On returning to Brisbane, the solemn promise of the Bishop was not kept, and the old game of sending me to curacies began afresh.  Even then, I by no means lost heart, and I prevailed upon Archdeacon Glover to give me my own job.  This was Biggenden, on the Gayndah line, and I had quite a happy time there.  Here lived the grandson of a Bishop, Mr. Mant, who sent me a cheque for 200 pounds through the post, asking me in the name of Heaven to get a new car.  At the time, new cars were available for 205 pounds cash, and we did not know whether to get a Chev or a Whippet.  So we tossed up for it, to the dismay of the pious onlookers!  The Chev won.

I was later appointed to Coolangatta, a prominent seaside resort.  I will never forget the night I arrived.  The town was filled with visitors, 11,000 of them filling the houses, pubs and camps.  It was nighttime and the houses were illuminated with coloured lamps.  I soon found however that I had to deal with very different people than those of the dear old bush, who got into financial difficulties when the Depression hit that seaside resort hip and thigh.  Instead of thousands, the visitors dropped to a few hundred, and even they went home after Boxing Day.  I carved the altar there.  My financial position became very precarious, but just over the border in NSW at Tweed Heads, lived a man who later became Archdeacon of Lismore, Mr. Benyon as he then was, who offered to obtain me a parish in NSW.  Well, as a single man I could do as I pleased, so I accepted a parish called Coramba where I met my good wife Norah Violet Gerard, who in later years presented me with the best 6 children a man could have.


(Following are notes added by his son Joseph)

This history was typed by my father in later life, and recalled his life up to the 1930's.  He went on to become Vicar of Wyan-Rappville 1931-32, Nimbin 1932-42, Gundy 1942-45, Nabiac 1945-52, and Clarencetown 1953-61.

He retired to a vacant rectory in Cross Street Maitland, at the age of 74 years, where he continued to take occasional services, officiate at the marriages of two daughters, and the Christenings of some of his grandchildren, while his wife Norah continued to play the organ at services.

The family moved to Kahibah, a suburb of Newcastle in 1968, where my father lived his remaining years in peaceful surroundings next to a bush reserve.

He died at Newcastle, 2nd November 1975 aged 87 years and his ashes were placed in the columbarium wall at Newcastle's Christ Church Cathedral.

My father enjoyed painting in watercolours all his life.  He liked to paint landscapes, and would paint vistas of properties, which he would give away to the people who lived there. Many of his works are in our family's homes.

He was a lover of good literature, history and poetry, and would give an appropriate quote to suit the occasion, such as "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"


If you have any more information please do contact me.