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Modern Pickwick Club, Adelaide Students, ANZAC, WWI

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The Power of Belonging: THE MODERN PICKWICK CLUB in Adelaide

"Pickwickians" : An Ancestral Treasure of Adelaide, 1934.

The Adelaide Modern Pickwick Club, 1934

This is a lesson of "Birds of a feather stick together" during WWI. A curious battered item appeared in a cache of ancestral photos. Entitled "THE MODERN PICKWICK CLUB-Past and Present Members, July 28, 1934", the faces were unsmiling but there was a fair number of striped socks. It has not been the uniform of any club, team or association that I I was familiar with. Something was afoot (so to speak)! My heart jumped with joy! The threads tied to the historical surnames begged to be pulled. There was the expected mix of English and German names. German settlers had found refuge in colonial South Australia since as early as 1839. Many would have  "anglicized"  their names due to WWI animosity, but not here.        

Recruitment Poster 1914-18

Was this a study of social power of familiarity that would have touched clubs, social or sporting, in the spirit of "for better or worse, for richer or poorer". the Great War 1914-18: to serve King and Country with your mates. Indeed Australia was asked to contribute an Expeditionary Force of 20,000 that proved no problem:shopkeepers, farmers, bakers, professionals, sportsmen...and "Pickwickians". South Australia sent over 6000 soldiers. Of those 497 are recorded as Gallipoli fatalities.


Title Page of The Pickwick Papers, 1937

Charles Dickens Literally Enters the Lives of Generations

"Pickwick Club" cover page, 1937

I knew the works of Dickens, delighted in the pages inhabitants. Mr Pickwick turned out to be his first novel. Published by monthly subscription during 1836-37, Messrs Chapman & Hall had sort to depict a club riddled by the sporting misadventures of its gentlemen members.

They signed up popular comical illustrator Robert Seymour but required a wordsmith to glue it together. Enter Charles Dickens aged 24 years. I had thought the date corresponding with South Australia's settlement was a happy coincidence.  Was this as a literary snap-shot of the Old World society from which many of the settlers embarked, full of a growing middle class eager to emulate the hierarchies above?

We now know that Dickens became the social conscience of Victorian British Society. But little did he know that the characters he created in this tome, especially Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller, would "created a world-wide furore and Dickens's imitators were legion. Pickwick parties were held as far apart as Canada and Kangaroo Island," whilst the first pirated edition of Pickwick Papers was printed by Henry Dowling of Tasmania in 1838.

St. Peter's College, Adelaide. Etched F.W.G. Mathwin, 1935

A Good "Private School" Education

St. Peter's College, Adelaide. Etched F.W.G. Mathwin, 1935

Next chapter we cut to a Sunday morning as young College Students enjoyed a restorative Hackney Sabbath morning sunbath. On this day, in 1890, "a question cropped up regarding the best means of employing their leisure hours on Saturday nights...that the association be for the intellectual and social improvement of members".

Rules were that members should not exceed 30 at all times, they meet EVERY Saturday night without fail, with nights "divided between debate, music, and elocution. It was a good training ground, and the atmosphere was clean and wholesome".

F.W.G. Mathwin, Australian Etcher

"What the Dickens?" Indeed- F.W.G. Mathwin, Etcher

Having dealt in antique prints for 30 years, I had happened upon etchings of Adelaide Victorian/Edwardian public buildings and private colleges, the above "St Peter's College" is but one, signed by F.W.G. Mathwin. Finally I had discovered the man himself: sitting on the ground, forth from the left, cross-legged with a quizzical smirk, as a member of this Modern Pickwick Club.

"What the Dicken's?" To say I was tinkled pink with this unexpected discovery is an understatement.

Pickwick club menu, Adelaide, 1934

Typical Club Dinner with celebrated "Lamb Chops & Sauce..." and Evening Program

Pickwickians would begin by a "Toast to the King" with Hock, followed by Claret, Sparkling, Sherry, Port and Muscat with respective courses. They religiously served " Chops and Tomato Sauce" with "Baked, Boiled and Mashed Potatoes" while enjoying "Resuscitated Recitations" & "Pickwickian Songs" from members who would become notable in many distinguished vocations- teachers, judges, architects, scientists, inventors...

ANZAC, Gallipoli 1915

The Great War 1914-18: Fight for King and Country

Gallipoli Peninsula, 4th Battalion landing

The War Years 1914-18 proved a great disruption to their Rules. "During the recent big struggle 20 retired as active members to enlisted for service abroad, and of these Capt. N. C. Shierlaw and C. L. Moule, Lieuts. R. G. Raws, F. H. Lang; and A. S. Ferguson, and Ptes. A. Murton and J. Doswell made the supreme sacrifice." The meetings were reduced to once a month. The loyalty of old members happily saw them step up to cover for those war absentees. Indeed, it seemed these original members are displaying a rotundity of form and scarcity of head covering closely resembling the appearance of Mr. Pickwick and I noticed that they attacked the principal item on the menu, 'chops and tomato sauce,' (a Pickwickian Tradition accompanied by 'Hock') with avidity." It is notable that this elder Pickwickian approaches this delicate subject with good humour, as I am sure that is the supporting nature of the club.

robert seymour, pickwick, charles dickens

Clubs:Value of Social Bonding

Pickwick addressing Members

After 25 years the Pickwick Club had forged a strong support system. It may well have been similar to the Mentor Programs of today. In the spirit of the Dicken's Pickwickians they had enjoyed lively intellectual evenings, with dancing, singing, hiking, camping, fishing and shooting with their peers. Even at the Front they were not forgotten: "during the war the soldiering members received their notification of the date of the annual gathering, and it bucked them up to see they had not been forgotten by those who were not fortunate enough to be able to join in the big adventure." As many are learning through the recent ANZAC television tributes, the postcards, letters, photographs were reminders of why ANZAC Diggers were there and may even have saved their sanity.

Pickwick Club, Adelaide, 1990

What Had This Club Achieved?

The 1990 Menu looks familiar!

An enduring bond of fellowship has been established, among the members of the Modern Pickwick Club. After the privilege of seeing this photograph I asked members of local Senior Citizen Club if they knew of Club. Some smiled, chuckled and began to recite occasions of this or that happening. My research uncovered the menu and programme for the 1990 centennial meetup in 1990. I would be very pleased to know if they have kept up this endearing and socially valuable tradition. In the spirit of "Men's Sheds" it would seem, like team sports, clubs of like minded people share enduring friendship that see beyond the superficial. Can anyone tell me?

Thanks to a Modern Pickwickian Grandson

 My thanks to Frank Chapman No. 4 for bringing in this family treasured photograph for preservation. I wonder if he knew it was Messrs Chapman & Hall that were responsible for this lauching of Charles Dickens' career? His grandpa, Frank H. Chapman sits second from the left in the bottom row. He was one of the 1934 Pickwickians. Frank Jr grew up with a statue of Mr Pickwick that he still has today to hand down to his own son.

Mr Pickwick, dedicated to F.H. Chapman, Frank's grandpa!

The resonding Pickwickians Chorus

"The Pickwick Chorus"

┬ęSandra Ker, www.historyrevisited.com.au


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