Alfred Edward O’Neill (1867-1951)
Alfred Edward O’Neill, known as Alf, was the seventh oldest of Patrick O’Neill & Elizabeth Lulham‘s twelve children, born on 16 Apr 1867 in the Port Stephens district (probably at Tea Gardens). He never married.
Alf was a well known sportsman and was heavily involved in the racing industry, as a jockey, a trainer and even an on-course bookie. He was described as a charming, well-liked and extremely generous man. It appears he was a passionate player of the card game solo. Here are a few newspaper reports of his endeavours, taken from The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer unless otherwise indicated
From Wed 01 Jun 1898:
Zeno, — We were beginning to fear that something had gone wrong with our old friend Zeno, (Alf. O’Neill’s speedy pony). However, it seems that the nag is still in the land of the living racing ponies, as he won the 14.2 handicap at Kensington last – Thursday.
From Sat 29 May 1915:
Hautchester and Almafield are going on to Sydney to race. Alf O’Neill will be in charge.
and Sat 30 Oct 1915, making history as a jockey:
It is probably news to most sports men in this district that Alf. O’Neill won the first race ever run on Kensington racecourse. His mount was Zulander, and in addition to the Opening Handicap he won the Club Handicap the same day.
From Fri 17 Aug 1917:
Mr. Alf. O’Neill will be returning to Wingham with Hautchester and Miss Antoinette when train arrangements can be made.
Alf crops up in an interesting article in which a Mr. Albert Bacon reminisces about racing on country courses in the early 1900s; from Tue 16 Jan 1945:
Racing in the Early Pays.
More Sport and Sociability.
Still interested in the sport of racing is Mr. Albert Bacon, of Dungog, 75-years-old veteran of country courses. He was interested in an article written by “Verax” in the Newcastle “Herald.” Verax is an interesting and reliable writer, who has had a long association with the Turf, and who never fails to do justice to the men who made the game in the earlier days. …
… Mr. Alf. O’Neill first had Zulander, Zariff and Zeno, and raced them on the Manning. He had a trip to Sydney with two of them, and although he won a race, he had a bad trip financially. Wootton took over the horses after that, and he went to Sydney and never looked back. Alf. O’Neill was the leading horseman of the day. He was called The Manning River Archer, after Fred. Archer, the champion English jockey. …
The prominent bookmakers of those days were Harry Smith, Walun Thomas, Frank Hughes and Jack Donohue. Alf. O’Neill was the leading jockey, …
… There was stamina in the horses of those days, and there was stamina also in the men who trained and rode them.
The Frank Hughes mentioned in the article above as one of the prominent bookmakers of the day was described in Kempsey’s Macleay Argus way back on Sat 10 Jun 1905 as a bookmaker’s clerk for Alf O’Neill:
BOOKMAKERS AT VARIANCE.
SEQUEL TO THE RACES.
At the Kempsey Police Court on Thursday, before the P.M., and Mr. S. L. Rudder, J. P., a bookmaker’s clerk named Frank Hughes, who had been arrested on warrant the previous night, was brought up on a charge of attempting to choke Alfred Edward O’Neil with intent to commit an indictable offence, to wit to steal. This is practically a charge of garrotting, and one of the most serious charges that can be brought. Mr. Gilfillan appeared for the accused.
Mr. Gilfillan was explaining to the Bench the circumstances of the case, when Inspector Parker objected to the attorney making a statement at that stage. The Inspector said he first proposed to prove the arrest.
Mr. Gilfillan said the arrest was proved by the fact that the man was in the dock. He was both physically and bodily before the court. Mr. Gilfillan then explained that accused and complainant were book makers together at the races. On the previous night both them were a bit the worse for liquor and had a dispute about money matters. O’Neil feeling aggrieved at what happened, swore the warrant charging Hughes with the serious offence. From what he (Mr. Gilfillan) know he did not think O’Neil would elect to give evidence on the charge of garrotting. If the charge was altered to assault his client would plead guilty.
Evidence of arrest was then given by Constable Hanney. He stated that on the previous night in company with Constable Harrison he went to McQuade’s Hotel and told Hughes he had a warrant for his arrest on a charge of attempting to choke Alfred Ernest O’Neil with intent to commit an indictable offence, to wit to steal. Accused said “that means I’ve got to go with you,” and witness said “yes.” On the way to the lockup accused said, “O’Neil and I are in partners. He has all the money and he’s doing me out of my share after we had a good win at the races.” In reply to a question as to whether he was trying to take his share accused said “No; I never touched him.” Accused was slightly under the influence of drink and on being searched had £7 3s 4d on him. Witness saw prosecutor on the same night. He had marks on each side of his neck, the skin was broken on both sides and there was a little blood on the neck. There was blood on his coat and shirt. O’Neil was also under the influence of drink.
O’Neil was called forward and said he did not wish to give evidence on the serious charge.
The P.M. pointed out that it was a serious thing for a man to swear a warrant on such a charge as that and then drop it. The penalty for garrotting was as high as penal servitude for life. However, be thought it was stretching the law too far to go on with the charge under all the circumstances. No jury would convict and it was doubtful whether the Attorney-General would file a bill.
Inspector Parker rather warmly combatted that view of the matter.
Mr. Gilfillan said if the Bench altered the charge to one of assault his client would plead guilty.
The P.M. said the Bench had decided to reduce the charge and would fine Hughes £2, or in default one month in Kempsey Gaol. The fine was paid.
Around 1917 Alf worked as a barman for his brother Herb O’Neill who owned the Australia Hotel in Wingham. Both were involved in a couple of court cases brought by an over-jealous policeman, Constable Caldwell. In both cases Alf was called upon as a witness.
The first case sought clarification of the law at the time that only travellers could obtain a drink during prohibited hours. WHEN IS A TRAVELLER NOT A TRAVELLER? appeared in The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer on Fri 16 Mar 1917; it is long and can be read separately here.
The second case came just a couple of months later. Herb as licensee was charged with providing drinks to people who, he argued (unsuccessfully), were travellers. The report appeared in The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer on Fri 11 May 1917; it too is long and can be read separately here.
By 1943 he appears at the Crown Hotel, Wollongong. Then in the 1949 electoral rolls he shows up in “L.S.O.P. Market St, Randwick, horse trainer”. L.S.O.P Randwick is an aged care facility run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. In 1949 Alf would have been 76 years of age!
His move to Wollongong occurred in 1937 when he moved to live with his sister Ellen Davis. Ellen’s husband Edward had passed away in 1925, and Ellen had become the licensee of the Crown Hotel in Wollongong. Sadly Ellen herself died suddenly on 07 Oct 1938.
The Wingham townsfolk gave Alf a pretty good send-off; from The Northern Champion on Sat 3 Apr 1937:
FAREWELL TO MR. ALF. O’NEILL
There was a happy gathering in premises near the Wingham Hotel on Monday night, March 22nd, to take leave of Mr. Alf. O’Neill, who has left the town and district, in order to take up residence with his sister at Wollongong. Mr. O’Neill has been associated with the Wingham and Manning district for nearly forty years. He came here many years ago with his mother and sisters, and has resided on the Central Coast almost ever since. Alf. O’Neill – who is a brother, to Messrs. Herb, and Pat. O’Neill, so well and favorably known right along the North Coast and in other centres of the State – was one of the State’s best jockeys in the days of his prime. He has been on the staff of the Wingham Hotel for a good many years.
Many brief and appreciative speeches were made at the farewell function, and Mr. W. Thomas – one of Alf’s old “solo friends” – presented him with a neat little address and a wallet of notes. The address was the artistic work of Mr. P. J. Moran, architect, of Wingham.
Mr. F. A. Fitzpatrick occupied the chair, and there was a fine attendance of friends. Mr. O’Neill occupied, a seat on the right of the chairman, whilst the secretary (Mr. W. Thomas) was seated on his left.
The first toast honored was that of “’The King.”
The chairman thon read apologies for non-attendance from the following: Messrs. Joe Kane, Humphrey Herkes, A. Mellick, Allan Bell, Frank Beesley, Walter Sharp, W. Shelton, W. S. Andrews, Dave Lobban, Stan Murray, Eric Walshe, H. T. O’Neill, P. J. O’Neill and T. H. Stone.
The chairman said they had met for the purpose of taking leave of Mr. Alf. O’NeilI, prior to his departure from the district. He had been identified with the Bullahdelah and Manning River districts pretty well all his life. He came to Wingham with his mother and sisters something like forty years ago. He had followed various pursuits, and had of late years been on the staff of the Wingham Hotel. Every one who was acquainted with Alf. O’Neill – and most people in the district knew him – had none but the kindliest feelings towards him. When he did leave the district it was safe to say that he would leave behind him a host of genuine friends and no enemies. Personally, he would say that Mr. O’Neill was one whom to know was to respect.
Mr. G. O. Hill said, his late father, and Alf. O’Neill, had been warm friends. He had known Alf. for at least 29 years, and could say that he was one of the most straightforward and honourable men it had been his pleasure to meet.
Mr. P. J. Moran said it was with mixed feelings that he had attended the function being held that evening. He was pleased to assist in doing honor to Alf. O’Neill, but sorry that he would shortly be leaving them for another part of the State. He had known Mr. O’Neill for a number of years, and his brothers also. The friends of Mr. Alf. O’Neill would always have a cheery, friendly greeting for him wherever they might meet in the future. He was going to a good town, and he was taking with him the kindliest feelings of a host of warm friends.
Mr. W. R. Maitland said he was awfully sorry Alf. O’Neill would be shortly leaving Wingham and district. He knew Alf. in Bullahdelah and after at Wingham. Alf. – like many of them – was now getting into the “twilight of life” – and when one arrived at that stage he or she appreciated more than ever the old friends with whom they had been associated for years. Whether Alf. was on the racecourse or off, he had always been a straight goer and a gentleman.
Mr. P. N. Dark said he believed it was the late Doctor W. A. Kelly who once christened Alf. O’Neill “The Little ‘Un.” Alf, perhaps, had not of late been often given that title, but at least his old friends cherished the same kindly feelings for him at all times. He remembered Alf. in other centres, and the same good kindly friendship that cherished their early days was still as strong as ever.
Mr. Mick Simmons, senr., said he had known Alf. for at least thirty years and thry were just as fast friends to day as they were in the years gone by. He remembered well the first time he pencilled for Alf. at a race meeting.
Mr. L. R. Raffell said he had known Mr. O’Neill for something like 13 or 14 years. They had always been the very best of friends.
Mr. Gus. Griffin wished Alf. the best that it was possible to achieve in the future, and felt sure that he would be happy with his sister at Wollongong.
Mr. Clite Lyndon said he had known Mr. O’Neill for years, and had always found him to be a thorough gentleman.
Mr. Tom Heffernan joined whole heartedly in all the good wishes given expression to by the various speakers.
Mr. E. J. Gibson (manager of the Wingham branch of the Commercial Bank), said he regarded Mr. Alf. O’Neill as being a “white man.” He had known various members of Mr. O’Neill’s family. His sister at Wollongong (Mrs. Davis) he knew well. She was a fine woman and he felt sure that Alf. would be very happy with her. Wollongong was one of the finest towns in New South Wales, and Alf. was going to a fine home with his sister there.
Mr. Bob Cox, of the Wingham Hotel staff, said he was sorry that Mr. Alf. O’Neill was shortly to leave them. Everybody liked Alf. and it was safe to say that Alf. was 100 per cent genuine in all his friendships and dealings.
Mr. W. H. Spear said he was pleased to be there to pay his tribute of respect to Mr. O’Neill. He periodically made trips down the South Coast, and he hoped later on to renew the acquaintance of Mr. O ‘Neill at Wollongong.
Sergeant Stenner said he did not know Mr. Alf. O’Neill very well, but this he could say he was pleased to be present, and hear the kindly remarks made by the various speakers regarding Mr. O’Neill.
Mr. Walter Potts said he had known Alf. O’Neill, for the past forty years.
Mr. J. Morris said he had known Alf. O’Neill for forty years. They christened him “Oxenham” years ago. (Laughter). He might also say that Alf. at one time wanted him (the speaker) to be a jockey. (Laughter).
Mr. C. H. Blenkin said Mr. O’Neill had many friends in Wingham and district, and he enjoyed the respect and good-will of the people generally. They would all hope to meet Alf. at some time or another in the future.
Mr. H. G. Cross (proprietor of the Wingham Hotel) said that Mr. Alf. O’Neill must have been associated with the hotel staff for at least 18 or 20 years, and had really become almost “one of the family.” He trusted that Alf. would be blessed with the best of health in the future, and could say that if ever he came to Wingham he was welcome to stay at the Wingham Hotel as long as he liked.
Mr. Ossie Lulham said he had just come up from Wollongong, and heard that they were giving a send-off to Mr. Alf. O’Neill. He felt sure that Alf. would have a very happy time at Wollongong, and that he (the speaker) would often meet him there at a game of solo.
Mr. Vince O’Donohoe joined in all the good wishes expressed for the future of Mr. Alf. O’Neill.
Mr. E. G. de Warren wished the guest the greatest of health and happiness in the future.
At this stage the chairman called up on the secretary to the movement (Mr. W. L. Thomas) to make a presentation to Mr. Alf. O’Neill, on behalf of subscribers and friends.
Mr. Thomas said he had often enjoyed the company of Mr. O ‘Neill, and. also appreciated a game of solo with him. In the first place, he wished to present Mr. Alf. O’Neill with a little address, believing that it would serve to remind him in the years to come of his association with Wingham and district, and the friends who had met to do him honor that evening. The address was the artistic work of Mr. P. J. Moran, of Wingham. In addition to the address, there was also a wallet of notes, he would ask Mr. O’Neill to accept both presents as small tokens of respect and esteem from his friends – or some of them – in Wingham.
The health of Mr. O’Neill was pledged to the accompaniment of “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”
In reply Mr. Alf. O’Neill said he was only a poor man, but he appreciated their kind words to a much greater extent than he would a large sum of money. He came to Wingham during the early part of 1890 with his mother and three sisters. Many changes had taken place during those intervening years, and he had seen many ups and downs. He had had his days of prosperity – and he had had days of trials, just as most people had had theirs. For Wingham and the Manning district he had always had a great regard, and he had made many friendships, the memory of which would live until he passed away. It had always been his aim to ring true to his friends, and he could honestly say that they in their turn had always rung true to him. Though he would shortly be leaving Wingham for Wollongong to reside with his sister, he would always retain very kindly recollections of Wingham and the Manning district in general. Kindly thoughts would ever linger of the happy little evenings that he had spent in Wingham with old friends of the solo world. He could not express too warmly his appreciation to those friends for the kindness that they had always shown. To Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Cross and Miss Thelma Cross – as also to all members of the staff of the Wingham Hotel – his warmest of thanks go out. He could never forget their kindness to him. It had been like a bright beacon light to him in his days of sickness. To his friends – one and all – his best wishes went out. He trusted that they would all have the best of good luck and the blessings of good health. He did not expect such kindly treatment, but it would ever remain as one of his most kindly memories.
Toasts to the secretary, the press, and the chairman were also proposed.
Light refreshments in plenty were provided, Mrs. Cecil Cross doing the catering.
The address, which had been prepared by Mr. P. J. Moran in his wonderfully expert manner, read as follows:
Wingham, 22nd March, 1937.
To Alf. O’Neill, Esq.
Dear Sir. – On this the eve of your departure from Wingham, after a residence of over thirty years in the district, we, a few of your friends, desire hereby to bid you farewell, and express our feelings of esteem and affection.
During your long residence in the district, you have – by your friendly and unassuming manner – earned the respect and regard of a wide circle of friends, who take the opportunity of presenting you with the accompanying wallet and contents, as a small token of their good wishes.
In saying farewell to you, we desire to extend to you our best wishes for your future health and happiness, and pleasant memories of the years you have spent amongst us.
Signed for and on behalf of your many friends,
F. A. Fitzpatrick, J. P., Chairman.
W. L. Thomas, Secretary.
F. A. Fitzpatrick shared a common birthday with Alf and with Joe Kane, another local identity. This fact was often a source of a news item.
On Fri 17 Apr 1931:
Congratulations to Mr. Alf. O’Neill, of Cross’ Hotel, and Mr. Joe Kane, Manager of the Wingham Bacon Factory. To-day they celebrate their birthdays – 64 and 65 respectively. May they both double their scores – and then be “not out.”
On Thu 18 Apr 1935:
Three birthdays on the one day in Wingham this week. They were: Mr. Alf. O’Neill (Wingham Hotel staff), Mr. Joe Kane (Manager Manning Co-op. Bacon Society, Ltd.), and Mr. F. Fitzpatrick. So far the three persons concerned have kept out of the Lockup – in fact, Joe Kane went to Sydney on Wednesday night, in order to escape possibilities and probabilities.
Mr. F. Fitzpatrick was actually something of a wordsmith, often writing stories under the pseudonym Fitz o’ Wingham. On Fri 25 Apr 1947, some ten years after Alf left for Wollongong, this poem celebrating their common birthdays appeared:
Two Birthdays On One Day.
Written for The Wingham Chronicle.
By ‘Fitz o’ Wingham”
Joe Kane and the writer
Had a birthday last week;
It might have been brighter –
But the weather was bleak.
It was generally wet
In more ways than one;
But the stage was re-set
Next day for the sun.
We’re both getting older
With the year passing by;
With a dip to the shoulder
And a dim to the eye.
But Joe’s just a boy,
And he’s tickled to bits,
With a jug full of joy,
And a birthday with Fitz.
By and bye we may fly
With the Angels above;
If St. Peter will try
And give us a shove.
Alf O’Neill used to be –
One of the clan;
But he left Joe and me –
To pilot the van.
Alf appeared in another story written by Fitz o’ Wingham. The following is an excerpt taken from the story that appeared earlier, on Tue 18 Jun 1935:
… Bill thanked Pat Clark for his information, and toddled over to the Wingham Hotel, where Harry Cross and Alf. O’Neill dispense “coffee royal” – and any other sort of “royal” – to the free and independent.
… Harry Cross had just slipped home from Moree, after having been bogged in the Bore Baths for weeks – but nevertheless he was cheery. In fact, Bill Bilkins still swears he never struck such a cheerful publican as Harry Cross – or a more obliging chap than Alf. O’Neill. …
In fact the local paper was full of news items describing locals visiting Alf in Wollongong. This item, on Fri 26 May 1939, and again written by Fitz, involved some of his family passing through:
We met at Krambach on Wednesday afternoon the following visitors from Wollongong: Mr. Len Davis (Crown Hotel, Wollongong), Mr. Reg. Davis (his brother), and Mr. Pat Walsh (of Wollongong, father-in-law of Mr. Len Davis). The mother of the Davis boys was a sister to Messrs. Pat, Herb., and Alf. O’Neill, so well-known in Wingham, Taree, and right along the North Coast. Mrs. Davis died some little time ago. The Davis boys and Mr. Pat Walsh have been holidaying at Port Macquarie and other centres, and have been enjoying quite a good time of it. They have been hob nobbing with the O’Neills on the Coast, of course, and when we met them at Krambach they had just. pulled up for a breather, and some “mountain dew” from the hostelry of Mr. Austin Gallagher. Later they left for Newcastle, where they intended spending the night, and then on to wonderful Wollongong the next day. Mr. Len Davis contends that the North Coast is “small potatoes” compared to the South Coast. Ordinary dairy land brings over £100 per acre there, so he informed us. Anyhow, it must be great country – but it will have to rise early m the morning to beat some of our river flats.
From Tue 3 Oct 1939:
Mr. Lulham brought good wishes from Mr. Alf. O’Neill, who, since he left Wingham, has been located at the Crown Hotel, Wollongong. Alf. is still fond of a game of Solo, and retains pleasant memories of the years he spent in Wingham. He wished to be remembered to all friends in the district
From Fri 26 Jul 1940:
Mr. and Mrs. Mick Bell, with two children, have just returned home to Wherrol Flat, after having had a tour round Newcastle, Singleton, Wollongong, Port Kembla, and Kiama. At Wollongong, Mr. Bell met Mr. Bell met Mr. Alf. O’Neill (for many years of Wingham), …
Mr. Alf. O’Neill wished to be remembered to all old friends. He was very busy at the time Mick called, assisting behind the bar at the Crown Hotel, Wollongong. He was anxious to know how all the Solo players are getting on. and threatens to “clean them all up” when next he happens along to Wingham…
On Fri 26 May 1939 there was this speculation:
A little bird – must be “Lyre Bird” – conveyed to us the information the other day that Mr. Alf. O’Neill, of Wollongong, is shortly to be married, and that Mr. T. H. Stone, of Wingham, will be best man at the wedding. We have not seen Darby in order to secure the facts, as when last we heard of him he had landed in Walcha prior to taking off per ‘plane for Booligal and Bourke. However, no doubt Mr. Alf. O’Neill will make some announcement on the question – either for or against. His many Wingham friends will await the facts of the case with interest, and if he is determined to go into double harness, then we hope that his future will be extremely happy. However, he should be careful of the average gay flapper – he will need to keep both eyes well skinned, and make sure that all is quiet on the Western Front. Young fellows like Alf. need to mind their step.
No such wedding ever took place. Alf passed away on Sat 10 Feb 1951 aged 83. His death was reported in TThe Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer on Tue 13 Feb 1951 (he was a couple of months shy of 84):
Mr. Alfred O’Neill.
Mr. Alf. O’Neill passed away in Sydney on Saturday last. He was one of the best known and most highly respected residents of Wingham to the years gone by. He was a great sportsman, and for years was prominent to horse training circles. He was a good, genial companion, and one who helped every worthy cause with a generosity that was remarkable. The funeral took place on Monday. The late Mr. O’Neill was 84 years of age. Mr. Herb. O’Neill, of Port Macquarie, is a brother, as also is Frank. Deceased brothers were Patrick J., John, James and William. Mrs. Minch and Mrs. O’Shannessy are the only surviving sisters, those predeceased being Mary, Emily and Ellen.