By Tracey Matthies with thanks to the Korumburra Historical Society

A PERSON described as a character in the Aussie vernacular is generally someone who was respected but not always liked.

One such person of local renown was James Gavan Duffy, listed variously on electoral rolls as an agent (Outtrim) and shire inspector (Korumburra), while newspaper reports record his work in local government as a sanitary collector (1903), rate collector (1909), inspector (1917) and health inspector (1933).

Korumburra Historical Society secretary Janet Wilson said there were many reports in papers of the time, mentioning James Gavan Duffy and, “given his role in the shire, we are able to appreciate that he may well have been in situations where he was calling people to account, hence the court cases etc.”

A section in his obituary points to his character:

“A man of strong opinions, he could hit hard in debate, but his apparent sincerity robbed his remarks of any sting. He gave good and faithful service to the council, and as a Water Trust Commissioner, always took a great interest in the trust’s work. He was one of the original members of the hospital committee, and here again he was a regular attender at the meetings. Deceased was very willing to assist in charitable causes. During the past few years, he gave away many pounds in helping necessitous cases, and his familiar figure, seated on his old horse, will be missed from our streets”.

James Gavan Duffy was born in Warrnambool in 1862 and his wife, Margaretta Jane (nee Brotheras), was born in Daylesford in 1885.

The couple had eight children but only one, Edith D’Aufrey, was born locally at Jumbunna in 1893. She was the second child given the name of Edith D’Aufrey with her namesake born at Daylesford a year earlier and dying in 1893.

James and Margaretta’s fourth child, Charles Chiniguy, became the first member of the Royal Australian Navy interred at Williamstown following his death in 1913, following an operation for a post-nasal growth.

The Williamstown “Chronicle” of November 22, 1913 reported:

“Last Monday afternoon the remains of Petty Officer Chas C. Duffy, of H.M.A.S. Encounter, second son of Mr. J.G. Duffy, an officer of the Poowong and Jeetho Shire, Outtrim, were interred in the local cemetery, with full naval honors. This was the first interment of a member of the Royal Australian Navy at Williamstown. Deceased was of a quiet and lovable nature, and great regret was felt by all his comrades and friends at his tragic death at the age of barely 24 years. Last Friday he entered the Melbourne Hospital for a post-nasal operation. It was successfully performed by Dr. Kent Hughes, but three hours after he passed away, the cause being stated as shock and haemorrhage. He was born at Lyonville, near Daylesford, on 11th. March 1890, and removed with his parents to Outtrim, where he was educated, and for some time he was apprenticed to a blacksmith at the Outtrim coal mine. With his eldest brother he joined the Australian Navy as an A.B., was on the H.M.A.S. Challenger for some time then went to England for special training in physical instruction at Portsmouth. After being there two years, he passed with great credit as physical training instructor and gunlayer, with very flattering testimonials. He returned to the H.M.A.S. Melbourne, and at his request was transferred to the Depot at Williamstown as an instructor. From there he was sent to the Encounter, where he remained up to the time of his death.”

Duffy’s troubles
The marriage between James and Margaretta broke down but the couple continued to live under the same roof.

Korumburra Historical Society member Tony Ware discovered Margaretta had taken James to court, successfully claiming rent arrears!

“James’ defence was he was not liable because he bought the house and the only reason it was in his wife’s name was because he didn’t want any problems for her in case anything ever happened to him,” Tony said.

James was involved in many court cases due to his job, but he wasn’t always on the right side of the law, being fined for assault in July 1897, and for sanitary rates arrears in March 1899.

Margaretta was also in court for dishonoured promissory notes on several occasions.

James also appears to have had trouble with a Jumbunna woman named Mary Ann Stowe who was charged and fined in September 1924 for assaulting him at his home with a stick and the next year convicted of stealing linen from James.

In January 1925, Mary Ann Stowe was charged with unlawful assault on James on four different dates in December 1924. James stated in evidence “ he has never been out with Stowe at night nor was he the father of her child”. Stowe was fined two pounds on each charge, in default seven days’ jail, and was bound over to keep the peace in two sureties of 12 pounds each.

James’ troubles with the Stowe family continued with a John Stowe twice charged and fined for insulting words and offensive language toward James.

James Gavan Duffy died in 1934 leaving assets valued at one thousand and fourteen pounds and 9d. After bequests to the Loyal Orange Institution and pecuniary legacies, the residue was left to two sons and a grandson. Margaretta had died two years earlier.