Sunday, November 29, 2020

Tommy Atkins Fund

Late in 1899, during the time of the Boer or South African War, people in Australia began raising money for the Tommy Atkins Fund. Tommy Atkins was generic name for the brave British soldier. There is an interesting account of the origin of the term, which is said to have been suggested by the Duke of Wellington, here on the Historic UK website. The Fund was for the relief of the wives and children of the British soldiers killed in the War. 

Australians took up the fund raising with gusto and partiotic concerts were held in towns and local Councils also contributed. The Shire of Berwick was especially enthusiastic. At their meeting held on Janaury 13, 1900 they had a whip around and raised eighteen shillings. At a Council meeting on February 10 the President, Cr. Vieusseux, moved and Cr. Barr seconded, "That a sum of £37 based on 6d. per assessment throughout the shire, be voted towards the funds now being collected, in the following proportions: Patriotic Fund, £15; the Bushmen's Corps, £15; and the Tommy Atkins Fund, £7 14/." The motion was carried with the utmost enthusiasm, the councillors rising from their seats and calling for three cheers for the Queen and the Empire. The president initiated a local subscription for the Patriotic fund, and the sum of £10 3/ was subscribed by the officers and the councillors. It is intended to hold a public meeting in Berwick on Friday evening next to further augment the subscription lists (1).

The Patriotic Fund was to support  dependents of soldiers from Australia who may fall or be wounded during the South African campaign (2). The Bushmen's Corps or Fund was to raise money to send a contingent of troops or bushmen from Australia to South Africa (3).

The Shire of Berwick also organised a concert to raise money for these causes, to be held on February 16, 1900 at the Rechabite Hall in High Street, Berwick.

Advertisement for the Patriotic concert
South Bourke & Mornington Journal February 14, 1900

As you can see by the advertisment the Tommy Atkins Fund was to help the home that Tommy's left behind. This was a line from a song by Rudyard Kipling, The Absent-Minded Beggar. It was set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan (the Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame). The song is very 'nationalistic' or patriotic but it is a product of it's time. It really is a tribute to the British soldier, Tommy Atkins, who volunteers to fight for his country and the need to support his family left behind. You can read story of the song and see the full lyrics here on the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive website, but here is one verse to give you an idea of the song -

There are families by the thousands, far too proud to beg or speak:
And they'll put their sticks and bedding up the spout,
And they'll live on half o' nothing paid 'em punctual once a week,
'Cause the man that earned the wage is ordered out.
He's an absent-minded beggar, but he heard his country's call,
And his reg'ment didn't need to send to find him;
He chucked his job and joined it - so the task before us all
Is to help the home that Tommy's left behind him!

The Berwick concert was a most brilliant success (4) and altogether a total of above £37 was raised, a very creditable sum....During the singing of "The Absent minded Beggar" by Mr. T Bergin the sum of £4/19/7 was collected. At the close of the entertainment Mr. F Barr offered a donation of £5., conditionally that another £5 be collected. The condition was fulfilled almost immediately (5).

Mr Bergin repeated his performance of The Absent Minded Beggar at a concert held at Pakenham on February 23, 1900. A sum of £27/10 was raised, £7 of which was contributed during Mr Bergin's song. You can read a full report of the concert, here (6). The Absent Minded Beggar song would have been familiar to most of the concert goers, with the lyrics well circulated. At a concert at Upper Beaconsfield held on February 10, copies of this song, provided by the Cameo Cigarette Company, were distributed, and the chorus was taken up enthusiastically by the audience (7)

Another concert at Berwick was held on Friday, March 2 1900. The locals knew what to expect as nearly all the artists from the first concert were scheduled to appear again - Miss Perry, Miss L. Perry, Miss Mauger, Miss Rankine, Miss E. Taylor, Miss Searle, Miss G. Taylor, Miss A. Hands, Mr. Bergin, Mr. Latta, Mr. Robt. Young, Mr. H. Perry, Mr. G. Perry, Mr. Colvin, and Mr. Edgar Latta. As the South Bourke & Mornington Journal said they were truly a great combination of talent (8).

Over all the Shire raised over £200 for these three causes. The South Bourke & Mornington Journal reported the district must be well satisfied at the result achieved. Over £200 is an amount worthy the reputation of the shire, and, if the adjacent municipalities subscribe similar of amounts, it will draw attention to this portion of the colony for its loyalty and generosity. In addition to the following list, the outlying portions of the shire did their part towards swelling the grand total; Beaconsfield contributing £20 and Gembrook £11 11s. 6d.; whilst nearer home. Pakenham raised £24, and Narre Warren £19 (9). The bulk of the money went to the Patriotic Fund, £17 to the Bushmens Fund and over £13 to the Tommy Atkins Fund. You can read the full break-up of the amounts raised here.

Other reports of local concerts to held to raise money for the Tommy Atkins fund where The Absent Minded Beggar was sung were held at Cranbourne, Lang Lang and Lyndhurst.

Concerts at Cranbourne and Lang Lang.


Patriotic Concert held at Lyndhurst, where Miss Connie Martyn 
sung The Absent Minded Beggar.

Trove list
I have created a list of articles relating to find raising for the Tommy Atkins Fund in the Casey Cardinia region, access it here. All articles referred to here are on the list.

(1) The Age February 13, 1900, see here.
(2) The Argus, January 3, 1900, see here. There is also a good overview of the Tommy Atkins Fund in The Age, December 20, 1899, see here.
(3) The Age January 4, 1900, see here and The Age, January 6, 1900, see here.
(4) South Bourke & Mornington Journal, February 28, 1900, see here.
(5) The Argus February 19, 1900, see here.
(6) South Bourke & Mornington Journal, March 7, 1900 see here.
(7) South Bourke & Mornington Journal, February 14, 1900, see here.
(8) South Bourke & Mornington Journal, February 28, 1900, see here.
(9) South Bourke & Mornington Journal, March 14, 1900, see here.

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