A tribute to a lost daughter: A Poem from George

On George James Capel’s death certificate, his daughter Mamie indicated that there was another female child born to George and Harriet who had passed away but I had never found any other evidence of her existence. That is until now, when I decided to recheck Trove for any new items from George.  In my search, I found the following beautiful but sad poem, clearly about this lost daughter. He now gives me a hemisphere and a rougher time frame than I had previously to continue my search for her. One day I hope to give her a name. In the meantime her memory will live on in this poem:


The Southern Cross.

One night last year our baby girl

Stole softly from her bed,

And gazing on the starlit sky

She very quaintly said:

“Look there, dear ma, look up to heaven ;

Oh, watch each shining star;

There’s one, two, three, and four;

How twinkling bright they are!

“Is that a cross up there in Heaven

To show ’tis Christmas time;

When I shall welcome Santa Claus

With a stocking full of mine? “

No Christmas to our darling came—

But death — her gain, our loss;

Her little grave lies fresh and green

Beneath the Southern Cross !


Brisbane, December 13.


Published in:

Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), Saturday 14 December 1895, pg. 4

The Week, ‘Poet’s Corner’,  (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934) Friday 20 December 1895, pg. 4




Opinions from George: What kind of place is America?


The United States.


(By George James Capel.)

During my short stay in Brisbane I have several times been asked: “What kind of a place is America? Is it better than the colonies, and can a man do as well there as he can here?” Of course such a complex question is unanswerable; but, if you will allow me space, I shall be glad to give your readers some facts about America from my own experience of ten years residence there. America is so vast a country, both in size and resources, that but few Americans even have any idea of its vastness. It is surprising how many Americans I have met who had never been outside their own State, and had no more knowledge of distant States than many people in the colonies have of America itself. There are very few States in which even the laws are alike. Down in Texas and in some parts of California, and out West, a man can do a great deal of killing and get into very little trouble; while he would be shot in Utah, or hung in the New England States. The same with other laws. A lawyer practising in one State would find it difficult to do so in another. The working man, too, is better paid in one State than in another; but the lower pay is always compensated by the lower price of the necessaries of life. I have travelled all over the world, and never found that particular spot where everything was perfect—there was always some drawback or other. New York City and Philadelphia I found were both good towns for working men, and living there was very cheap, while the rate of wages was good. Philadelphia (the “Quaker City”) is a splendid town in which to bring up a family; there are so many openings for young people, and so many opportunities of acquiring learning and a profession or trade. The summers in both cities are, however, intensely hot, and the winters cold—bitterly cold. I have known warmly-clad people frozen to death in the streets. I had a narrow escape one early morning after leaving the New York “World” office. I was caught in a blizzard on Broadway, and managed to drag myself into a saloon only just in time to escape death by cold. Six persons were frozen to death In New York City that night. I spent two years in Galveston, Texas. Galveston is situated on an Island on the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the marvels of American daring and ingenuity. The city is built on a sandbank, in parts about 2ft. below the sea level. Not a living thing grew there: yet a city was built on this sandbank, and when I was there some eight years ago it had a population of 30,000. Galveston is called the “Oleander City,” for the streets are lined with oleander trees, and these trees and every garden and park, and these are many, have been created, the soil having been conveyed from the mainland. There was not a drop of fresh water on the island—no wells and no springs within a hundred miles; people got what water they needed from the clouds. The men I knew required very little except to wash in; they drank beer and whisky—principally whisky. Galveston is a prosperous cotton port. I found a number of Englishmen there—the scum of Liverpool and Manchester, who had got cheap and sometimes free passages out in the cotton steamships. They all managed to make a living. Many were gamblers, some murderers; not a few cowboys on the mainland prairie, and others had a residence in the county gaol. Great scamps these Britishers were, but they managed to hold their own, evil as it was, notwithstanding. Here the draw-backs were the mosquitoes, ants, and cockroaches. The British Government, in an unfortunate moment for Texas, appointed an entomological consul at Galveston. This gentleman brought out with him and had sent out to him a number of sparrows, a collection of pet cock roaches, ants, and other British insects. These creatures took entire possession of the island, and migrated to the main land. The sparrows drove out every other bird; the ants and cockroaches increased vastly, not only in numbers but in size. I was engaged in the editorial room, of the Galveston “News” one night when across the desk flew what I thought was a bat. It alighted in front of me, and looked up with quite a “How-de-do” air. The luminous black eyes of the creature shone under the electric light. “Great Scott!” I cried, What’s that?” “Oh,” replied Walker, the editor, “that’s one of your Infernal British cockroaches ; they swarm here” And I found they did swarm. They made night ghostly with the rustle of their great wings. They crawled all over the food, came into the bedroom and into our bed —everywhere ; and where the cockroaches were too big to get in there came the ants, large black and small red ones, in armies, in millions. And the mosquitoes! We had seen and felt mosquitoes, so-called, in Italy, Turkey, and elsewhere, but the real article is peculiar to Texas. There he is called a “galley nipper.” There is no gentle refined hum attached to him. He descends on his victim with the din of a Salvation Army band, and his bite is agony; his spear will pierce the thickest fabric, and the result is a swelling as big as a walnut. He is clothed in scales, and his body glistens like a coat of bright armour. Texas has its drawbacks. I had heard a great deal about California and its climate, and its advantages. I went there. California is as near paradise as possible. That is to say, parts of it: for California has the most remarkable climate of any country in the world. Every climate can be got in California—intense heat and cold, with variations either way. In San Francisco, in the summer time, you can wear an overcoat on one side of the street, and on the other the lightest clothing. There is always a wind, often a gale, blowing in ‘Frisco, and during the earlier portion of the day it takes you all your time to keep the gravel out of your eyes. Away from ‘Frisco, across the Bay, you get into the land of fruits and flowers, the land flowing with milk and honey, wine and oil. In California, as it is elsewhere In the States, everything is on a large scale. The cars, as they get into the country, pass through hundreds of thousands of acres of orchard (all irrigated land; there is very little rain In California), sometimes great stretches of prunes; I have seen the ground covered with the purple fallen fruit. Then apricot and peach orchards; then cherry, apple, pear, plum, and walnut: then vineyards—immense vine yards—hundreds of acres together. And so on until in the South the grand orange, lemon, lime, olive, and fig groves. Great apiaries, too, producing hundreds of tons of honey. There is work there for those who want to work, and plenty to eat. Fruit everywhere for the picking, and wine 15 cents (7d.) the gallon. But there were drawbacks. One was the fleas. The fleas In California are a caution. Thomes, the novelist, in his day said there were more fleas to lft ([one foot] in California than there were to 3 acres anywhere else. The fleas have increased since Thomes wrote. It might seem gross exaggeration, but I have been bitten by fleas to such an extent that it would have been found impossible to put the end of a pencil between the bites covering my body. One July day I was in Fresno, California. The heat was intense ; the thermometer stood at 105deg., and the fire engine men were outside pouring water over the ” Advocate” building to keep the staff of that paper from suffocating, when in came a man with a red sash round his waist : ” Hold this,” said the new comer, after shaking hands. “I’ve just come from Honolulu; cool there compared to this. No! there is no place on earth like the ‘Paradise of the Pacific !'”

Just then, having had a stroke of luck (a not uncommon thing, by-the-way, in the States), I concluded to try the Hawaiian Islands. Well, I got there, and the revolution turned me out. But was it a paradise? No! Business there is none; at any rate nearly all there is to do is done by Japanese and Chinese, and all soon will be, for when the Oriental comes in the white man has to go out. The climate is good, the tropical country charming, but there is an everlasting monotony about the whole outfit. There were the ants and the mosquitoes. I found the mosquitoes quite friendly after those of Texas. But the ants—red ants —were everywhere. I have taken a large sheet of white paper (double demy) and placed it on a table. In the centre a piece of bread. The table had been washed clean, there was not a single ant to be seen anywhere in the room. In ten minutes a line of ants marched over the paper to the bread, a corresponding line marched from it, and the bread itself was covered with ants, quarrying out particles for their co-workers to carry off. Thus was it with everything. If our child took a piece of bread or a biscuit to bed the sheets were soon covered with ants carrying off the crumbs. In sects of one kind or another got into and on everything, and nothing would keep them out. The same everywhere. There is always some drawback. Paradise on earth has not been found up to date. Can a man do better In the States than in the colonies? That depends greatly on the man himself, on his capabilities, and more especially on his power of affiliating himself with the country and his surroundings. I should say a man has a greater scope and more advantages than he has here. The capitalists are more speculative and energetic there than here, and the working man reaps the benefit. I never came across a Britisher in the States, and I fell in with many, who was dead broke. There was not a single Britisher in Coxey’s great army of the unemployed who marched through America. My authority is the San Francisco “News Letter.” Britishers are always well-treated in the States, and the best friends Englishmen have are Irish and Scotch Americans, and vice-versa. I never had a very exalted opinion of the English-American I met in the States. He does not compare favourably with either the Irish or Scotch American. He has little or no adaptability, and when he holds a good position, as many do, he looks down on his unfortunate fellow-Englishman. An English-American, so placed, will say, “What the devil do you do out here; why didn’t you stay at home?” The Irish or Scotch American will help the man and find him work. Citizenship has its advantages in the States. The naturalised American has the benefit of the chances in the lottery of office, and the strong objection of the American to long terms gives every smart man a chance. There is no cutting down of salaries there, and there are plenty of opportunities for the man in office to add largely to his salary. The American working man is shrewd enough to know that if the pay of men holding positions above him is reduced, he himself will be the ultimate sufferer.

This so-called system of retrenchment would not be tolerated In the States; if it was, the prosperous churches, trades men, and well-paid working men would cease to exist. Money circulates quickly there, and no “dog-in-the-manger” policy is in operation. Any man with a new scheme is helped, and his success gives satisfaction. All this is a benefit to the people, and that is why it is so many people prefer America to any other country in which to settle. The time, too, is not far distant when the whole of the railways will be run by electricity, and become the property of the Government. When this takes place America will be opened up from end to end, for there the railways will be used for the free transportation of the produce of the country. A liberal policy of this kind will insure success, and the system of irrigation, as carried out in the arid portions of America, will render that part of the country the most productive and best suited for settlement

There is a system, too, in the States, quite unknown here, and one which adds largely to the advantages of the working man. That is the system of “subbing,” as it is termed. As I before remarked, there is no “dog-in-the-manger” policy in the States. Everybody gets a show. When a man takes a position, it is his work that is needed, and not the man himself. The consequence is that when a man wishes to leave his job for a time he doesn’t ask the boss, but puts on another man himself. This man is called a “sub.,” and he holds the position until the man putting him on returns to his work. If a man works continuously in the States, and fails to give a fair show to the “subs.,” he is called a “hog” and loses caste among his fellow-workmen. The system is a great advantage to a young man or woman who wishes to enter any of the professions or study in the higher schools. Two or three days’ work will provide for the necessities of the week, and the remainder of the time can be de voted to college or study. It is also convenient for the man who wishes to get drunk; he can do so without losing his situation. On almost every profession or trade you can “sub.” Of course the “sub.” must be a qualified member of his particular association or union. In many of the State and Educational departments there are “subs.” The worker in America helps the worker, and the rate of pay is sufficient to enable him to do so. Again, every order and society — Masonic, Oddfellows, Foresters, Druids, Hibernians, &c. have their special labour bureaus, and no time or expense is spared to get brethren work. Of course there are always thousands idle. John Mackey, the millionaire, once said that he could remember the time when a man could take a pan and wash out $15 (£3) worth of gold in California before breakfast; and even then there were men to be found who were hard up. Such is life!


The Queenslander 12 Oct 1895 p. 695


More from George: “Home Keeping Youths have ever Homely Wits”

As mentioned in previous posts, George James Capel often wrote back to his beloved Clevedon Mercury and this is one such article which was apparently sent just before his passing in 1911. He certainly was a thinking man, who followed his ideas but also reflected on his inexperience and thoughtlessness in youth:

The Tale of Clevedon Weighbridge, by George James Caple

How many years ago it is since the Clevedon Weighbridge was supplied to a dissatisfied public can be ascertained on referring to the minutes of the Clevedon Local Board of Health (now the District Council) at the office of my old friend, Harry Fry.

He was the office boy in those days for Mr Henry Woodforde, Board clerk, and in addition to keeping his master’s snuff box duly replenished, carried the minute books, with the assistance of a youngster named Carey, to and from the boardroom.

Harry was a quiet but bright boy, and everybody prophesied a great future for him, a prophesy unlike many others, fully realised. In those days the local coal merchants were a class of very sophisticated gentlemen who studied their own interests before those of their fellow townsmen; people therefore grew dissatisfied and a howl went up for a public weighbridge. The Board of Health, after much delay, duly responded.

A house was built and a weighbridge laid down. Of course everybody thought this would end any doubt about the correct weight of coals and that a general satisfaction would be the result.

Somehow this happy state of affairs did not materialise; letter after letter appeared in the press on the shortness of weight after the carts had crossed the bridge – as a matter of fact, the public got less weight (to use an Irishism) in a ton of coal than before.

The police were set to watch the carts and see if the carters unloaded or transferred the coal on the roadside after leaving the weighbridge. Nothing, however, was discovered. The Board had the bridge tested, and it was found to be absolutely correct. Everybody was mystified, nobody more so than many of the coal merchants themselves, they evidently looking upon the affair as a special dispensation of Providence on their behalf.

One day, I went down to the weighbridge on a voyage of discovery. I interviewed the gentleman in charge – his was a dual office, for he was the town surveyor (not Mr Henry Taylor). “How do you get at the weight?” I asked him. “Simple enough,” said he “you see each ounce inside represents one hundredweight outside, and this” said he – picking up the one pound weight “is a ton” It sounded to me to straight and simple enough and after seeing him repeat the operation (still with the pound weight) several times, I went away.

When I got up the road as far as Strode Farm it struck me like a flash that I had solved the problem – the man in charge had been using the pound, or sixteen hundredweight as a ton, and the public had been losing four hundred weight’s every time a cart passed on the bridge. As I stood meditating, my dear old friend George Turner, Senior came up.

I told him the whole affair, and we both returned to the weighbridge, I begged him, as it was Friday, not to say a word, as I wanted to make a sensation in the following day’s paper.

Well the Quantum Surveyor and weigher went through the same programme before Mr Turner as he had before with me. “Here – a, here – a.” said Mr Turner (I nudged him), and we left. When I got to my office I wrote a history of the whole case and sent it to the London “Daily Telegraph” and other metropolitan papers, and then wrote an article for my own paper. On Saturday there was a tremendous sensation. The Revd Stephen Saxby, who had weighed coals and found them wanting, came in and congratulated me on the discovery, and some of the Board members called in and told me ’twas a burning shame and a tissue of lies from beginning to end.’ On Monday a ripping article appeared in the “Daily Telegraph” and Sir Arthur Elton, as the Chairman of the Board, was roasted desperately. I was in my seventh heaven.

On Wednesday a board meeting was held, an investigation having been made and my statements found correct. I trotted up full of glee, to report the meeting. Nothing was said until the minutes had been read, when the Baronet opened the papers, the “Mercury” and the “Telegraph” and said, looking across the table at me. “Mr Caple, we have known each other for many years, and I do think you should have considered my feelings, and the feelings of this board, a little before holding us up to ridicule before the world through the London press; as to your paper it little matters among ourselves.”

The dear old gentleman looked sad as he spoke and my jubilation dropped several degrees below zero. As I sit in my weather beaten tent penning these lines I can see that sad look in the mirror of my memory, and can now realise what an unmitigated young ass I was in those days, and how much happier I should feel now if he had given me a sound horsewhipping at the time. The simple, almost kind, rebuke and that sad face I have never forgotten. I can only console myself with the knowledge that “home-keeping youths have ever homely wits”.


Originally transcribed and published as: How George uncovered the weighbridge ‘sensation’ by “This is Somerset”, Posted: May 13, 2010

http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/George-uncovered-weighbridge-sensation/story-12329845-detail/story.html accessed 29/6/14 but no longer available. I suspect the author or at least researcher is probably Derek Lilly who has been an enormous help with the Clevedon side of the story.

George James Capel: The story of a Globetrotting Newspaper Man with Dreams to Fulfil part 2

George J Caple

George James Capel, photographer and date unknown. Courtesy Ann Toler

George, his second wife Harriet, and daughter Mamie Mary eventually immigrated to Australia around 1895 where they settled in Brisbane. In his typical fashion, George soon wrote his first impressions of Brisbane to the Editor of the Brisbane Courier:

Sir – “Will you allow me space in your paper for a few remarks? My excuse is that I am a travelled Anglo American and that I wish to make my home here.

I hope your readers will take what I write in good part. In all my travels I never came across a country so beautiful and so full of resources as yours and I certainly never resided in such a remarkable town as Brisbane. It strikes the stranger as the city of hotels. The people who built it must have been a very thirsty people. A wonderful city is Brisbane, full of splendid public buildings with well laid out and well-kept streets and charming parks; a well governed city too. Truly everything is beautiful here. But where are your Cathedrals – where are the magnificent Catholic and Protestant cathedrals one sees in the United States and, in fact, everywhere else? Where is the Young Men’s Christian in Association -generally a splendid and attractive structure, with its gymnasium and lecture halls and other things necessary for the mental and physical recreation and reunion of the young men of other cities? Where is the public library, that most needful requirement for both young and old?

You have a museum and a splendid collection heaped up together for lack of space in such a manner that one leaves the building saddened instead of refreshed. Your legislators, what are they doing? Since I have been here they have been frittering away their valuable time on a shop-closing bill that could well have been put in the Factory Act, left in the hands of the city authorities, or people themselves since, if the shops are closed, there is nowhere for the young people to spend their evenings unless it be in the public house or the streets. There is no public library, no well-appointed Young Men’s Christian Association rooms, and the parks are closed. The circle your legislators engage in is too small and their ideas too contracted for a splendid country such as this. Their time should be devoted to bringing Queensland before the world and building up what would in other hands be one of the most prosperous and wealthy countries on earth. Here it is paradise teeming with God’s goodness and every blessing and the people starving mentally and bodily. Truly, it is pitiable. The travelled man sees this and wonders. There is talk of an exhibition. Now, here is an opening to bring the country and its resources before the world. Well illustrated Queensland literature should be sent broadcast throughout the United States and Europe. Every newspaper office, every hotel, and every place of public resort in these countries should have descriptive illustrated sheets posted on the walls. At every railway station Queensland should meet the eye of the traveller. Your colonial newspapers should be subsidised and great editions printed for foreign circulation. This is what has been done and is being done in California and foreign capital has come in and the desert there has blossomed like a rose and the people are happy and prosperous. Advertising always pays, it has built up the fortunes of thousands of enterprising men, and countries can be built up in the same way. Advertising is a scriptural command for does not the divine oracle say “Put not your light under a bushel”

Let there be no dissentient voice in a question so vital to the interests of the country as this: let everybody pull together, and success will be the result. “Tis true Queensland must advance even if its people remain asleep: but why not wake up now and give happiness and prosperity to thousands in other lands who have no idea of the resources or beauty of this country.

I am, sir & c.


In 1903 on the Electoral Roll, George was recorded as living Swan’s Road, Taringa and by 1908 he was living in Wecker Road, Mt Gravatt. It is believed the residence there is the one he often referred to in his correspondence as ”The Tent”:

Humour and Sarcasm at Threescore and Ten.

Mr. George J. Capel wrote to the Belmont Shire Council from “The Tent,” Mount Gravatt, stating that he and a baker’s carter saved a culvert bridge in Wecker-road from destruction by fire. The carter fortunately had a bucket with him, and they worked like Trojans. “I think,” wrote George, “our efforts are worthy of acknowledgment. The carter is a Freemason, and a little Masonic charm for his watch chain would be suitable. As regards myself, I am an old indigenous man, nearly 70, not long enough in Australia to get a pension, and can expect nothing. Indeed, as the Federal Government are about to tax my tea and kerosene to pay 10s. a week to younger and abler men than myself, I shall consider myself lucky if you do not bring me in debt. It seems the Australian style to crush the oldest and weakest.” Mr. Capel’s letter caused a little amusement, but it also excited sympathy, and the chairman was authorised to in some way reward the ancient hero and his friend the bread carter.[ii]

In 1910 when the Brisbane Courier reported receiving a copy of an edition of The Clevedon Mercury on its Jubilee and informed the readers about the foundation of the newspaper by George, it was mentioned that:

 Mr. Capel will be remembered as a well-known advertising agent who successfully produced the “Merry Silver Ball,” once suspended under the veranda of the Courier Building. Ill-health and old age necessitated his retirement from active life.[iii]

From what I can ascertain the Merry Silver Ball was a men’s clothing shop owned by Alfred Merry in the Courier Building and was something of a landmark in Brisbane. I assume George procured a giant silver ball to promote the shop.

George also published and printed books. One which I think he would have enjoyed to read himself was The Wild Flowers of Clevedon by A.E.L. 67pp, Clevedon: George James Caple, 1877. Another which he is said to have compiled and printed himself was How to Make and Save Money: a book for the Station, Farm. Hotel, Home and Everybody, 1903.[v]

Sadly, George James Capel passed away from Heart Disease, not long after the Mercury’s Jubilee, at his Wecker Road residence on New Year’s Eve, 1911 and he was buried at the South Brisbane Cemetery. In his obituary mentioned previously, The Clevedon Mercury also said:

Information reached us by the Australian mail on Saturday of the death of Mr. George James Caple, formerly of this town, which took place on the 30th of December last at Mount Gravatt, near Brisbane, Queensland, where he had resided for several years, having had two attacks of paralysis. He was in the hospital for a month or two, but died very peacefully at his residence, having expressed a wish to be taken home to die amongst his flowers. He was in indigent circumstances at the time of his death, and left no estate of any kind. His Brisbane friends had a great regard for him, though they found him very reticent on all matters connected with his English home. He was 72 years of age and leaves a widow and grown up family of four sons and three daughters.


“The wave is breaking on the shore,

The echo fading from the chime;

Again the shadow moveth o’er

The dial plate of Time – Whittier[iv]

George’s second wife, Harriet Jacqueline Capel passed away 27th August 1915 and is buried alongside George James. Although his obituary said he was 72 and his daughter Mamie said he was 71 years old, both George and Harriet were, in fact, 67 years old when they died.

There is no doubt that George James Capel lived a very interesting, entrepreneurial, at times controversial and globetrotting life. His favourite saying might have indeed been self-prophesying. Much of his public life has been documented in the press but his private life was almost equally controversial in his later years. I have developed quite an affection for George during my research – I think he would have been quite the character and a very interesting conversationalist. As the anniversary of his passing 116 years ago is almost upon us, I will be thinking of him and appreciating his contribution to the family that is mine, but also to the wider world of communities in which he lived. May he rest in peace.

©Lynette Nunn 2017

[i] Capel, George James, Brisbane Courier. ‘Queensland’s Opportunity, To the Editor’, 5 Oct 1895, n.p.

[ii] Brisbane Courier, ‘Humour and Sarcasm at Threescore and Ten’, 8 Oct 1908 p.4

[iii] Brisbane Courier, ‘Jubilee Number of an English Newspaper’, 21 June 1910, p. 6

[iv] Sercombe, William George, Clevedon Mercury, ’Death of Mr. G.J. Caple Founder of the Clevedon Mercury’, 24 February, 1912, n.p.

[v] State Library of Qld, http://tinyurl.com/mnpy8j8 accessed June 201

George James Capel: The Story of a Globetrotting Newspaper Man with Dreams to Fulfil part 1

George James Caple

George James Caple, photographer and date unknown. Courtesy Ann Toler

Man’s life a vapour, full of woes

He cuts a caper, and down he goes

The above words were a favourite saying of George James Caple, the youngest son and child of George Caple and Harriet Cross of Albert House, later called Peterhurst, in Copse Road, Clevedon in Somerset, England. George James (probably named for his two grandfathers George Caple and James Cross) was born in 1844 and baptised at St Andrews Church in Clevedon on 15th December 1844.

George was educated at the British School and he became a newspaper proprietor, editor and journalist with much ambition and great entrepreneurial skills.

George wrote about his beginnings in the newspaper business himself:

…as a youth I joined Mr. Dare to learn the business, but from the first to last received no pay.

The paper was hand printed on a Stanhope Press; there were also one of the earliest wooden presses and an Albion Press for printing circulars and cards. The whole outfit was very crude and we were always “out of sorts” (insufficient type). I soon became adept in the art of wood letter cutting, and when we were really hard up we got material from the Weston office, as old Mr. Dare helped his son all he could.[i]

From 1863-85, George pursued his dream of making journalism and printing a success with the start of publishing of the local newspaper he called Clevedon Mercury. Although very young at the time, being only 17 years of age, he must have had the necessary business acumen and competency as a journalist for the job, as for many years after his departure from the Clevedon Mercury, he was always credited with building the solid foundation upon which, for decades later, the newspaper continued to grow.

His enterprise started very modestly. Working all through the night of 23 January 1863 in an outbuilding of the property owned by his father in Copse Road, he worked to put the finishing touches to the first issue. As George said:

I was about 17 years of age, with little experience, but I fought hard, and was a proud young man on that auspicious Saturday morning when I read my name on the head of the paper and felt myself to be a full-fledged proprietor, editor, reporter, compositor, pressman and printer’s devil all in one, for I had no help whatever. I sold 300 copies, sold them to the shops and sold copies myself, and got a number of subscribers; although I had been working all night I was a young cyclone that morning.[ii]

When he was about 25 years old he married Emily Bubb who was born in Bristol in 1844. She and George lived in the same premises in which the Mercury was printed at Gutenberg House, Alexandra Road, Clevedon. Gutenberg was the inventor of mechanical moveable type printing that started the printing revolution in the 15th century and which laid the basis for the spread of learning to the masses. Together they had seven children:

Lionel Ernest George      1870 – 1942                          Edith Isobel 1872 – 1949

Reginald Weir                    1873 – 1922                          Ida Winifred 1875 – 1945

Walter Lacey                      1877 – 1964                         Kathleen Gladys 1878 – 1958

Percival Douglas               1881 – 1965

After The Mercury was floated as a public company in 1885, it seems George decided to seek his fortune elsewhere and sailed for America. I think he arrived in New York per Wisconsin in August 1886, just before the winter. From the articles he wrote for various newspapers he does give a timeline of his movements, although the years are hard to tie in exactly. He says he spent ‘two winters in New York’ before moving to Galveston but, in speaking about winter in New York, he also mentions Philadelphia reporting that:

…The summers in both cities are, however, intensely hot, and the winters cold—bitterly cold. I have known warmly-clad people frozen to death in the streets. I had a narrow escape one early morning after leaving the New York “World” office. I was caught in a blizzard on Broadway, and managed to drag myself into a saloon only just in time to escape death by cold. Six persons were frozen to death In New York City that night.[iii]

So it is possible George also visited and perhaps lived in Philadelphia for a time as well. In 1900 George recalls moving to Galveston ‘14 or 15 years ago’ which puts him there in 1885 or 1886. He was still in Clevedon in 1884 so perhaps he was confused about how long ago it actually was as he lived in so many places and was writing many years after the fact. [iv]

Sometime during this period, and most likely in New York, he met a young widow and heiress, Harriet Jacqueline Short who was the daughter of John Garland Cregoe and Cornelia Powne Gully. The Cregoe family, in particular, were very wealthy gentry and landholders in and around Gorran in Cornwall and the Gully family were also members of the gentry. Harriet had been born in Gorran on 1st April 1848 and baptised in the family Church of Caerhays, St Austell. She arrived in New York on 8th June 1884 per the ship Cornwall.

George and Harriet are said to have married there in about 1886 or 1887. There is a problem with this in that George still had a wife alive and well back in England who didn’t die until 1934, so any marriage, if it actually happened, would have been bigamous. They may have just lived together under common law and said they were married. Was this the reason both George, and later Mamie, were so reticent to talk much about their personal life? Was this why the spelling of their name changed from Caple to Capel? I suspect so. Mamie did give details of George’s first marriage and children on his death certificate so she did know about them.

George and, I presume, Harriet lived in Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico for two years where he liked the people immensely saying: ‘A more warm-hearted, hospitable people this world never saw.’ In 1900, he related information about life and the history in ‘the Oleander City’ Galveston and recorded many of his impressions, for example:

Galveston of fifteen years ago was a city without any water supply. There were thirty thousand inhabitants there, depending solely on rain water stored in tanks, or from water distilleries. These tanks were not as they are here, but were like vast brewery vats of wood, and the first impression given a visitor on entering Galveston, either by land or sea, was that it was a stupendous brewery. Six, and often eight, months passed without a rainfall, the tanks became empty, and the water had to be bought at the bakery at 6d. a gallon. This water came in by rail…………….

…………….I have seen oysters larger than a man’s hand-a dozen, dipped in corn- meal, and fried, made a dinner for a hearty man. Oysters were so plentiful that they were tipped out in cartloads opposite the saloons and opened for the free lunches. They grew on the wharf piles, on the mangrove trees lining the bayous, and on every bit of wreckage cast up by the sea. The side streets and footpaths were all paved with oyster-shells. Fish was very plentiful; all one had to do was to throw out a baited line and draw in a fish. Shrimps were a caution; a Galveston shrimp is a monster a foot long, and a dozen will make a good breakfast…..

………… The mosquito was a terror, whose spear would pierce the thickest fabric. The city was alive with cockroaches and ants, and no flood or fire ever decreased their numbers. Birds there were none; with the exception of the buzzard and the English sparrow. There are very few small wild birds in America, the pugnacious British sparrow having exterminated them.[v]

From Galveston the couple moved to San Francisco where their daughter, Mamie Mary was born in 1887 or 1888. It is possible this is where another daughter, known to not have survived, was also born. Many records, if they existed, for San Francisco were lost during the earthquake of 1906. [vi]

From San Francisco they went to Chile and must have been there by 1891 when there was an armed conflict known as The Chilean Civil War or Revolution of 1891. George fortunately survived being shot twice in the war that involved a confrontation between the Chilean Army, which had sided with the President, and the Navy, which had sided with the Congress. It is not known how he came to be wounded – perhaps covering the story. This conflict ended with the defeat of the Chilean Army and the presidential forces. The war marked the end of the Liberal Republic and the beginning of the Parliamentary Era in Chile.[vii]

From Chile, we next hear of George and his family in Hawaii where once again he was involved in conflict –a coup d’état on January 17, 1893. This was an attempt to overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in which anti-monarchical rebels within the Kingdom of Hawaii, made up largely of United States citizens, organised the overthrow of its monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani an Hawaiian native.

After the coup, Hawaii was at first reconstituted as an independent republic, but it was eventually annexed to the United States in 1898.

All in all George is said to have ‘travelled in the United States and Cuba, Canada, South America, Japan, Hawaii, and the islands of the South Seas.’[viii]

According to George’s obituary in the Clevedon Mercury:

….He received his education at the British School in this town, and was subsequently apprenticed to the late Mr Charles Dare, whose printing offices were situated at the corner of Railway View, abutting Kenn Road. After a year or so Mr. Caple started in business for himself in his father’s coach-house, at the back of Albert House. There the “Clevedon Mercury” was printed and published. This was in 1863, and in the following year he bought the “Clevedon Courier” copyright from Mr. W. Patey, who is still living at Burnham. Then he took Woodlands, in Woodlands Road, and afterwards followed the handsome block of buildings in Alexandra Road now in the respective occupation of Messrs. Kirkpatrick and Jones, which was built under his direction and supervision, and where the printing and newspaper offices were for some years located.

During his residence in this town, in addition to newspaper work, Mr Caple compiled several publications, including the earlier editions of “All about Clevedon” “The Clevedon Almanack and Annual” (an almanac and diary in book form, which ceased to exist some years ago owing to lack of advertising support), and other works; whilst in recent years he was the author of a book of useful household recipes published in Brisbane entitled “How to Make and Save Money,” which must have entailed considerable time in its preparation. He also, when at Clevedon, occasionally broke out into poetry of a humorous nature, one piece in particular, entitled “the Cow with the Iron Tail.” Written after a raid made on the local dairymen by the police, which resulted in numerous prosecutions, specially tickling the risable faculties of his readers. In politics the deceased was a Radical, with a strong leaning towards Nonconformity. During his control of “The Mercury and Courier” Clevedon was at one period a hotbed of religious controversy, the paper contained columns of letters on religious maters week after week fomented by members of the then Clevedon Protestant Association, which created a large amount of bad feeling in the town, and it was with the view of putting a stop to this sort of thing that, when at the end of 1885 the “Mercury” came into the market, the present proprietors decided on purchasing it and to endeavour to carry it on in the future free from the religious strife and bitterness which had been so prevalent hitherto.

Besides being a thorough practical printer, Mr. Caple was a writer on various subjects, indeed some of his articles might be described as exceedingly smart, though highly coloured by an imaginative and exaggerated mind; but his great failing whilst at Clevedon was his inveterate habit of indulging in personalities, which frequently brought him into conflict with gentlemen who were among is best friends. In the nature of his soul, however, he couldn’t help it – it was his style of writing. Probably the lack of experience as a journalist in other newspaper offices – he was a self-taught man in this respect – accounted for much of his want of tact and courtesy so essential in the conduct of a business. It is extremely doubtful if the editor of any other newspaper in this country, outside the late proprietor of “Truth,” had ever been threatened with more actions for libel than the deceased during the time he controlled the destinies of this paper, amongst the gentlemen he had offended in this respect being the late Sir Arthur H. Elton, Bart., Mr. C.A. Homfray, of Park House, the Rev. S.H. Saxby, vicar of Portbury, the Solicitor-General of the day, and numerous others whom we cannot now remember. His genial manner, however, combined with a prolific pen – he was an adept in apologetic letter writing- saved the situation, and thus he escaped the financial consequences of what would undoubtedly have proved disastrous to the printing business, if not the ruination and ultimate extinction of the newspaper, had the proceeding gone so far as to reach the Law Courts.

The late Mr. George J. Caple was at one time a member of the old Local Board of Health, on which he served for three years, and during his tenure of office brought forward many schemes for the improvement and advancement of Clevedon. He was elected in 1882, and at the first meeting of the new board urged the advisability of purchasing the Clevedon Water Works for the town. Subsequently. In February of the following year, a letter was read from the chairman of the Water Works Co. stating that the company were willing to dispose of their property to the town for £24,000. A special meeting of the Council was held on Feb. 21st to consider the matter, and after a long discussion, when the board were of opinion that the price asked was altogether out of character, a member suggested that £`8,000 or £`9,000 was enough, but Mr S. Ransford thought that the board would be committing themselves if they went beyond £15,000. The proposed purchase was therefore rejected. At the meeting on June 9th, 1883, Mr. Caple advocated the placing of a fountain (given by a gentleman who did not wish his name to be divulged) in the centre of the Green Beach. At a meeting in July, 1883, the tender for lighting the town by the Gas Company was opened and it was suggested that a London firm would light the town with petroleum much cheaper. Mr Caple strongly protested against going out of the place to spend the money for lighting. At a special meeting in October, 1883, to discuss repairing the Beach after a severe gale, Mr. Caple proposed that buying the Pier (at that time owned by a private company) should be considered, and also said it was his opinion that the sea front of the future would be round the Church Hill, and suggested that a drive should be made round the hill. At a meeting on Aug. 6th, 1884, Mr Caple brought forward a proposal that the Local Board borrow a sum of £5000 to construct a small tidal harbour at the end of the Green Beach, but this did not meet with the approval of other members, who thought the cost would be much more. He was also instrumental in getting a steam roller for use on the roads. In many other ways he identified himself with the public life of the town, such as the regatta, flower show, season band, &c. He was also a Freemason, having been initiated a member of the Coleridge Lodge at Clevedon soon after its foundation in 1878.

A favourite saying of the deceased many years ago, one which has remained evergreen in our memory to this day, and nevertheless a truism was –

“Man’s life’s a vapour, full of woes; He cuts a caper, and down he goes!”

Sad to relate, this was the ultimate experience of our departed friend, though – unfortunately for himself, perhaps- we didn’t happen to be in his employ when the collapse came about. His experience, however, is but the experience of thousands of others in all walks of life, who on reaching a critical age get reckless and, in spite of warnings and heedless of consequences, fail to see the “red light” ahead until alas! It is too late, and recovery, without the aid of friends to the rescue, is well-nigh impossible. A hard taskmaster, one could not help liking the man with all his faults, and his ready wit and humour and withal genial manner stood him in good stead in this and in many other respects.

Mr. Caple in many ways was a remarkable man, for almost up to the time of his death his penmanship, although retaining the same style, was far more legible than it was 34 years ago, and was not in the least degree “shaky,” as might have been expected of a man of his age. This is all the more surprising when his unique and experience as a “globe-trotter,” previous to settling in Australia, is considered. His articles also which have appeared in these columns from time to time shew he must have been endowed with wonderful memory and vigour for a man who nearly reached the allotted span of three score years and ten, and this is further demonstrated by the hitherto unpublished letters and articles which we append below. These were written within the last few years, but, for want of space, were withheld from publication.

Thus has passed away a man with a world-wide experience, of a kind – one who might have held a different position commercially but for misdirected energy and circumstances over which he probably he had little or no control in years long since past. – W.G.S. [William George Sercombe][ix]

To be continued ..

[i] Unknown Author, Clevedon Mercury, c. May 1960, front page and back page col. 3, date unknown.

[ii] Unknown Author, Clevedon Mercury, c. May 1960, front page and back page col. 3, date unknown.

[iii] Capel, George James, The Queenslander 12 Oct 1895 p. 695.

[iv] Capel, George James, Brisbane Courier, ‘City of the Cyclone, Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico, “The Oleander City” of America’ 22 Sept 1900, p.9.

[v] Capel, George James, Brisbane Courier, ‘City of the Cyclone, Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico, “The Oleander City” of America’ 22 Sept 1900, p.9.

[vi] Qld Government Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, Death Certificate, George James Capel No. 15167, 30 Dec 1911, issued 9 May, 1996.

[vii] Brisbane Courier, ‘Jubilee Number of an English Paper’, 21 June 1910, p.6.

[viii] Brisbane Courier, ‘Jubilee Number of an English Paper’, 21 June 1910, p.6.

[ix] Sercombe, William George, Clevedon Mercury, ’Death of Mr. G.J. Caple Founder of the Clevedon Mercury’, 24 Feb., 1912, n.p.