Apps, Edward (Undertaker)(1861-1932)

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Edward Apps

Edward Thomas Apps was born, in Collingwood, Melbourne, in 1861. His father William George Apps arrived in the then new colony of Victoria aboard the sailing ship ‘Asia’ at the age of 22 in 1854. William had been born in Ramsgate, England in October 1832. His family was a seafaring one, his grandfather having served with Lord Nelson, losing a leg at the Battle of Trafalgar, and his father James Apps being a captain of a sailing vessel. Apprenticed to his uncle he was cabinet maker and upholsterer by trade. Upon arrival in Australia he made his residence at Emerald Hill, which at that time was principally a community of tents. After spending a few months gold digging at Jackson’s Gully, he settled in Fitzroy and eventually established an undertaking firm, W. G. Apps and sons. He was said to always possess a ‘happy and cheerful disposition’ and ‘those courteous, affable and manly qualities that go to make up a fine English gentleman.’ He married his wife Mary Ann Killick at St Mark’s church, Fitzroy in 1857. Mary had been born in London in July 1836, and arrived in Australia on the sailing ship ‘Ontario’, after a three month voyage. W. G Apps and Sons was a success, and William rose to a prominent position in Melbourne social life over the decades, the Argus newspaper reporting after the turn of the century that the family was ‘respected throughout the metropolis and Victoria.’ and that ‘his name is practically a household word right throughout the state.’ He fathered 15 children throughout his lifetime, though only six survived beyond infancy.

William George Apps
Mary Ann Apps

In 1881 at age 20, Edward married Jane Tyrie. Jane had been born in 1862 in Richmond, Victoria, the daughter of David Tyrie and Mary Ann Dogget. Their first child, Hilda, was born in 1882, followed by Harold in 1883, Ethel in 1885, and Edward in 1887.

    Edward followed his father into the undertaking business, and was to eventually rise to the position of managing director of W.G Apps and sons. In 1885, The Mercury and Weekly Courier carried a report of Edward receiving a patent for his invention, known as the ‘improved disinfecting coffin for preventing contagion’, which was being manufactured on the premises of W.G. Apps undertakers. The coffin, which could be made of wood of any class, slate, marble or iron was perfectly water-tight allowing the decayed body to be kept sealed in it for any length of time without any unpleasant odours being perceptible. Via a large glass panel the features of the deceased could be viewed at any time, as well as a flap lid fitted with a reflector ‘for the purpose of throwing strong light on the corpse’. It also included a ‘special apparatus’, a small nickel pipe by means of which the ‘foul odours escape’ and come into contact with a disinfectant placed in the c-stern, ‘and thus the gases are purified.’ The Melbourne hospital quickly adopted the coffin for use in cases of adjourned inquests, identification by friends, etc. In 1894, Edward gave a demonstration in front of several well known members of the medical profession of the powers of a new preservative embalming fluid, which he believed would ‘meet the extended demands of science, and at the same time time be of a pleasing nature to mourning relatives’ The method of use was that the blood would first be drawn out of the arteries by a ‘patent contrivance’, and when every drop was withdrawn the embalming fluid was injected into the principle artery. The subject on which the demonstration was carried out was the wife of a farmer who had travelled from Gippsland to Melbourne for an operation, and had subsequently died. In the centre of the operating room was a neatly mounted coffin, resting on two trestles. Edward, after fully explaining to those present how the operation was done, took off the lid of the coffin to reveal her form arranged in a snow white robe, the head slightly raised and the hands resting on the chest. Her face wearing an expression of ‘calm and peaceful repose… instead of the usual ghastly white colour, it is exactly as if she had been moulded with wax. A peculiar quality possessed by the fluid is that it also prevented the limbs and body from becoming rigid… The doctors present congratulated Edward in preserving the lady after death.’

Apps Undertakers c. 1901

In 1885, Edward was made secretary of the Fitzroy Amateur Athletics Club, which conducted classes in fencing, parallel bars, club swinging, etc. At a social gathering that year, Edward took part in boxing matches with other members of the club. A fancy dress football match was organised in 1896, between teams from the ‘North and South’, Edward was appointed to the executive committee. He was also on the committee for a football match played between a team of firemen and a team of shopkeepers, the firemen wearing their ‘undress sailor caps’ and the shopkeepers wearing ‘P and O caps’. At another fancy dress football match in 1892, Edward served as a marshal. Edward also took part in cricket matches between Fitzroy citizens and Fitzroy councillors in 1892 and 1898. During the match in 1898, batting in the tail order he was bowled out for four runs, but showed his worth in bowling when he ‘twice threw down the wicket. Had the batsman not been on each occasion several minutes on his crease, he must inevitably have been thrown out.’ In 1897, Edward organised ‘Try Excelsior classes’. The newspaper report noted that he was ‘as well-known to the children of the suburb as most of the adults, and therefore likely to succeed amongst them, with gymnastic and callisthenic experience also, which should make him more than popular among the boys of the class the classes are designed to benefit.’ This was not the only sporting connection in the family, Edward’s father was a vice president of the St Kilda Trades club. Edward’s brother Arthur was by 1910 vice president of the St Kilda Football club, which was then a member of the VFL, now the AFL.

Also in that year, Edward was elected to the Fitzroy School Board in a landslide victory, polling more than His three opponents put together. Mr Showers the returning officer was quoted in the Argus as saying that in his 20 years in the role he had “never seen anything like it”. The newspaper report continued that the large majority may be accounted for by the “great popularity of the genial “Ted” Apps, and the determination of the householders of the city to snub the little coterie who fancy they run every show in the district”. In the same year, Edward offered to place his horse stables at Moor St Fitzroy at the service of Lord Neville to house the Governors horses and carriages. Lord Neville , accepted the offer and thanked Mr Apps. Edward also received a letter from Lord Brassey, thanking him for his ‘kindly act’. By now also a Justice of the Peace, Edward was presiding at sessions of the Fitzroy City Court and Fitzroy Police Court.

The Fitzroy City press reported in 1890 that Edward Apps, the vice president of the Rough Coated Terrier Club, won first prize in the ‘Puppies (bitches) Sandy, under two months old’ category at their annual show, for his pup ‘kentish lassie’ and received a trophy valued at two pounds and two shillings. Much later in 1930, the English born ‘Simon of Toorak’, won first prize at the Kennel Club, London, among dogs worth two hundred pounds, while it’s mother, “Lassie of Toorak, bred by Colonel Apps, shivered near by.’

Another child was born to Edward and Jane in 1891, Roy, who was followed by Hector in 1894, Reginald in 1896 and Blanche in 1899.

The Mercury and Weekly Courier reported in 1898 that W.G Apps and sons, ‘the most extensive and firmly established business in it’s line’, had received a built-to-order hearse at a cost of two hundred and eighty pounds. With a platform of polished oak, ebony rollers, ‘artistically executed and appropriate florals’, an abundance of nickleplated and electroplated work, and ‘silver mountings originally manufactured for the Marquis of Salisbury’s equipages’, it was described by experts in coach building who inspected it as ‘superior to anything ever before produced or imported into the colony.’

In 1899, Edward was talking to some friends on the corner of Brunswick and Moor street Fitzroy when a ‘drunken rough’ by the name of William Molloy came up to them and ‘made use of fearfully foul language’. There were several women and children passing at the time, and Edward searched out and found a policeman who arrested Molloy, who was fined two pounds.

Edward was given a presentation, in 1899, by the Austral Quadrille club to mark their appreciation of services while president, at the Labour-in-Vain Hotel. Following a banquet, he was presented with a ‘beautifully framed group of the photos of the committee’. Edward accepted the gift, saying “I sincerely thank you for your really beautiful present. I can honestly assure you all that it has been a source of pleasure to me to occupy the position of President and to be associated with you.”

Also in 1899, he was caught up in a shooting affray (The Argus 21 Jan 1889). A heavy drinker named James Taylor was ejected from the Curfew hotel in King William St Fitzroy near closing time, and later confronted the landlord Mr Carroll, drawing a revolver and pointing it at his head. The landlord seized Taylor and knocked him over, the latter then replied by striking Carroll in the face with the weapon, and a scuffle ensued. Edward happened to be standing on the opposite side of the street and gave chase to Taylor. A fish hawker named Richard Langridge who was also a witness joined the chase, and they ran him down at the intersection of Brunswick and King William streets and the revolver was taken from his hands. This would not be the only time he was caught up in a dramatic arrest. In 1908, a drunk swagman named Henry Jones was being arrested by a constable named McFarlane, in Moor street, where Edward lived. Jones drew a beer bottle from his pocket and attempted to strike the constable, who then rushed at him, whereupon he was kicked viciously. Edward and another constable named Brown came to his aid and were assisting him in putting handcuffs on the drunk, when Jones lashed out and kicked Edward on the forehead, on the right temple. Jones was sentenced to one month imprisonment for the assault, and Edward was complimented by the bench for the assistance he had given the officers.

Edward Apps

Edward took an interest in military affairs as a young man, and served in the Australian military forces. By 1901, he had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and Quartermaster of his regiment, following 10 years served in the Victorian Mounted Rifles 6 years as a private and 4 years as Quartermaster-Sergeant. Previously he was in the old volunteers and transferred to the Light Horse Cavalry (Prince of Wales) which after a short period was disbanded. The Mercury and Weekly Courier reported that he was “always considered a good marksman with the rifle and a good rider.” It was further noted that Edward had two sons in the regiment, one a private and the other a Regimental Bugler, who on the previous Melbourne Cup day had “gained special distinction by his smart and soldier-like appearance, and was particularly noticed by Colonel Holsworth of the 18th Hussars (who was a staff officer of General Powell’s in South Africa and was on a visit to Victoria) who said “he was a credit to any cavalry regiment in the service.” Edward would, over the following years, continue his rise in Military affairs, eventually achieving promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and giving the “benefit of his military experience” to the government during World War One.

Edward’s last child was born in 1903, Eileen, who passed away the same year.

In 1904, Edward stood as a candidate for election to Fitzroy city council. Mr Edwards the Mayor, in his opening remarks at a meeting held in the hall of Shannon’s rooms, Fitzroy, said that such a large gathering of prominent citizens was a compliment to the Mr Apps and described him as a “worthy gentleman” with a “broad, liberal spirit”, who did not pose as a “representative of any class, nationality or creed” but based his claim on an invincible determination to prove a devoted worker. Edward was called to address the meeting and was ‘received with hearty cheers’. He referred in the first instance to his nervousness as it was his maiden public speech and he was afflicted by a bad cold, but said that if not a great speaker he could say without egotism that he was an earnest worker. Edward then put forwards his ideas on a number of matters, from whether electric lighting should be installed in the city, to the most economical was of conducting street cleaning, to the benefits of a direct railway line running through Fitzroy, to his support for the principle of the minimum wage. A vote of confidence was moved by R. Best, Minister of Land and Customs, a childhood friend of Edward’s, that Edward was a fit and proper person to represent West Ward in the Fitzroy council. He said that My Apps had a splendid family record, and that he had identified himself with public institutions and in philanthropical movements and had ever proved himself a zealous and energetic worker, and also that the ratepayers should think no less of Edward because of any oratorical deficiency, as he could express himself in a “clear, manly way, and more was not required.” He expressed a desire that ratepayers would bear in mind his “splendid reputation, as well as his business capacity.” The motion was seconded by Cr. McMahon, who “did not hesitate to prophesy” that Edward would “prove one of the worthiest representatives ever elected to a seat in council”. He continued that as a justice of the peace he was in a position to state that Mr Apps and his father had “frequently rendered most substantial assistance to the city under circumstances requiring it.”

In 1914 he was appointed a life-governer of St Vincent’s, a Catholic hospital opened in Fitzroy in 1893 by the Sisters of Charity, in recognition of services rendered to that institution.

By 1915 Edward was to serve His first term as the Mayor of Fitzroy, until 1916.

In 1919, Edward was involved in a bizarre court case, from which the ‘habituates of Fitzroy derived great amusement’, reported the Barrier Miner in Broken Hill. Edward was suing a poulterer named William Nelson for the recovery of 6′ he had paid for a fowl. Mr O’Conner appeared for the plaintiff, Mr Kidstone for the defendant. Edward had called at Mr Nelsons shop and purchased two fowls, one of which he was dubious about and told Mr Nelson he did not want “anything ancient”. When one of the birds was subsequently cooked, it was so tough that it was impossible to carve. On finding that he could not even get the knife into it, Edward returned it to the shop. He knew nothing of its later history, and opined that it had perhaps been converted into sausage meat. When Edward returned it to the shop, he claimed Mrs Nelson the defendant’s wife tried it with a knife and failed just as he had done. Edward added that the birds were well dressed when in the window, but that Mrs Nelson had made matters worse by offering him in exchange a bird which was even older and harder, and that he had been “awfully taken down.” Mr Kidstone replied, “a sister of Mrs Nelson ate the fowl and enjoyed it”, drawing great laughter from those in attendance. The defendant claimed that it had all been a question of cooking, and that the bird returned to the shop was half cooked, in fact it could be said that it was raw, and that Edward had been offered another chicken in exchange but had wanted pork instead. The witness stated that he thought it a pity to waste the bird, so he gave it to someone else who cooked it beautifully and ‘thoroughly enjoyed it’. The chairman said that on one side it was said the bird was good and on another that it was bad, so how was he to judge? The case was dismissed without costs.

His involvement in charitable work extended over many decades. In 1897, Edward launched an appeal to raise funds to provide poor children with boots and stockings, to enable them to attend school comfortably. He received thirty six pounds in donations and was able to provide 220 pairs of boots, 80 stockings and several items of clothing. The object was not only to provide items but to ensure that children attended school by enabling a truancy officer, and to make arrangements ‘whereby friendless schoolgirls and boys over a certain age are found suitable employment.’ In the same year Edward announced at a meeting of the Jubilee Celebrations committee that he would organise vehicles to convey crippled children to and from the Fitzroy cricket ground where the celebrations were to be held, so they could share in the demonstration.

During the Great War, Edward and his wife were very active in fund-raising, in particular the work of the Red Cross. At one Red Cross meeting, Edward extolled the benefits of penny raffles as sources of revenue, mentioning a gold bangle which had been bought for one pound and raised twenty pounds. “That’s the way to do business”, was his opinion, “small profits and quick returns”. The Fitzroy City Press reported in 1916 that Mr and Mrs Apps had ‘devoted an immense amount of time to the Red Cross” and that Mrs Apps had ‘spent her money freely in that direction’. Fund-raisers known as ‘At Home’s were also held by Edward and Jane in their capacity as Mayor and Mayoress during the war years. One held in 1916 at the Fitzroy Town Hall was attended by 100 guests. During an interval two presentations were made, the Mayoress being given a gold wristlet watch and Mr Apps a case of gold mounted pipes. Edward took occasion to thank the members of the local branch of the Red Cross Society (to whom the At Home was tendered) for their services. He said that his wife had devoted a great deal of her time to assisting, so much so, in fact, that he had often-times to go home and “scratch for himself”, raising laughter from the guests. He drew attention to the fact that it was necessary for each individual to do something in those present strenuous times, saying “those who cannot fight should work, those who cannot work should pay, and those who cannot pay should get out.”, to cheers from the audience. In 1928 Edward and hosted a Mayoral ball at the Fitzroy Town Hall with 700 guests in attendance, which was ordained for the occasion on ropes of red and blue lights which outlined the grey stone building, the ballroom being decorated with flowers and streamers. Jane wore a ‘handsome gown of filmy black lace over silver lame. At the hem the gleaming foundation was edged with two rows of cherry-coloured ribbon, and from the shoulders fell narrow panels which were caught at the waistline by two brilliant buckles.” At a meeting of the Red Cross society also in that same year, Edward recounted the story of a gift sent by a lady from Fitzroy to a soldier on the front line, which had been fully acknowledged by the soldier who received it. The soldier expressed a hope that when he returned to Melbourne he might have the pleasure of meeting “Laura”, as she had signed herself, and treating her to an outing. “Laura”, said Mayor Apps, “happens to be a lady, so the soldier in the event of his returning will have to be careful as there is a husband in this case.”


Edward was also heavily involved in Freemasonry and various other friendly societies. In 1892 he was installed as worshipful master of the Freemasons Federal Lodge No 122, and was ‘installed in the chair of King Solomon according to ancient rites’ as reported in the Argus. In 1894 he was installed ‘to the high and honourable distinction of Knight of the Order’ of Royal Antediluvian Buffaloes, in a ‘solemn and most imposing’ ceremony, which concluded with “Sir Apps being presented with the Jewel.’ Edward responded in a ‘most felicitous and telling manner’. In 1894 Edward headed a Druidic procession which made it’s way down Bourke St Melbourne, described as a ‘highly picturesque group of ancient druids, invested with the picturesque regalia of their rank.’ It included an ‘effective tableaux’, a ‘living picture of federation… composed of a group of members of the order, appropriately costumed, each of whom bore a banner typical of one or the other colonies, the whole being surrounded by a Druidess, typical of the gracious lady who controls the empire.’ In 1904, Edward was reported by the Argus to have made, with ‘custom liberality’, a donation of 5 shillings towards the expenses of the annual picnic of the Melbourne Progressive Spiritualistic Lyceum. In 1910 it was reported that ‘Bro E. T, Apps, president of the board of benevolence’ was in attendance at Federal government house to hear an address by Lord Kitchener, ‘a past district grand master’ (who is now most famous as the face of the iconic ‘I want you’ recruitment posters).

    His career as an undertaker also left him open to jokes from others, though he himself was not without a quick wit. “It is high time”, said Edward at a meeting of Fitzroy council in 1910, “That we took steps to revise our building regulations. A number of buildings in Fitzroy are death-traps.” A councillor answered back, “well you are an undertaker!” causing laughter in the chambers. An application was made by the Fitzroy council to the postal department in 1916 for a letter box to be placed on the corner of Brunswick and Gertrude St and it was mentioned in a council meeting that a reply had been received in answer to the application. “What’s the good of a reply?” grumbled Edward, who had interested himself in the matter, “we want a box.” “One of yours?” interjected a fellow councillor. “You’ll get a box soon enough!” retorted Edward. At another council meeting Edward said “I don’t stand at my door looking for business”. “Your customers can’t walk!” was the reply. At a farewell party for a friend from the Curlew Club in 1911, Edward recounted a story of when he and his friends in the club had visited the Yarra Bend Asylum, where they “enjoyed themselves immensely”, explaining that they decided to serenade the doctors, but were promptly ordered off the premises, much to their surprise. He “subsequently ascertained that the one ordering us off was a lunatic”. He also recollected another gathering at Whittlesea where he said he found “ducks in my buggy”, for which he believed his friend Tom was responsible, drawing laughter.

    A 1914 issue of ‘Truth’, a Melbourne sports newspaper carried a caricature of Edward, along with a verse reading:


P’r’aps you know this gent – p’r’aps

‘Course you do –it’s Mr Apps.

The Fitzroy man of many parts

Who runs those undertaker’s carts

He’s a sojer, eighteen stone,

And rides a gee-gee all his own:

He’s also Councillor, J.P. —

A bloke of great importance he!

In 1915, Edward was driving a waggonete along Nicholson St when the shafts parted from the undercarriage, throwing him out, and he received a severe cut to the head. Also that year, the Argus reported that the ‘Major E. T. Apps shield’ was presented to the C Company for winning first prize in the shooting competition’, in a ceremony held at Fitzroy town hall.

In 1916, Edward desired to direct the attention of the councillors to the “objectionable” films that were being shown at a certain picture show, saying that in the interest of the moral welfare of the children, the council should take action. The councillors asked him to name the pictures, but Edward would not, and the motion was defeated.

Edward served His second term as Mayor of Fitzroy in 1927-28, and his third term in 1931-32.

In 1929 Edward was involved in an ‘acrimonious’ debate in the council chambers over whether preference should be given to returned soldiers when appointing a new municipal librarian. As debate over the issue became heated, Cr Delves said to Edward “You are nothing but a big skite” and that the council was “going too far in this returned soldier business”. “You should be ashamed to say such a thing” said Edward. “I did as much during the war as you”, retorted Delves, “and I did not benefit to the extent you did. Councillor App’s speech was a load of bunkum.” “Councillor Delves is talking a lot of — rot” was Edward’s reply.

He was not one to avoid controversy, and 1932 he caused consternation at a meeting of Fitzroy council by declaring that in order to solve the problem of unemployment the policy known as ‘White Australia’ should be abandoned. “One of the best things we could do at the present time would be to abandon to the policy of ‘White Australia’”, he stated, drawing a shocked response from his fellow councillors. “If the policy were abolished”, he continued, “so that some big industries could be established in the northern part of Australia it would mean millions of pounds to the Commonwealth.”. Cr Becket in response said that he desired to disassociate himself from the suggestion, and that it would be a disaster to give an open invitation to ‘coloured races’. Cr Chapman added on the behalf of the rest “that is also our opinion”.

W.G. Apps undertakers by this time were conducting large scale funeral services, including that of E. B. Myer the founder of the Myers department store, the Governor General Sir Isaac Issacs, and in October 1931 conducted the funeral for Sir John Monash, which was reported as having 300,000 people witnessing the procession along it’s route.

On the 1st of September 1932, after a short illness Edward passed away at his home in Bennett St North Fitzroy. Edward’s funeral was on September 3rd, 1932. Preceded by a detachment of police, the funeral procession made it’s was to Melbourne general cemetery, two floral cars followed the hearse and the coffin was covered with a Union flag on top of which rested his sword and military cap. The pall-bearers included Sir William Brunton, Colonel Merret, Brigadier General Scott (representing the Commonwealth military forces), Major Douglas Richardson and the Mayor of Fitzroy, Cr Kerr.

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