OLIVER, Joseph James (Jim) (1894-1960)

Son of Joseph James Oliver who was a builder regularly employed as a partner of William Reynolds in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Joseph James was born on 15 Jan 1884, the second child of Joseph James Oliver (Builder / Contractor) and Mary Elizabeth Oliver. He was born in Fitzroy Melbourne and spent the early years of his life at 480 Napier Street, North Fitzroy (the middle house of the five house ‘Elizabeth’ terrace). The terraces having been built by his father and William Reynolds.

Jim Oliver – Submitted by ‘Rodpaf’ on 23 Feb 2015 to Ancestry.com

In 1900, he moved to 54 Queen’s Parade, North Fitzroy also built by his father and William Reynolds. In 1912 his father passes away. Joseph is now a builder and contractor like his father (Newspaper Family Notice).

At the age 22, Joseph enrolled into the Army for World War 1 on 6 September 1916. He was appointed to the Australian Flying Squadron on 4 Oct 1916 at Laverton and subsequently left Australia on 25 October 1916. Joseph was in the 3rd Squadron of the AFC Registration number 733 and was awarded with a Victory Medal (Australia World War 1 Service Records, Ancestry.com).

On 11 November 1922 Joseph James marries Florence Gertrude Lee of 2 Willow Street Elsternwick at the Holy Trinity Church, East Melbourne by the Reverend Newport. Florence was born in Walhalla, having moved to 92 Hotham Street, East Melbourne as a Clerk in a Bank. At the time of the marriage, Joseph still lived at 54 Queen’s Parade (builder). (Divorce & Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, Ancestry.com).

Following the marriage, Joseph and Florence live with Mary Elizabeth at 54 Queen’s Parade along with Elizabeth Rebecca (Bessie) McArthur (his sister) and her sister’s husband. Joseph promised Florence that he would build her a home of their own, and that he was in a finanially comfortable position. They were very happy for the first 6 months. They then started fighting about money and in the early part of 1923 his sister and mother moved out. Joseph and Florence continued to live at 54 Queen’s Parade. At this time according to the Divorce application by Florence, Joseph started drinking whisky and went out often at night leaving her home alone in the house ‘which was very large and had large grounds’. She reports that he was frequently morose and would sulk for days. (Divorce & Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, Ancestry.com).

In October 1923, according to Florence, Joseph “got into a frightful rage because I had bought a phonograph out of my own savings made before my marriage. The Respondent thrashed me with an iron poker, cut open my knuckles and caused large bruises across my back. The Respondent said that he would not live with me if I told anyone about this and I did not want to separate from the Respondent because I did not want the disgrace of our unhappiness being made public.” (Divorce & Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, Ancestry.com).

On 22 December 1924 his mother passes away at Private Hospital, Melbourne (aged 70 years). (Newspaper family notice).

On 6 August 1925 it is published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, under the Department of Works and Railways that his contract for work on the Meteorological Bureau in Melbourne had been accepted. He would earn 273 pounds. It was due to commence on 28 July 1925 and conclude on 7 September 1925.

In 1925 Joseph James’ life takes a turn and the Argus Melbourne reports “Threats of Murder – Contractor Sent to Gaol”. The articles below refer to him living on Queen’s Parade, so it may be that this was at number 54 (following his month’s passing). The house had a number of bedrooms so would have been an appropriate size. His sister by this time had married. The paper on 25 August 1925 reports:

“Serious allegations were made against Joseph James Oliver, builder and contractor, of Queen’s parade, North Fitzroy, when he appeared at the Fitzroy Court charged with having unlawfully assaulted his wife at North Fitzroy on August 17. The case was heard by Mr J McNamara, P.M., and Messrs J. J. Denton and J. Hardy, J.P.’s.

Florence Gertrude Oliver, of St. Kilda street, Elsternwick, said: – At the time of the assault I was living in the same house as my husband. About 11 o’clock on Sunday night, August 17, I went to my room and my husband went to his. Thinking of the unhappy life which I was leading I started to cry. My husband came to my room and said, “If you do not shut up I will do for you.” He put blankets off the bed over my head and nearly choked me. He tried to smother me. Then he dragged me out of bed and pushed me on to the floor and put his hands on my throat and sat on me. On several occasions I nearly lost my breath. He went round the room like a mad man saying. “I will do for you tonight. I will swing for it, and I do not care.” I was terrified. He demanded the key of the room, which I had hidden for protection on other occasions, and when I would not give it to him he chased me round the room. He said, “Are you going to give me that key? You have five minutes to live.” I tried to get out of the room, but he caught me and knocked me to the floor. He had his hands on my throat and his knees on my stomach and said, “Your hour has come. You will die to-night” He tied my wrists tightly together with a stocking. I was forced to give him the key, and he locked the door. As he went out he said, “If you try to get out and show what I have done I will murder you. I am going to stay up and watch the window all night.” I got through the window and out into the street in my nightdress. I then went to the Clifton Hill police station. When I brought a constable back to the house my husband said, “I did nothing. I did it in self-defence: I have bruises all over my body.

Oliver said: – When I went into my room I heard my wife start to wail. I went in to her and said, “Give it a spell to-night. I have a big job to start on to-morrow morning.” I went back to my room, but the wailing kept on. I went back to my wife’s room and she flew at me and started to kick at me. I held her on the bed with a blanket. She wanted to get out of the window, but I told her not to do so. When I went back to my room she jumped out of the window. I did not hurt her intentionally. My wife is a very highly strung woman. I did not use such words as “I will swing for you. You hour has come”.

Mr. Macnamara – We are going to sentence the accused to imprisonment without the option of a fine. Oliver was sentenced to imprisonment for 14 days and he was ordered to pay 5 pounds 5/ costs.”

The Age, Melbourne, also reported on Tuesday 25 August 1925 on the events:


Severe punishment was meted out to Joseph James Oliver, builder and contractor of Queen’s parade, North Fitzroy, by the local bench, Messrs. Macnamara, P.M.; Denton and hardy, J’s.P., yesterday when he was charged by his wife with assault. Mr. S. Stephen appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. J. Barnett for the defendant.

Florence Gertrude Oliver, a frail looking young woman, said that until Sunday, 16th inst., she had lived in the same house as her husband, but they occupied separate rooms. They had lived under those conditions for six months. She was now with her mother at St. Kilda-street, Elsternwick. She arrived home at 11pm on Sunday, 16th inst. and went to her room. She was feeling depressed and ill. She then heard her husband arrive. Thinking of her unhappy life she started to cry. Defendant then “bounced” into the room, swore at her and ordered to stop. He said, “If you do not shut up I will do for you.” He threw the blankets over her head, nearly smothering her. His treatment was such, however, that she continued to weep, and defendant “went on like a madman.” He pulled her out of bed, pushed her over and threatened to “swing” for her. She was terrified and thought he meant to carry out the threat. She pleaded with him to allow her out for a little while so that she could calm down, but he continued his violent behavior, and there was murder in his eyes. He almost choked her when he put his hands around her throat. Finally she rushed out in her night dress, but he caught her at the back door and threw her heavily. She was dazed. He then said: “You will die to-night. Your end has come.” Throwing her coat over her night attire, she managed to escape through the window and climbed over the fence. It would then be midnight or early in the morning. She went to the Clifton Hill police station and returned with a constable who asked defendant the reason for his behavior. Defendant replied at first that he had not done anything and later said that it was done in “self defence”. Witness added that she was aching all over as the result of blows from her husband’s fits. In the bedroom he had placed her wrists together and tied them with a silk stocking almost wrenching her wrists off.

Medical evidence was given that when examined by a doctor next day Mrs. Oliver was severely bruised on various parts of the body, on the head and the legs and there was an abrasion on the shoulder.

Constable Hewitt said informant came to the police station at 1 a.m. in a s state of collapse. There were red marks on her throat and wrists.

Defendant said that when he returned home his wife was in her room crying. He went in and asked her to desist as he had a big contract on the following day and required some sleep. She got worse, however and started to kick, struggle and fight. He again asked her to desist, but she would not. All he did was to hold a blanket over her on the bed to try to calm her. He caught hold of her wrists, but did not ill-treat her in the manner described – he had been as gentle as possible with her. He had had previous experience of her hysterical outbursts and thought he was “in for” an all-night vigil.

The article continues to describe the plea from Joseph’s lawyer to avoid a gaol sentence on account of his good standing and reputation, but the bench imposes the sentence anyway. The lawyer then indicated there would be an appeal, but I have not yet been able to find record of this.

Following the court case, Joseph’s solicitor agrees with Florence an agreement where he paid her 3pounds per week maintenance and in exchange she agrees to not appear at the appeal and as a result the appeal on 14 September 1925 was successful. The payments continued to Florence for about 2 years, during which time Florence stayed with her relations and then in rooms rented in Glenhuntly Road, Elstenwick. (Divorce & Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, Ancestry.com).

In August 1928, Florence contacted Joseph and requested a divorce. They agreed to met and on doing so, Joseph is said to have wept and begged for her forgiveness. They then dated for about six months and then in February and March 1929 they continued marital relations. She requested at this time that he build a home for them. Joseph responded that he was very worried financially.

Following this, Joseph got into arrears with the maintenance order and did not come to see her as often – he indicated he was on the verge of bankruptcy and then in November 1930 he appealed to the court to reduce the amount of her maintenance. At this stage he owed a considerable amount of arrears and in January 1931 he indicated he was going to leave for the country with a mate in his truck to look for work, potentially to Rutherglen. They had relations and agreed that he would write regularly to her. He did not write and so she tried to ascertain his whereabouts through his relations and found that he was in Blackwood. She wrote informing him of her pregnancy. She received the following response:

Letter (Divorce & Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, Ancestry.com).
Letter (Divorce & Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, Ancestry.com).

They agreed to meet in Trentham and then she stayed with him in Blackwood before returning to town. He sent more letters promising money and talking of the poor work available. He then returned on 25 August 1931 without luggage as a result of a threat that Florence made to take action for maintenance if he did not. According to Florence he carried on “terribly all night walking the floor and threatening to end everything by suicide”. On 23 September 1931 and 17 October 1931 she again visited Blackwood to plead with Joseph to return and on this second visit he promised to return when the baby was born and to build them a new home.

On 29 October 1931 Florence give birth to Valerie Oliver at the Private Hospital at Southey Street, Elwood. Joseph did not visit or return. On 9 December 1931 Florence took Joseph before the Petty Sessions at St.Kilda in respect of maintenance and was awarded 10 shillings per week.

On 17 March 1932 she lodged for the 144 pounds in respect of the arrears of original maintenance order at the Fitzroy Court. The Fitzroy Court committed Joseph to gaol for about four months until 2 July 1932 when he was released. He then lived in the London Inn Hotel Market Street, Melbourne. Florence then lived again in Elwood, moved to Western Australia and lived with her sister in Kalgoorlie before returning to Melbourne in 1933 when they lived with her brother in Caulfield before moving to Elstenwick. (Divorce & Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, Ancestry.com).

On Friday 30 November 1934, Florence Gertrude Oliver, now of Willow Street, Elsternwick is granted the divorce from Joseph on the grounds of desertion. Joseph was still listed as a builder, now living on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. (Newspaper Family Notice).

Joseph James Oliver (aged 70 years) was buried after his death on 23 November 1960, in the same burial ground as his father, mother, sister and her husband Angus MacArthur who died on 11 May 1945 (53 years). (Boroodara Cemetery 1859-1992)

Probate was granted on 1 Feb 1961 (Probate Record, Ancestry.com).

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