Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Taphophile Tragics - Being up yourself

It is rare in an Australian cemetery to see a statue of a deceased person. There are plenty of statues, but they tend to be either religious, or have pretensions to Greece or Rome. So this statue of Robert Hancock out at Rookwood Necropolis stopped me in my tracks the other day. Very English landed-gentry, isn't it? To put it in our Australian vernacular: 'Geez, this bloke was up himself!'

The dedication states that Hancock died in 1876 aged 69 years. It doesn't give details of family or status, or even allow one to assume his remains are interred beneath. But ... wanting to see the statue from the back, I burst out laughing. There is a plaque on the base of the rear of the statue that states that the statue was erected by Robert Hancock in May 1844. Well, thinks I, that confirms my original assessment of his character. Then, I twigged. Rookwood only opened in 1867, so the statue must have been erected elsewhere, and moved here upon Hancock's death.
Hancock followed his father into the George Street wheelwright business in 1837, whilst at the same time leasing the 'Britannia Inn'. He divested himself of the wheelwright shackle in 1847 and bought the Wellington Inn, and Tower Inn which he renamed 'Tower Court'. In 1873, he moved on to the 'Lady of the Lake' in Bay Street Glebe. Going from the date on the plaque (1844), Hancock must have erected the statue at the 'Britannia'. His documents, held by the State Library, indicate that the statue was moved from his pub to the cemetery upon his death. The 'Dictionary of Sydney' has a short phrase about Hancock calling him a publican and petty thief. The Glebe Society goes further, stating 'When the Lady of the Lake’s wealthy owner Robert Hancock took over, the place became a haunt for derelicts,outlaws, vagabonds, thieves and ‘haybag’ women'.

His papers indicate a court case over cheating two children of a friend out of their inheritance. Some friend! In addition, there were contentions with his own will after his death, with an 1870 version and an 1875 version.

He married Catherine Ball in May 1829, but I found no record to offspring. Which might be where the hunting dog comes in. She bares an incredible resemblance to the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus in the Roman creation theory. But how did her ear get ripped off? She looks a bit like a Staffie. I sure would not want to meet that man and that dog down a back alley late at night!

What do you think a 'hay-bag' woman was?

This is my contribution to the Taphophile Tragics community.

14 comments:

Gemma Wiseman said...

A man of no scruples and proud of it! Incredible that he should erect such an "upper class" statue when he mingled with the likes of scoundrels and vagabonds. Head scoundrel maybe? I was wondering if "hay bag" women were "bag" ladies in the street prostitute department?

Margaret said...

maybe a haybag lady used her own haybag for her 'round heel' activities

Jim said...

It's a magnificent monument.

Joe said...

Lots of scandal in this post Julie.

Joan Elizabeth said...

Just popping by during my break. According to google it is a a promiscuous woman which you no doubt guessed anyway.

Yep up hisself I'd say.

Nicola Carpenter said...

Very up himself as every decent Victorian vagabond should be.

Would a haybag woman be like bag ladies in the UK? Tramps that carry all they own in a bag or sack?

Great post.

Herding Cats

biebkriebels said...

An impressive statue of a man and his dog. He looks content with himself and his attributes.

VioletSky said...

I guess no one wanted anything to do with his statue after he died, so moving it to the cemetery seemed the best place to dump it?!

Deb said...

Impressive research as ever Julie, a man with quite an ego. I am glad the statue has survived though as that dog is very nicely done, and the stone has aged to a beautiful colour. In fact she is the star of the show for my money!

hamilton said...

I really like how the iron has leached through this stone. but am disappointed to hear that he was such a disagreeable man.

Francisca said...

Ever the detective you are, Julie. No, he doesn't sound like anyone I'd like to call my friend. Perhaps he had one in this hound. Hay bag is British slang for promiscuous, but it also means female hobo, which seems to be related to today's homeless women, often called bag ladies.

diane b said...

He sounds like a con man too. Up himself for sure. I guess she is a lady who is easy to get into the haybag mattress.

Julie said...

Ah ... now that is useful. Joan was right in that I figured it was something about 'loose women'. However, I did not know there were mattresses made of hay. And I suspect these mattresses were popular with poor people. I think it might have something to do with 'Polari' which is a clique language from London.

Ann said...

There is the phrase "roll in the hay". I knew about hay being used to stuff matresses but not haybag women. That statue looks like it should be in the Botanic Gardens or Hyde Park, talk about having tickets on yourself (where did that phrase come from?). Sorry to be do late commenting but I've been stuck in bed for a couple of days and the battery on my netbook has died, I hope its just the battery.