Obituary Challenge: Clarrie Klaus

Introduction

I’ve decided to set myself a challenge. As a writer and historian, I want to write a better obituary for someone than that which was originally printed in their local paper. To add to the challenge, I’ll pick someone I’ve never met and who died before 1955. Using the historical record, and a bit of creative thinking, I hope to find out as much as I can about them to try and do credit to their life.

The person I have chosen for this first challenge is Clarence Earnest Klaus (Clarrie), formerly of Lismore, NSW.

Full disclosure – as a starting point, this won’t be as big challenge as it sounds. Clarrie Klaus is my great-grandfather. Although my father was only seven when Clarrie passed away, he has fond memories of his grandfather. If all else fails, I’ll ask Dad.

Obituary, Eulogy or Biography?

The pedantic part of me is already cringing. Here’s why:

  • Obituaries are written for newspapers to inform the community of a death and the time of the funeral. Occasionally, they include a biographical element.
  • Eulogies are positive, romanticised prose written to sing the praises of the subject. They are normally written about deceased people. Sometimes they are not. But if someone writes a eulogy about you while you are still alive, then they might be thinking ahead a little.
  • Biographies are a written account of somebody’s life. They can be positive or negative, and it doesn’t matter if the subject is alive or dead.

So, this will be a biography. But I’m leaving the word ‘obituary’. It makes a better headline.

How to Write a Biography for Unknown Dead People

Let’s be honest. Biographies tend to be written about famous people, about whom there is a plethora of information available, or about someone the writer knows personally. Clarrie Klaus is neither of those things. I’m tackling this over a number of levels:

  1. Basic genealogical data. This information is readily available on websites such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org and includes dates and places of their birth, marriage and death, the names of parents and children, and other officially recorded information such as emigration records.
  2. Historical anecdotes. Did his name ever pop up in newspaper articles? Extensive searches of the Trove database will answer that.
  3. Contextual information. What was happening locally when he was alive? What did the places he frequented look like? Who were the people that he knew and what were they like?
  4. Personal anecdotes. Thanks, Dad.

Above all, it is important to make sure the information that you have is about the right person. Within just three generations of Clarrie’s immediate family, there’s a Charles Thomas Klaus, a Thomas Charles Klaus, a Charles Edward Klaus, and another Clarrie Klaus. Charles Thomas seems to have preferred the name Carl, on top of the other Carl Klaus from the Northern Rivers region who enlisted in World War 1 and wrote a letter home in 1918, but the older Carl Klaus died in 1915.

To really top things off, there was even another Clarence Ernest Klaus who lived in Ayr, Queensland, who passed away in 2010.

Confusing, right? Especially when newspaper articles list them all as C. Klaus.

Who Was Clarrie Klaus?

Two obituaries were printed for Clarrie when he died:

Northern Star, Wednesday 16 January 1952, p. 5
Northern Star, Tuesday 15 January 1952, p. 4

I think that I can do better than that.

Clarence Ernest Klaus: A New Biography

The Clarence Hotel, Grafton, 1854, shortly before the arrival of Clarrie’s parents to the area. Sketch by Mrs. Rose Elisabeth Selwyn. Image held at Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales

Early Life

Carr’s Creek in the late nineteenth century was known as the home of Bunjalung elder King Tommy, agricultural crops such as sugar cane, maize and potatoes, a recently constructed schoolhouse, and where such entertaining pursuits as pigeon shooting and rowing races down the two mile stretch down the wide Clarence River to Grafton could be found.

It is also the area in which German migrant Charles Thomas Klaus (Carl, pictured left) settled with his father, Valentine, growing a vineyard and producing wine near the racecourse. There Carl met and married Clarence River local Ellen (nee Carroll) and raised a large family of ten children. Ellen bred geese that she entered in the local agricultural show, for which she won a prize in 1888. Carl was a popular local figure, known to be a hearty, genial person.

As their children grew up, two of the seven brothers, Joseph and John, moved to Ayr in Queensland and one, Charles Jnr, moved to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. Their remaining children remained in the Northern Rivers region throughout most of their lives.

Their second-youngest, Clarence Ernest Klaus, was known to his family and friends as Clarrie. He was born on the 12th of August, 1886 and attended the Grafton District School. His Western Australian nephew would later be named for his uncle in 1905.

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Learning the Baking Trade

Clarrie moved to Riley’s Hill at around the turn of the Twentieth Century to learn the craft of baking from his eldest brother, Thomas. At the time, Riley’s Hill was a thriving village with a busy dock. Thomas ran a successful bakery there for over ten years and was later lauded in Coraki as one of the best bakers on the Richmond. Clarrie took his newly-acquired skills to Nimbin and Boonah (south-west of Brisbane) before returning to the Lismore area.

Marriage and Klaus’ Pastry Shop

He married Rosina Bennett in Casino on the 23rd of April, 1910. They had three daughters: Myrine (Marie), born in 1911, Myrtle (Jo), born in 1914, and Mona, born in 1917.

Together, they opened Klaus’ Pastry Shop in Lismore, which not only provided customers with a selection of cakes, lollies, chewing gum and chocolate, also catered for weddings, creating “beautiful three-tier” cakes to adorn wedding centrepieces during the 1920s.

Klaus’ Pastry Shop, Magellan St, Lismore. In front is Clarrie’s sister-in-law May Bennett and a customer.

Located on Magellan Street, about half-way between the corners of Carrington Street and Keen Street, Clarrie’s shop was in the middle of many Lismore events. In 1925, it was the target for a burglary in which £2 1s 3d-worth of cakes and sweets were taken, resulting in a three-month imprisonment for the offenders. In 1927, the shop marked the endpoint of a sensational runaway horse and sulky escapade through the streets of Lismore, after its driver had been thrown to the roadside. In 1928, Clarrie’s shop had a near miss as two of the neighbouring shops on the corner with Keen St burned down, gutting a tailor’s and a radio shop.

Charitable Gifts

Clarrie was a member of St Andrew’s Church and contributed to fundraising and charity events. In 1920, Clarrie and his brother Charles contributed to the ‘Stucley Appreciation Fund’, remembering their former infants’ department Headmistress of the Grafton District School and presenting her with a handbag at a party in her honour when she visited friends in Lismore.

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The Capitol Café

Around 1935, Clarrie took up a position as the foreman baker of the Capitol Café on Molesworth St, a highly modern eatery that formed the centre of Lismore’s social life for some years. Having been taken over and painstakingly refurbished by high-class Sydney restaurateurs Spiro Dendrinos and Peter Manias, Clarrie was celebrated on its reopening as the in-house ‘cake expert’.

(The Capitol Cafe reconstruction is based on a sketch and descriptions that appeared in the Northern Star and the remaining sections of the original facade today. Reconstruction by Thea Orr.)

During his time there, the Capitol Café hosted frequent social events and presentation dinners for the local Cribbage Club, Baseball Club, and Cycle Club, the Lismore and District Tennis Association, the North Coast District Model Aeroplane Association, the Lismore Girls’ Progress League, and high-class wedding receptions.

From the Capitol’s kitchen, Clarrie prepared “large quantities of oven fresh dainties, as well as wedding cakes de luxe to order.” Clarrie’s wedding cakes gained such a reputation that one was sent on order to a wedding in the United States! At the beginning of each winter, three tonnes of chocolate would be made in more than twenty different varieties to see through the year. This was a job that kept Clarrie busy, perhaps too busy to even finish his smoko or make it to the pub after work with his mate, Cyril James, before closing time. This had him in a small amount of strife with the magistrate and afterwards the Capitol Café was keen to emphasis its ‘hygienic’ kitchen conditions!

Leisure, Retirement and Death

Clarrie with his wife Rosina and grandchildren Fae, John and Bill on a visit to Currumbin Zoo in the early 1950s. Clarrie’s finger is bandaged after an accident with a car door, which required a trip to the doctor en route!

Clarrie retired from the Capitol Café after sixteen years and passed away unexpectedly shortly after, at his home on Bridge Street in North Lismore on the 14th of January, 1952. He was survived by his wife Rosina and their three daughters and sons-in-law. After Clarrie passed away, Rosina went to live with their daughter Myrtle (known as Jo) and her family in Bright Street, Lismore.


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