|Town/City||Cabarita NSW 2137|
|Country of Origin||England|
|Date of Birth||5/3/1834|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1858|
|Submitted by||Christopher Fehon|
WILLIAM MEEKE FEHON ÐTRANSPORT PIONEER
William Meeke Fehon was an adventurer. Born in 1834 just before Queen Victoria ascended the throne, during the golden age of steam trains, by the time he had reached 25 years of age he had sailed to South America, fought in the Crimean War in two naval campaigns in the Baltic, (seeing some horrific things as a sick berth attendant), worked for railway companies in England and Canada, sailed back to England and out to Melbourne, Australia just 20 years after its founding, where 6 years into the Gold Rush the population had swelled to over 100,000.
Later during his business career he sailed up and down the Australian coast many times in steamers, visited Tasmania, New Zealand, most of the Pacific Islands and at least twice returned to England and the United States.
He was no stranger to controversy; he was well connected, especially in business and politics, and made some life-long friendships.
For someone born 175 years ago we are lucky enough to have many events in his life recorded in documents from the time.
William Meeke Fehon (W.M.) was born at Robert Street, Charing Cross, London on 5th March 1834. When he was 17 he joined Eastern County Railways
THE NAVY AND WAR – AN EXPERIENCED SEAMAN!
In September 1853, aged 19, he enlisted in the Navy at Portsmouth. To gain entry claimed he was trained in seamanship; he said he lived at Brighton. He in fact lived near Brixton in London. Within 2 weeks his ship the Stromboli had left for duty on the eastern coast of South America.
The Blenheim returned to Portsmouth at the end of 1854 but once again sailed as part of the Baltic fleet in 1855.
At the end of 1855 William Meeke was transferred to HMS Nile; he may have failed to return to the ship after leave. This was inconsequential as the war was almost over; he would have been discharged shortly thereafter in any case.
He was awarded the Baltic Medal for his Crimean War service.
In 1856 William Meeke and his younger brother, Charles (then aged 14) departed for Canada, where sometime later they parted, Charles electing to move south to Crete Illinois to become a farmer in the U.S. William Meeke worked for Canada\’s Great Western Railway company as a clerk in the freight department.
OFF TO VICTORIA
After leaving his brother Charles in the US in 1857, W.M. returned to London where he joined the Essex at Gravesend (Steerage class) which sailed for Australia on 27 January 1858. This was towards the end of the gold rush in Victoria.
He was married three days later to Annie Gumm. An Anne Marriner (married female aged 24) was listed on the ship\’s manifest and her profession is described as a wife-presumably that is W.M.\’s fiancee Annie Gumm.
W.M. recalled that in that same year (1858) he walked via the Flemington Road to Marybyrnong where he crossed the river on planks on the newly completed railway bridge and thence to Footscray.
Later that year W.M. joined the Victorian Railways (December 1858) as Chief Clerk of the Goods Branch. He was subsequently promoted to Head Office around 1859 and progressed to Audit Clerk and Auditor Head Office.
In January 1861 his son William Adolphus was born, while later that year in April his mother Sarah died in London.
In 1862 W.M. bought a small cottage in Buckley St. and moved in. He later bought more land and built a good house which was still standing in the early 1900\’s. The land at that time was worth ₤40 per quarter acre. The street itself was not made and boulders and clumps of thistle abounded. He attended St John\’s Church, a small wooden shed. He would often spend an evening roaming the district with the rate collector, aided by a lantern, collecting money for a tea meeting.
In March 1872 he resigned from the railways to join a large carrying firm, William McCulloch and Co. To mark his retirement from the Victorian Railways he was presented by his colleagues with an engraved silver tray in recognition of his contribution.
In October 1888 William Meeke was appointed one of the three Railway Commissioners of the new NSWGR on a salary of ₤1500 per annum along with Mr Eddy and Mr Oliver.
In 1898 he participated in a South Pacific Cruise. In 1901 W M was invited to attend the opening of Australia\’s first parliament and was invited to be one of the 250 prominent Australians to sit for a sketch and portrait for Tom Robert\’s historic painting which recorded the event and now hangs in the New Parliament House.
William Meeke officially retired on the 4th of April 1907 aged 74, two years before his appointment was due to expire.