Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Dissolute Career of the Cranky Cobbler

One of the many colourful characters in Colonial Queensland was a wayward mender of shoes, named James McAuliffe, popularly known about town as the “Cranky Cobbler”. 

Early view of Queen Street, Brisbane, looking to the south
When he was not at his workbench stitching boots, applying new soles, and tapping in hobnails, he was relaxing with strong drink, of which he consumed copious quantities.

This bibulous routine often brought the cobbler to the attention of the constabulary and the courts. His first reported appearance was in 1846 in Brisbane Town.
AN INCORRIGIBLE -At the Police-office yesterday, a man named James McAuliffe, whose strange vagaries have obtained for him the sobriquet of the Cranky Cobbler, was placed at the bar, charged with drunkenness and disorderly conduct. McAuliffe is well known as the most noisy individual in the district. He was fined twenty shillings and costs, and in default of payment was committed to the cells for forty-eight hours.[1]

The following year the cobbler again stood before the Bench, this time named as Edward McAuliffe but tagged with the same sobriquet. This time he was threatened with a stint in the Sydney Gaol. He made an impassioned if rambling appeal to Captain Wickham who sat on the Bench.

DRUNKARDS. —Tuesday was a busy day at the Police-office, owing to the Bench being engaged in receiving numerous involuntary contributions in aid of the funds of the Benevolent Society. Several of the bacchanalians tipped up handsomely — some to the tune of twenty shillings and costs. 

One individual named Edward McAuliffe, better known by the sobriquet of " cranky cobbler," and whose tippling propensities have made him somewhat notorious, was placed at the bar charged with being drunk and disorderly, and assaulting the constable in South Brisbane on the previous evening.

Drinkers in a colonial tavern
McAuliffe made an earnest appeal to the Magistrates, begging they would not send him to Sydney, as he had property on the way to his intended place of residence in the bush, which he would lose if he were committed to gaol. "You can either do me a good turn or a bad one," said the cobbler, coaxingly, to Capt. Wickham, "but, don't send me to Sydney, there's a good Captain." 

He then made a rambling statement respecting his abilities as a shepherd, and the masters he had served, one of whom he said on account of his good conduct "had given him toleration to draw rations free gratis."

The cobbler ended his harangue by assuring the Magistrates that if they let him off this time he would never trouble them again. The Bench sentenced him to pay a fine of twenty shillings and costs, and told him that if he committed himself in the like manner again, he would most certainly be sent to Sydney Gaol under the Vagrant Act.[2]

Old cobbler in his workshop
Despite his stated intention to leave town to work in the interior, it seems that the cobbler only made it as far as Ipswich when he was contracted to work for George Thorn, an innkeeper and founding father of the nascent township.

It appears that his unsociable behaviour did not abate and he was brought before the Ipswich Court, charged with violating his contract. His employer told the court that he only brought the charge to rid himself of this noisesome and disagreeable pest. To appease the court, the contrite cobbler offered to donate part of any wages due to him to charity. Unfortunately none were forthcoming from his ex-employer.
George Thorn
Beau Brummell
Case the third.-George Thorn v James McAuliffe, better known as the "Cranky Cobbler," for absconding. The plaintiff merely wishing to get rid of such cranky subject requested that the agreement should be cancelled, which was accordingly done.

The prisoner, in the most approved style of the Brummell[3] school, returned his grateful thanks to their Worships for their lenity, and, feeling confident that he had actually transgressed against the Act in this case made and  provided, requested that, out of any wages coming to him, ten shillings should be appropriated for the benefit of the Benevolent Society.

To this seemingly liberal offer; his master demurred, stating that "the boot was on the other leg," which left the Cranky Cobbler's donation a mere thing of imagination.[4] 

The following year the courts finally exhausted their patience with the cobbler and he found himself doing hard labour in prison.

A GOOD RIDDANCE.- A man named William McAuliffe, and who, under the soubriquet of "the Cranky Cobbler," has long been known in this district as an intolerable nuisance, was on Monday last sentenced to three months hard labour in the House of Correction, as an incorrigible drunkard, and an idle and disorderly character.[5]

Brisbane boot maker, George Street, ca.1870
Over the following years, McAuliffe found himself a frequent guest of the House of Correction which had little effect in correcting his bibulous behaviour.

Perhaps his most novel appearance before the Bench was on a charge of milking a neighbour’s cow. Fortunately for the cobbler, the complainant found it impossible to prove the offence had taken place.

James McAuliffe, defended by Mr. Collins, was charged with unlawfully using - that is, with milking a cow, the property of Adolph Nantschen, for whom Mr. Chubb appeared. The plaintiff failed to prove the fact, and the case was dismissed.[6]

The cobbler’s last reported appearance in court was in July 1867, once again for public drunkenness. He pleaded guilty, and was fined 10 shillings. After that he disappears from the public eye.

* Unless otherwise noted, images have been sourced from the digital archives of the State Library of Queensland and have no known copyright restrictions.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 27 June 1846
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 21 August 1847
[3] After Beau Brummell, the mannered style-setter of English high society.
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 9 December 1848
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 10 November 1849
[6] The Courier Tuesday 11 March 1862

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