This is the first post in a series that will examine some of the highlights of our collection.
This tombstone, standing only 34 cm tall, was placed in the centre of Sturt Street, Ballarat by protesting cab drivers in the 1890s. The Mayor of the day, Councillor Charles Collett (C.C.) Shoppee, had ordered the horse-drawn cabs to move elsewhere in the city to allow the creation of a new median strip garden between Armstrong and Doveton Streets. Despite protests to the municipal council, the cabs were moved on and the garden was developed.
C. C. Shoppee served as a City Councillor for Ballarat from 1881-1891, and during that time held four terms as Mayor (1890-91, 1891-92, 1897-1898, 1902-1903). He was no stranger to controversy, as evidenced by the time he tried to ban the Salvation Army Band from marching down Sturt Street in 1891. His influence on Ballarat society was so significant that the new median strip garden was named Shoppee Square after him.
This miniature tombstone comes from the Ballarat Historical Society (BHS) Collection, which is housed in the Gold Museum. The BHS Collection forms the heart of the Museum’s strength in social history. It includes a wide range of artefacts, although it is particularly strong in the area of photographs.
The BHS meet at the Gold Museum on the second Tuesday of every month (except January) at 7.30 pm. You can find out more information about the Society on their website and also view their extensive Image Collection online.
The miniature tombstone is currently on display at the Gold Museum.
Edited to add: As mentioned in our Comments section below, historical researcher Peter Murray has genealogical evidence which indicates that this miniature tombstone was carved by prominent Ballarat stonemason Hubert Thornton. According to the family records, Hubert read a satirical poem published in a local newspaper (the Ballarat “Star”) that commented on Mayor Shoppee’s plans in 1896:
“The City Mayor has furnished plans/To drive from Sturt Street all the vans/ And make an Eden’s copy./I think that it is only fair,/That in the biggest grave plot there/We bury Mayor Shoppee.”
As a practical joke, Hubert carved the miniature tombstone and planted it in the garden plots. The prank was reported in the Ballarat “Courier” on 20th August 1896, but the identity of its creator was never publicly revealed. Hubert told only his family and close friends, and thus the story has passed on down through the generations.
Hubert and his father James also carved other notable monuments including the Buninyong Gold Obelisk.