Fury erupted in Maryborough, Queensland, in December 1914 on the eve of the Maryborough Naval Band’s departure for Ipswich. A great scandal and police investigation was enveloping one of the world’s best performers. I told a version of the story live on West Bremer Radio.
The Maryborough Naval Band was making a concerted bid to win the 1915 Queensland Band Championship. But on the eve of the contest, one of its cornet players, nineteen-year-old Claude Elliott, was mugged and left dazed on the ground.
Claude’s cornet was damaged, the mouthpiece thrown into a gully, and his music torn to pieces and placed in his pocket. The young man was discovered lying in the street twenty minutes later by the Maryborough baker.
The band had pulled out all stops in a bid to win the coveted state title.
They’d recruited the Australian champion cornet player Percy Code as its conductor. Code was normally conductor of the Ballarat City Band in Victoria. He’s actually been declared by none other than the trumpeter for King Edward himself to be the best cornet player in the British Empire and quite possibly the world.
The favourite to win the Queensland Band Championship in 1915 was the Ipswich City Vice-Regal Band. They were the defending champions and were conducted by the colossal New Zealander F.W.G. McLeod. (Pictured at top of the page.)
Over a period of five-years, McLeod conducted the Ipswich band to fourteen first prizes, ten seconds, and three third prizes, with ten cups, seventy-five medals, and prize money to the value of £500 which is more than $300,000 in today’s money.
Suspicion for the attack on Claude immediately fell upon members the Naval Band’s main rivals – this was the civilian Maryborough City Band and the Ipswich City Vice-Regal Band.
Claude recovered from the mugging and was able to play, but only after borrowing his conductor’s personal cornet. Once the competition got underway, the Ipswich police were on guard throughout the concerts at Queen’s Park to ensure that there was no repeat of the brutal attack.
After days of competition, the winner of the Besson Shield, £100 prize money and the champion band of Queensland that year was the Maryborough Naval Band – they took the honours from the Ipswich City Vice-Regal Band by just a solitary point.
But that’s when the scandal really broke.
While the competition was underway in Ipswich, the police back in Maryborough carefully inquired into the matter. They quickly came to the conclusion that no assault had been committed.
Young Claude was interrogated when he got home, and he confessed that anything done to him, his cornet, or music, he had done himself. But he refused to give a reason and later recanted his confession.
Theories of course circulated, and it was revealed that after Claude had allegedly been assaulted, an application was made by the Naval Band for their star conductor to take his place. The replacement was of course to be champion cornet player Percy Code.
The application was refused and the Naval Band won anyway. There was no suggestion that the great Percy Code was in on the plot, but eyebrows were raised.
Shortly afterwards, Claude’s oldest brother was reported killed in action in the First World War, but came back from the dead twelve months later when it turned out he was actually a prisoner of war. Claude ultimately became a well-known cornet player in his own right.
In 1942 when Claude was forty-six years old, he lied about his age so that he could enlist in the Australian Army for the Second World War. He served in the Northern Command Army Band and was posted to Redbank in Ipswich. He was back at the scene of his greatest success, but also his most shameful controversy. Claude served in the army until he was well overage at fifty-one years old. Perhaps this was to atone for his earlier sins.
The conductor Percy Code became the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s inaugural senior conductor and lead more than two thousand symphony concerts for broadcast until his retirement.
And the Ipswich City Vice-Regal Band lead by F.W.G. McLeod – they regained the championship the year after the Great Scandal.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON RADIO
Ipswich City Vice-Regal Band conductor FWG McLeod, 1916 – Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council
Percy Code – Herald Melbourne, 12th December 1910, page 3
Maryborough Naval Band – Queensland Times, Ipswich, 11th January 1915, page 6
Percy Code, ABC c1935-1953 – photographed by Max Dupain, State Library of New South Wales