The fascinating Fred and Fanny

When Fred and Fanny Robinson arrived in Australia from England in 1911, they came with a secret, but it wasn’t to remain a secret for long. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

The newlyweds went straight to Ipswich in Queensland and moved into 80 Woodend Road, West Ipswich, where they would live for the next thirty years. The house is still there today. Fred took a job as a labourer at the railway workshops. Five years later a son was born.

Fred and Fanny’s Woodend home today

Fanny kept house, while Fred went about his work at the railways quietly and efficiently. But as time went by, an unbelievable list of friends and acquaintances from before Fred went to Ipswich gradually became known.

Amongst Fred’s personal possessions was a tie pin he received from the Prince of Wales the future King Edward VIII, an engraved gold watch presented to him by the Duke of York the future King George VI, and a gold cigarette case from the Duke of Gloucester the brother of the kings.

You see, before arriving in Ipswich, the humble Fred had been the butler in some of the grandest houses in England.

He was a senior member of the household of Lord Talbot whose mansion was renowned for having as many windows as the days in the year, and for its lavish parties entertaining English nobles and royalty.

Fred had valeted notables such as the Earl of Enniskillen who famously had been a respondent in a divorce case in which the Prince of Wales was called to give evidence.

Fred also valeted Sir Thomas Barclay the international law advocate who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize no less than eleven times, but never won.

And there was Sir Francis Laking the king’s doctor. He allegedly artificially inseminated Princess Maud of Norway who then gave birth to the future king who may have actually been Laking’s genetic grandson.

Fred was also the butler for Sir Edward Clarke who was England’s leading lawyer of the late Victorian era. Clarke had represented Oscar Wilde in his disastrous prosecution of the Marquess of Queensberry.

When Fred began work at the railways, rumours of his royal service spread throughout the workshops, and he was eventually called upon to butler for the most notable dignitaries to visit Queensland. That included the Australian governor-general and all the state governors.

Fred’s services were called upon in the 1920s and 30s for the royal visits of the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and his wife Elizabeth (pictured in 1927 at the top of the page), and the Duke of Gloucester. The gold mementos were personally presented to him in appreciation.

HRH Edward the Prince of Wales in Brisbane in 1920

By the time Fred retired from the railways in 1939, he was a tool sharpener and issuing officer in the tool room of the machine sections.

Fred and Fanny then went on a trip around the world that included visits to the mansions in England where Fred had served as butler. The modest Ipswich couple were welcomed as privileged guests and honoured on a scale that could not have been more lavish.

When Fred passed away in 1943 at the age of sixty-four, the Ipswich Model Band gave a recital in Ipswich’s Queen’s Park as a token of respect. I’m not aware of anyone else in Ipswich history, other than royalty themselves, being honoured like this.

It was a perfect way to mark the passing of the unassuming Fred Robinson. He had a lifelong love of band music, and despite mixing it with royalty, always went back to his job on the railways.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON RADIO

Photo credits:
Duke of York on his arrival at Brisbane Railway Station with his wife 11th April 1927 – National Library of Australia.
80 Woodend Road Ipswich – Google Maps 2022.
HRH Edward The Prince of Wales leaving Albert Square Brisbane July 1920 – State Library of Queensland
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One comment

  1. […] Fred Robinson lived at the home and worked as a tool sharpener at the Queensland railways workshop. Unknown to many was that back in England he had actually been a valet and butler to royalty. In Queensland he was called upon by the government to take leave from the tool shop, and serve as head butler for three royal visits in the 1920s and 30s. […]

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