Astonishing schoolteacher Frank

Sometimes just by accident you come across people in history who you think, gee, why haven’t I heard of them before. One such person is a schoolteacher called Frank Claussen. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

His family is interesting. One brother got in trouble for having dodgy scales at the Brisbane Markets, and another brother died of bubonic plague.

Frank was born in Toowoomba, Queensland, in 1881. He grew up in Bundaberg and attended the Maryborough Grammar School. He worked as a schoolteacher, and for a while taught at the Goodna State School among others.

But Frank needed adventure and so in 1911 he took leave and went to the East Indies. He travelled across Borneo and Java representing a number of businesses including Foggitt Jones & Co. Their heritage-listed building is still standing in South Brisbane.

Frank came back to teaching and in 1914 became the head teacher at Brookfield State School which back then was in the bush west of Brisbane. Today it’s the western suburbs.

Frank Claussen (standing on the left) head teacher at Brookfield State School in 1915

That’s when the First World War started and the wounded began streaming home in shocking condition. Frank was of German descent – I don’t know if that made a difference – but in 1918 he again took leave, this time to enrol in the School of Medicine at Sydney University.

He studied hydro and electro-therapy, orthopaedics, and massage. This was a new branch of medicine that was designed specifically to treat the maimed soldiers coming back from the war. Franked served with the Australian military authorities at the Randwick and Prince Alfred hospitals in Sydney, and in Brisbane at the Rosemount Hospital at Windsor.

He was seen as a shining light because of his optimism, temperament, enthusiasm and energy. It was said that, above all, what really made him stand out was his total commitment to the betterment of humanity.

I stumbled across Frank’s story purely by accident. I was using a Minelab metal detector to search around an old house at Brookfield where the Olympic silver medallist Chilla Porter once lived.

What I found was a round, dome shaped brooch that’s about three centimetres in diameter. It was made by Stokes & Sons in Melbourne, and on the front is written “Maryborough Heroes Day 1917”.

Maryborough Heroes Day brooch when it was metal detected

That’s a one hundred and five year old badge that very few people have ever heard of. The Australian War Memorial says that Heroes Day was affectively the ‘other Australia Day’. It was used to raise funds to help wounded, sick, and disabled soldiers and their families. The Queensland Heroes Day in Maryborough in 1917 was on the first of December. George Horsburgh’s hardware store in Maryborough sold three thousand brooches for one shilling each in aid of the Queensland Patriotic Fund.

It must have been Frank Claussen who lost this badge. That’s because after taking leave from Brookfield State School, he lived for a time in the house where I was metal detecting, he had close friends in Maryborough, and he was there at the right time. It could only have been him.

If it wasn’t for that brooch, I would never have come across Frank’s incredibly moving story. You see, in 1919 Frank was just thirty-five years old when he died at his then home Methven (pronounced Meth-u-en) at Toowong in Brisbane. His cause of death was the Spanish flu which he caught from the returned soldiers he was treating.

Frank was married for just six years when he died. He never had any children. His wife Ethel outlived him by forty-nine years and never remarried. That’s a love story that also deserves to be told.

Ethel Claussen nee Campbell with her mother

The First World War claimed around sixteen million lives. The flu pandemic that followed killed at least fifty million people. Frank was one of those.

He’s buried alone in the Toowong Cemetery in a grave marked with an impressive three metre high memorial. But sadly the sandstone obelisk has fallen down and now lays flat on the ground.

Toowong Cemetery

That’s sort of symbolic of how Frank was once a shining light, but has now been forgotten by history. He didn’t fight in the war, but he most definitely became a victim of the war when he tried to help. I only discovered his story because I found his small heroes brooch.


Photo credits:
Maryborough Heroes Day 1917 brooch – Bundaberg Museum
Brookfield State School 1915 – Brisbane Courier, 23rd October 1915, page 13
Maryborough Heroes Day 1917 brooch – Harold Peacock
Ethel Claussen nee Campbell and her mother – uploaded to Ancestry by suegeorgemarch 2020
Frank Claussen memorial Toowong Cemetery – Harold Peacock

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