From Hooves to Highways

H Martin, Esq



London-born Harold Martin, Esq, described himself as an importer and vendor of everything musical! He first established his business in 1898 at 422 William Street, making regular visits to Northam and surrounds to tune his clients’ pianos.

In April 1902 he proudly opened his Pianoforte & Organ Warehouse in the Britannia Building, 315 William Street (renumbered to 245 in late-1906), on the north west corner of Francis Street. There he installed a telephone line, No: 1335, and created an attractive showroom, dressing the front windows in abundance. In the back, he stored his imported pianos, organs and many other musical instruments.

On 27 April 1904 Harold married talented pianist and Adelaide lass Edith May Field (30), and the next year their first child, Doreen, was born. On becoming a father he became staunchly anti-vaccinationist. The Truth newspaper of 20 October 1906 reported he had printed a hotly worded pamphlet decrying vaccination as a "horribly cruel, disgusting, filthy, heathenish, unnatural operation, and the greatest curse ever inflicted on humanity - a practice that is upheld, and the Government even urged to enforce by an audacious, unscrupulous, villainous, lying, money-grabbing section of the medical fraternity."

In just a few years, Harold had built a substantial business from humble beginnings and his honest reputation and fine tuning skills were paramount. He was respected by his clients and was contracted to the Education Department. But in 1906 he was outraged to learn “an unscrupulous and unskilful individual” had been travelling the countryside declaring they worked for Harold, successfully soliciting business, supposedly on his behalf. As was his way, he aired his outrage in newspapers far and wide, making it clear this inferior piano tuner had nothing to do with him.

The Britannia Building, c1930, courtesy State Library of Western Australia, image b2101548_4.

Britannia Building, c1930, courtesy SLWA, b2101548.4.jpg

In 1911 Harold and Edith’s second daughter Helen, known as Gwen, was born. Edith missed her family in South Australia and despite Harold being well established in Perth, began planning her return to Adelaide.

Harold continued his regular trips, tuning pianos from Perth and Northam, and everywhere in between, and maintained his busy business. Edith’s determination to return may have taken him by surprise as, with newspapers still carrying daily advertisements for his shop, he wrote to the Truth on 5 November 1913 and advised, “I am leaving this State probably forever on Saturday, 8th inst ... I am going to Adelaide, thence probably to England.”

Nine months later, war was declared. Edith, Doreen, and Gwen moved to Minlaton, on the Yorke Peninsula, where Edith soon came into her own. “Mrs Field-Martin” returned to the high society from which she came, revelled in visiting with her sisters, hosted musical soirees, bridge parties, glittering charity events and croquet matches. And when she wasn’t judging the many local cooking, art, craft and floristry competitions in Minlaton, she regularly won first prize.

Harold’s wife and daughters all lived good, long lives. Around Harold, however, there is silence, and no record of him in South Australia. It’s possible he left Edith and their daughters there and went on ahead to England, with the war preventing the final leg of their journey. Yet he never returned...

What, Where and When

This photo was taken c1904 outside Harold’s shop at 315 William Street, Perth. For many years Harold’s shop housed Han’s Cafe then, briefly in 2018, Cyril Mason’s craft beer restaurant. The corner entrance and windows are still visible, but now empty.

Harold is in a 1903 R model Oldsmobile (5 horsepower, 1 cylinder), produced in Detroit by car manufacturer Ransom Eli Olds between 1901 to 1905. This model is often known as the ‘curved dash’ Oldsmobile. Famous for its lightness, it allowed motorists to go almost anywhere and was one of 3,924 produced that year.

In 1904 Olds established REO Motor Car Company and moved his manufacturing plant to Lansing, Michigan, where he produced cars until he retired in 1936. Olds died in his seventies during WWII.

Oldsmobile (5 H.P., 2 cyl.) owned by H. Martin, Esq.

The road to the gate at the Claremont (now Crawley) end of Kings Park, early 1900s. Courtesy State Library of Western Australia, image 006187PD.

As to the car, at 9:50pm on 13 December 1907, Harold was driving with two (very thin!) friends through Kings Park enroute to Mounts Bay Road. Knowing the gates were open until 10pm, he did not slow to pass through.

“DEATH TRAPS IN KING'S PARK… It is really marvellous that any of us are alive to tell the tale, considering we crashed through the locked up gates near Crawley in attempting to make our exit, all of us being dashed to the roadway, resulting in violent shock, sprains, wounds and bruises, the car faring much the worst, being completely wrecked.”

The West Australian, 19 December 1907

Harold’s outrage increased when he became one of the first of Perth’s motorists to be charged with reckless driving, as well as the destruction of the gate, for which John Forrest, President of the Kings Park Board, demanded £3 14s, for repairs!

Harold airs his outrage at a false tuner in The West Australian, 7 July 1906.

The Britannia Building, c1930, courtesy State Library of Western Australia, image b2101548_4.

Harold describes his accident in The West Australian, 19 December 1907.

Daily ad for Harold Martin’s Music Warehouse in The West Australian, 7 July 1906.

Harold’s younger daughter, AANS Captain Gwen Martin, marrying Sergeant Herbert Wren during WWII… before she learnt he may not have been divorced from his first wife. Courtesy Australian War Memorial, image P05120.003.

Harold the anti-vaxer! Truth 20 October 1906