From bricklaying to egg-laying: Christopher Lawrence, poultry expert Hawkesbury Agricultural College

‘The sight of Christopher on his way for his mail with a string of five or six Golden Cocker dogs and a daschhund or two will soon be a thing of the past.’ The retirement in 1950 of Christopher Lawrence, the chief poultry instructor, was the end of an era for the staff and students of Hawkesbury Agricultural College. One of the most colourful and often irascible characters on staff, Chris Lawrence was born in Ware in Hertfordshire, England, in 1886. He followed his father into the bricklaying trade at a young age before migrating to Australia where he began his career as a poultry instructor in 1913 at Wagga Experiment Farm. He transferred to Hawkesbury Agricultural College in 1915 as Assistant to A. L. Wyndham under Principal H.W. Potts and became head of the poultry section in 1919 after Wyndham transferred to Grafton Experiment Farm.

In 1918, Christopher married Kate Dixon and they had three children: Nancy, Joyce and John. Joyce was in the Women’s Land Army during WWII and married Igor (Harry) Sterelny and Nancy, who was the College storekeeper during the war, married Allan Scott Wheelhouse. Sterelny and Wheelhouse were Diploma students who served in the Z Special Unit during WWII.

Under Principal E.A. Southee, Chris established himself throughout Australia as an authority on all kinds of poultry and his knowledge on turkeys and pheasants was outstanding. He was sought after as a judge at agricultural societies and shows and the advice he gave to radio listeners was invaluable. His expertise in breeding pheasants resulted in him providing English and Ornamental types to zoos and museums throughout the country. In 1941, he helped set up the Ornamental Pheasant Society of Australia and was the society’s inaugural president. During his many years at the College, Chris also ran the egg-laying competition which was introduced to stimulate systematic breeding for egg production.

An expert horticulturist, his garden, glasshouse and fernery on the College grounds contained rare botanical specimens and he won many prizes for his dahlias, hippeastrums, gladioli, begonias and orchids. In 1932, Lawrence was elected as a councillor of the Hawkesbury District Agricultural Association.

Two years after the death of his wife, Chris Lawrence married Lily Schneider (maiden name Hornery) of Windsor in 1943 and gained a step-daughter, Enid Isabel Milsim Schneider, aged 9 years. Seven years later Chris and Lily retired to a three-acre (1.2ha) property Warehaven in Chelsea Avenue, Baulkham Hills, to breed turkeys, pheasants and orchids.

Lily & Chris Lawrence c1949

Lily died suddenly in 1957 and is buried in St Matthew’s Anglican Cemetery in Windsor. After Chris died in 1959, he was buried in St Peter’s Anglican Cemetery in Richmond. A talented man, his specialised knowledge won him respect far and wide. Reputedly ‘all bark and no bite’, Christopher Lawrence has been described as ‘a man with a heart of gold, a voice like a foghorn, a thump like a mule, a master of his own trade, and a cornerstone in Hawkesbury tradition’.

From bricks to pheasants

copyright Copyright Carol Roberts, 2020.

[This article written by me first appeared in the Hawkesbury Gazette newspaper on Wednesday, 25 July 2018, p. 14, in the News-History section, for Hawkesbury Historical Society.]

References:

Graham Smith, ‘An Appreciation’, Hawkesbury Agricultural College Journal, 30 June 1950, Vol. 47, No. 6, pp. 87-89, courtesy Western Sydney Archives.

McCarrol, ‘Chris Lawrence’, Hawkesbury Agricultural College Journal, 31 July 1950, Vol. 47, No. 7, pp. 103-105, courtesy Western Sydney Archives.

‘Good Wishes’, Hawkesbury Agricultural College Journal, 30 April 1950, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp. 59-60, courtesy Western Sydney Archives.

‘Part III, College, Farm Schools, Experiment Farms and Demonstration Farms, Hawkesbury Agricultural College’, Extract from Annual Report 1920, p. 58, courtesy Western Sydney Archives.

John L. Boland, Hawkesbury Harvest: History of Hawkesbury Agricultural College, Volume II, Hawkesbury Agricultural College Old Boys’ Union, 1970, pp. 114-118, courtesy Western Sydney Archives.

Lawrence, ‘Turkey Rearing Means Quick Return…Low Cost’, Farmer and Settler, Friday, 25 June 1954, pp. 17-18, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper Article 117084176, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/117084176?searchTerm=turkey%20rearing%20means%20quick%20return, accessed 13 July 2018.

‘Retired poultry expert keeps busy with his many hobbies: owns best pheasant collection’, Farmer and Settler, Friday, 3 August 1951, p. 17, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper Article 121840171, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/121840171?searchTerm=retired%20poultry%20expert%20keeps%20busy, accessed 13 July 2018.

‘Personal, about men and women’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 5 August 1932, p. 4, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper Article 86057432, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/86057432?searchTerm=lawrence%20councillor%20hdaa accessed 13 July 2018.

‘Personal’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Wednesday, 1 May 1946, p. 5, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper Article 85791095, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85791095?searchTerm=Christopher%20Lawrence%20Baulkham%20hills, accessed 13 July 2018.

‘Personal notes’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Wednesday, 28 April 1954, p. 8, National Library of Australia Trove Newspaper Article 85806170, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85806170?searchTerm=personal%20notes%20Lawrence%, accessed 13 July 2018.

Genealogical information and photograph from Carol Roberts of Windsor, niece of Lily Isabel Lawrence.

 

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