Local Identities

Henry Geoffrey Palmer (aka Major Palmer)

Stepping sprightly from the gang plank of the steamship “Australia” at Albany on October 25, 1893, a husky young man, was full of hope and spirit. His name, Henry Geoffrey Palmer. It was the time of the gold rush in Southern Cross. Henry and his brother [Seymour] had come all the way from Warwickshire, England, in search of their fortunes. But things did not turn out as they had planned. A drought had hit the Goldfields and people were being stricken down like flies with disease.

So Henry Palmer gave up the mining idea and went up North where he worked on a sheep and cattle station. Several years later he arrived in Harvey and decided it was the place for him. At that time there were no houses in Harvey and the railway station was surrounded by huge red gum trees. Henry remembers how the old cricket club of which he was captain, cleared the bush for a cricket ground where the present Recreation Ground is. He also recalls seeing a dead sheep and dingo lying where solicitor Alec Ball’s office now stands.

Henry first took up farming with his brother where Godfrey Rigg now lives, and grew potatoes and oats. Henry, or Major Palmer as most people in Harvey and neighbouring towns know him, managed a farm in Yarloop for two years before going off to the Boer War in the 10th Light Horse.

“THOUGHT HE WAS A GONNA” Major Palmer remembers very clearly an incident during this war when he thought he was a “gonna.” He had just delivered despatches to Lord Roberts and was returning to his own regiment when darkness overtook him and he came to a Kaffir Kraal (small camp) and went inside to rest himself. Inside he found some fowls and was just in the middle of cooking one of these to satisfy his hunger when he heard voices round the camp. Poor Henry immediately fell into a panic as he quickly jumped to the conclusion that they were the Boers. Out he went with his hands up to surrender, and if need be die, but to his amazement and joy found they were a Dutch unit fighting with the British. Through many other thrilling encounters he served until in 1902 he arrived back in Harvey and married Grace Clifton, the daughter [sic, great granddaughter] of Marshall Waller Clifton the founder of Australind. Major Palmer bought the property where he still lives in Uduc Road near the South-Western Highway, from Jack Knowles when his brother sold the other estate.

MENTIONED IN DESPATCHES In 1914 Henry was away to defend his country again in World War 1 where he rose from the rank of Lieutenant to Major, was mentioned in dispatches, had several close escapes from death and experienced many thrilling encounters. The major likes reading books in his living room which is adorned with many native weapons, stuffed lizards, valuable pictures, swords and odd ornaments. One of the swords he has proudly put into a prominent position, was issued by the British to the Turks to fight the Russians in the Crimean War, and was finally captured by the Major at Huj in Palestine in the first World War. One thing that Major Palmer treasures is a decoration conferred upon him by the Sultan of Egypt, while serving with the A.I.F. in World War 1 as a Captain. The decoration is the Order of the Nile, and is awarded to persons rendering conspicuous service to their country. The citation is written in Arabic and it is believed that there are only four of these awards in Australia.

GREAT INTEREST IN TOWNSHIP Henry has watched the town grow for more than half a century and has always taken a great interest in the township. He had also held a number of offices which included secretary of the old Agricultural Society. Major Palmer was always prominent in sport and has vivid recollections of a Bunbury-Perth Rugby match in which he broke a collar bone.

Henry still wears the same little moustache that he did when he was a dashing young army officer. Henry, like R. O. Hayward and Ken Gibsone, is a grandfather and his three sons and a daughter are all doing well in life. One of his sons is in the Air Force, another is apprenticed to an engineering trade in Perth, the third is an ex-R.A.A.F. member, the daughter is married.

In his young days he used to ride on horseback to Brunswick and Bunbury to dances. The Major vividly remembers the days when South Bunbury was nothing but a “paper bark swamp” and large sailing ships engaged in exporting timber used to berth in the harbour. One of his most prized possessions is a Harvey Agricultural Society Championship ribbon for the champion Clydesdale Mare. Major Palmer said he agreed with the sentiments expressed by Sir James Mitchell at the Harvey Show, where Sir James commented on the falling off in the draught horse sections at the Shows and considered that no country could do without them. “The small farmer, especially, can’t do without them,” said the Major.

This is briefly the story of Major Palmer, one of Harvey’s oldest pioneers who left a spacious two-storey house in England to come to Western Australia in search of his fortune, fought through two wars, and built up the prestige in which he is held with Harvey folk.

From ‘Know Your Neighbour’ series in the Harvey Murray Times on 12 November 1948 by BJF.