A victim of the 1919 flu pandemic, Dr James Percy Clifford was in 1903 the first tenant of 35 Allen St after moving out of St John’s College during the course of his studies at Sydney University. He shared the newly built house with his two unmarried sisters: Johanna Margaret, four years his senior, and Minnie Kate, a student at St Scholastica’s. Their parents had recently died. They called their home Montefiores after their birthplace near Wellington NSW and James was always known by his middle name (possibly an acknowledgement of Percy St Wellington where his father prospered as a butcher).
The Allen St site, adjacent to a dairy farm and market garden, had been bought from the Allen Estate in June 1902 by compositor Benjamin Macaulay who sold it ten months later to Henry Jobbins, a ‘gentleman’, and his son Henry Alfred Gale Jobbins, an ironmonger. In 1903 the area near the Chinese Joss House rapidly filled up. Next door to Montefiores was furniture retailer Joshua Heath’s Avondale at no. 33; on the other side Zeta occupied by Alfred Caro and an unnamed house occupied by accountant Lawrence Deall.
The Clifford family patriarch was County Kilkenny born James snr, reputed at his death in 1902 to be the wealthiest man in Wellington, owner of town lots and shops and the Royal Hotel, plus Dunbell farm and land on the Bell River. James was predeceased by his wife Catherine née O’Shea, native-born at Montefiores. Both funerals were well attended, including mourners from Glebe. Staunch Catholics, the family worshipped locally at St Patrick’s.
James and Catherine’s eldest child John Peter ‘Jack’ Clifford (1870-1937) married Mary Lawn in 1900 at St James Church Forest Lodge, a small affair with Percy as best man and Minnie a bridesmaid, after which the reception was at Dorets, Avenue Rd. Jack worked as an auctioneer in Wellington before moving to Sydney and permanent employment with the Sydney County Council. Next born was Mary, who died as a toddler in 1874. Patrick Augustine ‘Gus’ (1876-1944), after completing his schooling at St Ignatius’ Riverview, returned home to run the family butchery. Nicholas Joseph, born in 1884, died of pneumonia in 1906 and was buried with his parents in Curra Creek Cemetery.
At St James Church Forest Lodge in September 1903 Frances Elizabeth ‘Fanny’ (1881-1953) married Francis John Lawn whose family home was The Detroit Toxteth Rd. The reception for 150 people was in the Record Reign Hall. Francis, the eldest son of a namesake father and Mary Bridget Lawn, died aged 50 in 1916 and was buried at Rookwood. Fanny Lawn married commercial traveller Richard Francis Brown at Glebe in 1932 and died at Newtown in 1953.
An 1895 matriculant from St Ignatius’, Percy Clifford became an active member of its Old Boys’ Union. He played football at school and rowed there and later for St John’s College and Sydney University. After graduating MB in 1906, he joined the staff of St Vincent’s Hospital. The following year his sisters Johanna and Minnie were bridesmaids at his ‘fashionable’ marriage to Agnes May Hurley of Bondi. The reception was held in the Paddington Town Hall supper room.
Survived by his widow and four young children, Percy Clifford died on 29 March 1919 at his home in Randwick (one of the suburbs first hit by the influenza epidemic) a week after contracting the disease during his patient rounds. Immediate past president of the Eastern Suburbs Medical Association and a devout member of the Sacred Heart Church Randwick, he was buried in the Hurley family vault at Waverley Cemetery with his son Percy who had died in July 1915 before reaching his third birthday. Agnes Clifford died aged 64 on 1 February 1950 and was buried at Waverley.
Percy Clifford’s death illustrated the problem of attempting quarantine during a raging pandemic when the incubation period was 48 hours and the severity of cases ranged from mild to lethal. Although theatres and cinemas were closed, people packed together on public transport. Hospital visitors carried the disease into the outside world and medical staff found their face masks hard to keep in place. With all Sydney hospitals full, the Dept of Health, struggling to accommodate patients, turned the industrial pavilion in the Agricultural Ground into a temporary 100-bed ward. It filled quickly.
In Glebe the impact of the outbreak extended to sport: ‘flu flattens footballers’.
With so many players sick, country trips were postponed and most matches were dreary affairs. With nine men out of action, Glebe lost 15-5 to Balmain in June 1919 but could take comfort that the defeat was not as humiliating as the 51-nil victory of Wests over North.
After their brother shifted to the eastern suburbs Johanna and Minnie remained at 35 Allen St until 1911 when they moved across the road into no. 38, taking the old house name with them. The second Montefiores was newly built for their maternal aunt Margaret Mary O’Shea. Margaret O’Shea died there aged 72 in 1920 and was buried at Waverley with her sister Frances Farrell and brother-in-law Patrick Farrell, born in County Roscommon. Johanna and Minnie inherited the Glebe property.
Minnie Clifford died in Lewisham Private Hospital on 18 November 1949. The last of the siblings, Johanna died on 22 December 1958.
Sources: Medical Journal of Australia 1919; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW probate records; NSW registry of births, deaths, marriages; St Ignatius’ Riverview Our Alma Mater; Sands Directories; Trove website.