Written by Norman Cramp, Director of the Darwin Military Museum.
Part of the Darwin community
Ernest and his brother, Alfred William, took over the family business in Darwin in 1908 and, except for the period in which he served in the AIF in the Great War, he continued to work there until the 1940s.
The family business covered a variety of enterprises such as owning and operating the S.S. Wai Hoi, mining (Pine Creek and Daly River copper mine), battery owners and operators, and the pearling ships (luggers) ‘Gem’ and ‘Lightning’.
The Jolly brothers were well known, and apparently well-liked, in Darwin. Ernest was a noted cricket player during the 1914 season and featured regularly in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette (NTT&G) newspaper. The store received generous support from the Darwin community and was a prominent building in the town.
The arrival of the Great War
Prior to enlisting he had suffered some ‘slight heart trouble,’ resulting in shortness of breath. Ernest put this down to a strain he suffered whilst starting a motor vehicle, but in 1919 an AIF Medical Officer surmised the ‘trouble’ was probably due to an enlarged heart with an ‘incapacity of 25%’.
Off to England
It seems Ernest had a reasonably comfortable war and it is clear that he never served at the front, however, it is not clear as to what role he played whilst attached to the AFC. Still, he did serve overseas and did manage to get himself into trouble by being ‘absent from morning parade’ at Tethbury on 20th December 1918. The war was over, he, along with his mates probably just wanted to go home, but the AIF found him guilty as charged and fined him five day’s pay!
He returned to Australia aboard the S.S. Ventura, disembarking in Sydney on 1st July 1919, following which he reported to HQ 3rd MD on 13th October 1919. He was discharged from the AIF on 12th November 1919, at which time he was residing at the Grand Central Hotel, Adelaide. For his service to Australia he was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Building the RSL
Once established, the League set about raising funds for a memorial to the Territorians who had fallen during the war, and to construct a Soldier’s Memorial Hall (clubrooms) and this is where Ernest came to the fore. A meeting was held in January 1918 to discuss the construction of a ‘lasting memorial’, at which time it was agreed that such a memorial would be established and that it would be made out of bronze and attached to a wall in the Town Hall. The plan changed and on Sunday 24th April 1921, the Soldier’s Memorial, in the shape and form of today’s Darwin Cenotaph was unveiled.
Eighteen months later, on Friday 20th October 1922, the Soldier’s Memorial Hall, today’s RSL, was opened. The building had been constructed (mainly) via public subscriptions but equally, if not more importantly, it was built on land donated by Ernest Jolly, a former ‘Digger’ himself. Ernest had repaid the citizens of Darwin for their support over the years since his father had opened the business in 1893.
Life after the War
Ernest married Evelyn Penrose Hyland in St. Matthew’s Church, Kensington, Adelaide on 20th December 1926 but it appears they had no children. His father died in Adelaide on 11th August 1933, leaving an estate of £107,890 – a huge sum of money in those days. The beneficiaries were Alfred’s widow Ada, Mr. A.W. Jolly of North Adelaide, Mr. E.E. Jolly of Menindie (SA) and the daughter Mrs. K.A. Wood. The business in Darwin was operating in February 1942, albeit the Jolly brothers were no longer residing in the town.
Following the Japanese attacks on 19th February 1942, the military controlled the press and the local paper, the Northern Standard, was not published until May 1946. On 31st May, 1946 A.E. Jolly and Co. ran an advertisement in the paper advising that the ‘business will again be operating early in June’. What happened during the intervening years is unknown at this time.
Ernest Edward Jolly, merchant, benefactor and, until now, unknown Territory ‘Digger’, died in the Adelaide Hospital, SA, on 23rd February 1952. He was cremated at Stansbury Cemetery but the whereabouts of his ashes is unknown.
In January 1957, the Commonwealth government named Jolly Street, Woolner, Darwin after Ernest’s father Alfred. There is no memorial to Ernest anywhere in Darwin – not even the Darwin RSL.