Written by Norman Cramp, Director of the Darwin Military Museum.
Ernest Edward Jolly was born in Adelaide, South Australia (SA) in 1892 and was educated in that city prior to moving to Melbourne and then Darwin. His parents were Alfred and Ada. Alfred Jolly arrived in Australia in 1877 with 17 shillings in his pocket but by 1883 he was able to start the firm of Jolly and Luxton in Bennett Street, Darwin.
Part of the Darwin community
In 1893 Alfred took the business over and renamed it A.E. Jolly and Sons. A.E Jolly’s general store was famous in Darwin from before the turn of the Century until the 1940s with the company advertising weekly in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette throughout the period 1911-1939.
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
At the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, Ernest was living in Darwin running the business, and it wasn’t until 20th December 1915 that he left for Adelaide aboard the S.S. Tasman to enlist. However, it wasn’t until December 1916 that Ernest actually enlisted. It appears he returned to Adelaide where he continued to work in the family business before leaving to enlist in Melbourne, although it is not clear as to why he did this, as there were recruiting stations in Adelaide and elsewhere in SA. At the time he enlisted, he recorded his address as being 99 Riversdale Road, Hawthorn, Victoria.
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%’.
Ernest enlisted at Melbourne on 16th March 1916, at which time he recorded his age as being twenty-three years and eight months, that he was single, employed as a ‘Merchant (universal providers)’ and with no previous military service. He was six feet and three inches tall, weighed one hundred and forty pounds, was of medium complexion with light brown hair and grey eyes and of the Church of England faith. He nominated his father, Alfred Edward Jolly of Brougham Place, North Adelaide, as his next of kin.
Off to England
He embarked at Sydney, NSW, 3rd Military District (3MD) on 16th July 1917 aboard H.M.A.T. Beltana (Ship Number A72) and, on 26th August 1917, was marched into No’s. 1&3 Details Camp, Parkhouse, England. On 4th September 1917 he was marched out to Wendover and then to the Australian Flying Corp (AFC) Depot, Halton Camp East (Wendover). On 16th November he was attached to 30th Squadron, AFC from the Training Depot and on 30th March 1918 he was attached to 1st Wing Headquarters Tethbury. On 12th May 1918, he was taken off strength (TOS) of 1st Wing Headquarters, although it is not clear why.
Ernest’s war service record has only just been discovered, and as a result it has been confirmed that the information previously recorded and published was incorrect. One publication recorded that ‘E.E. Jolly was not a returned soldier although he had served in a private capacity as an ambulance driver in the Great War, driving an ambulance donated by his father’. This report is partly correct, as Ernest was initially attached to the Australian Army Medical Corp as an ambulance driver before transferring to the AFC.
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
In August 1917, moves were afoot to establish a branch of the Returned Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, the forerunner of today’s Returned and Services League (RSL), in Darwin. At that time, a meeting of returned men was called by the Honorary Secretary, Mr. Joseph (Joe) Wilson. This seems a little odd in that the League had not been ‘officially’ formed at that stage, yet Wilson had been declared the Honorary Secretary? A second meeting was held on the 6th September at which time it was decided to hold a concert and dance to fund the fledgling League.
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
As mentioned previously, the Jolly’s business interests were not only focused on the general store, rather, they had an interest in the pearling industry and operated their own lugger for a period. The Jolly’s lugger, named the Picton, operated from Thursday Island in 1920s before being sold to the Methodist Missionary Association of Australasia in 1922 to service the missions at Goulburn and Milingimbi Islands. The name was changed to the J.M. McBride, but she was often referred to as the ‘John McBride’.
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.
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