Descendants of William Ralph Clemenger gather at his restored memorial in 2018.Photo: Courtesy of the Gundaroo District and Historical Society

Ralph M. Clemenger: Police Magistrate in New South Wales

Historian Jonathan Smyth looks at a family from Cavan called the Clemengers in his popular weekly Times Past column...

Recently, I discovered the name of an interesting Cavan family named Clemenger for whom all indicators of research suggest were from Kilmore, Co Cavan. When I first read about Ralph M. Clemenger, I knew nothing except for the fact that he had Cavan blood in his veins and for a moment to dwell on the point; I find it astounding, the extent to which Cavan men and women have populated the globe and as I have learned they are to be located in every corner of the world. As already mentioned, the Clemengers were a family of whom I had no prior knowledge which made the investigation into their history even more exciting.

In 1836, Ralph was born in Cavan to William Clemenger and Elizabeth Mervyn. In his mid-20s, Ralph emigrated to Australia around 1860 and on 19 April 1861 he joined the Public Service. In the following year, at Goulburn, South Tablelands, New South Wales, he married Elizabeth Walsh who according to available records was 15 years his junior. Elizabeth was born in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, to Cavan parents, William Walsh and Sarah Matchett; she had three brothers, one of whom received a mention, Alexander Walsh.

Ralph and Elizabeth’s first child, William Ralph Clemenger was born at Braidwood, NSW, in 1863 and he was followed by a second boy named Charles Henry Clemenger in 1864. Later, their eldest son William Ralph became an important figure in the community of Gundaroo.

Chinese

From 11 January 1862, Ralph worked as a local clerk and registrar of the District Court at Braidwood. He received the gratitude of the local Chinese community living at Lambing Flats where it was recorded that he issued: 1,700 certificates to local Chinese residents’, thereby exempting them, from having to pay a ‘newly imposed’ poll tax of £10. He also assisted with the naturalisation of the Chinese people living at Braidwood as was noted in ‘Migrant Cross Cultural Encounters in Asia and the Pacific’ written by Jacqueline Leckie, et al, who said that the kindly Irishman once provided a reference for a man named Quong Tart’s application for naturalisation; previously he witnessed another man called ‘Ah Hows’ naturalisation and it was suggested that Ah had chosen to adopt the Christian name Ralph, as a mark of respect for Clemenger.

Personality wise, Ralph Clemenger was described by his friends as a great favourite amongst all, a kindly and good Cavan man, respected everywhere and never having an ill-wisher to speak against him. Ralph, they said, ‘loved Braidwood and Braidwood loved him’ and it was his ‘purse and advice’, which were often used to assist the ‘welfare of his fellow-beings, and many landowners’ in the region who owed him their thankfulness for what they possessed.

Masonic rites

Clemenger was later rewarded by the Crown Prosecution Service, receiving promotion to the role of Police Magistrate at Araluen. On his departure from his beloved Braidwood, the inhabitants, as ‘a testimonial’, presented Clemenger with 70 sovereigns. He only held this position for a brief period before his death on June 8, 1876. His funeral at Araluen was attended by a large proportion of the population and the burial received ‘masonic rites’, with ‘the craft’ mustering strongly for the ceremony.

There was, however, some concern for Mr Clemenger’s widow and children according to the Sydney Mail and New South WalesAdvertiseron June 17, 1876, owing to the fact that: - ‘He leaves behind him a widow and two sons, the elder aged thirteen,’ and having, ‘for a number of years … paid a life policy for £800, … (Ralph) omitted to remit his last premium’, which became due a short time before his death. The newspaper expressed great sympathy towards Elizabeth Clemenger and her family.

An obituary in the Sydney Evening Post provided some extra genealogical detail on the late Mr Clemenger’s relatives, recalling that through marriage he was related to the late Charles Walsh, solicitor of Araluen and Goulburn, who was a former Bonietine member of the Legislative Assembly.

At 19 years of age, Ralph’s eldest son William Ralph Clemenger moved to Gundaroo, Australia, where he gained employment as a telegraph operator. Known to the townspeople as ‘Clem’, he became the postmaster of Gunddaroo and held this situation until his death in 1918. The residents admiration for ‘Clem’ was great, and they had a monument erected to his memory, which in 2018 underwent restoration and was then unveiled before his descendants who assembled to remember William and his wife Ellen’s contribution to the area.

His contribution was discussed in an article by Ron Miller to mark the occasion, which appeared in theYass Tribune. Peter Firth, the President of the Gundaroo District Historical Society said that ‘Clem’ was a leading light and a magistrate who acted as a trustee for institutions in Gundaroo, while being the local correspondent for neighbouring newspapers.

During the heritage week of 2018, his life was celebrated by an event titled, ‘Remembering Clemenger’ at which his eclectic range of talents were recalled by Peter Firth who pointed out: ‘He was a singer and poet, captained the cricket team, coached and played football (rugby union), taught boxing and possessed many successful racehorses including The Psalmist, Chiromantist, Warelva and Elvira’s Daughter.’

After William died, his wife Ellen took over from him as postmistress and held the job until 1921 when she retired to Sydney. The memorial to her husband was erected in 1919 at the instigation of his friend J.F. Heazlett using funds raised from public subscriptions. Peter Firth hoped on behalf of the historical society, that the ‘rejuvenation’ of the monument might reintroduce people to William Ralph Clemenger’s contribution to Gundaroo where he was once lauded as one of its ‘kings’.

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