Bermagui Historical Society Heritage Museum

Sam Sinclair’s Sulky

The Story

Title of object:

Sam Sinclair’s sulky


Brief description of object:

Sulky of wood and cast iron construction.

Location of object:

Bermagui Museum Bermagui Visitor Information Centre, Community Centre, Bunga Street, Bermagui

www.bermaguihistoricalsociety.org.au


Accessibility of object:

Bermagui Visitors Centre is open to the public 10.00am–4.30pm, Monday to Saturday and 10.00am–2.00pm Sunday. The sulky is on permanent display.


History and provenance of object:

Sam Sinclair, who lived in Bermagui from 1904 until his death in 1964, was a blacksmith and wheelwright, and made this sullky for his personal use to get around the settlement. On his death in August 1964, the sulky was donated to the Bega Pioneers Museum. In September 2010 Bega Museum donated it to Bermagui Historical Society.


Bermagui Historical Society member Will Mead of Coolagolite restored the sulky to its present condition.

Context:

Samuel Robert Sinclair was born at Dalton, near Gunning, New South Wales, in 1882. He served briefly in the Fifth Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse, a New South Wales battalion, in 1902, at the end of the Boer War. He is listed in army records as a trooper, and was said to have served as a farrier for the cavalry battalion, which is likely, given that his profession was blacksmith. Sinclair enlisted in April 1902, and went with the battalion to South Africa in June, but the war had ended by the time they arrived; Sinclair was discharged from the army in August 1902.


After his return to Australia, Sinclair travelled down the New South Wales South Coast, arriving in Bermagui in 1904, reputedly by bicycle. He set up as a blacksmith in Bermagui South. Sinclair played for the Tilba Tilba rugby team in the years 1904-1908, and later for the Bermagui team in 1911. He married Lillian Riley of Narooma in 2008. The two had no children, but later fostered a Downs Syndrome girl who had been rejected by her birth parents. Sinclair had a reputation for kindness and community service.


By 1910 Sinclair had bought the land between Wallaga Street and Bunga Street, where he located his blacksmith and wheelwright business. At the start of the First World War in 1914, he went to Cooma to try to enlist, but was rejected on medical grounds: by now he was 38 years old.


Sinclair turned his ironworking and wordworking skills to many other purposes, for example as a builder. By 1913 he had built a village hardware store and also the butchery next to it. He was said to have started a bakery business. In 1920 he built a public hall, the Kings Hall, which he later sold to the community for half the cost of its construction. He constructed coffins and acted as undertaker to the town. He was said also to have acted as barber and dentist (that is, tooth extractor) for the town, and as a midwife, as there was no doctor in Bermagui in the early decades of the twentieth century.


Much of the information about Sinclair in various newspaper stories about him towards the end of his life and immediately after his death, is anecdotal and may be unreliable. For example, he was reported as being six feet tall, although his army record states that he was five feet seven and three quarter inches tall. This exaggeration is consistent with Sinclair’s reputation as a strongman and trainer of a more famous Australian strongman, ‘Don Athaldo’ (Walter ‘Tiger’ Lyons). Sinclair was said to have lifted a horse to move it, to have torn packs of playing cards in two as a feat of strength, and to have lifted one end of a car in lieu of a jack. At the age of 80 he constructed a retaining wall on the beach at Horseshoe Bay, below Sorrento Lodge, carrying large stones from below the high tide line.


As automobiles became more common, Sinclair adapted, starting the first service station in Bermagui South in 1928, with the town’s first petrol bowser, and a sign reading ‘Just Toot and We’re ’Oot’. His sense of humour is also said to have contributed to his being chosen as an image of manly conviviality by the Tooheys brewery in Sydney. Sinclair is said to have visited the brewery in the 1930s when a photographer was present. He raised a glass of beer and quipped ‘Here’s to ’ee.’ This quip, and the image of Sam, splendidly moustached and raising a frothing tankard, in his blacksmith’s apron, graced bar-room mirrors all over Australia for the next half century. The Tooheys brewery museum includes a golden statue of Sam, which stood on the brewery building façade for many years.


Sinclair was also closely associated with big game fishing in Bermagui. He was the weighmaster of the Swordfish Tunny Club of Australia, founded at sea off Montague Island in 1934, and in the following year the inaugural weighmaster of the Bermagui Big Game Fishing Club, where he would use his great strength to lift fish to the weighing station. He continued as weighmaster until his death in 1964, at the age of 82, from injuries sustained after a fall from his roof. He was president of the Big Game Fishing Club after Bruce Steere’s death, and was made an honorary life member of the club in 1949.


Fabric, design, manufacture and condition:

Timber and cast iron, hand-made by Sam Sinclair, blacksmith and wheelwright, Bermagui; fully restored. Dimensions: 3.7 metres long, 1.6 metres wide, 1.5 metres high.

Designer:

Sam Sinclair, blacksmith and wheelwright, Bermagui

Maker:

Sam Sinclair, blacksmith and wheelwright, Bermagui

Used by:

Sam Sinclair, blacksmith and wheelwright, Bermagui

Marks:

None

Production / manufacturing date:

Not recorded – early 20th century

Condition:

Fully restored

The particular significance of this object:

Sam Sinclair’s sulky reminds us of a time when horse-drawn transport was normal, and motorcars were a novelty. This was the daily transport of the man who made it. It recalls the days when mass-produced vehicles were still a novelty, and individual, hand-made vehicles were the norm.

At the same time, the sulky’s maker, blacksmith and wheelwright Sam Sinclair, adapted to the automobile, opening a garage with Bermagui’s first petrol bowser in 1928. So the sulky also reminds us of the transition away from horse-drawn transport to vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.

The sulky also conjures up the image of a type of colonial masculinity. Sam Sinclair was well known in the region for strength, kindness and community spirit. A strongman and trainer of strongmen, he lifted huge fish to the weighing scales of the Bermagui Big Game Fishing Club. He is said to have lifted horses and cars; at the age of 80 he carried large rocks to construct a retaining wall for the community. His powerful, genial, moustached image was used by Tooheys to market its beer in pub bars across Australia in a time when most bars were for men only. Sinclair’s many roles in Bermagui (blacksmith, wheelwright, builder, coffin-maker, undertaker, barber, dentist, midwife, weighmaster) also suggest the resourcefulness of colonial masculinity – a strong, kindly man who could turn his hand to anything.

Sinclair’s death also perhaps suggests the hazards of masculine identity. In his 80s, he still wanted to be powerful and self-sufficient, building a wall and climbing on the roof of his house, from which he fell, suffering the injuries that killed him.

The sulky reminds us of Sinclair’s masculine life, and the value which his community placed on his combination of strength, resourcefulness and community service.


Related places, items, collections:


Comparative and associated examples (in collections outside the shire):

Works depicting/highlighting this object:

None known.

Historic photographs of this object:

None known.


Themes:

Main theme:

Other themes:

Thematic storylines:

  • Transport
  • Gender: masculinity

Geographically associated places / sites:

Associated / linked places / sites / items / people:

Heritage listings (statutory and non-statutory):

Contributors to this ‘library’:

David Cotton

Kai Jensen

Acknowledgements, Rights and Permissions:

Acknowledgement of Bermagui Historical Society Inc.

© Bermagui Historical Society Inc. All rights reserved.

Further information:

http://bermaguihistoricalsociety.org.au/bermaguis-tuna-poling-days/

References and bibliography:

Ron Gaha & Judi Hearn, Bermagui: A Century of Features and Families (Bermagui: Bermagui Historical Society, 3rd edn, 2005)

Judi Hearn, Bermagui by the Sea (Bermagui: Penmark Press, 1996)

‘ “Here’s To ’ee”: Sam Sinclair, the Bermagui Blacksmith’, The Times of Bega District, 30 October 1994


Photos courtesy of Bermagui Historical Society and Double Take Photography



© Bermagui Historical Society Inc. All rights reserved.


This Bega Shire Hidden Heritage project has been made possible by the NSW Government through its Heritage Near Me program.


Any further information about this object or any associated histories will be GREATLY welcomed and will be added to the above library of information. Please email your contribution to southcoasthistory@yahoo.com

Location

3 Bunga Street Bermagui NSW 2546