So here we are , four years on, returning to the Wagga Wagga of 1884, and walking around our town. To start things off , by happy chance the Wagga Wagga Advertiser featured a little editorial piece called "Wagga as seen by a four years absentee", in November of 1884. After quoting Irish poet William Allingham's poem Ballyshannon, the writer praises various aspects of the town : the schools, the hospitals, new businesses, and lastly, gas lighting, which was a relatively new development (especially introducing street lighting).
The new year in Wagga Wagga kicked off with scorching heat, with the school term commencing on Tuesday 15 January, but with few children being sent to school as temperatures hit 45 ° in the afternoon, and made worse by a dust storm that covered the district.
As the year progressed, some of the important events in the town were based on bridges: the Company Bridge was bought by the government and made toll free in March of 1884, with a parade, dinner and amusements marking the moment.
Above, from the Sydney Illustrated News 1876: the Company Bridge in Wagga Wagga
1884 is also the year the Wollundry lagoon bridge started construction. There was some resistance by the people of Wagga Wagga to paying for the essential construction of the rebuilding of the bridge connecting old Wagga with Newtown and in the end it was paid for by the government, costing 3,000 pounds.
Wagga Wagga was a very social town in 1884- picnics, balls, and dances in abundance, for all manner of groups in the community- Freemason groups, religious institutions, schools, all held events that were well attended and were big news at the time.
The Freemason's Hall was in use almost every evening it seems with a dance, ball or travelling theater troupe. These social events were so popular that various businesses popped up offering catering and a cab business started as well to ferry people to and fro :
There were many entertainments over the course of the year, and actors and comedians of note visited Wagga Wagga, Grattan Riggs being one . His show was much anticipated and the show was written up in the newspaper :
Above : Wagga Wagga Advertiser, April 19, 1884
Grattan Riggs is remembered as an actor comedian, and he died in Tasmania in 1899. He gave signed photographs to his fans, like the one shown here (image is from the State Library of New South Wales collection) from 1891. Mr Riggs would have strolled along Fitzmaurice Street and maybe regaled the passers by with quip and a tip of his hat and popped into a pub or two before the show to converse with the locals (and down a pint or two as well).
After agitating for some time to get a gas lamp installed on the bridge so people crossing at night could see their way, finally in October the lamp was installed and lit, to light the weary traveler on their weary progress to Fitzmaurice Street:
Above: from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, October 18 1884
Interestingly, insurance agents, sensing a way to capitalize on the increasing popularity of gas, had a category of of insurance that covered "gas explosions". Gas lighting was all the rage in 1884, and advertisements promised "gas-lit" ballrooms, halls, shops (even billiard rooms in pubs) to lure customers. Smith & Jaye became Wagga's gasfitters in 1884 :
Above : from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser 29 November 1884
The gas lamp in Fitzmaurice Street was regularly vandalised by the yobs of the town (they would smash the glass panels in the lamp itself) and this behavior was called "larrikinism".
The year drew to a close, with Christmas being celebrated by local businesses offering the usual festive fare of toys, cards, and food, shops along Fitzmaurice Street getting into the Christmas spirit:
Other businesses in Fitzmaurice Street included Lorrimer and Martin, Dyring's, Corthorn's, W. Tatham's (next to the Australia Hotel) , and E. Rand (chemist). This image (below) from the State Library of New South Wales Mitchell collection, is from about ten years earlier, but it gives a good idea of what the street may have looked like around that time, a wide dusty street with buildings still being constructed on either side.
The Commercial Hotel ( current day Romano's ) is on the right hand side of the photograph and just beyond it you can see where Edward Rand the chemist (or druggist as he was known on the signage) was situated.
If you would like to do your own history detective work, try starting with Trove :
And as always, the friendly and helpful staff at the Wagga Wagga City Library can help get you started.