WHEN goods carrier ‘old Doc’ Dougherty died in August 1942, the news made headlines in wartime Newcastle.
Hardly surprising, as he was once known to thousands of actors and actresses treading the boards for popular live performances.
Dougherty was 87, and with him died a tradition from Victorian times. For ‘Old Doc’, as one of the last surviving horse and cart drivers who hauled baggage, had a link to Newcastle’s early theatrical days.
People back then really needed entertainment to lift their spirits, and often relied completely on tireless workers like Ted Dougherty to ensure “the show must go on”.
According to his obituary, the ever dependable ‘old Doc’ was inseparable from the city’s vaudeville and cinema history.
It was he who originally transported most of the stage performers, luggage and theatre props from railway stations or boats to boarding houses and the Victoria Theatre in Perkins Street, or the old King’s Hall Theatre (once above the old Newcastle RSL, but demolished in the 1989 earthquake.)
However, the last years of his life largely involved him transporting films from the railway station to cinemas.
To the very end, it was not uncommon for him to drive to Broadmeadow railway station at 1am to collect film canisters for screenings.
There was no safety net like superannuation back then to enjoy a few comforts in old age.
The arrival of the ‘talkies’ saw an end to many of his earlier activities.
Until then, his house in Queen Street, Cooks Hill, was also Newcastle’s big theatrical boarding house pre-1920.
When both the Victoria and King’s Hall theatres had stage shows running, between 30 and 40 actors might be staying at the house at once.
Despite changing times, ‘Doc’ Dougherty had faith that the good old days of live theatre would bounce back.
He believed he would live to see it and “pick up the threads of the old life of grease paint and celebrities”.
What a world it must have been. In his heyday, say about 1910, ‘Doc’ Dougherty would have lived and worked amid noisy, crowded streets full of horses, carts, drays and sulkies – not cars.
Coal mines still worked in the inner city, steamships and windjammers lined harbour wharves and sailors were everywhere. Steam trams and steam trains clanked noisily around town.
The smell of coal dust and dung hung heavily in the air over wood-block streets.
Doc Dougherty’s career spanned an era of live stage plays, pantomimes, variety shows, indoor boxing events, early silent flicks and the arrival of the “talking pictures” in late 1929.
He was essential to them all.
He stabled his familiar old grey nags in a paddock at the corner of Queen and Darby streets, Cooks Hill, next to the family home and his theatrical boarding house.
One of 12 children (large families were the normal back then), Ted Dougherty came to Newcastle from Mudgee and later married Hannah Chapman, whose father was at one time Newcastle's mayor.
One popular story is that ‘Doc’ was credited with being the first to speak at the first talkie movie show in Newcastle in 1929.
Just as the new theatre wonder was about to be unveiled, ‘Doc’ cheekily stuck his head out through the stage curtain and yelled out: “Where is everybody?”
Ted Dougherty was still working right up until his death, despite having 19 accidents with his horse and cart over the years. His last fall was only a year before, when he broke some ribs, but he kept going.
He was buried at Sandgate Cemetery, leaving three surviving children and 16 grandchildren.
Today the memories of ‘Doc’ Dougherty live on in prized family memorabilia saved by Allan and Patricia McTaggart, of Mount Hutton.
Pat McTaggart, the grand daughter of Edward ‘Doc’ Dougherty, said she had very fond memories of him, recalling he always had his shirt sleeves rolled up ready for work and was a “great gambler”.
“I especially remember the film canisters, big round things, being stored in the house and a time when the original electric trams ran down Hunter street (until mid 1950).
“As for my grandfather’s nickname, well, everyone called him ‘Doc’ because of his name which they pronounced as Doc-erty. The family name, however, was spelled Dougherty,” she said.
“One son, my dad, was also called ‘Doc’, although his real name was Esmond Harold, or Harold Dougherty.
"He was one of three children, two boys and a girl.
"Harold was also later in the same carrier business, but his work was done by motor lorry, not horse and cart.”
Pat McTaggart said the family home was in one of three old terraces in Queen Street, Cooks Hill, which might be demolished now.
The family was poor, having to endure the tough days of the Great Depression, of the 1920s and early 1930s, but enjoyed the simple pleasure of life like riding around the corner to the stables in the work cart.
Ironically, Pat Taggart never remembered the family getting ‘freebie’ tickets to attend shows at the theatres for which her grandfather worked.
“I do remember though the famous Australian comic (and vaudevillian) Roy ‘Mo’ Rene stayed in the Queen Street boarding house,” she said.
(The legendary ‘Mo’ Rene was one of Australia’s greatest larrikin stage comedians of the early 1930s. The popular, bawdy comic now has a prestigious award named after him and a bronze statue stands on an Adelaide footpath.)
“There were nine of us in my family. My brother and sister used to go to the 'green hill' in Cooks Hill with a wheelbarrow. It was an old mine site (probably around the present NBN TV site) where you could find free coal for the home fire.
“There was also a (mine) dam in today’s Nesca Park. It was described as bottomless. A poor kiddie once drowned there,” she said.
Mrs McTaggart once attended the old Star of the Sea school run by Dominican catholic nuns on The Hill (now the Aventine apartments site) where the country boarders were segregated from the day pupils.
“Here’s an earlier old photograph, maybe 1900, I’ve kept of ordinary students once there. They were hard times," she said
"Half the students attending then probably didn’t have any shoes.”
Pat Taggart said her grandfather was also forever haunted by a family tragedy. One child had suffocated after accidentally falling into a cesspit in Darby Street in September 1885.
The child was under two years old.
The inquest was held at the family home and was conducted by Doc’s father-in-law, Samuel Chapman JP, the district coroner.
There’s an even stranger twist to end this father and son tale of city’s theatrical stalwarts, according to Pat’s husband, Allan McTaggart.
“Pat’s father Harold, also called ‘Doc’, whose carrier business was done by truck, died in 1943," Mr McTaggart said.
"It was 12 months to the day after his father’s death, both occurring on August 20.”
Unlike his father, young ‘Doc’ was aged only 54.