Jack’s Congregation

Melbourne, 1909

1909 was an eventful year for young newsboy Jack Church and his Crackajack mouth organ. He was providing news content in all the Melbourne papers he was selling; The Herald, The Punch and The Argus. It’s probably fair to say Jack had been dealt a pretty rough hand in life with little chance to break the socio-economic shackles that bound him. It’s also quite likely he was an orphan surviving by hook or by crook off the city’s treacherous streets. The selling of newspapers would have hardly been a lucrative business for Jack, barely providing a pittance for his existence. Newspapers were bought by the dozen and sold for a small profit in the day’s fading light.

Thanks to the benevolence of the City Newsboys’ Society he had some shelter, protection and education. This is possibly where Jack’s education on the mouth organ commenced and further embellishments on the instrument were emulated from the city buskers. Jack also had a significant advocate, the wife of the Governor General, Lady Carmichael and just maybe she might be his window of opportunity to escape his lot in life and break free of the manacles.

When Lady Gibson Carmichael announced that “Jack” Church would give a solo on the mouth-organ, the cheers that went up showed that some of the audience at least had heard “Jack” Church before. Why everybody in Melbourne has not heard of him it is difficult to understand. What he got out of a small “crack-a-jack” was amazing. (The Argus, Melbourne, Saturday 5 June, 1909)

I think it is fair to say that pint-sized Jack had serious talent on the tin sandwich. Lady Carmichael was so impressed she booked him for a repeat performance in the presence of the State Governor.

Lady Carmichael, as president of the City Newsboys’ Society, is this year herself providing the ‘boys’ Christmas festival. On Saturday afternoon they will be conveyed, to Government House, Malvern, where she is to entertain them at a picnic In the grounds. His Excellency the Governor and Lady Carmichael are motoring down from Macedon for the occasion. The boys are to leave their hall in Coromandel Place, with Miss Onians and Mr Griffin in command, in vans at about 1 o’clock, and will proceed with music of mouth organ, Jew’s harp, and concertina, to Government House. Jack Church has been especially requested by Lady Carmichael to take his mouth organ, so that the Governor may hear the wonders that he performs upon that humble instrument. (The Herald, Melbourne Tuesday 7 December 1909)

Arrival of the Newsboys at State Government House, 1909

Could it be Jack dressed in white on the left of the photo? Is he prominent in the foreground and the only one in full white for a reason. Is he holding a Crackajack mouth organ?

Lady Gibson Carmichael addressing the boys at tea, 1909. (Is that Jack at the front of the table? On the right?)

But pride was on every face when one of the 300 advanced with a mouth-organ and gave imitations of the pipes and other musical instruments. His Excellency beamed approval, especially as “Loch Lomond” was given apparently in honour of his nationality. (Punch, Melbourne, Thursday 16 December, 1909) Why didn’t the paper acknowledge the great Jack Church by name?

Lady Gibson Carmichael

Did I say earlier Jack was a serious talent! Perhaps he was a touch above this, maybe even a child prodigy with skills of the calibre exhibited many years later by the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson II.

Jack Church ought to be given first place for a very cleverly given harmonic solo, This simple little mouth-organ he played as well with his nose as he did with his mouth, and with mouth and fingers combined he produced the music of an entire band. Alter being encored he was presented with a new instrument (the gift of Mrs. W. H. Pelstead). (Punch, Melbourne, Thursday 30 December 1909) Now that’s a nice recognition of the lad.

Well we read all about it 1909, but not another mention in any year after of the crackajack Jack Church? Hopefully he was able to continue to display his wares, providing his congregation with joy and inspiration to take up this amazing instrument. Here’s to you Jack Church, especially for your break out year of 1909.

Has to be Jack!


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5 thoughts on “Jack’s Congregation

  1. Hi, I’m a harmonica player from france; I discovered your blog some time ago and I absolutely love it, especially these stories about players from the past, and humble ones, as it is. the story of Jack Church and the other one of Busker Buttons, these glimpses of life in the time past are quite fascinating.
    I like very much as well the photos of old harmonica models, I love the knittlinger ones, I wish there was more of them made today!
    ok so: THANK YOU!


    1. Hi Pierre, thanks for posting and following. It’s encouraging to receive positive feedback on these articles. I love writing them and always hope there are others out there who enjoy reading them. Ten hole tin can man myself, but understand your sentiment. Cheers Shep


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