Charles Gordon Watts-Phillips was born in 1849 at Forest Hill, Surrey, England, the son of Dramatic Author, Watts Phillips, and Lily Mariner. He departed England for Australia around 1874. His sister Roland was a favourite Australian actress of the early 1900s.
Gordon as he was known, whilst residing in Goolwa, South Australia and working as a clerk met and married a widow, Jane Luxon (nee Miller) on the 7th August, 1876 at the Wesleyan Church in Strathalbyn, South Australia.
Jane, Gordon’s elder by some 11 years was born in Ireland in 1838, the daughter of Robert Joseph Miller, a carpenter and Jane Miller. She had previously married Captain William Luxon in 1861 at Encounter Bay, South Australia at age 22 and they had four children: William (1864), George Robert (1865), Miriam Louisa (1867) and Harriet Jane (1869), all born at Encounter Bay.
Gordon and Jane had two further children together: Caroline Roland Watts-Phillips (1877 Islington S.A.) and Charles Gordon Watts-Phillips (1879 Yatala, S.A.). At some stage, Jane then deserted her husband.
Gordon obtained a master's certificate and was a part owner of a small trader. He had also been captain of one of the passenger boats on the Darling River. He was reputedly a popular coastal skipper.
By 1891 Gordon was the Captain of the S.S Omeo operating around Sale, Victoria. In August of that year some of the heaviest flooding of the Thomson River ever experienced in twenty years occurred over the 3rd and 4th of August. Gordon, and others, rescued the lives of many families over that period for which he was awarded a Bronze Medal by the Royal Humane Society.
By 1892 the S.S. Omeo had passed to another Captain and Gordon subsequently retired from the sea and moved to Melbourne.
Whilst residing in Coburg, Victoria, Gordon met Mary Hilda Harvey Huxley who was living in Brunswick. Mary was born in Horsham, the daughter of George Harry Huxley, a miner, and Emma Deane. Having not heard from Jane for some years and believing her dead, Gordon and Mary marry at Carlton on Christmas Eve, 1900.
Interestingly, an announcement of the marriage was not placed in The Age newspaper until September 1903, nearly three years after the event by which time Gordon and Mary had a son, Victor Gordon Watts-Phillips, born 8 February 1903 in Carlton. Within months of the placement of this marriage announcement, his former wife, Jane, makes a reappearance but apparently does not interfere and Mary and Gordon continue to live together as husband and wife.
Around the same time in late 1903, Gordon’s brother, Basil Watts Phillip wrote from London to the Victoria Police seeking assistance to locate his brother. He had last heard from him in a letter dated Cunninghame, Gippsland, 1891. He indicated that about 1893 Gordon and Jane and their two children were living at Beaconsfield Parade, Albert Park but the whereabouts of all was now unknown.
He mentioned Gordon had also been awarded 21 guineas by Judge Boucaut on the 26th February 1884, also a silver medal, for arresting two ruffians who had brutally assaulted a jockey (in South Australia) and that he had been awarded the Royal Humane Society's medal, London, and in 1891, was presented with the Royal Humane Society's certificate of merit (Victoria).
Basil also stated his brother had lost the sight of one eye through a stab he received in New York and had a scar on his temple, one on the wrist, two under the shoulder blade, and one on the thigh, and two bullet wounds in the leg. Basil’s quest was published in the Melbourne Herald and assistance was soon forthcoming to the Police.
In June 1906 Gordon made his Will, leaving all his estate to his youngest son Victor. Mary was appointed Executrix and it was witnessed by Olive Huxley, married woman, and James Huxley, a pottery maker. James was subsequently killed in France in May 1918.
Gordon and Mary have a second son, Basil Douglas born in Carlton in 1911 but he dies as toddler in 1913.
At some point Gordon and Mary made their home at Eltham though official electoral roll records record them at Little Flinders Street Melbourne, employed as a caretaker and from 1906 in Brunswick as a decorator then painter. Eltham may have been a ‘holiday’ home but it seems Mary was actively engaged in the community as a newspaper report in the Advertiser in 1922 not long after Gordon’s death indicates Mary was one of the best known and best liked ladies of the Eltham district. She was actively engaged in all matters, tending towards the welfare of the district. At the time of Gordon’s death Mary was president of the Ladies' Public Hall Committee, responsible for the conduct of numerous, and successful entertainments.
Gordon’s first and only legal wife, Jane Luxon Watts-Phillips nee Miller, died 6 November 1921 and was buried 8 November 1921 at Springvale Cemetery. Jane had lived 34 years in South Australia and 30 years in Victoria.
With Jane now dead, Gordon was now officially a widower and just three weeks later, the retired master mariner of Eltham at age 55 remarried Mary, 42, of 174 Hickford Street, East Brunswick on the 29th November 1921 in the Parish of St Cuthbert, East Brunswick.
Gordon died at their home, ‘The Rest’, at 174 Hickford Street, East Brunswick on February 9, 1922 and was buried at Eltham Cemetery on February 11.
An interesting link is established with the heavy floods of August 1891 by the erection of a tombstone in the Eltham cemetery. The stone bears the inscription: - “In loving memory of (Captain) Gordon, dearly beloved husband of Mary Watts Phillips. Died 9th February 1922, aged 62 years." Beside the stone is a replica, carved in a marble scroll, of the Royal Humane Society of Australia's Certificate of merit. Part of the wording of this certificate is as follows:- “At a general court of directors holder at the offices of the society at Melbourne on the 6th day of September 1891, it was resolved that the courage and humanity displayed by Gordon Watts Phillips aged 30-years captain of S.S. Omeo, Sale, in rescuing many families from drowning during the heavy floods on Thomson River on 3rd and 4th of August 1891 call for the admiration of the court, and justly entitles him to the certificate of merit of this society, which is hereby awarded."
Unbeknownst to Gordon, his second and subsequent legal marriage to Mary initiated a revocation of his Will of 1906, which had solely benefited his son Victor. Consequently, Mary had to apply for Letters of Administration and the only legal beneficiaries would be Mary and his two children by Jane.
On June 18, 1940, at age 61, Mary married 70-year-old Arthur Ernest Fenn in Melbourne. Unfortunately for her, Arthur died a year later in July 1941 and was buried in the Cohuna Cemetery near Echuca.
Mary lived a further 8 years, passing away suddenly July 4, 1948 in Carlton, and was buried July 7 with her beloved husband Gordon, at Eltham Cemetery.
In Loving Memory
Dearly beloved husbandof
Died 9th Feb. 1922, aged 62 years
Loved wife of above
Died 4th July 1948
eltham cemetery, gravestones, (captain) gordon watts-phillips, mary hilda harvey watts-phillips (nee huxley)