Sovereign Smith remembered
A new plaque was laid in Manly Cemetery yesterday marking the grave of William ‘Sovereign’ Smith, (c1840-1922) whose merry-go-round, was once a fixture on Manly Corso. At a ceremony to mark the occasion, I gave an outline of Smith’s remarkable life, his career as a fish-curer, showman, real estate developer, and philanthropist, and concluded by wondering what it must have been like for a child in 1908 to stumble upon the merry-go-round in action.
I was able to quote from an excellent description by Ethel Turner, who is best known as the author of Seven Little Australians. She wrote a children’s book in 1914 named Flower o’ the Pine, about a girl named Flower, who comes to Manly from an outback station to recuperate from illness. Flower sets out one morning to explore the delights of Manly, and hears music in the air:
“She found the very spot from which the entrancing music was coming. There were no doors, no gates to it – it was widely, hospitably open. Inside – ah, she was dreaming! – she was in the midst of one of those wildly splendid dreams that she often dreamed.
No, it was actuality! There was a circle of horses, magnificently painted, gloriously be-maned and be-tailed and be-saddled, gliding and swaying and tossing their heads, there in front of her. Beyond them, yet another circle of horses still more splendid, more spirited, and with cars furnished absolutely beyond the power of description.
Mounted on them, riding in them, were bewitching, unreal boys and girls.
The music ceased – the music to which the splendid beasts so marvellously moved. The bewilderingly beautiful, fortunate children slid off them and strolled to the doors; other children, amongst them positively two shabby little boys who were standing next to Flower, moved forward to take their places.
“Why, can anyone go on? Can I go on!” Her sudden voice, shrill with sharp excitement, rose clear above the din.
A majestic figure, a figure that wore a waistcoat whose buttons were gold sovereigns, beckoned to her.
“You can – for a penny,” said the majestic figure.
Ah the glory of the moment! She had a penny. She dropped her library books somewhere, anywhere, extracted the penny from her pocket, jumped on the platform as she saw the other children jumping, and she flung herself into the saddle of a coal-black charger!”
The glory of the moment! It was worth remembering that to the children of Manly a hundred years ago, Sovereign Smith was a majestic, generous figure, and it was good to see him commemorated yesterday in view of the pleasure he brought to children all those years ago.
The photo above, taken circa 1914, shows the building in the Corso which housed Smith's merry-go-round. It is now the location of Hungry Jack's restaurant. The tall building to the right of the photo is still in existence.