Fred Frewin: Chelsea Community Worker and Musician

Fred Frewin was a member of a family with very strong associations with the Church of England. He himself served it in several capacities but his professional career was chiefly as a property valuer. He was prominent in the Chelsea community, serving it in a variety of ways. However, music was his great love, being a choirmaster and an organist both in churches and community organisations. Born in 1859 at Battersea, England, he died in the Royal Melbourne Hospital on 21 December 1943. [1]

Fred’s father was the Reverend John Frederick Frewin who was engaged in mission work in the East End of London for about eleven years, at Battersea for approximately two years, and at Dover for eleven years. The 1871 English Census noted his occupation as Baptist Minister of the Philadelphia Chapel while the 1881 Census records his position as ‘Minister of Baptism of Memorial Hall and Dover Tabernacle’. At the time of his marriage to Annie Giles on 5 September 1858, aged 21 years, his occupation was given as cooper. Annie and he had six children: Frederick 1860, Frank Ernest 1863, George David 1867, Florence Mary 1869, John Henry 1870 and Oscar 1876. George David and John Henry became ministers in the Church of England in Australia. George served in several parishes including Rochester, Birregurra, and Kempsey in New South Wales. John Henry was a lay reader at St Matthew’s Cheltenham in the 1890s and after ordination as a priest served in turn as vicar in Morwell, St Augustine’s Mentone, St Chad’s Chelsea, St Mary’s North Melbourne, St John’s Footscray and St Clement’s Elsternwick

John Frederick sailed from London with two sons, Frank and George, on the Potosi arriving in Melbourne on 15 February 1882. [2] Shortly after arrival he took charge of the Church of England parish at Kangaroo Flat where he remained until 1891 before moving to St John’s church in Mansfield and later St Matthew’s church Broadford.

A reporter in the Broadford local newspaper advised the congregation they should do all they could to keep John Frederick Frewin in their midst. The services he conducted were described as ‘very plain but very hearty, the singing and responses were well and heartily entered into.’ He was called ‘an extempore preacher using notes but sometimes preaching without any at all but his subject was always well brought out.’ [3] He was exceptionally fond of music, a great singer and player; often when in outlying places he found he had to play, sing and preach. He told the story that in East London he had a good organ and frequently played it. On one occasion he heard a person comment, ‘he does all the business himself’. [4] He died in his sleep in May 1905. After a service held in the church and at the graveside by Bishop Armstrong, the Bishop of Wangaratta, John’s remains were interred in the Broadford Cemetery. His wife, Annie was also interred there but lived for another seventeen years dying at Chelsea, where she had been living with her son Fred, on 26 December 1922 aged ninety four years. [5]

Fred, the eldest child in the family left England on the Garrone a year before his father and two brothers, arriving in Melbourne 1 January 1881. At first he joined John Sharpe and Sons and later was with Henry Beecham and Co. After spending a total of ten years in the timber industry and building trades he commenced work with the Melbourne City Council as a property valuer and remained there for thirty-four years until retirement in 1925 on a pension. During his time with the Council he qualified as an accountant taking second place in the class list for the whole of Australia, in the examination conducted by the Commonwealth Institute of Accounts. [6]

Fred Frewin’s love of music was clearly influenced by his father. He began learning the organ when he was eight years old in his father’s church in Whitechapel, London. In Melbourne he became the choirmaster and organist at St James Old Cathedral situated then in Little Collins Street, Melbourne. Working with the vicar, the Reverend Perry, he reorganized the choir, substituting boys’ voices in the choir. He was also responsible for dressing the men and boys of the choir in surplices and later when girls joined the group they wore surplices and mortar boards. [7] He was also the choirmaster at St Mary’s, North Melbourne, during some of the time his brother John Henry was vicar. When he retired from St Mary’s in 1911 he was presented with a Morocco leather pocket book. [8] This was not the end of his interest in church and choral music as he was choirmaster at St Chad’s church in Chelsea for many years. There he introduced community singing after a shortened Evensong to practise new and favourite hymns and responses, thus giving the local church a reputation with church dignitaries for good singing and choral work. [9] He was also an occasional organist at the Gippsland cathedral when visiting his daughter who lived at Sale. [10]

St Chad’s, Chelsea c1914. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

Music was also part of his involvement with the Masonic Lodge. Just a year before his death he had completed fifty years as a member of the Camberwell Lodge. [11] For many of those years he was the conductor of the choir which came into prominence because of the music he introduced. The Camberwell Masonic Choir under his direction gave several concerts for troops training at Langwarrin before going to the South African Wars. He was also the organist for the Grand Masonic Lodge of Victoria. [12]

Fred Frewin was a prominent man in Chelsea, playing an important role in its development. He first visited Chelsea in 1907 as a weekender, joining many who came camping on the foreshore to enjoy the white sand and the clarity of the water. He was living in Hawthorn in 1898 and later in North Carlton. By 1913 he was living in what became named as Barnes Grove in Chelsea. [13] In that same year his home was burnt out by a fire that raged from Aspendale along the foreshore destroying many houses and camping sites. [14] He lost everything including all his music library and manuscripts. The North Melbourne choir of which he had been choir master for several years took up a collection to help him replace the building he had lost.

With his interest in choral music he helped establish many choirs and supported the development of individuals with musical talent, many of whom became professional singers. The Chelsea Choral Society was formed in 1915 and its 30 to 40 members were involved in singing in several churches that Easter. The choir also sang for recruitment drives during World War One. However, the choir ceased to function in 1918 due to the lack of male voices as many participants had enlisted in the military forces to fight against the German aggressor. [15] Fred Frewin resigned from the society in November 1917 because of ill health. In addition to the senior choir Fred formed a junior choir of forty boys and girls for the Chelsea Choral Society. Mrs Sandford acted as chaperone for the girls of the choir. It was Fred’s practice to have a ‘lady of discretion’ present when the choir met. [16]

Fred Frewin surrounded by members of the Chelsea Choral Society. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

Besides music, Fred Frewin had many other community commitments while living at Chelsea. He was a member of the first local progress association committee, member of the first School committee, member of a delegation seeking the establishment of a police station at Chelsea, member of the Chelsea No Licence League, deputy returning officer for the area, chairman of the local fire brigade, delegate to Fire Brigades Board, appointed as a justice of the peace, involved in the formation of the District Benefits Society, honorary auditor of the Carrum Ladies Benevolent Society and chaired public meetings concerning the Carrum water rates. Almost any community action saw Fred’s involvement.

In 1912 Fred Frewin was chairman of the committee that sought to have a school established in Chelsea. Because of the committee’s action a school was opened in that year in Hoadley’s Hall, known locally as the Joss House because of its oriental appearance. Mary West was the first head teacher with 65 pupils. Because of increasing enrolments the Congregational church hall was used as supplementary accommodation. A school was finally built in 1914 and between 1922 and 1927 additional classrooms were added to cope with growth in student numbers. Fred Frewin was present when the Mayor of Chelsea, Cr D Bowman, declared a new wing open in 1927. It was on this occasion that Fred handed over to the school a Union Jack flag from the school in Chelsea, England. The flag was held in a beaten copper casket inlaid with camphor wood, made by seventeen school boys. [17] Fred had visited the English school on his trip to Europe in 1926 and presented the school with an Australian flag. Hence the return gift.

Gift to Chelsea State School from school in Chelsea, England. Photographer Graham Whitehead. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

It was in 1914 that Fred Frewin commenced his role as the first justice of the peace for the district sitting on the bench at the Cheltenham Court House. Subsequently with the opening of the Chelsea Court House in 1929 he was a regular attender there and for several years chairman of the bench. There he and colleagues made judgements after hearing cases concerning stolen goods, failure to produce a motor licence, non-school attendance, wandering cattle, dangerous driving, driving a car without lights and lighting scrub fires amongst other matters . [18] In October 1914 Fred Frewin JP fined Frank Davis £3 or 31 days imprisonment for using obscene language, and another party, Ralph Leslie, was fined £1 or seven days, for being drunk and disorderly.[19]

Fred Frewin was married on three occasions. The first was to Emily Jane Lee at the West Melbourne Baptist Church on the 24 June 1882. [20] Emily was the only daughter of an architect in West Melbourne. [21] They had three children; Emily Jane 1883, Fred Arthur 1885 and Ivy Harriet 1890. Emily Jane died from cardiac failure at Fitzroy aged 66 on 7 December 1922 but had been suffering from carcinoma of the left breast for twelve months prior to death. [22] She was buried in the Melbourne Cemetery with her parents. From electoral records it is apparent that she had not been living with Fred at Chelsea for several years prior to her death.

Fred’s second wife was Clara Jane (Dodsworth). She had previously married Charles Cobden Sandford in 1879 but they were divorced on 19 May 1902. At the time of this event one child was living but seven were deceased. [23] Although Charles and Clara had been separated for twenty years at the time of her marriage to Fred Frewin she was still using Sandford as her surname. Fred and Clara were married by the Rev Albert Montagu Wilson on 25 December 1922 at St Nicholas’ Church of England at Mordialloc. At the time of the wedding both gave their residential address as Barnes Grove Chelsea. [24] Fred Frewin had supervised the building of Mrs Sandford’s new home at Chelsea; a house that was destroyed in the bushfire of 1913. [25]

Frederick and Clara Jane Frewin. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

Fred and Clara were farewelled in St Chad’s parish hall in November 1925 preceding their departure on the eleventh of that month on the RMS Ceramic for a prolonged tour to Africa and England. Between 100 and 200 people were present at the farewell where approximately thirty members of the former Chelsea Choral Society entertained them along with other artists. [26] On the journey to England they stopped in South Africa to visit Fred’s youngest brother, Oscar, who was the editor and proprietor of the Middleberg Observer in the Transvaal and to visit some of the tourist sites. After travelling in Europe and while touring Scotland Clara died suddenly in Edinburgh on August 11 and was buried there. [27]

Returning to London, Fred renewed acquaintance with Emma Jane Watson, one of his former music students. They were married in the Registration District of Lambeth late in 1926 and returned to Australia taking up residence in Fred’s home, the Rest, in Barnes Grove. Together they had several visits back to England including one in 1930 and another in 1939. On the latter occasion in the Daily News (Perth) described them as ‘typical Darby and Joan’ reporting that they were travelling to London on the liner Orontes and planning to return to Melbourne via South Africa early the following year. [28]

On the 21 December 1943 Fred died at the Royal Melbourne Hospital from a heart attack and hardening of the arteries. He was 84 years old. His body was cremated at the Springvale Crematorium the day after his death. Fred had been a resident in Victoria for sixty three years and for a significant part of this time he lived at Chelsea. At the time of his death his residence with Emma Jane, his wife, was at 143 Alma Road, East St Kilda.


  1. Births Deaths and Marriages, Death Certificate.
  2. Shipping Records: Series VPRS 7666 Inwards Overseas Passenger List.
  3. Broadford Courier, 4 November 1904.
  4. Broadford Courier, 13 May 1905.
  5. The Argus, 22 December 1922.
  6. Diggerson, M., Chelsea Historical Society, unpublished manuscript: ‘Mr and Mrs Fred Frewin’.
  7. Diggerson, M., ibid.
  8. North Melbourne Courier, 3 March 1911.
  9. The Carrum Borough Gazette, 26 January 1929.
  10. Gippsland Times, 9 January 1933.
  11. City of Chelsea News, 24 December 1943.
  12. Diggerson, M., op cit. & City of Chelsea News, 24 December 1943.
  13. Diggerson, M., op cit.
  14. See, The Age, Sensational Bayside Fire 1913, Kingston Historical Website.
  15. Carrum Borough Gazette, 26 January 1918.
  16. Carrum Borough Gazette,15 May 1915.
  17. Now in the possession of the Chelsea and District Historical Society.
  18. Carrum Borough Gazette. May 28, 1927.
  19. Moorabbin News, 10 October 1914.
  20. Births Deaths & Marriages, Certificate No 2664.
  21. The Argus,1 July 1882.
  22. Birth Deaths & Marriages, Certificate No12960 – 149 Miller Street, Fitzroy.
  23. Birth Deaths and Marriages, Certificate No 2363.
  24. Marriage Register, St Nicholas’ Church of England, Mordialloc.
  25. Moorabbin News, 12 April 1913.
  26. Carrum Borough Gazette, 7 November 1925.
  27. The Argus,17 August 1926.
15 December 2013
Article reference:

©2024 Kingston Local History | Website by Weave

Aboriginal Flag

City of Kingston acknowledges the Kulin Nation as the custodians of the land on which the municipality is a part and pays respect to their Elders, past and present. Council is a member of the Inter Council Aboriginal Consultative Committee (ICACC).