Jack Bishop: A champion bike racer

Sepia Saturday 521 23 May 2020This past weekend’s Sepia Saturday theme brought to mind a story I’ve been intending to write up about a prize winning racer in my Kunkel family.

Family discoveries can come from all sorts of cryptic clues. They may even reveal hidden stories – if we’re lucky. One such came to light over great grandson of George and Mary Kunkel. A cousin recounted how, while still a little girl, she attended the funeral of a young Paterson cousin who had died racing motorcycles overseas. Various searches on this family’s deaths was unproductive – until the three-month gap between Mary Bishop’s son’s dates of death and burial were finally noticed. The internet provided the final loop of the puzzle revealing that Jack Bishop was a renowned pioneer of dirt track racing in both Australia and England in the 1920s and early 30s.[1]

BISHOP Jack grave (2)

Died 20 March 1933, England. Ashes interred Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery 17 June 1933.

 After leaving school, Jack started work in the motor trade. It’s likely that’s where he gained his enthusiasm for dirt bike racing which was a new sport in those post-WWI days. In 1928 Jack Bishop was recruited by AJ Hunting to race in England and along with other Australian racers signed a contract which paid him £5 per week and a return first class voyage. Jack Bishop and the team sailed on the Oronsay from Brisbane, arriving in London on 9 May 1928.[2] Jack was 19 years old and he and all his team-mates listed their occupation as “professional motor cyclist” with their address c/- International Speedway Limited London. Although the Australians made a prominent opening in May 1928 on the dirt tracks at White City and Crystal Palace, the heavy rain made the muddy tracks hazardous and Jack was thrown and received concussion. In July 1928 he was injured in two races which affected his early career in the United Kingdom.

BISHOP Hull Daily Mail 22 August 1928 p3

Who wouldn’t want a box of smoked herring? Hull Daily Mail 22 August 1928, p3

The thrill of dirt track racing appealed to many spectators and the sport became very popular. On 19 August 1929 he was part of an Exeter team who faced the Stamford Bridge team from London in front of a 25,000 strong crowd of spectators. The “red and white” team from Exeter won the race 13-8 with Bishop leading the final lap and team-member, Jackson, covering him.[3] Jack was then the “undisputed champion of the track at Exeter”.[4] There are many reports in the English press about the achievements of the team from Down Under including Jack Bishop. They even received gifts from their fans and I was amused by the one included here.

Jack Bishop became sufficiently famous to have his own cigarette card in Ogden’s “Famous Dirt Track Riders” series. He is described as “a successful Australian rider who came over to England in 1928, Jack Bishop is one of the most daring riders, and his dashing displays are very popular with all the Speedway fans. He has been especially successful when competing in the Handicap events and sometimes when starting from scratch has run through the field and won by a big margin. He has also a number of lap records to his credit both in England and Australia.”[5] 

BISHOP Jack dirt track card

The copy of the Jack Bishop card kindly provided by Gary Milne of Cartophily cards UK.

 There were plenty of thrills and quite a few spills – some that were physically very damaging. In the early days Jack was apparently riding a basic bike which quite likely contributed to the falls. In 1930, on a return visit to Brisbane, he acquired a much more sophisticated bike which was better suited to racing. It was during this visit that he brought his young English bride, Lilian (nee Grist), with him. They’d married in London in late 1929 and although the newspaper report above mentions he already had a son there’s no indication of a child on the passenger manifests for the Jervis Bay[6].

BISHOP The Sphere 2 June 1928 p14

The Sphere, 2 June 1928, p14

Over the next few years Jack pursued a successful racing career in Australia, New Zealand and England. It seems his wife Lilian remained in Australia while Jack travelled and competed. This must have been a lonely life for her with no family to support her, especially when her husband was injured or sick overseas.

Jack later worked under contract to the New Zealand Speedways[7] and was regarded as one of the finest riders in the Dominion. In 1931 he was badly injured there in an off-track accident but by 1932 he had returned to England to race. During this trip Jack became so seriously ill that specialist medical attention could not save his life. He died in England on 20 March 1933, only 24 years old. Jack’s death was reported extensively in both British and Australian newspapers. Only general references are made to his widow and two children.

BISHOP Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping gazette 21 Mar 1933 p12

Supporters and friends made it possible for “his earthly remains to be interred in his home town” by rallying to raise funds. Jack’s ashes were interred in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery on 17 June 1933 with impressive solidarity and respect from his fellow riders. A sidecar carried the urn with the ashes, contained in an oak casket which was draped with the colours of the Downs Club.[8]

BISHOP Jack funeral Bris Courier 19 June 1933p13

The Brisbane Courier, 19 June 1933 p13

The motorcycle was driven by Jack’s old friend and fellow racer, Cyril Anderson. A car with the relatives followed in the cortege and then behind it, two by two, came motor cyclists, their headlights draped in black. The Club remembers the funeral as probably the first motor-cycle funeral in the world.[9]

Jack’s widow, Mrs Lillian L Bishop, 24, returned to England on the Largs Bay on 25 September 1933. With Lillian was her young son, Daniel J Bishop, aged 3 and possibly named for Jack’s uncle, Daniel Paterson. Lillian and Daniel Bishop’s intended address was 19 Glyn Mansions, Kensington, London.[10] There is only one child on the British immigration records and that reveals another tragedy: just nine days after Jack’s interment, their daughter Patricia’s death was registered. There is no indication that she was buried in the Toowoomba and Drayton cemetery with her father and I’m left wondering if Lilian took her daughter’s ashes back to England with her.

UPDATE: I purchased the death certificate for Patricia Mary Bishop, daughter of Jack and Lilian. She died in the Mackay Mater Hospital on 26 June 1933 of meningitis and cardiac failure.  Poor little mite. She was buried in the Mackay cemetery on 28 June 1933. What a tragic end to this story. I’ve left a flower for her on FindAGrave. I wonder if one day Daniel’s descendants may find this story and learn more.

Nothing further is known of Lillian and Daniel after their migration “home”. Research so far has been unsuccessful. I would love to hear more of them or make contact with descendants.

The extensive obituary from Jack’s home town. MOTOR CYCLING. (1933, March 24). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), p. 10. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article254304278

Why not race over to the Sepia Saturday page and see what prize-winning stories have been told?

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[1] Such moments are the lifeblood of dedicated family historians because they make the long frustrating hours of searching worthwhile.

[2] Originally from Australian Speedway Motorcycles webpage: http://www.ausm.info/aus_history/speedway_pioneers/aust_speedway_pioneers_2.htm Site no longer online.

[3] http://www.exeter-falcons.demon.co.uk/prewar.htm The history of Exeter-Falcons dirt racing makes many references to Jack Bishop. Also no longer online but this may have replaced it: https://cybermotorcycle.com/archives/exeter-speedway/spencer.htm

[4] Toowoomba Chronicle, 24 June 1933, page 5 contains a detailed report of Jack Bishop’s life and funeral.

[5] http://www.gdfcartophily.co.uk/carditem.php/itemid/1528

[6] Passenger lists leaving UK 1890-1960 at http://www.findmypast.com.

[7] There is an excellent photograph of Jack Bishop in his racing leathers on the National Library of New Zealand, Timeframes webpage.

[8] Toowoomba Chronicle, 24 June 1933, page 5.

[9] Email from Downs Motorcycle Sporting Club researcher, Garry Luchich in 2007.

[10] UK Incoming passenger lists 1878-1960, BT26, piece 1029, item 1 on http://www.ancestry.co.uk.

Beyond the Internet: Week 38 Burial Registers

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 38 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is Burial Registers. This forms part of the cheerily named “Death” theme in the series and next week’s post on funeral directors’ registers will be the finale of this section.

Cemeteries offer more opportunities for research than just their gravestones and monumental inscriptions. Each cemetery should have (or would once have had!) some form of burial register documenting who has been interred in the cemetery. Of course the further back in time we go the greater the risk that the registers may not have survived. It’s always worth checking when the extant records commence.

Burial registers MAY provide you with information on cause of death, place of birth and death and next of kin – much depends on the particular cemetery. However it’s vitally important to cross-check sources and weigh up their relative accuracy.

WHERE DID THEY DIE? WERE THEY BURIED HERE?

Registers can also reveal unexpected events such as the reinterment of someone who died elsewhere and was initially buried closer to that place before being transported back to a “home” cemetery.

One instance in my Gavin family was the death of Mary Gavin in a car accident near Cooktown in August 1930. Initially interred in North Queensland, her body was repatriated to Toowoomba nine months later. Her MI records Mary’s death in 1930 (correct) while the burial register lists her death in 1931 just days before her reinterment (incorrect). The MI also lists her husband as well as son James who was killed at Fromelles: one buried with her, the other lying at rest in the Rue Petillon cemetery near Fleurbaix.

Another even more improbable anomaly came to light through a story told to me by an elderly relative. She remembered attending a “cousin’s” funeral when it was unseasonally hot. It took some sleuthing but eventually I figured out that the funeral was for Jack Bishop. So what’s odd about that you might well say? Only the fact that Jack died in England, and was actually buried in the Toowoomba cemetery in rural Queensland! Jack Bishop was a pioneer dirt-bike racer and had fallen ill while racing overseas. His mates in Australia had collected the money to pay for his ashes to be brought back to Australia. Who would expect something like that in the 1930s? There’s quite a story in this to which I’ll return another day.

FINDING REGISTERS

Online (yes sometimes we do hark back to the internet)

Increasingly some cemeteries are putting their registers online to search: an absolute blessing for all of us far-away genies. I’ve been very lucky that the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery were at the forefront of this trend and living so far away this has been amazingly helpful. They’ve now taken it one step further and included images of the gravestone as well as a map of the grave location. You can see an example here with Jack (Frederick John) Bishop’s entry here. Well done Toowoomba!

Visiting/Contacting the cemetery

If your cemetery-of-interest isn’t online then it will be worth your while to get in touch to see what additional information they may have on the burial and death. It’s always worth checking who is buried in the same plot as it may turn up unexpected relationships. The other possibility is that what you’ve come across is essentially a pauper’s grave, often indicated by a strange assortment of burials in the one plot: the sexton is likely to know so ask him if the names mean nothing at all to you.

If the cemetery is one which doesn’t have a sexton, you can try the local council office, the local heritage library or the local family history society to find out if they are the repository of the burial records. (I’ve found registers in all these places). These may be the originals (always best), microfilms of the originals, or indexed copies. All are worth exploring even though indexes will obviously need following up. Of course in the pre-internet era when death indexes were restricted and there were no other options the services provided by family history indexes were invaluable.

A critical point to remember is that while the official death registrations may be limited beyond a certain date, the burial record may open the door for further investigation of death notices and relatives, especially women whose names have changed with marriage.

Thrifty tip: the death information obtained from the burial registers may mean you don’t need to obtain certificates for peripheral relations (some of whose certificates you may not be able to purchase for privacy reasons, or the fact that the death wasn’t all that long ago).

FamilySearch Microfilms

Old and new technology: image from wikipedia commons.

Over the decades I’ve used the LDS microfilms of burials to great advantage in my family history searches. They’ve enabled me to confirm otherwise tentative links, unravel which person is which, and generally learn more about my ancestors.

Tip: Not all registers have been added to the family search site or the old IGI. You should compare what’s been indexed online with what’s available on the film. Either way, you’ll get far more information from the films. They let you place your ancestors within the events and context of their parish as well as providing you with clarifying details.

Tip: search the catalogue by place and parish to find the record you’re looking for.  If you haven’t used these microfilms before I encourage you to see if they’re available for your parish of interest and order one in for the thrifty amount of $AU7.75. This is the link you need to order in your film to the nearest LDS or approved family history library.

Request: it would be so nice if FamilySearch made the link to the microfilm ordering just a tad more obvious (or am I the only one who has to google to find it?)

Other blogs

James Tanner from the Genealogy’s Star blog has written several posts about cemeteries in the US over the past months. If you haven’t seen why not visit James’s site and have a look.  There are a couple of examples here and here.

What’s your experience been with burial registers? Have you made any exciting or unusual discoveries through using them?

Next week: Funeral directors’ records