Kent Street in the suburb of East Victoria Park is named in honour of Charles William Forester Kent a former Town Clerk of the Municipality of Victoria Park from 1899 until 1903.
Charles was born in London, England in 1845 to William Henry Forester Kent who worked as a solicitor and Alice Puttnick. It is unclear at present when he emigrated to Australia, but he was working as an accountant in Malvern, Victoria in 1893 when he married Jessie McLow, who’s father was a coach-builder from South Australia.
Charles and Jessie had six children, Forester Charles, Dorothy Grace Russell, Alice Elizabeth Phillips, Phyllis Jessie, Marjory Harriet and Harry Philip. Three of whom were born in Malvern, Victoria before the family moved to Perth, Where Phyllis was born in 1901.
In 1899 Charles Kent took up the role of Town Clerk in the barely three-year-old, Municipality of Victoria Park (formed in 1897). Charles quickly became very popular and relied upon for his dedication to the community, attention to detail and commitment to the role. Charles was also involved in many other groups; he was Secretary of the Victoria Park Board of Health and was also involved in the Metropolitan Bicycle Club and frequently officiated as timekeeper for competitions. Many of these races used Albany Road, as it was then named, as their cycleway, racing from Victoria Park Hotel to Kelmscott Hotel. A distance of 25 miles as reported in 1902 (1), the winner covering this distance in 1 hour and nine minutes.
Charles and his family lived in Mackie Street, Victoria Park, possibly No. 6 or No. 8.
On Tuesday 7 April 1903, Charles became famous for disappearing! He enjoyed the evening meal with his family in Mackie Street, and strolled to the Broken Hill Hotel for a drink with a few friends whereafter he was expected at the Council Chambers (where John Hughes’ car yard is now located), for the regular fortnightly meeting of council, but he did not arrive. Interestingly when the door to the Town Clerk’s office was forced open that evening, Charles’ gold watch, chain and ring were found, most worryingly for those assembled and his family, they also discovered a box of cartridges for a revolver, with one missing! Thankfully no more was said about the revolver once Charles was found. Following is an article from The Daily News, on Thursday 9 April…
“Strange Disappearance, of the Town Clerk of Victoria Park. The Lost Found
“The excitement caused in the city yesterday when it became generally known per medium of ‘The Daily News’ that Charles William Kent, the well-known town clerk of Victoria Park, has as suddenly disappeared as if the ground had opened underneath his feet and swallowed him up, was in a great measure allayed this morning on its becoming known that Mr Kent has been positively seen yesterday at Guildford. But when the intelligence arrived in the city that he had again for the second time disappeared, there was more excitement.
“From inquiries made it transpired beyond all doubt whatever that Mr Kent spent pretty well the whole of yesterday afternoon at Guildford. A gentleman who knows him well engage him in conversation and directed his attention to the notification of his disappearance in the ‘News’. He retorted to the effect that he had not during the last five missed a single night from the council meetings, and that he thought that one night wouldn’t matter much.
“In this connection it may be mentioned that Mr A. G. Russell, ex-Mayor of Victoria Park, for a like period had never missed a night – a capital record, by the way. When yesterday afternoon it became known that the whereabouts of Mr Kent had been discovered some of his friends took train and journeyed out of Guildford. Judge, however, of their astonishment on learning that he had suddenly again vanished from the neighbourhood! He was last seen somewhere about 5 o’clock in the vicinity of the railway station reading a copy of ‘The Daily News’, and inquiring what time the train left for the goldfields.
“What makes the matter all the more mysterious is the fact that an examination shows everything to have been left in perfect order.
“The police are now busily engaged in tracing the whereabouts of Mr Kent, whose family naturally became very much alarmed at his sudden disappearance. Mrs Kent since the departure of her husband has been confined to her bed. Shortly after midday Mounted-constable Stow came on Mr Kent on foot out at the mulberry Plantation. Mr Kent was then walking in the direction of Bunbury Bridge. The police constables questioned him as to why he did not go back home, and at once allay all anxiety as to his whereabouts. To this the other replied, ‘I got out of my reckoning’. In reply to further inquiries he said that he had not been drinking and as a matter of fact he had had only two drinks. ‘But’ he added, ‘I’ve had nothing to eat.’ Still talking to Mr Kent, the officer learned that he (Kent) had walked as far as Smith’s Mill. Shortly after this a friend of Mr Kent’s arrived – Mr Milligan – in a buggy, and with him Mr Kent drove back home to his residence, Mackie street, Victoria Park.
“TWO DAYS JOURNEYINGS – MR KENT TELLS HIS STORY.
“TO Constable Stow, who discovered him, Mr Kent gave the following narrative of his doings from the time he was missed until he was found. He said that on the night he disappeared, after leaving the hotel, he sat on the hill at the back of the hotel for a long while in a state of semi-stupor, with no definite knowledge of doing anything or going anywhere, and quite careless of what happened to him. By and by he began to walk, or rather, he says, he became conscious that he was walking. In the morning he found himself at Smith’s Mill, and then he wandered aimlessly back again. He had not slept the whole night. Towards midday he found himself in Guildford, and remained about there all day. By the 6.30pm train he came to Perth and continued his uncertain wanderings about the outskirts of the city. He remained out in all the rain, but made no effort to seek shelter, and eventually stretched himself on the ground to rest beside a log. He slept soundly, despite the boisterous inclemency of the weather. The evidence that he made no selection of a suitable spot in which to rest is shown by the state of his clothes, which are encrusted with mud. Though he had nothing to eat since his disappearance he had no desire for food, and he began to wander again. Constable Stow saw him in the mulberry plantation near the cemetery, and took charge of him. He looks completely broken down, a terrible wreck, and he says that he had no idea where he was going, but if her could have got our of Constable Stow’s way he says he would have done so.
“Mr Kent was taken to his home and put to bed. Dr Brown was sent for, and he found that Mr Kent was in a very bad way, and recommended that he should have entire rest for a week or more.
“There is a special meeting of the Victoria Park Council this afternoon, and an application will be made for a fortnight’s leave of absence for Mr Kent, which it is understood will be granted.
“It appears that Mr Kent suffers from Bright’s disease*, a malady which in forms affects the brain strangely at odd times, and this is supposed to offer the true explanation of Mr Kent’s strange conduct” (2)
It remains a mystery to this day exactly what happened to Charles, but later some money was found to be missing from the accounts and there was speculation that Charles may have been involved, however nothing of the sort was ever substantiated. It may have been possible that foul play was involved in Charles’ disappearance and the ‘fugue state’ that he experienced over more than 24 hours. A ‘fugue state’ being a dissociative state of mind where people act like normal, even talk to their friends etc, but have no recollection of what has transpired after the occurrence. One imagines it entirely possible that when Charles was enjoying a drink with friends at the Hotel, that it was spiked in order to implicate him in some foul play. It may have also been done to prevent Charles from testifying in Police Court about a case involving the theft of bank notes to the value of £10,000 from the Bank of Australasia (3) in which three men (not Charles) were implicated. Charles’ was supposed to have appeared at the Police Court the morning after he was reported missing.
Soon after returning to work from a period of leave for respite, Charles Kent retired as the Town Clerk of Victoria Park and by 1904 he and his family are recorded as living in New Zealand. Charles and Jessie were to have two more children in Oamaru, New Zealand in 1904 and 1906. Charles first worked as an accountant for a small business that sold pianos before winning the position of Town Clerk of the Oamaru Borough Council. He served in this role with great distinction from 1908 until 1932. He enjoyed a short retirement in which he continued his long community involvement in various community and philanthropic efforts. In his obituary and many newspaper articles in New Zealand, Charles Kent was highly praised and regarded for his work, his artistic talent and personal integrity. He died in Oamaru, New Zealand on 7 March 1934.
“At the Oamaru Borough Council meeting last night the Mayor (Mr M. F. Cooney) referred to the passing of Mr C. W. Kent, who was a former town clerk, saying that they had lost a very valuable and respected citizen. Mr Kent had done splendid work while town clerk, which had been mentioned by many citizens on his retirement. They had lost a citizen who had given of his best to the community whether in patriotic, social, or aesthetic movements. Mr Kent had taken a full share in furthering the interest of Oamaru. As town clerk he was an unqualified success. He had brought to that position a wide experience and that essential quality of tact. The sympathy of the whole community went out to Mrs Kent and family in their sorrow. The council carried a resolution of sympathy with the relatives.” (Otago Daily News, Issue 22207, 9 March 1934, p. 12)
Do you have photographs of, or stories of Charles Kent and his service to the Town of Victoria Park? We would love to hear about them. Please be in touch by phone 08 9373 5500 or email email@example.com
*Bright’s disease is not associated with the mind, and the name of Charles’ suspected condition was most likely wrongly quoted in this newspaper article from the time.
(1) 1902 'M.B.C. ROAD RACE.', Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954), 26 July, p. 26. , viewed 17 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37545961
(2) 1903 ‘STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 9 April, p. 1. (SECOND EDITION), viewed 11 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83164990
(3) 1903 'THE ROBBERY OF BANK NOTES.', The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), 6 March, p. 5. , viewed 17 Aug 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article24856513