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Volume 1 (2008)

CHARLOTTE LILLIAN LAWLOR


by Geraldine Dunwoodie





“Now he is a full grown man,
But there's still a Sergeant Dan!
Happy, chubby little son,
Loves to romp around and run.
Just like Dan in years gone by
Quick of wit, alert and spry!
"I advise," he loves to say,
"Some Cweamoata every day!
"Try Cweamoata and" says he,
"You'll grow hardy! Look at me!"
Follow this advice and you
Will be strong and sturdy, too."


People may remember breakfasts of Creamota porridge, and little Sergeant Dan who promoted it. Who was responsible for this advertising campaign?

On 3rd October 1879 Charlotte Lillian Lawlor was born in Thames, the second in a family of four girls. Her father was George James Lawlor (1852-1913), son of an early settler in New Zealand who had been Warden at Coromandel and was present in Thames from its inception. George's mother was Augusta Eliza Gray (1855-1933), niece of Sir George Grey.

Charlotte aged 2 1/2.
By the time she was 5 her family were calling her 'Bob', a name that remained with her for the rest of her life. A letter from her father George in June 1886 to Charlotte's much loved Uncle Charlie then living in Australia mention that his family were encountering hard times, he was having to take the children away from their private schools and piano lessons:
" ... We have had to take the children away from Miss Hume's School and send them to the Kauaeranga Boys School …..… Miss Hume wanted to teach them for nothing. If the furnace pays I will get about £3/10/0 for 7 days per week, and if I can get up a cheap building for the family to live in we will be able to pull through.”
Charlotte attended Kauaeranga Boys School in Thames for six years. From a young age Charlotte, or Bob as she was usually called, was showing signs of what was to become an abiding and rewarding talent. Her Uncle Charlie wrote to her when she was 11:
“... I received your Papa's letter dated 17th August enclosing as a Birthday remembrance a beautifully painted sprig of Jasmine, done by a young artist named Charlotte Lillian Lawlor. I was so surprised and pleased at you being able to do it so nicely and also for the kind remembrance. ...”
Another family letter written in 1894 when Charlotte was 14 suggests that she was working for a photographer in Thames:
“ ... Charlotte went to Otahuhu for a change, last week and will not be home for about a week. She is getting on well at Mr. Foy's Studio, and is now getting 5/- per week, of which she is very proud. ....”.
In 1902, aged 22, Charlotte spent most of the year in Auckland to receive instruction in black and white sketching.
In September of that year a newspaper reports on another of her interests:
“St. George's Social.
Ladies of the above church gave a social and dance in the Oddfellow's Hall last evening. The hall was crowded and a good programme was put forward, those present being most liberal in their applause. The programme opened with ... The comic musical operetta entitled 'Mr. Fitz W.' was then staged. ... Miss C. Lawlor as Gladys De Loftus, showed considerable talent in her part, and was heard to advantage in her solo 'Wherefore This Sadness', and also in her duet with Augustus, entitled ''Tis For Love'. .... The entertainment was under the supervision of Miss Lawlor, for whom great praise should be given for the success achieved by every member of the company. Afterwards the hall was cleared and dancing was kept up to a late hour.”

In 1903-04 Charlotte wrote prolifically for various papers and magazines. An article in 'Australasian Biographies' says she was living in Queen Street, Thames, (with her parents), was an advertisement writer and designer, and gave the following list of published works:
“Poem 'Not Alway' - 'NZ Graphic' April 18th 1903; Poem 'A Home Message' - 'Kalgoolie Western Argus' Xmas 1903; Illustrated Poem 'Relics' - 'Otago Witness' Xmas Annual 1903; Poem 'Reverie' - 'NZ Illustrated Magazine' July 1904; Poem 'The Betrothed' - 'Canterbury Times' Nov. 2nd 1904; Illustrated tale 'The Black Fairy' - 'Otago Witness' Xmas Annual 1904; Poem 'An Old Time Wooing' - 'Otago Witness' Xmas Annual 1904; Tale 'The Periwinkle Fairy' - 'The Voice' Xmas No. 1904”; Poem 'Forget Forgive' - 'The Triad' Oct. 1st 1904”.
This article also contained a paragraph about her:
"My earliest instruction and encouragement in drawing and essay work was from the Late Mr Horatio Phillips, headmaster of the Kauaeranga Boys School where for six years I was a pupil. My remaining school years were spent at Thames High School and with a governess. I spent the greater part of 1902 in Auckland receiving lessons in black and white and line work. It was not until 1903 that my first poem 'Not Always' was published in the 'N.Z. Graphic'. Since then at intervals short poems and prose sketches have appeared in various N.Z. papers and magazines. My greatest pleasure is to illustrate my own writings especially fairy tales and poems."
By 1906 Charlotte's father, George, was an insurance agent. As Thames was going through a decline, and as gold had been discovered in Waihi, he felt there would be more work for him there. So when Charlotte was 28, she moved with her family to Waihi. In 1908 George wrote to his brother Charlie, now living in South Africa:
“.... Bob or Charlotte will be 30 years of age tomorrow, the 3rd October. Time flies, doesn't it? At present she is rehearsing a part in the Comic Opera “Mikado” which will be played here in November, she is capital at amateur Theatricals. She sings very sweetly, and is gifted in many ways, earning a few pounds with her pen in designing Business advertisements for the merchants, writing and illustrating stories for magazines and newspapers, writing poetry etc. You will be proud of her. .....”

Charlotte - the Mikado.


In 1913, when she was 34, Charlotte's father died. At some stage soon after this Charlotte and her mother moved to Auckland and lived together in Manakau Road. Charlotte worked for the advertising agency Chandler & Co., in Symonds Street. It was here that she became responsible for the Flemings Creamota campaign. An article about the Sergeant Dan sign on the wall of the Flemings factory in Gore:
“.... But Flemings was a national one. Generations of children were raised on Creamota. Breakfast tables through out the nation were presided over by Sergeant Dan, the Creamota Man. Dan, with his digger's hat, was the picture of what a plate of porridge could do for a kid. .... And when you got to the bottom, if you had one of the special plates, there was Dan himself, grinning all over. .... Now Sergeant Dan was vanishing from the breakfast tables for good. Already he had slipped off the Creamota packets, but he was always there in spirit, striding over the factory that produced the cream o' the oats. For almost a century Dan has stood to attention on the wall of his mill. ... Meanwhile the Historic Places has given the mill the best protection it can, a category one listing. It says Sergeant Dan is as well-known as Buzzy Bee or the Edmonds Baking Powder tin. .....”
By 1928 she and her mother were finding the house in Auckland too big for them by themselves, and by 1933 when Charlotte's mother Gussie died, they were living in Tapu. Toss Hammond had this to say in a report on the Lawlor family he wrote in 1966:
“.... Charlotte Lawlor generally known as Bob Lawlor was a very talented young lady, a writer of verse, and a fair weather water colour artist. She spent most of her later years at Tapu 12 miles from Thames. She was a great friend of Elsie K. Morton, the writer, and brought out a booklet of verse 'Dorothy Perkins & Other Verses' by Bob Lawlor. Her home at Tapu was beautiful, by a profusion of Rambler roses - Dorothy Perkins.”
Charlotte had written poems for various newspapers under the pen name of Ruthyn and B. Lawlor (N.Z. Herald, Auckland Star, Exporter, Mirror, N.Z. Artists' Manual, The Radio Record). Several of these poems were later collected together and published. A newspaper review said:
"A slim little volume of verse, 'Pink May', brings before the public the work of an Auckland poet Miss Charlotte ("Bob") Lawlor, whose verses under the name "Ruthyn”, have delighted the readers of many New Zealand publications. Miss Lawlor combines in her work the gifts of a fine imagination, natural grace of style, and a rare sense of humour. Add to these last that precious quality best described as 'the human touch' and you have verse of a quality that ensures for the writer a high place among New Zealand poets.”


In 1935 Charlotte published 'A Book of Verse'. The last entry in this booklet is prose, 'When I Was Young' (about 'Goodson's Arcade' in Auckland), and starts off:
"I was a gold field child, and the loveliest event of my childhood was a trip to Auckland, for had not Auckland everything to delight a little girl? ...."
In June 1940 Charlotte wrote to her cousin Jimmy in South Africa with sad news:
“Thank you very much for your letters & also any others I may not have answered thro' my illness. I really forget if I have written twice. It seems like a dream looking back, 3 Hospitals & all the visitors & gifts, over 200 letters, telegrams & presents. I know I was and am deeply grateful to everyone for their anxiety and care of me. For a few days things were in the balance & really I was not conscious enough to care much. Our Vicar Rev. [Corbin] was with me every evening before the operation & I had Communion first. Dear Eileen who has also been thro' deep waters will realise the ordeal. It was necessary to excise the right breast, much of the underarm & shoulder & then to my dismay they told me that was only the 1st half of the cure, the second was deep x-ray & Radium on the wound & chest. For this I had to go into Auckland Hospital for 5 weeks treatment. It was 100 worse than the operation for it made me feel so nauseated. However I had brilliant surgeons & Doctors & the best of everything & here I am with every hope things will go well. Of course, the trouble may crop out again but I do not think of it, & by keeping the blood stream pure & living quietly I shall probably dodge it. .... I have had to keep so quiet for months I have very little news of interest. I had a good nurse housekeeper for 4 months who did everything but she has left now & I am alone. This is never a hardship for I've heaps of interests and am sewing for Red Cross now. Owing to Censorship I must not write of War but I'll risk saying I am ever so glad to see S.A. standing up in judgement. We are appalled at the frightfulness of the creatures at the root of it all.”

Her home at Tapu.
Click to enlarge the photo.


Charlotte lived only another year and in July 1941 she died at Thames aged 61 years. She is buried at the Hillsborough Cemetery. Her obituary says:
"A member of one of Thames' oldest and most deeply respected pioneer families died yesterday in the Thames Hospital. She was Miss Charlotte Lillian (Bob) Lawlor.
Miss Lawlor was a grand daughter of Mr. H. C. Lawlor, who with his wife and family arrived at Onehunga in the ship 'Brilliant' in the early forties. Here Miss Lawlor's father, the late George J. Lawlor, was born. He married Miss A. Grey, a niece to Sir George Grey, and settled first at Thames, where he was battery manager for one of the big mining concerns of the gold rush days, and later at Waihi as representative for the A.M.P. Society.
Miss Lawlor was for many years a member of the staff of Chandler and Company, advertising specialists, of Auckland, where her literary and artistic talents won for her wide recognition. Under the pen name of "Ruthyn", she was a contributor of sketches and verse to many New Zealand and Australian publications, and was the author of two charming booklets, "Pink May" and "A Book of Verse". Possessing a rare charm of manner and deep human sympathies, Miss Lawlor was beloved of a host of friends in New Zealand and in Australia. After the death of her mother, she made her home in Tapu, where she lived until her removal to hospital about two months ago. …”



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