THE HISTORY OF TJ SCOTT AND SON FUNERAL DIRECTORS
by Kelly Scott- 4th Generation Funeral Director
My Great-grandfather Thomas John Scott was a Boer war veteran and a retired Sergeant from the Victorian Police Force when he purchased a small undertaking business from Charles Williams in 1938. He named his business T J Scott and Son, referring to himself and his youngest son Leo. His hopes were that Leo would take over the business in his retirement but when Leo joined the Air Force it was my Grandfather, John Gerard, known as Jack, who came on to help out his father.
Jack was a quiet, reserved man who had previously lived in Rochester, where he had a garage and later a business mending wireless sets. He had also worked as a radio technician for Anderson’s. After he had married my grandmother Caroline Ivy Stewart in 1941, after a 10 year courtship (in those days it took that long to save up the money to get married!) they had moved to Melbourne.
Becoming an undertaker was the last thing on his mind. In fact when Leo first told his brother Jack that their dad had bought an undertaker’s Carrie said that Jack just shuddered at the thought of it but Leo thought it was alright! Grandad’s decision to move back to Kyneton and work with his father Tom changed the course of our family history in many ways.
The business originally operated out of their home at 163 Mollison Street Kyneton with a 1939 Packard Hearse and a Vanguard Utility. At that time, T.J. Scott & Son was, with Ike Benson and W. Raymer, one of three small undertaking firms in Kyneton. Although each catered for different religious denominations of the town, there was no such thing as competition between the three. They would help each other out with their respective funerals, serving their community as best they could.
Thomas earned the respect and trust of the growing community through his caring approach. I’m told my great-grandfather was a gentle, quietly spoken man of deep faith. He thought of his work as a vocation, probably a feeling stemming from his beliefs. Providing a proper, dignified funeral for the deceased was his highest priority – his care and respect for the deceased person was instilled in his son and it’s a core value we continue today. Whilst so much has changed in over 75 years, these values are at the very heart of what we do now.
When my grandparents Jack and Carrie first moved to Kyneton to help out his father, there wasn’t enough work to sustain his family so he had other jobs to make ends meet such as working as a motor mechanic with Robert’s Garage, driving taxi’s, and collecting milk for Pattison’s dairy. In those days you would go around to the various farms and collect the milk in the big containers. My grandfather worked hard his whole life. He lived simply and was never, ever extravagant. He would not buy anything without saving up for it first and I will never forget how vehemently he opposed hire purchase! He felt it always led to trouble because you were buying things you couldn’t afford. When they first started in the funeral business Grandad only had two modes of transport – his pushbike and the Packard hearse!
Undertaking, as it was more commonly known then, was very different to the way it is now, yet there are many things we do and offer, that my father, grandfather and great grandfather before me, saw as essential to providing the very best in funeral service. Family and friends were always very much a part of the funeral and mourning rituals. It was common that a loved one would be kept at home, surrounded by family and friends until the day of the funeral itself. Members of the family would often actively take part in the preparation and handling of their loved one as well.
Spending time with and around the deceased was expected, even with younger members of the family. The rituals themselves were simple, respectful of both the person and their beliefs. Visiting those in mourning, sharing food and stories, favourite readings and music was at the core of the funeral then as it is now. Because of that tradition we understand how important it is to give family the opportunity to be actively involved in the funeral, to have whatever time they need with their loved one and do as much as they need to for this final farewell.
Grandad made his own coffins back in the day by buying coffin shells in flat sets of timber and he would join them. To ensure the joins were sealed they used to boil pitch (tar) by mixing up the pitch in a big iron pot, then he’d pour the pitch in to the corner of the coffin, pick up the coffin up on an angle and run the pitch over the seams. Today we hear about buying local, supporting local industry and reducing the use of products which have used excessive mileage in transport. Again this example is part of our business today- it’s not a new concept to us, we are just following in their footsteps! While we no longer make these ourselves we use Australian designed, produced and finished timber coffins, caskets and shrouds. My grandfather would never have sacrificed quality for cheap imports – they must be beautifully made with integrity and to a standard that would meet his exacting own!
My grandmother Carrie would also get in on the act and make the pillows for the coffins, heating the tar or washing the tapes - spending hours at night doing her bit for the business. All the family helped with the hand-trimming of the coffin – and then he’d finish it off with the fancy white trim! Nana was also the best receptionist in the country – over the years we have mimicked her phone manner as it was always so precise! In the early days of the telephone exchange Carrie would answer the phone ‘Kyneton 53’. She was, more often than not, the person families would speak to first and when we had our own phone number her greeting graduated to ‘T J Scott & Son, Carrie speaking’. Well after Grandad had officially retired (and before the onset of diverting phones to Mobiles) Grandad and Nana would have the phone– her voice just as professional as it ever was and it was always: ‘T J Scott and Son, Carrie Scott speaking, I am the boy’s mother’ just to put some context into who she was and why was she answering the phone. We loved that. She was as proud of the business they had built as she was of her sons who had taken it on.
My Grandfather’s influence is all around us today. He was a professional funeral director before the term was even coined and when I think of him I think of his gentleness, his unfailing dedication and his attention to detail. Everyone that came into his care was treated with the same attention and compassion. Over the years he cared for many families who were struggling and I know he helped those who couldn’t afford it, be able to give their loved one a funeral they could be proud of. My Dad remembers a lady who didn’t have enough to pay for the funeral of her husband, which at the time cost 27 pounds. My grandfather agreed to monthly payments of one pound which she paid religiously every month, not a day late. As the first Christmas approached, about six months after her husband’s funeral, my grandfather wrote to her and said her debt was paid. My Dad remembers him saying ‘she was determined to give her husband a proper funeral and she never missed a payment so I think I’ll just leave that now’ in his lovely understated way. I know he did this often and never told a soul. Everyone deserved a proper, dignified funeral in his eyes, regardless of station, race or creed and he ensured that was possible for many who might not have afforded it.
On the flipside, money and flashy cars were things my grandfather didn’t notice, or if he did, didn’t heed. In fact I clearly remember him saying to me when I had just started in the business ‘don’t be influenced by how much money people act like they have - the ones who talk about what they have don’t have any, and the people who don’t say a word are usually the opposite.’ He said this to me so I wouldn’t be intimidated by wealthy people – he wanted to show me that everyone is equal and when someone has died everyone needs and deserves the same care. I have never forgotten that sage advice from my grandad and it has always helped me to stay focussed on the important task we are given.
My grandfather always wore a tie for his work, even if it was in the middle of the night! It was showing your respect to the deceased and to the family. It is often commented to our staff today that ‘we were surprised to see you all dressed up in your suit to come in the middle of the night’. This tradition is important to us – it’s what we have grown up with and who we have learnt from and by upholding his standards we are paying tribute to the manner in which he always conducted himself.
Catherine, Robert, Margaret and John
People will often comment to our family about ‘needing to have a sense of humour in a job like this’ and ‘the stories we could tell’. Well let me tell you in my grandfather’s eyes it was a serious task and not one to be dealt with lightly. Like his father before him this work was a vocation and he did it reverently with the utmost respect in every respect. Grandad would never have joked about any part of our work and the sacredness of caring for the deceased was something never discussed. His absolute and steadfast attitude to maintaining a person’s privacy and dignity is another core value of what we do today and will be in the next generation.
Again, even when we were very young and in and out of the house, it was drilled in us that whatever you might hear inadvertently is to stay within these walls and never to be discussed. He would never divulge anyone’s personal circumstances, difficult situations or family details. His emphasis on confidentiality went so far as he wouldn’t even confirm someone’s age if he was asked. He was asked directly and indirectly for personal information over the years and developed clever little ways to avoid the topic or digress to another subject, so he would never have to say ‘it’s none of your business. His example to us when we were growing up was: If someone asks you, quite innocently, ‘how old was Fred when he died’ I never give an answer. Even though it might be common knowledge he was of the view that if it got back to the family that ‘Jack Scott said Fred was 90 when he died, the family might also wonder ‘What else has Jack Scott said’. For that reason he was always discreet and tight lipped and when asked would say something like ‘oh my, look I just can’t recall’. I am sure many people must have though Grandad had early-onset Alzheimer’s but he was just being ever cautious. To him trust was everything. We use that story today when we are explaining the importance of our confidentiality.
Over the years we have certainly grown thanks to the hard work of my grandfather and the vison of my father. Our first purpose built premises was at the other end of Piper Street which Grandad established in 1957. The needs of the community were changing and ‘viewings’ outside the home were being requested so a small chapel was included with a mortuary and work area.
On November 26th 1964 the Kyneton Guardian reported:
‘Corner Block Purchased by Caltex ‘.
It states Mr Scott’s home had been a centre of the funeral business of Cuddihy and Tonks then passed to James Cuddihy who sold to Mr Charles Williams.
The next to acquire the business was the late Mr TJ Scott, father of the present owner. This purchase took place in 1939 so the premises has been carrying on business there for some 66years.
The original business of Cuddihy and Tonks went way back. My aunty Catherine who has lovingly compiled our family tree has an excerpt from the Guardian dated June 7, 1898 which describes the early funeral directors of those days. It says:
"Attention is directed to the business announcement that Messrs Cuddihy and Tonks, undertakers have commenced business in Mollison Street, Kyneton. For the efficient conduct of this, the firm has purchased a handsome hearse with glass sides, richly embossed with gold. The inside of the hearse is fitted with all the most modern improvements as is replete with gold mountings. The boot on which the driver sits is handsomely fluted and is so constructed as to give an appearance of extreme lightness. The hearse is made after the latest American style and is certainly handsome"
Some present day residents may remember the hearse for its high plumages on each corner, as it was in use up until the time of the motor age.
Around 1966, my father John started working with his Dad. T.J. Scott & Son was now the sole Funeral Directing firm in the Kyneton district. Now in its third generation, Jack and John worked together, occasionally enlisting the help of off-duty police officers they knew and trusted when things were busy. My father learnt under the deft but kind guidance of his father and he looks back on that time as very special when it was just him and his Dad. He will talk about their trips to Melbourne in the hearse together (which somehow seemed to take the whole day), how Grandad always arrived so early at a funeral venue because he never wanted to be late (which we still do today), and listening to Grandad as he would ring through the notices to the paper in that beautiful gentle voice, as if the person at the Sun or the Age was the deceased’s family member.
By 1980 the family business was growing and funerals were starting to evolve. It was at that time that Robert joined his father Jack and brother John in the business and a year later they purchased the old Baptist Church at 5 Piper Street and moved the operation of T.J. Scott & Son to its present location. Again, this reflected the growing needs of the community. As people wanted an alternative to a church funeral, a chapel was established to fulfil this need. Whilst Jack officially retired in 1985, Grandad and Nana always had their finger on the pulse, and as I mentioned their hand on the phone! Grandad’s years of experience and knowledge of the area and the community continued to be constant source of guidance, support and advice for John in his role as managing director.
I remember the difficulty Dad had in convincing Grandad and Nana that he needed to update the chapel and provide modern, up to date facilities for the growing population. As I mentioned before Grandad didn’t believe in borrowing money but John had an incredible vision of what he could do and why he needed to do it.
Towards the end of 1988, T.J. Scott & Son began major renovations to the premises of 5 Piper St, Kyneton. While leaving the original portion of the old Baptist church and its front pillars intact, the rear of the building underwent a significant extension and expansion. A pioneering improvement to the standard of excellence within the Funeral Industry for Country Victoria, the modern new premises of T.J. Scott & Son included modern office and private conference facilities, state of the art mortuary and a 100 seat chapel. The modern premises of T.J. Scott & Son was officially opened on April 29th 1989, by the State Coroner of that time, Hal Hallenstein.
John’s vision and dedication to the project was realised and our new chapel was often used as an example of what funeral directors needed to do and offer in the future.
Robert, Carrie, John and Jack
In 1990, T.J. Scott & Son moved into its fourth generation when I started work with my Dad. I was only 18 but had always been interested in the funeral business, but it was still not commonly thought of as an occupation for females. While I was touted as the first female funeral director in this whole area I think it was Nana’s influence before me that made the transition for our family easier to adjust to a ‘daughter’ taking it on.
Later my two brothers Jack and Daniel, having travelled and completed University degrees decided they too want to be funeral directors and joined the fold. Over the years we have been blessed to have other family work with us at different times. Catherine’s husband Brendan Hempenstall worked with Jack and John in the 80’s and Dad described him as incredibly methodical – a person who left nothing to chance and who had a lovely soft manner about him, similar to Grandad in many ways. Margaret’s husband Bernie Cockerall and her son Paul Cockerall were also with us for many years. Both incredibly dedicated, with that innate sense of care and empathy which meant it was very hard for us when they decided travelling to and from Bendigo was difficult. Today Catherine’s daughter Maria Hempenstall Cleve works in our Kilmore office and it has been wonderful to welcome her when we established our office there 2 years ago. That sense of family, of continuity and a responsibility to who has come before us is alive and well.
Kelly, Jack and Daniel with John
Things have certainly moved forward and evolved, even since I first started over 25 years ago. I consider it a vocation, just as my father, grandfather and great-grandfather did before me. We provide an essential service, and serve an important role in the community, one which is not taken on lightly. The challenge each and every day is to meet the growing and changing needs of our diverse communities, helping them, as best we can, say goodbye. It is a privilege.