John Fleming Willans – a great civic forefather

John Fleming Willans (pictured right), Narrandera statesman. as featured in the Town and Country Journal, October 18, 1808.

A former Mayor of Narrandera John Fleming Willans, after whom Willans Street is named, died suddenly at Narrandera on May 11 1904 at the age of 48 years.

For many years he was regarded as one of the ‘most worthy and honourable residents of this district’, and died at his residence Brighton Cottage.

For some time past, and particularly since the death of his wife two years before, Mr Willans had been visibly failing in health suffering periods of acute illness which caused grave anxiety to his many friends and necessitated almost constant medical attendance and frequent confinement to his bed.

The cause of the trouble was Bright’s disease of the kidneys, a painful and troublesome complaint, said to be ‘pitiless in its ultimate results’. During the periods when the attacks were most acute, the patient was said to be ‘morbid and despondent, but with a slight improvement he regained his accustomed cheerfulness’.

Early in the week he was bright and cheerful and attended his office on the Monday feeling as well as usual. At an early hour on the Tuesday morning a hasty summons was sent to his medical attendants, who on arrival, found him in a state of collapse.

‘Restoratives were applied and the reports through the day were of an encouraging nature and hopes were entertained that this attack, like many others, would pass off without grave consequences.’ At an early hour on the following morning there was a recurrence of the attack, from which the patient never rallied and as daylight broke, the spirit of the “whitest man on the Murrumbidgee,’’ as he had often been called, fled to ‘join the innumerable throng’.

Although the possibility of a total collapse was dreaded for some time, the event itself caused a painful shock throughout the district; for there was no one held in more sincere affection or respect. Feelings of the deepest sympathy were expressed for the young family, who within the period of two years, suffered the bereavement of both parents.

Apart from his own children, the deceased had no other relatives, being an only son. The bereaved family consisted of three girls and two boys, the eldest being about 20 years and the youngest about seven. The eldest son was in the Commercial Bank service at Moruya, and the second daughter at school in Sydney, the remainder residing in Narrandera with their father.

The funeral was probably the largest ever seen in the district with some travelling hundreds of miles to pay their last tribute of respect to this late townsman. The cortege was nearly half a mile long; preceding the hearse the brethren of the local lodge of Freemasons marched in procession and following the cabs laden with wreaths came the local firemen in uniform.

Of the first-mentioned body the deceased had been a prominent member, several times filling the Grandmaster’s chair; and as Chairman of the Fire Brigade Board, he was practically the head of the latter organisation. The service at the grave was conducted by the Rev E Ward Thomas, Vicar of Narrandera; while Mr E Roach conducted the Masonic rites. The pall bearers were Messrs W J Elworthy, J J Baylis, H D Adams and B Macleod. The attendance at the grave numbered upwards of 300.

John Fleming Willans was born in Ireland in April, 1856, the only son of Mr WM Willans, Solicitor, afterwards of Wagga and Tumbarumba. His parents came to Australia when he was a mere infant, the elder Mr Willans soon after settling in his profession in Wagga.

Their son was educated at the Public School, Wagga; being contemporaries there with Mr J J Baylis, of Goonahra. On leaving the Wagga school, he accompanied his mother to England, remaining away at school there for a couple of years. On his return his education was completed at King’s School, Sydney and he was then articled to his father in Wagga.

Having been admitted as a solicitor, he completed his course in the Crown Law offices. He then returned to Wagga and in 1878 when the PM used to hold monthly courts in the arcade of the Royal Hotel at Narrandera, Mr Willans accompanied him and decided to open up a practice in Narrandera. This he had conducted with much success until his death.

Until very recently before his death, Mr Willans occupied himself largely in public movements and even at the time of his death he held the position of Chairman of the Fire Brigade Board, Returning Officer for the Murrumbidgee State electorate, President of the Turf Club and Cricket Club, Secretary of the Pastoral and Agricultural Association and was Solicitor to the Borough.

Earlier in his career he took an active part in municipal affairs, was four times elected Mayor of the Narrandera Borough and in one of those terms was largely instrumental in inaugurating the town’s water reticulation scheme.

He also held the office of Secretary of the Turf Club, as well as holding that of the Pastoral Association almost since its formation.

In all his public associations he carried the respect of all with whom he came in contact for his invariable courtesy and good humour and for his unswerving integrity. In his private life it was said his worth could be testified to by thousands; he was generous to a fault, upright in all his undertakings, unassuming in his demeanour and would at any time suffer injustice himself rather than allow another to be wronged.

He was married at Easter 1882 to Miss Eleanor Matilda Blunt, Mrs Willans predeceasing him on July 4, 1902. There were five children of the marriage, one having died in infancy. Mrs Willans died at the age of 40 years on July 2 1902 and together with her husband is buried at the Narrandera Cemetery.

His father, Mr WM Willans, a Tumbarumba solicitor died on May 21 1900 aged about 80 years. He had been practising law in Tumbarumba for about 15 years.

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