By Tony De Bolfo
This is the story of the short life and tragic death of Andrew Sarkies – Boer War veteran, Carlton Football Club committeeman and the great great grandfather of the Australian Socceroo Kristian Sarkies.
This long-forgotten tale was recently revived after Sarkies’ great grandson Geoff Sarkies recently contacted the club seeking clarification of Andrew’s role at Carlton.
The club’s annual reports reveal that Sarkies did indeed serve on the committee of management from 1907 through to 1910 – the year of his untimely death – under the Presidency of John Urquhart.
Other details of Sarkies’ life was subsequently gleaned from family and other sources.
Sarkies was of Armenian extraction – his father, John Sarkies, having been born of Armenian parents in Shuska (Republic of Iran).
Sarkies’ father and mother Helen McKay married in Melbourne in 1864, the year the Carlton Football Club was founded. Andrew was born a year later.
At some point the family relocated to Scotland, and then the parents split. John Sarkies is thought to have gone to India, with Helen returning to Australia, fending for a total of nine children, working as a charwoman, and dying a lonely death in Melbourne.
When members of the Victorian Mounted Rifles 5th contingent enrolled for the Second Boer War in February 1901, leaving for South Africa in mid-February, Sarkies went with them.
The VMR was a regiment composed of Australian forces first raised by Colonel Tom Price in the mid-1880s. The regiment was mobilised at Pretoria between March 24 and April 4, 1901, and saw considerable action during the Second Boer War when it was used to combat the guerilla warfare tactics of the Boers.
Sarkies survived the war, returned from South Africa and was subsequently discharged. He remained on the strength of the Army Service Corps (Vic) as a Staff Sergeant while being employed in the Authority Branch of the Department Of Home Affairs. At some point between 1902 and 1910 he served as Secretary to the Returned Soldiers Association (South Africa) as reported at the time of his death.
During this time, Sarkies and his wife Mary Jane (nee Lalor) purchased land and built a house at 15 Royal Ave, Glenhuntly. The house was later named ‘Fortrose’ – the Fort from his military background and the Rose from his first born daughter who did not survive.
On September 17, 1910, Sarkies attended the semi-final between Carlton and South Melbourne at the MCG. The Blues went down to the Bloods by two goals, in what was to be the last game Sarkies ever saw.
At a subsequent inquest into Sarkies’ death, a gent named Arthur Springer, publisher from Black Rock, was amongst those giving evidence.
“I knew the deceased Andrew Sarkies. I met him on account of being the publisher of a football paper. I met him on the 17th instant at 6.45pm. at the MCG. He walked up to the cab rank at Jolimont and then we said to the cabby ‘What is the fare?’. He said ‘a shilling each’. I said ‘We are willing to pay the double tram fare’. He said, ‘Alright, jump in’. We got in the cab, the deceased was alright. He may have had some drink but he was not drunk. There was no one else in the cab.
On the journey to Melbourne I passed the remark to the deceased about the fare. I gave my fare to Sarkies on the way down. I got out of the cab at Princes Bridge and the deceased commenced singing a song about the ‘Boys of Carlton’. The cabbie said ‘Terminus’. I said to Sarkies ‘Come on, get out’. He took no notice so I then walked away. There was no unpleasantness in the cab between us.
Constable Anderson of Russell Street Police made the following statement to the inquest.
“I found a man lying on the roadway near Princes Bridge Railway Station at 7.15pm. He was unconscious lying behind a cab. I made enquiries there if anybody knew him, but nobody seemed to know him. I then took him to the Melbourne Hospital in a cab. He was attended to by Dr. Felstead . . . he was not able to pay for the cab No. 259. The cabman stated that he had the same man as a passenger from the Melbourne Cricket Ground a few minutes before I found him. He also stated that he got out of his cab and just fell down where he lay unconscious. I went to the hospital again at 9.15pm and he was still unconscious. He is a well dressed, and seemed to be, a respectable man by appearances.”
Andrew Sarkies was transferred to the Melbourne hospital (then in Swanston Street). There he died four days later, on September 21, 1910 from injuries to the brain and skull – the result of an accidental fall in Flinders Street near Princes Bridge Railway Station.
His body was later identified by his widow, Mary Jane (nee Lalor) Sarkies.
Sarkies was accorded a military funeral, which left Victoria Barracks for Melbourne General Cemetery by the Carlton ground. The OIC of the 5th contingent, Colonel Otter, attended the funeral along with other dignitaries.
A grand military night was later held at Spencer’s Pictures, Olympia, under the patronage of the commandant and head quarters staff, for the benefit of the Sarkies family. A special program was arranged with members of the metropolitan forces attending in full uniform, together with members of the South African Soldiers’ Association, home affairs Department, the Glenhuntly Lesees’ Association and the Carlton Football Club; with all of which the former committeeman was intimately connected.