Alfred Parsons was a much-respected Illawarra resident whose community service included 41 years as captain of the Wollongong Fire Brigade.
He was one of 10 children born to Matthew and Puah Parsons, who arrived in Australia from England, in 1838.
Matthew and Puah, together with the family of Matthew’s brother Reuben, formed part of a family resettlement scheme, instigated by the local church to assist people left unemployed by the industrial revolution.
Upon arrival in Australia, the couple was engaged by Hannibal Macarthur (nephew of John) to work on the Camden Park estate, Matthew working as a master carpenter on a salary of £20 a year; Puah preparing corn, potatoes and tobacco.
The couple relocated to Wollongong the following year after Matthew took up a position on a property at Garden Hill (in the vicinity of today’s Wollongong Hospital).
In 1849 the family, which by now included Alfred, who was born at Mangerton in 1844, settled in Fairy Meadow.
Matthew continued his work as a master carpenter and, it is believed, the region’s first shingler. In 1858, he bought a 29-acre lot in the same locality.
He sold the property in 1885 and went to live in a home built by his son Harry in Keira Street, Wollongong, where both Matthew and Puah died, in 1901 and 1902 respectively, each aged 92.
The couple were married for 71 years and 17 days; at the time of their 70th wedding anniversary, their marriage was regarded as the longest in documented human history.
Alfred, for his part, went on to achieve his own acclaim as the captain of Wollongong Fire Brigade.
The town’s first brigade was established in 1867 but foundered for want of an engine. A series of fires, combined with community agitation, resulted in the brigade being resuscitated in 1875, with Alfred at the helm.
When the great fire of Crown Street, Wollongong, hit in August 1895, it was Alfred who led the charge.
“The fire brigade was on the scene and under the guidance of Captain Parsons the men lost no time in getting the engine into position at the rear of the burning building,” the Mercury said.
“Too much praise cannot be given to members of the fire brigade, from the captain downwards. They stuck to their work manfully, exerting themselves as though their very lives were at stake.”
Alfred, who worked as a painter, continued as captain until three years before his death in 1919.
His obituary in the Mercury said that, “He was a man of fine personality, and was ever ready with his help in any movements for the advancement of the town”.
“[He was the] type of man with those sterling qualities which has helped to make this land of ours the best in the world…His death removes another pioneer from our midst.”
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