It was perhaps a measure of Fred Elliott’s standing in the game that Brigadier General Harold Edward Elliott, one of this nation’s most outstanding military figures of the First World War, should inherit the nickname of League football’s first 200-game player. “Pompey”.
The story goes that the men of the 7th Battalion, raised in the grounds of North Carlton’s Melbourne University and a number of them aficionados of the nearby club for which Fred so grandly served, saw the epithet as the perfect fit for their leader - whose energy, strength of character and explosive temper set him apart from those within the ranks of the AIF.
Perchance Fred inherited the moniker along similar lines. As a surviving granddaughter Judith Cairns recently suggested: “I’m not entirely sure, but maybe his volatile nature on the football field earned him the nickname as a throwback to Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius”.
Today, almost one hundred years since he last laced a boot, “Pompey” Elliott is considered a Carlton leviathan. Flick the yellowing pages of The Carlton Story and you’ll find him there - as the ruck-rover in the history-making 1906 Grand Final triumph; as the captain who literally led from the front as best afield in the 1908 premiership; and as the captain-coach who fervently issued Jack Worrall’s edict until his retirement in September 1911.
But what became of Fred Elliott?
Tragically for him and his own ones, life would never be quite the same. A world war would see to that.
Frederick Clifford Elliott was born in Carlton on April 7, 1879, the only child of the London-born milliner William Constable Saggers and Williamstown’s Florence Mary Wilcox, who, according to registry records, exchanged marital vows three years earlier.
Fred was but an eight month-old when William died in January 1880, and it seems that when his mother married Fitzroy identity Fred Elliott later that year, the toddler inherited his stepfather’s surname.
Little is known of Fred’s formative years, but clearly his love of the game abounded and by the age of 20 his football talent was realized when he turned out for the Redlegs.
Fred’s tenure at Melbourne proved relatively unremarkable - 12 senior appearances for the modest return of four goals in what was his one and only season with the establishment club in 1899.
Judith Cairns with a photo of her grandfather.
At the turn of the century, Fred joined Carlton to further his football career. He made the cut for the old dark Navy Blues in the opening round of 1900, against Geelong at Princes Park, and from a flank booted one of his team’s two goals for the afternoon, in what was an inauspicious 17-point loss to the Pivotonians.
Having plied his craft as a forward for the greater part of the 1900 season, Fred would find his niche as a ruck-rover/rover through the course of a difficult 1901, under the watch of the then captain Ernie Walton.
1901 proved an annus horribilis for Carlton, with only two wins in the fourth and fifth rounds to show for a season in which it finished an unpalatable second last. in response, the Committee secured the services of the much-respected former Fitzroy champion Jack Worrall as secretary and later coach . . . and Worrall would deliver in spades.
Yet despite Worrall’s much-heralded arrival in ’02, and for reasons that remain unclear, Fred crossed the Nullabor to chase the leather for North Fremantle. North, together with Subiaco, had been admitted to the six-team Western Australian Football Association (later the WAFL) competition the previous year and sought to strengthen its senior eighteen.
Fred’s North Freo foray would last but a year, and he would return to Princes Park in 1903 . . . perhaps in protest to North’s questionable decision to ditch its red, white and blue strip for the less savory black and white of the Magpie!
Unquestionably, Fred Elliott’s football potential was realized on Jack Worrall’s watch. Worrall, it was said, insisted on sole responsibility for training, recruiting and coaching the team, and set about molding the Blues into his vision of a cohesive unit . . . and in Pompey he found an enthusiastic ally.
History records that Carlton competed in its first VFL final series in 1903, its first Grand Final in 1904, and completed its three glorious premiership victories in 1906, ’07 and ’08. Fred was there for the triumphs of ’06 and ’08 (the year in which he earned Life Membership for eight years’ service), and as The Blueseum website eloquently notes, in the records of these fabled games, Pompey’s name invariably appears among those most influential.
According to The Blueseum; “He was a superb big match player and an instinctive on-field leader; much in the style of another champion in a later era in Ron Barassi. Pompey was always prepared to place himself where the battle was at its fiercest - which probably explains why he suffered the enormous disappointment of missing the 1907 Premiership triumph through suspension”.
When Worrall’s successful, if tempestuous, reign as coach of Carlton ended mid-way through the 1909 season, Fred took on the lofty responsibility of captain-coach. With typical aplomb, he led his players to Carlton’s fourth successive Grand Final against South Melbourne, but South would prevail by just two points.
Two Septembers later, after the final siren sounded the death knell on Carlton’s 1911 finals campaign, Fred gave the game away, perhaps to spend precious time with his young family.
Fred had married Florence May Windsor, a singer of some renown, in Carlton’s maiden premiership season of 1906. The newlyweds settled into their home at 17 Homer Street, Moonee Ponds, and in 1907 Florence gave birth to the first of four daughters - Florence Sarah (who died that year), Marjorie Nellie in 1908, Ethel Jean in 1911 and Nancy Mary in 1918.
In March 1916, two years prior to Nancy’s birth, Fred’s life took a terrible turn. Then 37 years old and a timber stacker by profession, Fred reluctantly enlisted.
When Fred joined the 3rd Pioneer Battalion in Campbellfield he was clearly vulnerable, as his granddaughter Judith Cairns recently explained.
“At the time, some of the other Carlton players had enlisted and he’d been sent white feathers,” Judith said. “His reasoning was that he was a pacifist, a conscientious objector, and he felt that no mother would want to see her son killing another mother’s son.”
By May of that year, and in the midst of pre-war training at the camp, Fred sought to end it all. Overcome by depression and, in an act of extreme anxiety exacerbated by alcoholic tendencies, he attempted suicide.
A report tabled by Sgt. Trewhella detailed “intermittent neurotic instability” in a man who was “acutely depressed, suicidal, and with delusions of persecution and hallucination of hearing, with acute melancholia”.
By August, Fred was discharged from the Army, having been declared permanently unfit to serve his country. He was relocated to the Receiving House at Royal Park, during which time the football club quietly intervened to meet his family’s mortgage repayments on the abode in Homer Street.
But the damage had already been done.
“My mother didn’t talk much about what happened to Fred because the things that happened to him were all so very traumatic later in life,” Judith said. “What I do know is that after his breakdown the effect on the family was traumatic and my mother was unable to refer to the past, although she did tell me that she and her two sisters liked to sit on his knee.”
While it’s not known how long he remained institutionalized, it’s clear that Fred sought solace in his football club for many years after his discharge.
“I remember him walking from his home in Moonee Ponds to the Carlton Football Ground, and that impressed me,” Judith said. “He sometimes talked about how kind the football club had been to the family, which is why he remained loyal to the cause.
“I also remember him as a true gentleman, and that later in life he did gentle things like work in the garden.”
Another granddaughter, 71 year-old Peggy Robbins, can also recount some happy memories of her Pop, the Carlton devotee and committed greenthumb.
“Of a Saturday he’d go to the footy alone, walking to the footy from his house at Moonee Ponds, and for years he used to walk to our home in Raleigh Grove North Essendon to tend to our garden five days a week,” Peggy said.
“Of a Sunday night the rest of the family would play cards, but he wouldn’t play. Instead he would go to the State Library to read.
“I remember the days at Raleigh Grove when I was a little kid. If ever I got sick, he would sit on the end of my bed and read me a story. When I was working in Puckle Street, not long before his wife died, he used to walk me to his house in Homer Street for lunch then walk me back again, which was lovely.
“He was a gentleman, very clean and he always wore a flower in his coat pocket.”
In October 1959, on the death of his devoted wife of 53 years, Fred put the old house at Homer Street on the market and relocated to the South Australian town of Mt Gambier to live with his daughter Marjorie (Peggy’s mother).
Within a year, he too would be gone.
Following his passing on August 3, 1960, Fred’s mortal remains were returned to Melbourne. At Fawkner he was cremated, and his ashes placed with Florence’s at the Garden of Remembrance.
In 1988, Fred was inducted into Carlton Football Club’s Hall of Fame, and today it’s “Pompey’s” prowess as an Australian Rules player that stands the time test.
A recently-discovered newspaper article perhaps best enunciates he who was Fred Elliott, Carlton footballer. Penned by “Onlooker” and carrying the headline “BRAINS AND FOOTBALL - Roy Cazaly’s Career and Lessons Learned”, it appeared in The Mercury in Hobart in October 1935
In the article, Onlooker refers to a conversation held with the fabled St Kilda and South Melbourne football figure Cazaly about his early days in the game - beginning with his senior debut against Carlton at Princes Park in the 15th round of 1911, Fred’s final season as captain-coach.
Chatting with him [Cazaly] during the week, he told of his early struggle to secure a footing in the cream of Australian football. His first League match with St. Kilda was against Carlton when 18 years of age. St. Kilda that season was a comparatively weak side. Its officers were on the lookout for young players who would mature into champions. He was given a run on the ball, and on the forward line. The Carlton players showed a kindly interest in the youngster, and being well in the lead, all were anxious to give him advice. One big Carlton ruckster however, “Pompey” Elliott, decided to give him a try-out. When young Cazaly was flying for the ball he hipped him three or four times while in the air, and naturally the youth decided to get one back. Immediately he did, Elliott patted him on the back, remarking at the same time, “Steady laddie. That is what I wanted to see. Always come back with hard bumps. Now go for your life”. That was just the sort of encouragement young Cazaly needed, and the man has not forgotten it.