THE LARCOMBE CHAIRS

Image of Deloraine and a Jimmy Possum Chair

Beautiful image  of Deloraine by Marianne MacDonald. Thanks to the Deloraine Folk Museum for allowing me to use this.

My great grandfather William Larcombe arrived in Launceston, Tasmania  in December  1856 aboard the ship Alice Walton. William was then aged 25. He was accompanied by his 2o year old  wife Sarah (nee Parker) and their two small children; Leah and Thomas. The family were  from Devon, and were assisted migrants.  After many years at  Evandale they moved to Reedy Marsh and neighbouring  Willowdale,  an isolated  rural area about 11km from Deloraine.

They were sheep farmers. Over the years their family continued to  grow.  Those who survived to adulthood were Leah, Thomas, Martha, Emma, William, Mary, Alice, Esau, Alfred, James (my grandfather), George, Samuel and Walter.

They were a self-sufficient lot, as most rural people were. In the Larcombe case, this included making their own furniture; particularly chairs.

Larcombe family photos

William Larcombe’s humble house at Willowdale  (left) and portrait of  his brother George Larcombe (right)

My great-uncles William, George  and Samuel Larcombe were taught the craft by Jimmy Possum, an almost mythical figure who lived in the area (in a hollow tree, some say).  The painting below, dating from 1905, is believed by many to be of Jimmy Possum at the entrance of his unique home..

 

The story goes that Jimmy  would leave his tree in winter  and be taken in by  the Larcombes  and other local families, including the McMahons and the Upstons.  My grandfather James married Nora Upston, whose brother George Upston was also  a chair maker.

My cousin Frank Upston tells me, ‘As a kid there were a couple [of chairs] around home that belonged to Grandma Upston, George’s wife.’  Frank remembered them as just ‘funny old chairs’, that were sitting outside under a big laurel tree. He also recalls that his aunt, Walter Larcombe’s widow Florrie, had similar chairs at her place at Reedy Marsh before she moved into Deloraine.

 

A Larcombe  chair (courtesy of Mike Epworth)

The only one of my great-uncles I ever met was Sam. I remember being taken to visit him in his little house at Willowdale. I was about eight and he must have been  at least eighty.  He died in 1962, aged 85.   I see him still,  with a shock of white hair and rheumy eyes. He was sitting at a table on which there was a huge block of strong cheese, and some bread.  The walls of the room were covered with years of calenders. I wonder now whether I also saw a Larcombe chair that day.

It is wonderful that the tradition of Jimmy Possum  chairs, and by association the Larcombe chairs, is being kept alive by Mike Epworth.  Over many years, Mike has been making the chairs, researching and documenting their history, and passing on the skills to descendants.

In May 2017 Mike ran  a chair making event at Deloraine.  It was part of the  National Trust’s  annual Heritage Week programme. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but some of my  cousins were there.  There was even a visit to Reedy Marsh and Willowdale, where a likely contender for Jimmy Possom’s hollow tree was identified.  By the way, there are Jimmy Possum and Larcombe chairs on permanent display at Deloraine’s Folk Museum.

Deloraine Folk Museum. (Picture credit. ABC)

Fortunately Mike extended his workshops to the mainland.  My partner  Rob and I attended one in Sydney, where we  also heard more about the wonderful social history of the chairs and their makers. We took the opportunity to have a little go with the ‘draw knife’, a traditional tool. The interesting thing about the design of the chairs is that the legs protrude through the seat to support the arms. The  bonus of this technique is that the more a chair  is sat upon, the tighter the joints become.

Traditional Tasmanian chair making workshop in Sydney

Chair making can clearly be fun! (phot0 by Bronwyn Harm)

Chair making in the Larcombe tradition

A fourth generation Larcombe (me)  producing some shavings. (photo by Rob Conolly)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The original chairs are now highly desirable, and sell for figures my ancestors would find hard to believe. I love how they were carefully repaired by their owners down the generations, evidence that they were  greatly treasured.

 

Jimmy Possum Chair

Lovingly repaired.

Examples from the various Deloraine  families are  known under the umbrella term of Jimmy Possum Chairs. There is a Jimmy Possum Appreciation Group on Facebook if you would like more information.  It is run by Mike Epworth.  Next year there will be an even larger chair making event at Deloraine. I am determined to be there.

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6 Comments
  1. I love early Australiana furniture and bric-a-brac. The Jimmy Possum chairs are such sturdy examples of how people had to make their own in those days. I was raised in a country community and mothers even made our undies because we didn’t get to town very much to buy those kind of things. Fathers built stools and benches for us to sit on. There were plenty of trees in those early times. My sister has a fine example of a cedar chest of drawers which came from a huge red cedar tree from our front yard. The next strong wind threatened to bring it crashing onto our house roof and so it had to go. Now, I think we live in a throw-away society. When something breaks we cast it out and buy a new one.

    • Pauline

      Cedar furniture is so special, Heather. We had a custom made Tasmanian blackwood dining table with six carved chairs. Fortunately my sister now has them.

  2. Great history of your family being woven into this story. I love the simple but effective design of the chairs. It’s good to see, through workshops, this tradition is being taught so future generations can continue these crafts.

  3. I just love reading your history stories Pauline.

    • Pauline

      Aaw, thanks Chris. I really appreciate that. I love writing them.

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