Personal History: Percy Armstrong

Personal History;
Percival William Armstrong

Born in Stratford, Victoria on 13 September, 1866, the Son of Louis Armstrong and Martha Matilda (nee King). 

Armstrong and was enrolled at Scotch College, Melbourne from his home in Levuka, Fiji on 9th October 1882. In the 19th Century the usual enrolment was for 12 months and Percy was enrolled until 1884 and is mentioned at the Speech Night in December 1884, as gaining awards for instrumental music and rowing. 

The Age newspaper has two articles in October 1884 about his prowess as a rower. October 13, p6 and October 17, p7 which lists the achievements of the Scotch College Head of the River crew.

In the early 1890’s, Percy went to the Croydon goldfields in Queensland. Croydon is 156km from Normantown on the south side of the Norman River. Normantown is located on the south east corner of the Gulf Carpenteria and 718km west of Cairns. Percy came into cycling folklore with an epic ride with R Craig in 1893, when they rode their bicycles from Croydon to Sydney, a total of 3,200km. 

A couple of newspaper articles are worth recording: 

The Northern Miner (Charters Towers) July 8, 1893, p2. — The Croydon Mining News says, that P Armstrong and R Craig are leaving Croydon for Melbourne overland on bicycles. The North Queensland Register (Townsville) carried the same story on July 12, 1893, p10. 

Brisbane Courier, July 20, 1893/135 — Georgetown July 19. “Two cyclists names P Armstrong and R Craig, who en route from Croydon to Melbourne, passed through today, leaving a dinner for Townsville , which place they expect to reach in seven days. They anticipate to be in Sydney in seven weeks.” 

The following newspapers carried the same story. The Melbourne Argus on same date, p6; The Queenslander, July 22, 1893, p153. 

The Queenslander, July 29, 1893, p206 added more to the story of a week earlier — “The trip is a very hazardous one, and should be it be accomplished, of which I have no fear, it will prove to what a cyclist with a good machine can do in the way of travelling. Both wheelmen, I presume, to come through Gympie and Brisbane, can rely on getting a right royal welcome from the Brisbane boys.” 

The Capricornian (Rockhampton) August 26, 1893, p31 added to the Georgetown information — “They have undertaken a trip from Croydon to Melbourne via Townsville, Ravenswood, Blackall, Roma, Goodiwindi, and Tamworth.” This is at variance to the presumption in item 4. 

The best article is in “The Queenslander” September 23, 1893 p3. The notes are in a diary kept by R Craig, a member of the Redfern CC in Sydney. On arrival in Sydney, The Dunlop Rubber Co management were so impressed that they offered Percy the use of their new tyres in lieu of the heavy cushioned safety tyres used in the trek from Croydon to Sydney. Percy accepted the offer and the Sydney-Melbourne record was his first solo record attempt. He was able to break the record on September 30, 1893 by 26 hours. Completing the 930km in the remarkable time 4 days, 3 hours and 45 minutes. An article appeared in the Brisbane Courier Jan 8, 1894 p6, which stated that Percy had visited Brisbane on the 17 November 1893 on his way home in Croydon. 

The Queenslander Feb 17, 1894 p302, reported that Percy had arrived by steamer to Brisbane following his return visit to Croydon. The article commented that Percy was on his way Western Australia. 

In 1894 he had established a cycle depot in Coolgardie. A business man asked Percy how an urgent letter could be delivered to Kurnalpi, as all the camels and buggies were out of town. Percy offered to ride his bicycle and return the next day, this being a round trip of 164 miles. The business man thought Percy was joking, but when Percy said, “no delivery, no pay,” the businessman accepted the offer and duly paid the agreed fee, the next day. Within an hour of Percy returning to Coolgardie, another offer to deliver a letter 45 miles from town, thus Percy gained two fees in two days. And a new service was born and soon Percy had several agencies operating in the Goldfields and later, in Perth and Fremantle. His cycling friends found gainful employment as express couriers or managers of the cycle shops. 

1897 was good year for Percy. On the 16th of June, Percy married Grace Ethel Throssell at Northam with 250 invited to help celebrate the occasion. Grace being the 6th daughter of George Throssell and Mrs. Throssell. George was the local member of Parliament, Commissioner for Lands and in 1901 served as Premier for 3 months following the resignation of Sir John Forrest. The West Australian newspaper gave a very comprehensive summary of the festivities. The last paragraph is worth quoting: “The bride will be greatly missed in Northam, where she was born and has spent the whole of her life. In all objects connected with the church, temperance, or social organisations she was ever to the front, and her cheerfulness and willingness to help, particularly with anything connected to music, will make her departure felt far and wide.” Several times the local press reported on her attributes on the piano. Strange, but true, the bridegroom was a talented pianist. While they may not have ridden a tandem together, one can imagine that they could harmonise at the family piano in Perth. 

On the 25th September 1897, he promoted the first Beverley to Perth Cycle Race of 116 miles and Menzies Bike shop Manager, John Beck, gained first and fastest from a very liberal handicap of 45 minutes. While the race was promoted as the Rover Road Race, as Percy had the Rover Cycle Agency in Perth, the LWAW agreed to recognise the event as the inaugural Beverley to Perth. 

At Coolgardie, on December 26, he promoted the first Westral Wheel Race, though under the name Coolgardie Austral over 2 miles, the winner being Jack Boydall, Kalgoorlie on 110 yards. That event is still being held today, though it did lay dormant on occasions. The completion of the transcontinental railway link, Perth to Coolgardie, a sporting promotion was held in Coolgardie with Percy winning the 10 mile Championship.

This is brief summary. Percy was as passionate about motor cars and motor cycles and with his cycle agencies, he organised businesses in the other two. Transcontinental records in both car and motor bike were achieved by Percy. He crossed the Nullabor 18 times and his last was in 1940, when he was 75. He had a motor cycle accident and the doctors had to amputate one of his legs, but he was soon back in the saddle, such was the determination of the man.

He was founding member of the Royal Auto Club and served on their governing Council. He retained his interest in cycling as did at least one term as LWAW President. He died at his home in West Perth on August 8, 1942 and was cremated at the Karrakatta Cemetery. 

George Nelson