Chajjoo "Charlie" Khan

Joy Shepherd

I've recently had the pleasure of working with Joy Shepherd from the Colo Shire Family History Group to learn all about the North Richmond personality, Chajjoo "Charlie" Khan.

You might be familiar with the North Richmond intersection for a rather dreary reason; traffic jams in mornings and afternoons, and the only remaining cheery presence on "Khan's Corner" is a little chalkboard sign with daily quotes as selected by the cheeky staff at Ray White. It is otherwise mostly a vacant cemented corner.

However, that corner was once the place of business for Charlie Khan. After learning a little about this mysterious dude and sitting by his grave to say g'day, I can no longer drive through that intersection without glancing at Khan's Corner, wondering why we don't remember him in some way; at least continuing to call it Khan's Corner. I do, however, love that food not unlike the food of Charlie's homeland is now being served on the opposite corner, at Momo's Pitstop.

We have been unable to get hold of any photographs of Mr Khan. Can you help? He died in 1948, which means there may still be people like Joy who have memories of him and perhaps they might have a photo they could share with us.

Joy and the Colo Shire Family History Group have been so wonderful in sharing their knowledge with me on this historical figure of the Hawkesbury; I'm now a member of the group and I hope anyone else with an interest in local stories might also consider joining. Stop by their Facebook page and have a looksee at everything they've been doing. They also have a pretty great little Wordpress site that you can visit by clicking here.

Without further ado, I am pleased to introduce Joy's piece on Charlie Khan below. Enjoy!

Khan's Corner,

The Adventures of Chajjoo Khan

I was doing some research for burial articles for our third St Stephens book, when I came across the entry for Chajjoo Khan. He died on 12 January, 1948 and is buried in St Philip’s cemetery at North Richmond. I soon realised he had a much bigger tale to tell that can be condensed into a paragraph in our book.

I can only vaguely remember him when he owned the general store and newsagency on the corner of Bells Line of Road and Grose Vale Road North Richmond, later owned for many years by Roger Sinavin. We have found references to him being an Afghan, an Assyrian and an Indian. His death certificate reveals he was born in Punjab, India.

The more we have delved into the life of this man, known as Charlie Khan, the more contradictions we have come across. The first articles we found told us he was a wealthy Afghan, a landowner in Colo, and we found an account of his marriage to a Jessie Munson from Nowra. The newspaper article stated they had married at Redfern by a Rev Wilson on 1 June 1940 and had made their home at Upper Colo. Births Deaths and Marriage records do not show any such marriage. Other articles refer to her as his ‘common law wife’ and she certainly was around until 18th August 1946, when she died at Hawkesbury Hospital. Her Death Certificate names her a ‘Jessie Munson known as Jessie Khan’. She is also buried at St Philip’s North Richmond, but in a grave nearby to Charlie’s. She died in Hawkesbury Hospital but her home address is given Imperial Hotel Richmond where she is described as a cook.

Charlie’s death certificate names his father a Naby Box Khan, and there is an inscription on Charlie’s grave in memory of this person. It was hard to find this Naby Box Khan, but we did find that a Naby Box was a licensed hawker. This man was taking a rest at Mr Smith, the wheelwright at North Richmond on 25 January 1898 when he collapsed and died suddenly. According to his Death Certificate this was his name and six children are named on the Certificate – none of them Chajjoo, Charlie, or anything like that. It also tells us he is buried in the Church of England Cemetery at North Richmond, but there is no record of the burial in the parish records.

There is an Arabic inscription on the grave – when translated it reads “There is no God but Allah. Mohamed is the messenger of God.” I wonder if the church leaders at the time realised what that scrawly message read.

Charlie was often in the news for his various land and court dealings. He applied for a Hawker’s licence at Windsor Police Court in 1906 but had apparently been dealing in the trade before this. In April 1900 he appeared in Penrith Police Court. He was suing one Joseph Dyson Redfearn for unlawfully detaining one sulky and harness to the value of two pounds five shillings. There was some dispute over the sale of trousers and a waistcoat that did not fit, and the defendant detained the sulky and harness that he sold to Chajjoo while waiting for replacements. Chajjoo ended up getting his sulky and harness and the defendant had to pay the court costs. He obviously got his new trousers and waistcoat as well.

In 1906 Charlie had a Conditional Lease on 40 acres in Wheeny. He also leased land in Bilpin. He purchased quite a lot of land in the area in the next few years, and in November 1923 he advertised an Auction of 700 acres of maize flats and grazing land, consisting of three blocks of 354 acres, 180 acres, and 202 acres situated a Wheeny Creek, Upper Colo. All of the land in Colo had been sold by 1925.

Meanwhile in 1920 he had taken a Thomas Mills, an Anzac, to court for stealing a steer and taking it to paddocks at Shalvey. Apparently both parties had been running their cattle on the roadside at Blaxlands Ridge. When Thomas indicated that he was going to move his herd of 350 head, Charlie asked if he could be present to help sort them. This did not happen, and this steer with Charlie’s brand ended up at Shalvey. The steer was brought along to Penrith Police Court as evidence, and as a result of evidence from various people, the steer was returned to him with no charges laid.

The matter did not end there. The Anzac, Thomas Wylie Mills sued Chajjoo for the sum of $1,000 for “Alleged Malicious Prosecution.” This went on for months, ending up in the High Court. The final judgement was that Mills be awarded $300. This was appealed, but no re-trial was allowed.

It was in the early 1920’s Charlie became interested in the shop at North Richmond. He initially leased the property from Mrs Adeline Guest of Richmond. We are guessing a bit, but looking at old photos, we feel that at that stage there was just a house set back a little on the corner. We are not sure if Charlie actually built the shop in front of that house, which became part of it. He was a well-known, popular and colourful figure in North Richmond, and his business of a general store and newsagency grew well. He had the usual problems of getting payment from people, shop lifting, etc, so had a few more court cases.

In the Small Debts Court in Richmond in April 1929, he proceeded against Thomas Fear for an amount of $39/3/4. Khan admitted he could not read or write and relied on friends to do his books. He produced a bunch of dockets for goods provided to gangs working for Mr Fear. He received a sum of $3/8/-.

Thursday night, on 31 May 1934 must have been one of the proudest moments of Chajjoo’s life. It was on the verandah of his store electricity was officially switched on for North Richmond, the first in the Colo Shire, west of the Hawkesbury River, and the first stage of the Hawkesbury Development Company’s planned works. Londonderry and Castlereagh areas still had no power at this stage either. Mrs Smith, the wife of the President of Colo Shire Council Mr Alex Smith, pulled the cord, with the words “Let there be light.”

In April 1935 he received a valueless cheque from a James Watson. Watson had been to court and gaoled for previous offences and confessed to this. He stated he had been cutting wood in the district for which he received a cheque. He cashed this with Khan, just spending a small part on some goods. He admitted he had fabricated the statement, and was sentenced to 12 months hard labour, concurrent with the other sentences already being served.

An amusing part of this court case was called “The Tale of the Missing Koran. “ When Chajjoo made his many appearances in court, being of Islam faith, it was a requirement that the Court provide a copy of the Koran for him to swear on. On this occasion the Koran had gone missing from the Richmond Court. One was located at Windsor Court. While they proceeded with another case a constable was “burning the road to Richmond on a fast motorcycle" with a copy of the required volume. The witness was told to hold the book in both hands and when told to place his hand on the top of his head, in accordance with the required ritual, protested, amidst laughter, that he only had two hands. The witness ended up placing one hand on his head, salamming the book so as to touch in on his forehead, acknowledging himself to be bound by the truth, and the machinery of the law proceeded.

In July 1937, another court case for a small debt claim. It was alleged by the defendant Walter Patterson that Chajjoo had chased him around the shop with a cheese knife.

In July 1938, Chajjoo became the defendant, when the Department of Health took him to court for unclean premises. Mr F Blake stated that not only was the shop very dirty, there were approximately 70 tins of jams, fruits and dried fruits unfit for human consumption. His Solicitor, Mr Walker admitted that he had been careless but stated he was a bachelor and the place would have been in better order if these were a woman to look after things. So, where was Jessie, and why was he suddenly a bachelor? He got off lightly in the circumstances, being fined $3 court costs.

Chajjoo purchased quite a few property lots. Some were vacant land, but there were some houses that were tenanted. One such property was originally an Inn, known as “The Exchange” and “The Beehive Inn” on the Bells Line of Road. We have only found one picture showing this two storey building, in 1920 and it is quite battered. Charlie is credited with turning this into one storey. With the bricks from the first storey he built another house next door.

Chajjoo Kahn died on 13 January 1948, and as we mentioned is buried at St Phiiip’s, North Richmond. Chajjoo’s death notice, which was published in Sydney and local newspapers, give his age as 75 years. On his headstone is the inscription, "aged 69 years", so I think it was a bit of a guess all round.

There were still too many questions to be answered in this puzzle, so I ordered Chajjoo Khan’s probate papers for viewing at the State Records. Carolynne and I went over, to find two rather large packets, very creased and some quite difficult to read. So I undid them and kept them in order, while Carolynne put them on the floor one at a time to photograph them. There were over 100 sheets, and she photographed most of them twice, so she could hardly walk for the next two days.

We found that in his will, dated 8 November, 1938 just over nine years before he died, Charlie left the whole of his estate on trust to two minors residing in a village named Kamam, in Punjab India. He stated :-

"Without in any way creating a binding trust, it is my express wish and desire that my real properties situated at North Richmond will not be sold during the respective lives of the said Golm Mohamad and the said Mohamam Sharief."

It seems this did not happen.

Of course, the newsagency had to be kept open after his death, and it needed to be put on the market. It was advertised for sale later in 1948 and was purchased by Roger Sinavin, another Indian who had no connection to Charlie. Charlie was receiving rental payments from 13 tenants at the time of his death.

There was a bit of a hitch in finalising the estate valued at $8,289 pounds to be split between the two young men – remember they were now nine years older since the will was made out. In December 1948, a woman, who described herself as a ’Special Friend’ claimed $1,000 from the estate. She had apparently worked for Charlie in the shop before he died, and kept it open on behalf of the Estate. She claimed Khan was very fond of her, but she had retrained a strained heart and developed a form of rheumatism whilst in employment of the estate. She stated

“ He paid me only $2 per week – and 10/- worth of groceries. The $4 each week went to pay off the mortgage. Those were his own arrangements. Mr Khan never kept any wage stamp book, and a statements to this effect was attached to my Income Tax Return.”

Whatever all of that may mean, the lady seems to have ended up with that house by the time Charlie died. She is not listed as a tenant.

This claim ended up in the Supreme Court and it became even more complicated when the lady concerned ended up in Gladesville Mental Hospital. The Master in Lunacy ended up withdrawing the claim in 1954. It was still dragging on in 1957, when the Solicitors concerned were claiming their expenses, and it would be assumed that finally the leftover money was sent off to the beneficiaries.

The Probate papers, although difficult to read, are very interesting, giving such information as to the value and position of his many properties in North Richmond, the amount of rent paid by the 13 tenants, the value of his stock in the shop, the amount of each type of publication was sold each week (supplied by the publishers). Fascinating to read, and compare with today’s prices.

The corner of Bells Line of Road and Grose Vale Road was known as Khan’s Corner. On reading his list of properties, it seems as though North Richmond was “Khan’s Town” at one stage.

So, we have found heaps of answers on our mysterious Chajjoo Khan and lots more questions. If anyone has more information about this man we would be glad to hear from you.

So we need to ask-

  • Was Charlie a married man or a bachelor?

  • Who really was his father and what relationship did he have with Naby Box?

  • Did the young men in Punjab end up getting the estate?

Joy Shepherd

12 April 2017

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