100 years on, the Denmans pay visit to scene of ancestor's public office

100 years on, the Denmans pay visit to scene of ancestor's public office

Generations of ACT school children have watched the silent newsreel footage of Lady Denman preparing to announce, "I name the capital of Australia Canberra.''

On Tuesday, another Lady Denman will witness a ceremony commemorating the laying of Canberra's foundation stone 100 years ago.

Present day Lord Richard Denman and Lady Jane Denman at the foundation stone.

Present day Lord Richard Denman and Lady Jane Denman at the foundation stone.Credit:Melissa Adams

But it is a bitter-sweet occasion for Jane and Richard Denman, following the recent death at 96 of Richard's father Charles, the fifth Lord Denman. Lord Denman said his father had been looking forward to visiting Canberra for the city's centenary celebrations.

"He was really looking forward to coming out here,'' he said.

Naming of Canberra by Lady Denman in 1913.

Naming of Canberra by Lady Denman in 1913.

Lord Denman said it was an honour to make the journey in his father's place and he and his wife were enjoying their first visit to Canberra.

"We're absolutely thrilled to be here,'' he said.

Lord Denman is the greatnephew of Thomas Denman, who served as Australia's fifth governor-general from 1911-1914. Thomas Denman's wife Gertrude assisted in the establishment of the National Council of Women and championed bush nursing.

Lord and Lady Denman, who live in Sussex, said their family remained enormously proud of the role the third Lord Denman and his wife had played in Australian life.

"We are proud of the impact they had, particularly because it was during such a significant time in Australia's history,'' Lord Denman said.

In his luggage, Lord Denman brought a treasured family heirloom to Canberra: a slightly tarnished trowel used by his famous ancestor to help lay the city's foundation stone.

"Probably only about 20 people have seen it since it was used back then,'' he joked.

On Sunday, the Denmans met the great-granddaughter of the man who built the foundation stone - and worked on many of Canberra and Queanbeyan's significant buildings.

About 70 descendants of Frederick John Young, a stonemason who became superintendent of works, were in Canberra to celebrate the centenary.

Young built the foundation stone and the stage on which Lady Denman named the city.

Helen Harding said her great-grandfather, who was born in 1854 and died in 1943, had overcome enormous odds to make a life for himself and a significant contribution to Canberra.

He was orphaned at five years old and taught himself to read at 12. Young began studying carpentry at 19 and went on to become a stonemason.

He was responsible for an extension and stable at Government House, the spire at St John's Church in Reid and worked on the Queanbeyan jail and primary school. "The influence teaches about coming to terms with terrible odds. He's come through adversity to make a life. He had this great resilience,'' Mrs Harding said.


Mrs Harding said the centenary long weekend had seemed like a perfect occasion for many of Young's descendants to meet up.

The foundation stone was moved to its present home in 1988 to make way for the new Parliament House.