Towards the end of the 1913 year, on completion of his maiden season as Carlton captain-coach, the Stawell-born Jack Wells relinquished the position, presumably with some relief.

The team over which Wells presided had plummeted to sixth position, having contested the previous ten consecutive finals series for six Grand Final appearances and the famous triumphs of 1906, ’07 and ’08.

By then, coach Wells had already stamped the papers of the 21 year-old sinewy ruckman, Harry Curtis, who had managed just two senior appearances for the Blues - in the 14th round of 1913 against University at Princes Park, and in the 16th round against Richmond at the same venue.

Wells’ decision to move Harry on would have spectacular ramifications for Carlton’s greatest rival, but more of that later.
Harry Curtis had followed his older brother Charles (or “Charlie” as he was known) to the Carlton Football Club, for the Curtis family had established territorial links with the township.

The Curtis boys’ father was a formidable figure in the Carlton district. A successful leather manufacturer, John Richard Curtis was the recipient of a number of awards for his portmanteau and other leather products. He also served as the local Justice of the Peace, and his family ran a successful dancing school known as Fenshawe House (or more popularly the “Curtis Dancing School”) in Canning Street

Charlie was born on December 17, 1878, the third of ten children of John and Elizabeth (nee Harry) Curtis. According to Harry’s son “Dick” Curtis, “Dad and Charlie were true Blue Carlton people, and that’s because their family ended up in Carlton, and there were so many of them in the house”.
standing, l to r; Arthur, George, Fred, Harry, Charlie; seated l to r; Elsie, Elizabeth, Elizabeth sen., John, Maud, Edie, Carlton, circa 1912
standing, l to r; Arthur, George, Fred, Harry, Charlie; seated l to r; Elsie, Elizabeth, Elizabeth sen., John, Maud, Edie, Carlton, circa 1912

In the early days, Charlie chased the leather for the local Cardigans XVIII before joining Carlton in 1898, the year after the team’s admission to the VFL. Harry Curtis, 14 years Charlie’s junior, turned out for the first of just two senior matches for the old dark Navy Blues in 1913.

Charlie’s first senior appearance for Carlton came in the second round of 1898, against Melbourne at the MCG, in what doubled as the final senior appearance for the Blues’ first captain in the competition, Jimmy Aitken. He would manage 22 senior matches in total, the last of which came in the eighth round of 1900 against Geelong at Corio Oval.

“Like a lot of footballers of his day, Charlie would have been lucky to earn a pound a game, and I suppose having played in the late 1890s he became something of a dim memory, even by the 1920s,” Dick said.
In early 1904, after parting ways with Carlton, Charlie married Alice Atkinson. The newlyweds then settled in Hawthorn, and by year’s end were the proud parents of a son, Ernest.

Tragedy then befell the Curtis clan in 1906, when 24 year-old Alice died after complications with the birth of second son Samuel - who according to family lore also died even though a relevant death certificate cannot be located. Charlie was then left to care for Ernest, only to lose the little toddler when he died in Carlton’s Children Hospital the following year.

Charlie then met Maud Ratcliff, who by 1908 had relocated to Melbourne from the Maryborough district. Charlie and Maud married in 1911, and settled in Richmond. Together they would raise eight children of their own - four sons, four daughters.

Though none of Charlie’s sons ever emulated his deeds as a Carlton footballer, they nonetheless followed Dad to many contests at Princes Park. Charlie’s second son Robert always remembered being perched on his father’s shoulders for sell-out matches involving Collingwood.

With the depression years taking their toll on the Curtis clan, Harry and Maud separated. Taking the eight children with her, Maud relocated to Footscray where she died in 1948.

Eleven years later, after having remained true to the Carlton Football Club and been a regular attendee at Princes Park, Charlie Curtis died at the age of 80.

“I used to see Charlie, or Uncle as I called him, once or twice a year. The big meeting was always Grandpa’s birthday in High Street Glen Iris, near lower Malvern Road,” Dick Curtis said. “I was only very young, but I can remember seeing all these old guys turning up in suits and hats for Grandpa, and that’s where I’d see Charlie.

“When I left school I went to work with Dad, whose business was Curtis Auto Accessories pty ltd in Elizabeth Street, and Charlie would pop in there from time to time to have some lunch or a drink. I can still see him in his suit, vest, a shirt with a stud but no collar and tie, and a hat. That’s the way he was, and he was a pleasant sort of fellow.”

As for Harry Curtis, it pains this correspondent to write that in 1913, upon his rejection as a Carlton footballer for his apparent wayward kicking, the 21 year-old made the trek down Elgin Street, onto Johnston and left into Lulie to pursue his on-field career with the Carringbush.

Harry would turn out in 1914 for the first of 122 senior matches as Collingwood’s resident centre half-forward in a potent double act involving Dick Lee, and contribute significantly to the 1917 and ’19 Grand Final triumphs.

He would also go on to captain Collingwood and Victoria, and by 1924 - at age 32 - assume the Collingwood presidency for what would be an unbroken stretch of 27 years, taking in the premiership seasons of 1927-’30 and ’35-’36.

Articles: Other Blues that 'got away'

Blueseum: Harry's Biography | Charlie's Biography