Dr John Gunson No.3 in first South Australian car owners; a founder of what became the RAA

Dr John Gunson in his Oldsmobile (third car from left) in North Terrace, Adelaide, at the first rally of the Automobile and Motor Cycling Club of South Australia in 1903. At the left of Dr Gunson is Vivian Lewis and in the Oldsmobile at the far left are Richard (left) and James Duncan of Duncan & Fraser, the dealers for Dr Gunson's car.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

John Gunson (registration plate No.3) was one of a clutch of doctors among Adelaide’s first car owners. Dr Gunson was a founding active member of Automobile and Motor Cycling Club of South Australia in 1903 and a life member of what became the Royal Austomobile Association (RAA).

Born at Angas Street, Adelaide, in the house where his father, Dr. J. M. Gunson, had practised, John Gunson graduated in medicine from Adelaide University in 1893, after earlier education at Christian Brothers’ College, Adelaide, and in Paris. Dr. Gunson was one of the first men to use X-ray apparatus at the Adelaide Children's Hospital where he was honorary physician more than 25 years. He was also honorary assistant physician at Adelaide Hospital (1909-16) and honorary consulting obstetrician at the Queen's Home, Adelaide.

As honorary secretary and later vice-president of the South Australian branch of the British Medical Association, he arranged the association’s congress in Adelaide in 1905. His work with the St. John Ambulance Association was recognised with an order of St. John of Jerusalem.

The list of first South Australian motor car registrations and numbers, in the Tourists Road Guide, South Australia 1908, is:
1  Hargreaves, W.A. Woodville
2  Waite, Peter Glen Osmond 
3  Gunson, Dr. J.B. Angas Street 
4  Cudmore, Dr. A.M. North Terrace 
5  Swift, Dr. H. Victoria Square
6  Ayers, F.G. Waymouth Street 
7  Morgan, Dr. A.M. Angas Street 
8  Ayers, A.E. King William Street 
9  Waterhouse, A. East Terrace
10  Rymill, E.S. East Terrace 
11 Rymill, A.G. Glenelg 
12  McFarlane, A. Wellington East 
13-14 Lendon, Dr. A.A. North Terrace
15 Harris, F.J. Gawler
16 Florey, J. Malvern
17 Smith, T.E. Barr Currie Street
18 Scarfe, A.A. Burnside
19 Marsden, Dr. W.C. Willunga
20 Meikle, Dr. A.J. Yankalilla
21 Smith, Drs. O.W and A.A. Clare
22 Pilkington, C.G. Marryatville
23-24 Ralli, S.S. Adelaide
25 Knox, N.A. Burnside
26 Brown, A.P. Mintaro
27 Gebhardt, L.W. Mount Bryan
28 Gebhardt, Albert G. Kooringa
29 Fooks, Dr. E.V.R. Gawler
30 Crank, Peter Unley Park
31 Hayward, Dr. W.T. Norwood
32 Borthwick, Dr. T. Kensington
33 Marten, Dr. R.H. North Terrace
34 Walker, J.R. King William Street
35 Summers, A.C. Parkside
36 Souter, Dr. C.H.J. Adelaide
37 Bollen, Dr. P. Semaphore
38 Walker, J.W. Mannum
39 Glynn, Dr R. McM. Riverton
40 Rogers, G.J. Wallaroo Bay
41 Main, Hugh Mintaro
42 Shearer, D. Mannum
43 Shearer, J. Mannum
44 Sangster, Dr. J.I. Kooringa
45-46 Reissmann, Dr. C. Norwood
47 Broad, A.S. Unley
48 Davidson, W.L. Hackney
49 Wilksch, E.H.E. King William Street
50 Lavers, Dr. R. North Adelaide

 

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Duncan & Fraser killed by Ford's Geelong car assembly and the end of the Model T in 1927

Duncan & Fraser, the Adelaide firm that started as a maker of quality horse carriages and then trams for Adelaide and Melbourne, won the Oldsmobile automobile agency early in the 20th Century. It set up South Australia’s first showroom for cars with salesmen, spare parts, clothing and driving instruction. In 1903, a 5HP Oldsmobile arrived for South Australia’s first motorist Dr J.B. Gunson. By 1905, Duncan & Fraser’s original Franklin Street, Adelaide, factory was demolished to allow for a large car showroom. The firm won more car agencies but the big coup was the big-selling Ford Model T. After World War I, Fraser & Duncan stopped making horse-drawn transport. It also sold its Kilkenny trams factory to Holden's Motor Body Builders – to fund its own Mile End factory to build cars. When that factory was destroyed in Adelaide's largest fire in 1923, Duncan & Fraser found temporary premises to assemble eight cars daily, including Fords and Studebakers, within weeks. Ford Motor Co. was unhappy about dealers such as Duncans selling other car brands. In 1924, Duncans' new three-storey car factory was opened in Franklin Street. But, next year, the new Ford Australia started its own car assembly in Geelong with bodies made by Duncans. In 1926, Duncans’ assembly role ended when Geelong took only steel frames from Canada. The killer blow for Duncan & Fraser came in 1927 when Ford ended the Model T that wouldn’t be replaced by the Model A for 12 months. Without enough cars to sell and caught in a costs squeeze, the formerly high-flying Duncan & Fraser ceased trading that year.

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