An unexpected birthday party took place one spring evening in 1898. Mr. J. Pratt was a relatively new arrival in town, making his way to the growing gold town from Australia just over a year previously, but he made a big impression on the town’s inhabitants in only a few short months. It was the Tuesday night before his twenty-first birthday, and he was making his way through Grahamstown to a party at the Thames Miners’ Union Hall – one of many social occasions he’d been invited to since his arrival from Newcastle. He had no idea that he was to be the party’s guest of honour.
Ever since his arrival in Thames, Mr. Pratt had thrown himself wholeheartedly into the daily life of his new community. He was well-known for his ‘elocutionary talents’ at other parties around town, where he’d been known to give several memorable recitations. He was a mason by trade, later setting up his own business on Willoughby Street. He was well-respected as a member of the local Cricket Association, where he’d played for Thames at a regional level, and went on to captain St. Alban’s senior cricket team in Shortland. Mr. Pratt was also heavily involved with the Baptist Church and Young Men’s Society, providing entertainment to help with fundraising for the local widows’ and orphans’ fund.
A very surprised Mr. Pratt was greeted at the door that night by the party’s MC, Mr. Henderson, who immediately introduced him to an eager, waiting crowd of a hundred and forty people. Mr. Henderson gave a short welcoming address, acknowledging Mr. Pratt’s immense popularity in Thames, and congratulated him on his coming of age.
The time for speeches was short; the real fun of the evening was the dancing. Seventy couples took to the Miners’ Hall floor as Messrs Fisher Bros. provided the entertainment for the night. The Fisher brothers were a regular act at parties and gatherings around the district, getting the party jumping with singing and violins. Songs and recitations were performed, including a few by popular demand by Mr. Pratt himself, well into the night. The Thames Star reported a few days later that the party continued well into the early hours of the following morning.