Robert Bertram established himself as a defender and blazed a path for his prodigal brother Ossie, who was two months short of his 15th birthday when he broke into the Norwood team. Raised in the Catholic faith, the brothers honed their skills at St Peter’s College, shared two Norwood premierships and were respected citizens when, tragically, both their lives were cut short.
Born at Norwood on 12 October 1866 to Joseph Bertram, a future Mayor of St Peters, and his wife Elizabeth, née Murphy, Robert had five brothers and three sisters, Mary, Percy, Douglas, Joseph Oswald (Ossie), Maude, William, Hamilton and Maggie.
Robert was a good student and sportsman at St Peter’s. In 1882, when future Norwood player Charles Hayward won a prize for kicking a football 60 yd 1 in, Robert was second by 11 inches. In 1884, when Hayward’s 126 powered St Peter’s to cricket victory over Prince Alfred College, Robert opened the batting and bowling with modest success. He went on to play cricket with Norwood. He also rowed.
As the St Peter’s football captain in 1882, 1883 and 1884 Robert felt the pain of three defeats at the hands of PAC, which won 3.15 to 1.5, 10.21 to nil and 4.8 to 1.6. On 24 August 1884, however, he gained selection in the Norwood team which played Melbourne at Adelaide Oval. While Norwood went down 5.7 to 3.6, The South Australian Advertiser said “Bertram played perhaps the best game of the forty”. He was in the Norwood team for the next seven seasons.
Ossie joined Robert at Norwood in 1887 and the pair celebrated premierships in 1888 and 1889. They were members of the Norwood team which won the Championship of Australia with three wins over South Melbourne in 1888. They were together when Norwood beat an England team 5.8 to 3.1 at Adelaide Oval that year.
Ossie went on to further premierships in 1891 and 1894. Before Robert retired in 1891, he was struck by Port Adelaide player Walter Kempster, who was fined 10 shillings for the offence. For the next two years Robert served as chairman of the SA Football Association as it dealt with penalties and clearances.
For some years he worked in the office of the Premier, Charles Kingston, and he was vice-president of the St Ignatius Literary Society in 1895. He opened a legal practice in Port Pirie and also served as secretary of the local branch of the Agriculture Bureau. He was an expert on floriculture.
There was shock when Ossie, 24, died of typhoid in Perth in 1896. Worse was to follow. Ailing from consumption, which had already taken his brother Percy, Robert put a locum in charge of his Port Pirie practice and took a trip to Samoa to try to improve his health. It was of no avail. He died at Mount Lofty on 28 March 1898 at the age of 31. Premier Kingston and Sir Edwin Smith joined Robert’s father, family and many friends at his funeral before his burial at the Catholic Cemetery, West Terrace, Adelaide.
P Robins, D Cox April 2021