At the NSW Dickens Society meeting held on Saturday 13th August the Percy Fitzgerald Award was awarded to both Chester Porter QC and his wife Jean Porter by NSW Dickens Society President Louise Owens.
The Porters were nominated for this award for the sterling service they have given to the Society since its formation in October 2002. Jean and Chester, as two of the original founders of the NSW Dickens Society, have attended almost all of the meetings since its formation and have been enthusiastic supporters over the years since then. They have also taken part in various Dickensian events, both having written stories for inclusion in the bi-monthly newsletter Household Words and the yearly journal Boz in Oz. Chester has also been a most erudite speaker at several meetings, including giving a talk for the birthday celebrations at the Dickens statue in Centennial Parklands. The Porters have made several financial contributions to the branch over the years as well as donating an old Dickensian cigarette card album which has been the source of much interest and comment. The NSW Dickens Society felt both Jean and Chester to be deserving recipients of this honour.
NSW Dickens Society President, Louise Owens, collected the awards from Dr Tony Williams, the President of the Dickens Fellowship, on behalf of the Porters at the AGM of the Dickens Fellowship on Saturday 23rd July 2016 which took place in the University of Aberdeen Conference Centre Auditorium during the 2016 Dickens Fellowship Annual Conference. Once back in Sydney Louise had the two certificates framed in readiness to present to the Porters.
The idea behind the Percy Fitzgerald Award – which was first awarded in 2002 – was to create an opportunity to honour members of the Dickens Fellowship who have put in a lot of work, often over a long time but who have never aspired to high office or recognition in other ways within the organisation.
The award is named in honour of Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald (1834-1925), an Anglo-Irish author, critic, painter and sculptor who was the first President of the Dickens Fellowship from 1902-1903. Born in County Louth, Ireland he was educated at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, and Trinity College, Dublin. In his professional life as a barrister, he rose to become a crown prosecutor in Ireland, before leaving behind his legal career and moving to London. Once there he was soon became better known as an author: Dickens’s biographer John Forster encouraged Fitzgerald to write, introducing him to Dickens in 1856. Dickens and Fitzgerald became close literary friends with both men having an abiding love of the theatre. Fitzgerald contributed articles and stories to both Household Words and All the Year Round, later publishing Memories of Charles Dickens in 1913. Fitzgerald completed two busts of Charles Dickens, one which resides in the Pump Room in Bath while the other can be found in the courtyard of the Prudential Insurance Company in High Holburn. (See the article, Immortalising the Inimitable, by NSWDS member Catherine Barker OAM in the February 2016 edition of Boz in Oz.)