Olley Family Crest

On this page I am putting up a few notable moments in Olley history that left some trace in newspapers, books, web pages etc. and where appropriate in the memories of my relatives. This crest is found in our family bible, but I am not certain of its provinance or what conditions under which it was attached to the name (I have seen the identical crest used by other Olleys on the internet).

In all cases I am limiting what I post here to what comes up through internet searches and other such public channels. It is quite possible more was written about various Olleys in contemporary publications that have not been scanned into archives, that are not in the public domain, or both. More may appear and I may be alerted to more.

Donald Alfred Olley

Donald Olley was my great uncle and the partial source of one of my middle names (another great uncle was Donald Arnold). He was a British journalist who worked overseas for the Times of Ceylon and was a subeditor at the Daily Mail at the time of his death. He died tragically on April 21st 1935. He died in an unsuccessful attempt to save a small girl who was drowning in the Thames. His heroism was recongized by the Carnegie Trust (of the British Isles as opposed to that of North America). As of 2014 I was only able to find one document on the internet relating to him this article from the Strait Times (28 May, 1935, page 19), which has been archived and curated by the Singapore government.

George Anthony Olley

G. A. Olley

G. A. Olley was my great grandfather and I partially derive my other middle name, George, from him along with being born on Saint George's Day. G. A. Olley earned the titles "Vegetarian Crack" and "Fruitarian Cyclist" because of his vegetarianism and the fact that he held several long distance cycling records and titles between 1899 and 1910, when he was in his 20s. Accounts of his exploits appear in various vegetarian publications and as well as cycling news and advertisements.

G. A. Olley was a member of several cycling clubs including Anerley Bicycling Club, The Polytechnic Cyclkng Club and the Vegetarian Cycling Club. The Vegetarian Cycling Club continues to this day and their history page includes a very brief mention of his membership. From the accounts that survive we can surmise that G. A. Olley freely ate dairy products and eggs and so was not a vegan in modern parlance (or to put it another way he was a lacto-ovo-vegetarian). Note that my family did not remember his vegetarianism and were simply cognizant of his cycling record. His feats included the record for the Land's End to John O'Groat run (from the Southern to Northern tip of the Isle of Great Britain), it is unclear how long he took to make this journey (between eighty-seven hours and 45 minutes and eighty-four hours and 53 minutes it would seem assuming a missing 1 in the tens place), but he made use of several fixed gear bicycles of different gearing through the course of the trip. This record was held briefly during 1907 (another source gives him as holding the record in 1908 with 3 days, 5 hours [77 hours] and 20 minutes, which would apparently be faster than his first record making time, but which was quickly surpassed by others). Some other record times are 8 hours 31 minutes for the round trip London to Portsmouth (143 miles), 12 hours over 193 miles along Southern roads, 151 miles in 6 hours and 277 miles in 12 hours (these records were recorded at or before 1903), the 50 mile record at 2 hours, 15 minutes and ones second (in 1905) London to Edinburgh (382 miles) in 27 hours and 11 minutes (the record circa 1905), and the 1000 mile unpaced road record at 4 days, 9 hours and 3 minutes (circa 1907).

I have done a quick skim of the vegetarian publications that mention G. A. Olley and it make for suggestive reading. Although ethical considerations in favour of vegetarianism (and against animal cruelty) are prominent, the celebration of sports figures like G. A. Olley suggests some other considerations. One question that such atheletic success answered was whether such a diet was compatible with healthy living. If it were enimical to human health then this could counter vegetarianism's appeal to ethical considerations. The success of atheles like Olley affirms that a vegetarian diet is consistent with health. But another current is also suggested that a diet of meat is unnatural, impure and therefore unhealthy. The success of vegetarian atheletes can be used in this line to suggest their diet gives them an edge over their opponents. However the argument appears somewhat beside the point since presumambly few vegetarianism would be converted to eating meat by the promise of an athletic edge.

The rhetoric of pure and natural food and better food for all suggests how health focused vegetarianism shades into broader programs of food and health reform including eugenic movements of the period. This is exemplified by the magazine Good Health. This edition incudes a profile of George A. Olley providing a great deal of information about him. The magazine is not a vegetarian publication, but does favourably mention some vegetarian restaurants and this suggests to me along with their profile of the Vegetarian Crack a certain connection between the movements.

Tellingly Good Health also includes a quick editorial comment endorsing laws requiring certification of health in order to enter into marriage. While not in-line with the simple genetic determinism usually associated with eugenics, it is a eugenical idea that healthy parents would have healthy and unhealthy parents unhealthy children no matter what the determinant of health. While I have never studied the history of eugenics, osmosis from those who have and the occassional cursiory reading suggests it is a far broader movement then usually conceived in the popular mind and while xenophobia and racism played their part or were thinly concealed by some aspects of the movements, other aspects admitted far more complex and well founded concerns and aspirations such as concerns for promoting public health and that is suggested here.

Good Health vol. 1 no. 12.
The Herald of the Golden Age, January 1905 and July 1907.
Souvenir of Mr. H. Green's Wonderful Record, an advertisement for Raleigh Fricoaster Bicycle that includes many details on Olley's and others trips from Land's End to John O'Groats but not the actual time.
A rough biography of Australian cyclist Sir Hubert Opperman, which gives us a specific time for the Land's End to John O'Groats wrong but in a different year and otherwise at odds with the Raleigh advertisement.
An article from the Queenslander, September 26, 1914, detailing some cycling records and mentioning G. A. Olley.
Another brief mention in the Queenslander, Saturday November 1, 1902, for breaking the 12 hour Southern road record
A photo of G A Olley starting.
A quick mention of G A Olley's 12 hour cycling record as a comparison to the accomplishments of a woman cyclist of the same era in The Sports Historian, No. 15, pp. 54-59.
A quick mention of G A Olley on the Anerley Bicycle club website.
A picture of GA Olley in trunks as a physical specimen is on sale from e-bay.


Reach me at allan.olley@utoronto.ca.

Last Updated May 2nd, 2016.