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    Adelaide - Public Nuisances


    Also see Public Health and Adelaide - Streets - Miscellany

    Insanitary Adelaide

    Taken from Geoffrey H Manning's A Colonial Experience

    There are, in the multitude of social reformers, some who seem anxious to go backwards, and who speak with reverent enthusiasm of the simple serenity of our forbears, which looks so attractive when compared with the complicated urgencies of the twentieth century. People who feel genuinely distressed that they did not live the best years of their life more than half a century ago will, I trust, find solace when they read about the horrible nuisances in Adelaide in the latter half of the 1840s.

    Today, Adelaide is famed for its cleanliness. However, in 1848, the year I removed to Norwood, its condition was not only highly disgusting, but a menace to any one who was so unfortunate as to breathe its fetid air. Its miserable hovels cried in vain for the intervention of any pretence of municipal government between the rapacity of the landlord and the helpless dependency of the tenant.

    The general state of the city was filthy in the extreme; nor is it to be wondered at, when you consider the fact that deposits of every description, emanating from the ever-increasing population, had been allowed to remain and accumulate on the surface ever since the year 1836 - we literally lived on a dunghill of nearly thirteen years standing. Carcases of horses and bullocks lay exposed, garnished with heaps of putrescent animal and vegetable matter of every description.

    In the neighbourhood of East Terrace, on the north side of Peacock's tanyard, a row of eight habitations (I cannot call them houses), were divided into 16 tenements, the upper of which were accessible only by means of open stairs, or rather stepladders, in the rear. Their dimensions were only 10 feet by 12 feet and had 100 persons occupying them, all of whom were compelled to use the same convenience, which adjoined one of the ladders, and stood within two feet of the house. Many died there from fever. On the west side of this structure stood 12 houses belonging to the same landlord, all thickly inhabited and having but one privy among them.

    The substandard dwellings occupied by the working class were described in the following descriptive prose:

    The same correspondent was to write again with further insight and compassion:

    An abominable nuisance emanated from Mr Clarke's brewery in Gilles Street. There was a natural hollow intersecting the public thoroughfare and the largest part of this depression was filled with beer drainings and slush from the brewery and covered an area from 60 to 100 yards. This nuisance, bad enough in itself, was aggravated by carbonic acid gas given off from fermenting vats. This was a favourite pool for the daily wallowing of pigs which were attracted by the odour.

    Perhaps I should explain that domestic animals roamed freely throughout the city and environs. For instance, an individual seeing his neighbours pig astray, took down his gun and deliberately shot it. He was, apparently, unaware that under such circumstances he exposed himself not only to a fine of £5 for shooting in the public streets, but to an action for damages in the Magistrates' Court. The law stated that should pigs be found on a neighbour's ground, they had the liberty to impound them and could claim damages for trespass.

    There was a narrow street opposite Wakeham's public house in Grenfell Street leading to Pirie Street, where several tenements were huddled together in such a manner as to defy cleanliness and ventilation. Owing to the total absence of drainage, in winter the roadway was a mass of mud, while a slaughter house and piggery extended one half the way and the abominations from the brewery poisoned the other. Combined, they occasioned an abominable stench at all seasons. And that was not all, for in the same vicinity were a tannery and chandlery which poured their foul emissions on the luckless inhabitants whenever the wind blowed from certain quarters.

    The glorious Park Lands were also subjected to human degradation as day by day, from natural decay, hastened by imperfect attention, from the fires of wandering natives and the midnight axe of lawless depredators, the old native timber gradually disappeared. You, the reader, may well ask as to what solutions were brought forward to counter these evils - I append them in tabular form:

    Following these harrowing tales of Arcadian Adelaide a touch of humour may be a fitting finale. In the midst of winter the streets of Adelaide were usually a quagmire which prompted a laconic citizen to proffer some 'Sailing Directions for Currie Street':

    Finally, man's 'best friend' was the subject for complaint from a long-suffering citizen:

    A Song for the City

    Dedicated to the Opponents of Sanitary Reform

    Close your eyes and fold your arms
    Easy good people about
    Mid filth and stench from sewer and trench
    Have your nap quickly out.
    Let animal matter and household slops
    In the festering cesspool steam
    To poison the air of your city fair
    While you securely dream.

    A cloud hangs over the city,
    Through Adelaide's million pores
    It fumes up a main from offal and drain
    And assassin-like haunts our doors,
    Yet sleep - sleep on wise rulers
    In your ignorance still be bold!
    But remember my rhyme when retributive time
    Makes you pay for your sloth tenfold.

    An Essay on the Suburban Dustman

    Old boots, broken crockery, kitchen refuse, rags and fish tins. What more profitable occupation can be named than that of collecting them. Yet banish the dustman and what a nuisance would result. As purifiers of backyards they do work that must be done by someone, and fortunate it is for householders that such men can be found to do it - well, too, generally. Of course, the scavenger cannot wear kid gloves, high collar, patent leather boots and a nosegay, but what matter. His stock-in-trade are an old tub and a roomy tip dray with a horse to match.

    Tramping by the side of his steed, or in the wake of his rumbling dray, the dustman plods along the lanes and byways - usually a bit of a philosopher after his own fashion. Rarely does he see the householder because the household rubbish is not kept too close to the house. Generally the only welcome he gets is from dogs - occasionally cross dogs.

    The "Boss" scavenger talks:

    General Notes

    The Register of 11 August 1838, page 3b says:

    Indiscriminate shooting of animals in the streets is commented upon in the Southern Australian,
    8 September 1840, page 3c,
    12 January 1841, page 1c (supp.).

    "Metallurgical Nuisances" is in the Register, 14 October 1846, page 2d:

    Under the heading "Public Nuisances" a subscriber to the Register says on 1 January 1848 at page 3c:

    A further general complaint is in the Register on 25 March 1848, page 3e when the "nuisances" are listed and commented upon; they include boiling down works, chemical manufactures, horses driven by drunken men and drunkenness, etc.

    "South Australian Stenches" is the cause of a complaint in the South Australian,
    11 April 1848, page 3a.

    The Adelaide Times of 12 February 1849, page 4 reports a public meeting in respect of various "nuisances" when one citizen stated that:

    "The Goat Nuisance" is complained about in the Register,
    23 February 1853, page 3b:

    Also see SA - Flora and Fauna

    Drains are condemned by a correspondent to the Register on 31 October 1853, page 3c:

    A correspondent to the Register on 20 July 1854, page 3b under the heading "Bombardment of Adelaide" says:

    The Observer of 28 January 1854, page 5e carries a complaint that:

    Another nuisance in Halifax Street is cause for complaint in the Register,
    4 October 1854, page 3d:

    "The Grenfell Street Nuisance" in the form of Burford's Soap Works is discussed in the Register,
    25, 26 and 30 January 1855, pages 2e-3b, 3e and 2e.

    "The Reign of Nuisances" is in the Register,
    14 March 1855, page 2d.

    "City Nuisances" in the form of pigs, goats, etc, are discussed in the Observer,
    24 March 1855, pages 3h-5d.

    New City By-laws are recorded in the Register,
    13 October 1855, page 2f:

    "Summer Odours" is in the Observer,
    15 December 1855, page 1f (supp.).

    Under the heading "The Wrongs of Rundle Street" the Register of 21 March 1856, page 3h says:

    Adding to this complaint an irate wife and mother informed the Register on 2 April 1856, page 3d:

    At the western end of the city another nuisance in the form of an organ was cause for complaint in the Register, 9 April 1856, page 3e:

    "Waste and Impure Water" is in the Register,
    21 June 1856, page 3d.
    "The City Watertable" is in the Register,
    9 November 1865, page 2e.
    Also see Adelaide

    An amusing editorial headed "A Street Grievance" is in the Register,
    26 February 1859, page 2e:

    "City Nuisances" is in the Register,
    25 March 1859, page 2g,
    "The Corporation and the Butchers" on
    5 August 1861, page 3a.

    A correspondent to the Register lodged the following complaint on 29 December 1862 at page 3c:

    "Public Nuisances and Candle Factories" is in the Register,
    31 May 1864, page 3b,
    1 June 1864, page 2f,
    22 and 24 May 1865, pages 2f and 2f,
    Also see Adelaide - Factories
    "Public Nuisances" in the Observer,
    2 July 1864, page 5d.

    "Offensive Trades" is in the Chronicle,
    6 and 27 May 1865, pages 1e (supp) and 1e (supp.),
    12 September 1866, page 2e.

    "The Law of Chemistry and Smells" is in the Register,
    22 May 1865, page 2d,
    13 June 1865, page 2c,
    27 May 1865, page 6c,
    "City Stinks" in the Advertiser,
    12 February 1866, page 3d.

    The Register of 25 June 1866, page 2e reports "a very serious nuisance caused by the impure drainage which flows... into the Botanic Gardens":

    An editorial headed "Unsavoury and Unsightly" is in the Advertiser,
    23 February 1867, page 2e:

    "Insanitary Adelaide - Horrible Nuisances of Early Days" is in the Register,
    8 April 1921, page 8g.

    "How the Refuse of the Town May Become the Riches of the Country" is in the Express,
    29 May 1867, page 2b.

    "What is a Legal Nuisance?" is in the Advertiser,
    15 March 1869, page 2e; also see
    13 and 20 March 1869, pages 8f and 6c.

    A correspondent to the Advertiser on 21 November 1870, page 3h ventures ventures the opinion that:

    "Nuisances in the City and Suburbs" is in the Observer,
    21 and 28 January 1871, pages 15e and 6a; also see
    24 June 1871, page 5f,
    23 September 1871, page 5d,
    18 November 1871, page 6g,
    27 January 1871, page 3e,
    22 and 23 June 1871, pages 2f and 2c.
    Also see Adelaide - Suburbs

    "Poisoned Air" is in the Express,
    13 September 1871, page 2c.

    A lengthy and informative letter on "Public Stenches" is in the Register,
    20 July 1871, page 5e which was no doubt prompted by an earlier complaint about the Bone Mill at Dulwich;
    for the aftermath of the complaint see
    22, 26 July 1871, pages 5f and 6a;
    14, 21 September 1871, pages 5e and 5a;
    18 October 1871, page 5c; also see Dulwich.
    A "tongue-in-cheek" response to the earlier complaints appears on
    6 September 1871, page 5c:

    Also see Register,
    7 September 1871, page 3f,
    23 October 1871, page 5c,
    18 November 1871, page 7e and
    7 November 1872, page 3e:

    Further complaints were forthcoming, the following being a random selection:

    This was not the end of the problem; further comments appear in the Register,
    26 February 1873, page 5e,
    11, 12 and 31 March 1873, pages 4e, 5f and 4e, while
    "City Scavenging" is discussed on
    30 April and 16 May 1873, pages 4e:

    Perhaps we should allow the Register's resident poet to express the general community concern:

    The wheels of the municipal council turned slowly, if at all, and on 4 November 1873, an irate citizen wrote to the Register (page 6d) under the heading "The State of the City":

    On 6 January 1874, page 6d-e another angry ratepayer added grist to the mill:

    On 29 January 1874, page 4f the Editor of the Register attacked the council - "once more the policy of procrastination has triumphed".

    This outburst was rebutted by a citizen on
    3 February 1874, page 6b; also see
    5 February 1874, page 4f.

    On 11 February 1874, pages 5b and 6a-b, a report recommending the introduction of a "scavenging" scheme, was presented to the council; the Editor of the Register makes a final comment on 27 April 1874, page 4f.

    However, the newly introduced scheme of rubbish collection did not prove to be a panacea to certain "stenches" in the city and on 23 January 1875, page 5f a citizen had some harsh words to say about North Terrace:

    Another correspondent supported this claim on
    25 January 1875, page 5e, while on
    29 January 1875, page 6f "more stenches" emanating from a soap factory in Sturt Street were the subject of another disparaging letter.
    The same factory was cause for complaint on
    13 January 1883, page 6c:

    Also see Register,
    15 and 23 January 1883, pages 6f and 5a,
    10 and 12 February 1883, pages 7d and 7c,
    2, 5 and 6 March 1883, pages 7f, 5b and 4d-g,
    2 May 1883, page 6g,
    13 and 16 June 1883, pages 5d and 4e,
    17 and 24 May 1884, pages 7e and 4d - the last four references concern a prosecution of W.H. Burford and Sons; also see
    21 and 22 April 1885, pages 5a-7a and 4f-7c,
    6 March 1883, page 4d.

    On 9 April 1875, page 6e a correspondent to the Register brought the problem home to the doors of the municipal council:

    Further evidence of the unsavoury condition of the city is expounded in the Register on 20 January 1876, page 6e:

    With apparently no dumps available in which to deposit collected refuse the Register of
    22 March 1877 at page 5g carries a letter complaining of the offal being "deposited in the Squares and very carefully spread over the surface...".
    For reports on "scavenging" see Register,
    19 November 1886, page 7c,
    11 April 1887, page 7h,
    3 July 1897, page 5i.

    On a humorous note the Register of 1 May 1877 at page 5e contains a poem - it reads in part:

    An editorial on the subject appears in the Register,
    2 May 1877, page 4e.

    "Nuisances" is in the Register,
    13 March 1876, page 4g.

    "A Deadly Nuisance" is in the Express,
    28 February 1878, page 3b.

    A complaint about Tidmarsh's Soap Factory in south-west Adelaide is in the Register,
    31 January 1878, page 5g,
    while the evils emanating from night-carts is discussed on
    9 February 1878, page 4g; also see page 5g on the same day.

    Under the heading "The Typhoid Ponds" an irate citizen says in the Register on 18 December 1878, page 5a:

    Further, on 20 December 1878 at page 6c it is said:

    On 21 December 1878 at page 4d the Editor observes:

    "More Adelaide Stinks" is in the Observer,
    12 April 1879, page 14c.

    The citizens of Adelaide were, no doubt, pleased that the introduction of deep drainage got rid of many of the unsavoury odours in the city, but on 31 January 1883 in the Register at page 7a a complaint is lodged:

    Nuisances from cesspits are described in the Advertiser,
    8 March 1883, page 2b (supp.),
    "Varied Stinks" is in the Express,
    27 February 1885, page 3d.

    "The City Council and City Nuisances" is in the Register,
    6 March 1883, page 4d.
    Nuisances from cesspits are described in the Advertiser,
    8 March 1883, page 2b (supp.),
    "Varied Stinks" is in the Express,
    27 February 1885, page 3d.

    "City Smells" is in the Express,
    8 April 1890, page 3c.

    In 1896 a correspondent under the pseudonym of "Hugh Kalyptus" (Mr S.J. Skipper) complains of foul odours in the southern portion of the city:

    Refuse destructors are discussed in the Register,
    27 February 1899, page 4i.

    The prevention of smoke emanating from factories is reported upon in the Advertiser,
    1 November 1901, page 7c.
    "The Smoke Nuisance" is in the Register,
    19 November 1901, page 7g.
    Also see Adelaide - Factories and Mills

    An editorial on the dust nuisance under the heading "The Flying Microbe" is in the Advertiser,
    11 January 1902, page 6c; also see
    22 January 1902, page 4d,
    11 October 1902, page 6f,
    29 September 1903, page 6e,
    13 October 1903, page 4c,
    6 February 1904, page 6f,
    12 April 1904, page 7b,
    27 September 1904, page 7e,
    10 November 1904, page 4f:

    "Sunday Scavenging" is in the Register,
    17 March 1903, page 4f.
    Also see South Australia

    The "Nocturnal Noise" of railways on North Terrace is the cause for complaint in the Advertiser,
    15 January 1908, page 6d.
    Also see Adelaide - Transport

    "City Nuisances" is in the Advertiser,
    25 November 1913, page 12b.

    A humorous letter headed "A Plague of Cats" is in the Advertiser,
    11 January 1921, page 9c.

    "Noises of the Night - Nerve-Racking Torture" is in The Mail,
    7 July 1928, page 12c.

    "Noise Nuisances in the City" is in The News,
    8 December 1931, page 6d,
    "Adelaide Calm About its Noises" in the Advertiser,
    16 January 1932, page 13d;
    the noise of motor cycles is the subject of editorial comment in the Advertiser,
    5 December 1929, page 22e,
    6 April 1934, page 18e.

    Public Nuisances - Choose again