Dr Kent’s Farewell

Dr Benjamin Archer Kent arrived in Adelaide with his family on April 14th 1840. In 1854 Dr Kent and his wife returned to England for a visit and his departure was commemorated by a farewell dinner, extensively described in the Adelaide Observer. The article contains a brief autobiographical sketch by Dr Kent of his time in the Colony.

Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904)  Sat 23 Dec 1854

DINNER TO DR KENT

A select party of gentlemen entertained B. A. Kent, M. D., on -Tuesday; last  with a farewell dinner at the Gresham. The chair, was filled by the Colonial Surgeon supported on his right by the guest of the evening and Dr Rankine M. L. C.; on his left by the Rev. Mr. W. Woodcock, Canon of Christchurch, North Adelaide.

A series of toasts follow and Dr Kent then responds.

Dr Kent rose and said—-My dear friends, the truly gratifying position in which you have this evening placed me, and the very flattering terms in which our much respected friend has called upon you more especially to notice me, cause me, I can assure you, very great embarrassment. Believe me that I most desirous to express my sense of both appropriately, but the emotions of which I am at this moment conscious cannot be conveyed to you by any language I can command.

Rather, therefore, than run the risk of even appearing to undervalue them by the use of comparatively impotent expressions, I will throw myself on the generous sympathy of each of you, requesting each to give me credit for such sensations as he knows would be excited in himself under similar circumstances. (Hear, hear.)

As so much allusion has been made to my colonial history, you will, I doubt not, permit me to enter into a few details respecting it, not with the intention of proving any claim to eulogiums bestowed on me by far too lavish a hand, but with that of illustrating the extent, to which in South Australia, generous sympathy and active benevolence are manifested towards those who are overtaken by unavoidable calamity or misfortune. (Hear, and applause.) In consequence of having suffered in my health very severely from arduous professional duties in England, it was thought desirable by my medical and other friends that I should seek a temporary, if not a permanent, suspension of them and after much anxious deliberation, I determined on bring to this Province to erect here, and to work, machinery invented by the Marquis of Tweedale, for the rapid and economical manufacture of bricks and tiles.

I had previously heard the principles of these explained and approved of in lectures delivered in the Royal Institution of England, and had seen them in actual and successful operation at Strathfieldsaye, in Durham and other places, and from the peculiar requirements of a young colony, believed that nothing could offer a more reasonable chance of success. Some friends very liberally augmented the funds at my own disposal to enable me to make my arrangements as complete as possible, and in November, 1839, accompanied by my family I embarked for this place.

We had a tedious and stormy voyage of about five months and arrived here in April, 1840. I soon discovered that a serious error had been committed by the manufacturers at home, in ignorance of the paucity of means and appliances at that time existing in our small community, and that the machinery was contained in packages of such unwieldy size and weight as to make them very unmanageable and next I learnt with dismay that to take them to the Old Port or to land them at Glenelg, would be equally impossible, and that the New Port had not been opened.

Applications made, however, to the South Australian Company and to the Government were successful in obtaining permission for me to bring my goods up from the North Arm to the present Port, and these were consequently the first of any importance landed there. This was not effected, however, without very great trouble, as it was found impossible to move my packages into the lighters entire, and the risk of loss of portions of machinery when separated one from the other was very great, and might, if it occurred, put a stop to all my proceedings. I consequently determined never when it could be avoided to lose sight of them, and after purchasing drays, &c., my daily work consisted, for several weeks, in removing the loose machinery from the ship to the wharf, in watching it at night, and conveying it to its destination near the town.

The difficulties I had to encounter were greatly augmented by popular opposition, and this indeed was carried to such an extent that the Government very considerately ordered policemen to take charge of my works both day and night for a lengthened period, to protect them from the injury with which they were menaced.

The erection of the first steam-engine set to work in this colony was successfully accomplished under my own immediate directions, and Governor Gawler and a large number of colonists were present when the anxious moment arrived for me to test the correct adjustment of its parts and to exhibit its performances, and I need scarcely say that my satisfaction was complete when I found that all was right. The other parts of the machinery were soon completed under the protection of the Government which ever since the date of my arrival had not ceased to render me every assistance I sought from it, and to show very gratifying interest in the progress of my operations. For some time subsequently to this period my tale is one of an almost uninterrupted succession of misfortunes and disappointments.

These however, I will only enumerate that the efforts and aid of those to whom I am mainly indebted for a restoration to circumstances of comfort and prosperity may be duly appreciated. In the first place, the peculiar dryness of the atmosphere in South Australia, added to the unsuitable nature of the brick-earth, led to the complete abandonment of that portion of the machinery by which the greatest saving in time and labour was hoped to have been effected; this was not done, however, until after costly and protracted but fruitless efforts to correct or obviate these circumstances.

At the express request of Governor Gawler, I was subsequently induced to turn the power of my steam-engine to the driving of a flour-mill, encouraged by his promise that it should he fully supplied with work by the Government to make good any deficiency that there might be in that obtainable from the colonists, who were, at that time, scarcely doing more than experimentalizing in farming operations. This arrangement, had it been carried out, would have spared me most, if not all of my subsequent distress. Governor Gawler authorized ships to proceed to Valparaiso and Van Diemen’s Land for wheat which was to furnish flour, &c, for the supply of the various Government departments. One of these, containing a large quantity, was unfortunately detained in Sydney and her cargo sold by the creditors of the ship, and another was wrecked on King s Island in  Bass’s Straits. (Hear, hear.) In the meantime, and during my absence in the neighbouring colonies to gain some insight into my new occupation, other mills were erected in every direction, with power sufficient in the aggregate to manufacture in one season much more than the quantity of wheat that could be supplied. My liabilities had been thus formidably increased, whilst my resources had been cut off, and the departure of Colonel Gawler and arrival of Captain, now Sir George Grey, with, instructions that prevented him from carrying into effect the engagements of his predecessor, finally consummated my misfortunes in 1843.

Then it was that my kind and; valued friend, Duncan Macfarlane Esq, stepped in, and by his liberality prevented the dispersion of my property by becoming the purchaser of it himself, and giving me the opportunity to repossess myself of it as my means permitted me. (Loud applause.) I much regret that the distance at which he resides has in all probability prevented him from being amongst us, and deprived me of the great additional pleasure it would have been to me to have expressed these my most sincere thanks to him in person but I trust they will reach him with-my assurance that the debt of gratitude I owe to him can never be extinguished. (Applause.)

The presence of another highly-respected and greatly-esteemed friend, Edward Stephens Esq, is a source of much satisfaction to me, as it gives me the valued opportunity of acknowledging him also as one who, by his suggesting, and most liberally contributing to, a fund very seasonably raised to enable me to resume active operations, as .well as by numerous subsequent acts of disinterested counsel and assistance, has essentially contributed to my advancement and prosperity. (Applause.)

Having been much recommended about the period last alluded to, to resume the practice of my profession, I determined on so doing and with this end in view I called, as an observance of courtesy, on the chief medical practitioners in the colony. Let me here record the indelible impression made on my mind by the cordiality, generous sympathy, and flattering respect with which I was received by each-and all of them, as also by the readiness manifested by them to afford me every assistance and information requisite to enable me to take my place. amongst them. And bear with me, if I now triumphantly allude to them as the originators of our present meeting;  to the Presidency of one, and to the presence of all them, as an indisputable proof of the continuance and growth of that friendship and harmony which have characterized our intercourse, without interruption, from that period to the-present.

May that sociability and good feeling which have hitherto so creditably distinguished my medical brethren in this province never suffer diminution, but, on the contrary, be fostered and cherished as a means of increasing their own happiness and of contributing very materially to the interests of the whole community. (Applause)

To all my friends here, many of whom have for a series of years witnessed  my efforts, who have contributed by countenance and support to cheer me on in my course, who have upheld me during periods of severe mental discouragements, and have thus ultimately assisted me, with the blessing  of a beneficent Providence to attain a position enabling me to accomplish that for which, although you are pleased to eulogize me, believe me, I claim no credit. I can only reiterate my grateful thanks and express my most earnest prayer that every blessing may descend from the Giver of all Good on you and yours.(Applause.)

Dr Kent as Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of South Australia (of English Freemasons) – from the Collection of the State Library of South Austalia.