Register, 15 November 1886, page 7 Excerpt from The Exhibition Fence
A wealthy brewer, to the great disgust of the neighbourhood… erected [a brewery] on land partly facing this triangle… He knew money was power and boldly tore down the fences, destroyed the trees and opened a vista through which all Rundle Street might behold his signboard…
South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) Fri 17 March 1876
THE KENT TOWN TRIANGLE.
The actual space enclosed by the Kent Town Triangle is small, but the ground in question seems likely to cause a large amount of trouble. Indeed, the triangle duel that is being fought about it is almost as grotesque as that recorded by Midshipman Easy. Nor have the parties to the contest shown much more wisdom over the affair than did those in Captain Marryat’s amusing sketch.
The facts connected with this now historical piece of land seem to be as follows:— Some years ago the Kensington aud Norwood Corporation, having funds in hand consisting of the balance of certain subscriptions paid by the ratepayers for purposes of tree-planting, determined to fence off the ground in question, and to plant it with trees. It was then a bog in the winter and a dust hole in the summer, and it was thought the planting would be a decided improvement. Dr. Schomburgk was consulted, and we believe gave the trees to the Corporation. The surveyor was instructed to fence off the enclosure, and in his zeal took in a large space belonging to the City Council, as well as several feet of Rundle Street, Kent Town. The trees flourished, and nobody complained that the enclosure was an obstruction to the traffic until Mr. E. T. Smith, having become the purchaser of the adjacent property known as Dr. Kent’s garden, erected here a large and costly brewery. It was then that the dispute began between himself and the Council, over which he had at one time presided as Mayor.
While he held that office the Triangle was allowed to continue unchallenged. After his brewery was built, however, a letter was sent by Mr. Smith to the Council, asking them to remove the Triangle. This they declined to do. Then another letter, was sent suggesting that the enclosure should be reduced to about half its size, and offering to pay the cost of this. This suggestion was also declined. The Council, however, met Mr. Smith on the ground, and offered to round off the sharp corners— a proposition to which that gentleman did not accede.
Then followed a proposal from Mr. Smith to test the legal right in an inexpensive way, which was also declined. After this the matter was allowed to remain for some time in abeyance. Quite recently, however, Mr. Smith took the law into his own hands and removed a part of the fencing and drove his drays through the plantation. The Council resolved to sue Mr. Smith, in the Magistrates’ Court, and would have done so had not the ratepayers stepped in and in public meeting assembled requested that none of the Corporation funds should be spent in legal proceedings.
And there, the matter remains at present. Thus it will be seen that, as Sir Lucius O’Trigger says, the quarrel is a very pretty quarrel as it stands. The intervention of the ratepayers makes a very neat triangular duel of it. Mr Smith begins firing away at the Triangle, which is the property of the ratepayers; the Council begin firing away at Mr. Smith in the Police Court, and thereupon the rate payers fire away at the Council for spending money in law. Their protest brings the Council to a deadlock, and leaves Mr. Smith at liberty to blaze away as he pleases— a luxury which he has declared his intention to enjoy to the uttermost.
He has proclaimed war to the knife and no surrender. He is determined to test the question, but we cannot see how this is to be done if the Council refuse to go to law with him.
His position indeed must be one of unusual perplexity. For a man to be burning to appeal to the Supreme Court, and yet to be debarred by the refusal of the other side to proceed against him, is probably quite unprecedented in legal annals. What is the good of turning your cheek to the smiter if he persistently refuses to smite?
Mr. Smith may of course destroy the plantation and reduce it to its primitive condition of bog and dust hole. But that will be but a poor consolation after all. It will not give him a better road into his brewery, and it will be no real test of his right.
His only hope will be to get up another meeting, which shall insist upon his being prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. Then the dispute might be settled; but it is really a pity to see neighbours falling out over such a trifling matter.
For Mr. Smith and the Corporation of Kensington and Norwood to be at loggerheads is almost as bad as a quarrel between man and wife. He has spared neither his time nor his money in their service, and they in return have awarded to him all the honours they have to bestow. The only difficulty about settling the question amicably is that both parties cannot be got in a reasonable temper at the same time. When it is fair weather with one it is always foul weather with the other. When Mr. Smith was reasonable the Council would do nothing, and now that they send him a friendly deputation he stands rigidly upon his legal rights.
Whatever is done we trust that at least the matter may be kept out of the Supreme Court. It is very undesirable that the money of the Council, which might be so much better spent in repairing the roads and lighting the streets, should be expended in law costs; and on the other hand, should the Corporation gain the day it would be as great an evil for Mr. Smith’s cash to go in a similar channel, and thus be diverted from those many philanthropic and benevolent objects to which he has always given generous support. Is it too late to suggest that the matter might be settled by arbitration? Surely two practical common- sense men could decide the question in the course of a few hours, especially as each party has some reason on his side.
Dequetteville Terrace is two hundred links wide, and surely Mr. Smith does not want a space as broad as King William-street to turn his drays in. On the other hand the Triangle is needlessly large, and might be considerably curtailed and still be both useful and ornamental.
We think there can be no question as to the right of a Council to enclose the middle of a wide street, provided of course that there is no serious obstruction to the traffic. In fact, this is done by almost every Corporation. Often it is found to be a very great convenience, as affording a temporary place of refuge in crossing a wide thoroughfare. The time may come when there will be a large traffic along Rundle-street and Dequetteville Terrace, and an enclosure in the centre of the roadway will then be a great convenience to timid foot passengers.
All things considered, therefore, we strongly recommend both sides to come to some mutual accommodation, to hit upon some amicable modus vivendi. A prolonged contest about such a matter will only excite angry feelings in the minds of the parties themselves and ridicule in the minds of the lookers-on. Let them leave it to some indifferent person to say what shall be done, and so present to the approving world a fresh illustration of the old adage that “the falling out of faithful friends renewing is of love.”
[Editor: The following is obviously based on the above 1876 article from the Register but brings the story up to date.]
Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning’s A Colonial Experience
The actual space enclosed by the Kent Town Triangle is small, but the ground in question seemed likely to cause a large amount of trouble in 1876. Indeed, the triangular duel fought about was almost as grotesque as that recorded by Midshipman Easy. Nor did the parties to the contest show much more wisdom than did those in Captain Marryat’s amusing sketch.
The facts connected with this now historical piece of land is as follows. In the 1870s the Corporation of Kensington and Norwood, having funds in hand consisting of the balance of certain subscriptions paid by ratepayers for purposes of tree planting, determined to fence off the ground in question and to plant it with trees.
It was then a bog in the winter and a dust hole in the summer and it was thought that the planting would be a decided improvement. Dr Schomburgk, curator of the Botanic Gardens, was consulted and gave the trees to the corporation. A surveyor was instructed to fence off the enclosure and in his zeal took in a large space belonging to the Adelaide council, as well as several feet of Rundle Street, Kent Town.
The trees flourished and nobody complained that the enclosure was an obstruction to the traffic until Mr Edwin T, Smith, having become the owner of the adjacent property known as Dr Kent’s garden, erected there a costly brewery. It was then that a dispute began between himself and the council, over which he had one time presided over as Mayor. While he held that office the ‘triangle’ was allowed to continue unchallenged.
However, after his brewery was built a letter was sent by Mr Smith to the council asking it to remove the ‘triangle’. This it declined to do. Then another letter was sent suggesting that the enclosure should be reduced to about half its size and offering to pay the cost. This suggestion was also declined. The council, however, met Mr Smith on the ground and offered to round off the sharp corners – a proposition to which that gentleman did not accede. Then followed a proposal from Mr Smith to test the legal right in an inexpensive way, which was also declined.
Myself, and other concerned citizens, all agreed that if Mr Smith was legally entitled to the full width of the street opposite the entrance to his brewery, no one could find fault with him for maintaining his right. On the other hand, if he had no such right, then we considered that the council, in the interest of the ratepayers, should have protected its property and proceed to the utmost extremity, even against such a popular gentleman. We contended that the council was the guardian of the rights of ratepayers and it could not, without dereliction of duty, allow those rights to be infringed on by any one.
The precise facts of the matter in dispute were that a portion of the street running from the Valve House to the Old Racecourse, and known as Dequetteville Terrace, had been encroached upon by the ‘triangle’ and this was obvious enough to any observer. The ‘triangle’ had narrowed that portion of the street immediately facing the entrance to the brewery and the real question to be determined was whether the council had a legal right to make the encroachment and, if they had not, Mr Smith, by purchasing the land with the encroachment already made, did or did not condone the illegal act of the council.
Of course, this was purely a question of law and, as such, proceedings would probably end up in the Supreme Court which would waste a lot of money and give satisfaction to neither side. If the street had been restored to its original width on the eastern side of the ‘triangle’, no one, as far as we could see, would suffer, for it would serve the public generally, as it would serve Mr Smith. The ‘triangle’ might be made pretty, but its preservation was not so important as to justify the expenditure of the rates of the people to fight the question. We hoped, therefore, that a friendly arrangement could be negotiated.
In February 1876 Mr Smith took the law into his own hands and removed part of the fencing and drove his drays through the plantation. The council resolved to sue Mr Smith in the Magistrates’ Court and would have done so had not the ratepayers stepped in when, at a public meeting, a majority demanded that no public funds be spent in legal proceedings – and there the matter rested for some time.
Thus it can be seen that, as Sir Lucius O’Trigger says, the quarrel was a ‘very pretty quarrel’ as it stood. Mr Smith began firing away at the ‘triangle’, which was the property of the ratepayers; the council began firing away at Mr Smith in the Police Court, and thereupon the ratepayers fired away at the council for spending money in law. Their protest brought the council to a deadlock and left Mr Smith to blaze away as he pleased – a luxury which he declared to enjoy to the uttermost.
He proclaimed war to the knife and no surrender. He was ‘determined to test the question’, but no one could see how this was to be done if the council refused to go to law with him. His position was, indeed, one of unusual complexity, for a man burning to appeal to the Supreme Court, and yet debarred by the refusal of the other side to proceed against him, was probably quite unprecedented in legal annals. What was the good of turning your cheek to the smiter if he persistently refuses to smite?
Mr Smith could have destroyed the plantation and reduced it to its primitive condition of bog and dust hole but that would have been a poor consolation, for it would not have given him a better road to his brewery and would have been no real test as to his rights. It appeared that his only hope was to get up another meeting and insist that he be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law – then the dispute might have been settled, but it was a pity to see neighbours falling out over a trifling matter.
For Mr Smith and the Corporation of Kensington and Norwood to be at loggerheads was almost as bad as a quarrel between man and wife. He had spared neither his time nor his money in our service and in return we awarded him all the honours we could bestow. Indeed, it was more than apparent that the only difficulty about settling the matter amicably was that both parties could not get in a reasonable temper at the same time – when it was fair weather with one it was always foul weather with the other. When Mr Smith was reasonable the council would do nothing and, when it sent him a friendly delegation, he stood rigidly upon his legal rights.
Finally, by November 1877 the matter was settled amicably when Mr Smith ‘very generously said that if the council would remove the inconvenient and altogether unnecessary obstruction, which they had placed in the public road, he, at his own expense, would replace it with a fountain.’
In the absence of Mr Smith the fountain was turned on by Miss Peacock who said she was sure it would ‘prove an immense benefit to the public and a great ornament to the neighbourhood.’ The fountain was mounted on a wide slate pedestal in the form of steps, the upper part of which was square, with two triangles on each side, one above the other. The water, which ran constantly, fell from lion’s heads into the upper troughs and then drained into the lower, ‘so that the thirst of both man and his canine followers might be satisfied. Above the fountain rose a light and elegant fluted pillar, surmounted by a spherical lamp having a three-branch burner, by which means the neighbourhood was illuminated at night.