Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

History revisited - fast-forward back in time for quick service

I had no idea how bad water borne diseases were.....  typhoid was common killer.

I am constantly surprised at just how efficient Governments were in the nineteenth century, far more so than today.

The Municipality of Armidale was formally proclaimed on Tuesday 17 November 1863. Before an election could be held, a receiving officer had to be appointed. The Police Magistrate C T Weaver therefore nominated Christopher Dawson Fenwicke.

Mr Weaver’s letter nominating Mr Fenwicke is dated 23 November 1863. It was received in Sydney within four days and the required Executive Council minute was prepared on 28 November. The minute went to the Governor on 1 December and within a week both Mr Fenwick’s appointment and the date for the election were proclaimed in the Government Gazette. The election itself took place 22 December 1863.

Truly remarkable.

It would, I think, be unfair to say to much about those early councils since I suspect that the forthcoming Armidale Our Town production may have something to say. I am very much looking forward to it. However, those early councils could be quite fractious as local rivals fought for control. This was not limited to Armidale, but occurred in all the new councils across the North.

As always, questions of rates and debts were key; what should we spend, how do we fund it? The new councils had quite wide powers, in some ways wider than today. As today, they were also constrained by rate and borrowing caps imposed from Sydney. However, their key concerns were a little different from those we know now.

There was none of the angst over planning or environmental issues. That came much later. Rather, the focus was much more immediate.

The new municipalities’ roads were generally unmade, often still with tree stumps. Potholes were everywhere, while the roads became bogs during wet weather. The first concern was to remove those stumps, fill those potholes, place gravel on the roads. Then over the second half of the nineteenth century came four more concerns, fire, water, sewerage and lighting.

Fire was an enormous problem with wood buildings and no fire brigades. All Northern towns suffered, some very badly. Councils and aldermen helped from new brigades.

Water and sewerage was more difficult, for this involved real money. Until I came to research New England history, I had no idea just how bad water borne diseases were in our urban localities. Leaving aside the 1905 outbreak of plague in Lismore brought in via ship, typhoid was common killer.

Typhoid? What else would you expect with sewerage being dumped in creeks or polluting ground water and wells from sewerage pits? It really was a killer. Because of the cost to rate payers, all the new councils were reluctant to act. In the end, all had too.

That leaves lighting. Here there is a special story, one that I will leave to another column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 20 November 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013.

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