Monday, 29 June 2015

Townsville Pacific Festival

The year 1970 marked 200 years since Captain Cook’s voyage to the Pacific and along Australia’s eastern seaboard.  In Townsville in June 1970, a new chapter in Pacific relations was being written, with the help of an inaugural festival aimed at strengthening cultural ties in the region.
Parade in Flinders Street, outside the Post Office.
Photo: CityLibraries.

Designed to focus on cultural, artistic and environmental aspects of life in Pacific countries, one of the Townsville Pacific Festival’s main aims was to help create greater friendship and understanding between Australia and other countries in the Pacific region.

In its first year, the festival attracted performers and exhibits from countries such as Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Malaysia. By the time the third Pacific Festival was held in 1974, ten countries were involved in an exciting exchange of cultural ideas and knowledge.

The programme of events planned for the inaugural ten-day celebration included theatre productions, ballet performances, a Fun Fair, Mayoral Ball, a film festival, lectures on Cook’s voyages, and local displays of Barrier Reef corals, beach shells and gem collections. There were also a number of sporting competitions held as part of the festival, such as sailing regattas, ocean yacht races, power boat races, swimming carnivals, a fishing competition, football matches and even a go-kart championship.

A variety of open-air concerts were held at a temporary sound shell in Anzac Park, which included the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Australian Infantry Band, the Townsville Citizens’ Band, and an “International Concert” featuring singers and dancers from Greece, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Ghana, Scotland and Ireland.

Another concert was called “Sounds on the Sand” and featured local pop groups Madison Avenue, Mode, Mainline Connection, Banned, Link and Klub.

The festival culminated in a street procession with over 30 decorated floats, witnessed by thousands of locals, followed by a mardi gras in Flinders Street.
Pacific Festival parade, Flinders Street East, August 1987.
Photo: CityLibraries.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that the President of the Townsville Pacific Festival Board, Mr John Raggatt believed that the success of the inaugural festival had proven that Townsville could present a festival of “national and international stature”.

“I believe we have created something of which Townsville can be proud,” Mr Raggatt said.

It was estimated that 100,000 people had attended festival events, including 27,000 people at concerts in Anzac Park and 13,000 people visiting the Festival Arts Centre.

“I am quite sure that attendances such as this have never been given to presentations of this nature anywhere in Queensland,” Mr Raggatt said.

“Townsville has proved that it can present and support a major Australian festival,” he said.

Mr Raggatt felt that the festival’s success was due in no small part to the widespread community support the festival had received.

“As an inaugural festival it was a resounding success and this was due to a co-operative effort not only by the organisers but by the people of Townsville and this region.”

While in Townsville for the festival, the Bulletin reported that a visiting official from the Malaysian High Commission, Mr V. Kukathas, had said that the staging of an international festival was probably the most dramatic way of creating understanding among people.

Mr Kukathas believed that “half the trouble in the world today occurred because people did not know each other properly” and that exhibitions of the kind being held in Townsville created a “general understanding between people”.

The Pacific Festival ran until 1995.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Companions in Death - A Curious Tragedy

In October 1896, the circumstances surrounding the suspicious deaths of two men - Edgar Martin, and William Henry Kirton - stunned the Townsville community.

Library caption: Edgar Martin and William Henry Kirton, clowning around with a saw, Townsville, 1896.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

A Townsville Tragedy

(Townsville Star, October 22.)

An intense and most painful sensation was created in Flinders-street about 10.30 this morning by the rumour, which in a few minutes spread to all parts of the city, that Mr. W. H. Kirton, the well-known chemist, and Mr Edgar Martin, the manager of the local branch of the United Insurance Company Ltd., had committed suicide, and that their bodies were lying in the shop of the former. In a few minutes a large crowd gathered in the vicinity of Mr. Kirton's shop, and it was speedily learnt that the terrible report was, to a certain extent, at any rate, only too true. The police had been communicated with and Senior-Sergeant Taylor and Sergeant O'Sullivan took charge of the premises. Dr. Lawes and Dr. Row were summoned, and with the police authorities conducted an investigation into the sad affair.

When a representative of the Star arrived at the scene of the shocking occurrence the view that met the eye was one that will not easily fade from his memory. In Mr Kirton's bedroom on the upper floor of the building, lay the body of Mr Martin on a stretcher bed, dressed in pyjamas. The body was in an easy attitude, lying on the right side and with the hands clasped in front. At the first glance the beholder would have naturally assumed that the figure was that of a man peacefully sleeping. On the floor near the other bed was the body of Mr. Kirton, also dressed in pyjamas but lying on its back with a pillow under the head. Both were lifeless, but while Mr Martin's body was cold and appeared to have been so for some hours, that of Mr Kirton was quite warm.  

The statements made by C. Carnes, Mr. Kirton's messenger, were to the effect that about 8.20 a.m. today his employer instructed him to go down to the Imperial Hotel, according to custom, and bring up his breakfast. This Carnes did. On his return Mr Kirton sent this man to Mr Clayton with an order for some drug, which proved to be prussic acid. So far Carnes had seen nothing of Mr Martin. Some time after Carnes had returned from Mr Clayton's he went upstairs and found Mr Kirton lying helpless on the floor, but outside the bedroom, and thinking he was ill carried him into the bedroom and endeavored to lift him on to the vacant bed. Finding this not possible he laid him on the rug with a pillow under his head. At that period there was nothing in Mr Kirton's appearance to suggest that the had poisoned himself. Carnes then noticed that Mr Martin, was on the other bed, but there being nothing extraordinary to this circumstance, he merely thought he had camped there the previous night, and was still asleep. In a short time, however, Carnes became seriously alarmed, and on looking again at both bodies, was convinced they were lifeless. He then ran for aid, and the police and the medical men before mentioned were immediately on the scene.

The result of the investigation by the authorities concluded the finding of a bottle of prussic acid in the coat of Mr Martin, which, with his other clothes, lay near the bed. The bottle had evidently been, recently opened, and enough had been taken to kill several men.

So far it cannot be ascertained at what time Mr Martin took what appears to be a fatal dose, but Mr Kirton probably took poison immediately after Carnes' return from Mr Clayton's.

Conflicting reports have, as is usual in such cases, been made in town regarding the two unfortunate men, and it would be idle to repeat any of them here. But the following are facts, which all who were intimate with Messrs Kirton and Martin are acquainted with. Both were pleasant, sociable, and good-hearted young men, and bosom friends. There was, apparently, nothing which might have inclined them to put an end to their lives. They were unmarried and in good business positions, and we do not hear that either was in any financial embarrassment, Carnes says that Mr Kirton's appearance that morning when he spoke to him was suggestive of a rather too jovial time overnight, and no doubt Mr Martin had been in his friend's company during the evening. Several friends of both men inform us that they were both in good spirits yesterday, Mr Kirton especially so.

The opinion most generally entertained by those best acquainted with Messrs Kirton and Martin, is that Mr Kirton late last night or early this morning, gave his friend an opiate of some kind, and that finding about 8.30 this morning that his friend was lifeless, in the mental agony caused by the horror of the discovery, Mr Kirton put an end to his own life. We can the more easily accept this theory as a reasonable one from a personal knowledge of the two men, and the great regard they entertained for one another. Mr Kirton, especially, was of a most warm-hearted, liberal and kindly disposition, as hundreds of Townsville people have good reason to know; while Mr Martin, though not a resident of so long a standing, had made hosts of friends here. We most sincerely sympathise with the friends and relatives of both of the deceased, and take this opportunity of assuring them of the widespread regret which is felt in this city at their untimely end.  


Nothing further of any moment has come to light with reference to the death of Messrs. Kirton and Martin.

The general belief is that after a convivial evening they came home, and that both took opiates, Martin received an overdose, and that when Kirton awoke and found his friend dead he determined to commit suicide rather than face the ordeal of trouble which awaited him.
A disturbing factor in this conclusion however is the finding of the bottle of prussic acid in Martin's coat; how did it come there? Did he intend to commit suicide? If the contents of his stomach show prussic acid it would almost seem that he did the deed without Kirton's knowledge, and that when the latter awoke he thought he had poisoned Martin, and in any case decided to escape impending trouble. If Kirton knew of the prussic acid in Martin's pocket, he would hardly have sent to Clayton's for a further quantity, and it is known he took the poison from the bottle he obtained at Clayton's.

There is no absolute evidence that Kirton slept at all, or it might have been intended for a double suicide, and Kirton may have recovered from the dose or his courage may have failed him until the pains of debauch and the dread of public enquiry impelled him to take the step he did.

Mr. Kirton came to Townsville six years ago, and his career was marked with a libel action against a paper which accused him of freedom with female customers, and in which he succeeded in obtaining damages. It is understood the business is Elliott Bros. and that two policies of £500 each, one in the A.M.P., and the other in the National Mutual are assigned
to the firm.

Mr. Martin, the manager of the United Insurance Co. was quite a young man, and was here last week in connection with the Towers agency of his company, which has been giving him trouble. It is to be feared that his tastes - like those of Mr. Kirton - were rather Bohemian.

Taken from the North Queensland Register, Wednesday, 28 October 1896.

Townsville November 27

The magisterial inquiry into the cause of death of William Henry Kirton and Edgar Martin, who were found dead at Kirton's chemists' rooms on October 22, was concluded to-day. The analysis of the contents of the stomachs showed morphine in that of Martin, and a large quantity of prussic acid in Kirton’s. The finding of the Police Magistrate is that Martin died from the effects of morphine administered accidentally, and that Kirton died from the effects of prussic acid administered by his own hand.

Taken from The Week (Brisbane), Friday 4 Decemer 1896.

Note: Prussic Acid is a solution of hydrogen cyanide in water.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The ever-present threat of deadly disease

The threat of deadly infectious diseases prompted early twentieth-century governments to take steps to ensure the safety of its citizens. In Queensland, the Health Act 1884 was introduced after an outbreak of typhoid fever and dysentery, and the Health Act 1900 after an outbreak of bubonic plague. 
A child being immunised against Diphtheria, 1920s.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.

Introduced at a time when public anxiety over health matters was high, the main issues that concerned the general public included the adulteration of food, sanitation problems and frequent outbreaks of epidemic disease.

Most local government authorities employed a health officer who reported on the general health and sanitary state of the city on an annual basis. In Townsville, Dr Walter Nisbet was the city’s Medical Officer of Health from 1898 until his death in 1920.

Dr Nisbet reported on everything from birth and death rates, the prevalence of infectious diseases, population trends, sanitation issues and even on the number of empty houses in the city. He also reported on the state of boarding houses, butcher shops and bakeries, as well as local dairies. Dairymen could be fined if they were found to have watered down their milk and regular checks were made as to the fat content of the milk being supplied to locals.

Epidemics of measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever and dengue fever, among others, came and went with alarming seasonal regularity.

Typhoid fever proved to be a recurring problem for health authorities and one that often carried a high mortality. In his report for the year 1906, Dr Nisbet stated that 49 cases of typhoid fever had occurred in Townsville, with ten deaths - a mortality rate of just over 20 per cent.

Houses in Walker Street, Townsville, 1903. Top photo shows an open drain with a small child standing beside the drain. Bottom photo shows the drain's contents flowing underneath nearby houses.
Both photos: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In 1915, typhoid fever again reached epidemic proportions in Townsville, with most cases located in North Ward, although there were isolated cases in other parts of the town. In this outbreak, 87 people contracted the disease.

During this outbreak Dr James King-Patrick, Medical Inspector of Health for North Queensland, was interviewed by the Townsville Daily Bulletin about his thoughts on the disease. He had prepared a leaflet with instructions to householders that outlined basic steps to take to avoid potential infection, which centered on many general principles of cleanliness that are taken for granted today.

“The strong point in the instructions to be observed by householders, is that relating to flies,” Dr King-Patrick said.

“People must get it into their heads to look after the sanitary arrangements of their premises, and keep foodstuffs covered,” he said.

“Flies carry filth to food and convey typhoid and other diseases. The fly-road from closet-pan to dinner table is very short.”

In 1918 Dr Nisbet reported that overall, Townsville’s infectious disease record was “fair”, but echoed Dr King-Patrick’s opinion, stating that he felt that the public were not doing enough to protect themselves from possible causes of infection.

Early the following year, the Spanish Influenza pandemic hit Australia and by May, cases were being reported in Townsville. Free inoculation against the disease was offered and 6,000 locals took up the offer.

Dr Nisbet estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 (25 per cent) of Townsville’s population contracted the illness in either a mild or serious form.  Eighteen people died during the outbreak, ten of those in hospital and eight in private homes.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Stewart's Creek Gaol

Queensland’s only nineteenth-century prison building still in use is at the Townsville Correctional Centre at Stuart.
Central watchtower at Stewart's Creek Gaol, 1916.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.

The Stewart’s Creek Gaol, as it was then known, was built between 1890 and 1893, to replace an earlier gaol located in North Ward, on the site of what is now Central State School. By the late 1880s the old gaol was overcrowded and considered to be too close to the town centre.

Opened in 1893, it was designed by the Colonial Government Architect’s Office and constructed by Thomas Matthews. The gatehouse building housed quarters for both the Governor and the Chief Turnkey, and behind this building were three brick cell blocks, laid out in a radial pattern.

In May that year, 27 long-term prisoners were transferred from the old town gaol in North Ward to the new prison at Stewart’s Creek.  Initially the facilities at the new gaol did not cater for female prisoners, so they remained at North Ward until after the appointment of Matron Elizabeth Ryan at Stewart’s Creek in September 1894.  
Stewart's Creek Gaol, Townsville, 1914.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.

Stewart’s Creek Gaol was described in August 1894 by Comptroller-General, Charles Pennefather in his report on the prisons of the colony, as the best in the State.

“The North possesses by far the best constructed prison in the colony in the penal establishment at Stewart’s Creek, which has cost over £35,000; while the South has to put up with an ill-constructed old wooden building, badly adapted for administration, separation, and the proper classification of prisoners, with inferior and insufficient accommodation,” Mr Pennefather said.

“I think the time has arrived when a penal establishment designed on modern principles should be built for the southern portion of the colony,” he said.

The development of the modern prison reflects a change in the way society viewed justice, with a system of dealing with offenders that was corrective in nature, rather than punitive.

In the late eighteenth-century, Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher and criminal law reformer designed a concept prison called the Panopticon.

The Panopticon was a circular building with individual cells built around a central tower with windows and lighting arranged in such a way as to make the occupants of cells visible at all times, while those in the central tower remained hidden from view.

The influence of Bentham’s Panopticon can be seen in the radial design of nineteenth-century prisons commonly built in Queensland up to the late 1800s, including the old Town Gaol at North Ward.
Townsville Gaol, North Ward, 1885 (centre of photo).
The buildings in the foreground are the Townsville Hospital.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

A semi-circular shaped wall surrounded this complex with the buildings inside radiating outwards like the spokes of a wheel, which enabled observation from a central position.

Bentham’s concept of surveillance from a central tower has survived into the modern era, albeit in variously modified forms.

The central watchtower at Stewart’s Creek Gaol was designed by John Smith Murdoch, a Government architect whose later design work included Brisbane’s original Victoria Bridge, Boggo Road Gaol, and old Parliament House in Canberra.