A vexing situation

James Lerk | Bendigo Weekly | 27-Sep-2017


Briefly recapitulating: the inspector of nuisances, Mounted Constable Ryan on June 11, 1891 accompanied by the Shire of Strathfieldsaye’s health officer, Dr Burke Gaffney visited the property of Herbert Keck.

Constable Ryan and Dr Gaffney found that after excessive rain, the night soil that had been deposited on Keck’s land had not been covered over with soil. 

The two inspectors were most unflattering in the comments that they made about the smell as well as the liquid waste oozing into a small creek on Keck’s property.

At the instigation of the shire, Keck was summoned to court and duly fined under section 221 of the Health Act 1890, even though he had made an agreement with the Bendigo City Council for the depositing of the night soil on his property. The agreement was for an initial 12 months and all works had to be done to the satisfaction of the Bendigo council.

William Hird, who lived more than 400 metres from Keck’s property, came to Keck’s defence and stated that there was no nuisance in smell coming from the place where the night soil was deposited. Hird was supported by George Bunny and Thomas Pinder who lived in the general neighbourhood of the land near Spring Creek.

Questions were being raised as to how it was possible for Keck to be fined when the Central Board of Health had given approval for the arrangements that had been made with him?

Keck determined that after the court ruling no more night soil could be deposited on his land unless he was prepared to pay fines for each day that it was carried on. The other difficulty arose for the council contractor, Martino (Martin) Ferrari who collected the pans of night soil.

Ferrari was on the steps of the town hall seeing the town clerk, Ferrari was in tears as he had to fulfill his contract which by court order he was unable to do, and he had to consider all his employees and horses. 

Ferrari pleaded with the town clerk that he had made his contract price so low in order to win the contract and keep all his people employed. 

If he could not deliver the night soil to Keck’s property his whole business was at an instant completely ruined.

The city engineer, Mr Minto senior made it clear that Keck was doing the public a service by helping to eliminate what otherwise would be a nuisance.

Keck’s workers under his manager James Hawkins were in the process of burying the night soil when the inspectors arrived. At that stage there was only about a metre of the open pit that was exposed.

The solution to the situation would be to obtain the sanction of the governor in council to allow the existing arrangements to roll on. 

The Mayor John R Hoskins had already made an urgent request to the governor in council. One of the councillors remarked that the motive for prosecuting Keck was one of jealousy as he was obtaining the best soil improver that was available anywhere.

The Minister of Health, George Langridge, MLA for Collingwood, communicated with the Bendigo council that he did not wish to interfere, but would expect the two councils to settle the issue of depositing of the night soil in an amicable manner.

Consequently a deputation from Bendigo was to go to the Strathfieldsaye council offices and meet with their counterparts to resolve this issue.

After the Bendigo delegation withdrew the shire councillors decided to allow Keck’s land to be used for the present but that other locations be examined as to their suitability to use as manure depots.

A small purpose-built weatherboard building was constructed by the council on Keck’s land, and housed a boiler so that the sanitary pans could be steam cleaned, before being put back into circulation. 

Large water tanks were on a high stand so that there would be good pressure for the cleaning operations. The plant was designed to cope with 1000 pans each day.


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