Keck in court

James Lerk | Bendigo Weekly | 07-Sep-2017

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When I began this series about Herbert Keck, our readers will recollect that mention was made of how he had approached the Bendigo council in 1890 in respect of depositing the city’s night soil on his land.

As told at the time, Keck’s property was just over the city border in the Shire of Strathfieldsaye, near the foot of One Tree Hill. 

The council had appointed a sub-committee to look into his proposal, several well seasoned councillors served on this committee including Cr Abraham Harkness and Cr JH Abbott. 

These councillors recommended to accept Keck’s offer to receive the council’s collected night soil on his land and to be paid the sum of £6 per week.

Councillor Abbott moved a motion that “ Mr Keck’s offer should be accepted for 12 months and be recommended for adoption.” 

Councillor Harkness seconded the motion which was carried.

A direct result of this was that almost immediately the night soil contractor, Martino (Martin) Ferrari was communicated with. 

Mr Ferrari was told, from that point on, in January 1891 he should send all his night soil pan collectors and their horse-drawn drays to Keck’s land on Retreat Road, Spring Gully.

Mr Ferrari felt that this new site was good for him, as his night soil collectors had previously to go to various municipal manure depots which were already beyond holding capacity. 


Having just one destination was of benefit as it was near his own depot which was located off what is now Sommerville Street.

There was constant traffic of Ferrari’s night soil carts to the Keck property, where Keck had men employed to dig pits and trenches for the reception of the night soil. 

Once the night soil was deposited the pans had to be washed and cleaned. The night soil was then covered with  dirt.

A Strathfieldsaye shire health officer along with a medical professional came in June following heavy rain and inspected the night soil that had been delivered the previous day and found that it was still uncovered. 

The excessive rain had caused some of the partially filled pits and trenches to flood, this smelly liquid made its way into a gully and to the creek.

It was pointed out that Keck had not gained the shire’s approval for his place to be used as a manure depot. 

The Bendigo council was caught in a bind as no actual contract had been signed by Keck for the reception of the night soil, it had all been based on a letter of suggestion from him. The night soil was deemed a nuisance by the men acting for the shire. 

One of the Bendigo councillors remarked that, “any individual could go and smell it when the pans were being emptied and declare it a nuisance”.

Councillor Hayes of Bendigo suggested that the council should put in an application for land at Jackass Flat to use as a manure depot, this would be within the city’s confines. 

Keck was taken to court by the Strathfieldsaye Shire and fined, plus facing the legal representation’s account.

He forwarded the account to the city to deal with, and said he could no longer take delivery of the night soil, following the court’s ruling.

Local members of parliament were to be asked for assistance in this rather urgent matter. There were two different sections in the Health Act which appeared to contradict each other in respect of depositing this material in another municipality.

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