This rather pompous looking statue of Charles Cameron Kingston somewhat detracts from his achievements and lifestyle which were anything other than highbrow or pompous in nature.
I must say that on first seeing this statue I had not heard of Kingston and wasn’t going to bother writing a review. I make a point of not writing reviews on statues unless the subject is well known (to me at least!) or unless there is an interesting story to tell. With Kingston, having now read up on him, it is the latter. Do let me tell you about this interesting man.
Kingston, a barrister by profession, was elected to the South Australian parliament in 1881 where he served as attorney-general three times and as State Premier from 1893 to 1899.
It was under Kingston that, in 1894, South Australian women became the first in the world to win the right to vote and to stand for Parliament. In the same year registered trade unions won the right to enter legally enforceable industrial agreements with employers, on behalf of their members.
Kingston, a keen supporter of the federation of the Australian colonies, assisted in the drafting of the Australian Constitution and helped get it through the British Parliament. Having secured federation in the form of the Commonwealth of Australia, Kingston displayed his colours (this time in the Federal Parliament – in Melbourne before it moved to the Capital, Canberra) as a staunch nationalist. He pursued strong protectionist policies for Australia and set up a crippling tariff system. He was also a ardent supporter of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 – the infamous White Australia Policy – something which remained contentious for many decades thereafter.
Kingston, who the Advertiser newpaper in 1916 christened ‘the declared foe of all class privilege’ was not averse to a bit of scandal which left him shunned from polite society but popular with the masses.
In 1873 he almost had his application for admission to the Bar refused when a brother of Lucy May McCarthy, unsuccessfully, objected on the ground that Kingston had seduced Lucy. Kingston married Lucy later in the same year though was subsequently not averse to the favours of other ladies.
In 1892, just before becoming State Premier, he was named as co-respondent in a society divorce and was arrested in Victoria Square when he turned up with a loaded pistol for a duel with a member of the Legislative Council who had denounced him as a ‘coward, a bully and a disgrace to the legal profession’.
He was also the subject of assault on two occasions though in both instances his counter attack proved superior to that of his assailant. One of these attacks took place, again in Victoria Square, in 1895 when the Adelaide Manager of the South Australia Co. whom he had allegedly insulted, took to him and drew blood with a riding whip. Kingston wrested to whip from his assailant and returned the favour and later told the press: ‘Who can now say that I have not shed my blood for South Australia? “What a pity”, my capitalistic friends will say, “that there was not more of it”’.
Kingston was, when it suited him which was often, vindictive, rude, intemperate, obstinate and more. A senior official in the Colonial office referred to him, in 1896, as ‘perhaps the most quarrelsome man alive’ while the State Governor, the Earl of Kintore, in a private letter to the head of the Colonial Office cautioned that ‘in dealing with Kingston you are dealing with an able but absolutely unscrupulous man. His character is of the worst; he is black hearted and entirely disloyal’. Charming.
Kingston died in 1908.
It is rather touching, don’t you think, that Victoria Square – the venue of some of his more colourful escapades – was selected as the location for his memorial? Incidentally, where he now, in bronze, stands atop his marble and granite pedestal, he looks down Groote Street to his former, working class, constituency of West Adelaide.
The statue was designed by British sculptor Alfred Drury and cast in London. It was unveiled on 26 May 1916 with speeches referring to Kingston’s role as a patriot and statesman. No mention was made of some of Kingston rougher edges or his preference for the dueling pistol over the ceremonial sword which he now carries while, most inappropriately given his hated of privilege and the fact that he had refused a knighthood, dressed in the attire of a privy councillor. The reason for the attire is that Kingston was, in fact, a privy councillor.
Around the base of the pedestal are a number of bronze reliefs two of which (pictures 3-4 above) depict important events in his political career while the third depicts his father, Sir George Strickland Kingston( last picture), also a politician and the first Speaker of South Australia’s House of Assembly.
I trust I have managed to portray a little of the flavour of this colourful gent such that perchance you come across him in Adelaide you will not pass by in ignorance.
Address: Victoria Square
Directions: In the centre east of the Square.