One for lovers of Victoriana.
Drinking water has been a problem in Port Adelaide since the port’s founding in the 1830s. Some would say it remains a problem for Adelaide even today with its very hard water – though it tastes fine to me.
The port’s land was originally just higher than the surrounding tidal flats such that at high tide the port could been rowed around. The port thus had a significant problem—much complained about by ship owners and residents alike—the lack of a fresh water supply. All in all the site was very unsuitable for a port as in addition to the shortage of fresh water the early port was plagued by mosquitos and was prone to flooding from higher than normal tides. It very quickly earned the name “Port Misery”.
It was only the shear doggedness of Colonel William Light, the first Surveyor-General of the Colony of South Australia and designer of Adelaide, that ensured the port and the city were separated and Port Adelaide remained the city’s port. Light was well aware of the water problem here and indeed one of his primary criterion in locating Adelaide city where it sits was to ensure a steady water supply from clouds drifting over the Adelaide Hills.
While the port developed and reached its heyday in the mid to late 1800s it remained a low-lying swampy place with no fresh streams or other freshwater sources nearby. In the early years water had to brought in by horse and cart and then by train after the railway opened in 1856.
In the mid 1870s relief came in the form of a pipeline which brought fresh water in from Adelaide.
John Formby, originally from Liverpool, England, who had been major from 1869 to 1873 was instrumental in having the pipeline constructed. In addition to being Mayor, Formby was a tailor, farmer, shipping agent, President of the Port Adelaide Institute, a Justice of the Peace/ magistrate and contributed greatly to the development of Port Adelaide and the living standards of the working class Portonians who inhabited the area. He came to be greatly admired by the Portonians.
In his obituary in 1906 the Bunyip newspaper referred to Formby as a man “who deserved the grand name of an English gentleman who regarded honour as the test of character, and who delighted in public duty, but detested self-advertising”.
At this time great monuments were being built to honour monarchs, prime ministers and nobility around the world. Lesser dignitaries made do with a flourish of ornate street furniture such as rotundas, arbors, fountains and garden seats installed “for the people’s pleasure” but in reality installed using public funds to perpetuate their own memories.
This drinking fountain was originally placed at the corner of North Parade and Nelson Street, near the present Birkenhead Bridge ‘where a large number of men are constantly at work through the heat of the day” is now in St Vincent Street outside the former railway station (now police station). Contrary to the trends of the day, its construction was initiated by and paid for by the people of Port Adelaide in memory of a man they greatly adored. The inscription reads “Erected by public subscription to John Formby Esq. JP, Mayor 1870-1-2-3.” Given his contribution to improving water supplies in the area it is fitting that a fountain was chosen. This tribute to Formby was both practical and symbolic.
The Formby Memorial Fountain is a cast iron structure (manufactured in Scotland) that stands about 2.5 metres tall on a two-tiered base consisting of a layer or Mintaro slate and one of Macclesfield marble.
Three sides of the canopy bear small shields depicting the original Arms of Port Adelaide and griffins. It was unveiled in the presence of John Formby in 1877.
Address: Cnr St Vincent St and Lipson St, Port Adelaide
Directions: Outside the Police Station