Benson Memorial Fountain

Location: High Street & Portrush Road, Kensington, South Australia

In the 19th century, Dr. Benson was a family man and surgeon who served the Kensington and Norwood communities. The doctor was held in high regard for his policy of treating everyone equally, regardless of status, religion or wealth. When he was stricken with a severe case of pneumonia in July 1877, prayers and a three day vigil were held for his recovery. He died at age 39. A procession over a mile long containing hundreds of mourners followed the hearse from his home to his resting place in West Terrace Cemetery.

Public subscriptions enabled the purchase of a memorial drinking fountain to which the Council donated a lamp to surmount the structure. Reverend Dr. Tappeiner, on behalf of the Sisters of St. Joseph offered a triangle of land for the memorial, ‘granted by the Convent of St. Joseph whose inmates benefited from Benson’s regard’.

The F Company volunteer infantry, under the command of Captain Glyde, and the local Oddfellows and Foresters formed in procession at the Town Hall and marched to the scene of the ceremonial. The memorial fountain was unveiled in 1879 by Lady Elizabeth Smith, wife of Sir Edwin T Smith, Mayor of Adelaide (formerly Mayor of Kensington & Norwood) who handed it over to the current Mayor (Mr. S.D. Glyde.)

The fountain was registered on the Australian Heritage Database on 21 March 1978.

The structure was moved from its original location during the upgrading and widening of Portrush Road in 2004. At this time the drinking fountain was restored thanks to persistent lobbying of Council and Transport SA by Kensington Residents Association who also contributed to the cost of repainting in the original colour scheme.

Drinking fountain number 8 from Walter Macfarlane & Co.’s catalogue was manufactured at the Saracen Foundry at Possilpark in Glasgow. The structure is 9 feet 6 inches high and consists of four columns, from the capitals of which consoles with griffin terminals unite with arches formed of decorated mouldings.

On two sides rope moulded cartouches contained within each lunette display the inscription; Erected By Public Subscription In Affectionate Remembrance Of The Late John Benson Surgeon 1877. The opposite two sides have shields containing the Australian coat of arms before the advent of Federation; (a shield in four quarters surmounted by a six point star. The 1st quarter contained a golden fleece, the 2nd contained a three mast schooner with sails rolled up, the 3rd quarter displayed a harpoon and anchor crossed diagonally, and the 4th quarter contained a wheatsheaf. To the left and right of the shield stand a kangaroo and emu.)

On two of the sides provision was made for receiving an inscription using raised metal letters; whilst on the other two sides was the useful monition, Keep The Pavement Dry. Civic virtues such as temperance were often extolled in inscriptions on drinking fountains. The structure is surmounted by an open filigree dome, the finial being a crown with a pattée cross.

Under the canopy stands the font (design number 7) 5 foot 8 inches high. The basin which has a scalloped edge and decorative relief is supported by a single decorative pedestal with four pilasters and four descending salamanders, a symbol of courage and bravery. A central urn with four consoles offer drinking cups suspended by chains. The terminal is a crane. The font has since been replaced with a bubbler.

Symbolism was popular in Victorian times. Griffins are symbolic of guardians of priceless possessions, salamanders display bravery and courage that cannot be extinguished by fire, and cranes are recognized as a symbol of vigilance.

Glossary

  • Capital: The top of a column that supports the load bearing down on it
  • Cartouche, a structure or figure, often in the shape of an oval shield or oblong scroll, used as an architectural or graphic ornament or to bear a design or inscription
  • Console: a decorative bracket support element
  • Filigree, fine ornamental work
  • Finial, a sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure
  • Fret, running or repeated ornament
  • Griffin, winged lion denotes vigilance and strength, guards treasure and priceless possessions
  • Lunette, the half-moon shaped space framed by an arch, often containing a window or painting
  • Pattée cross, a cross with arms that narrow at the centre and flare out at the perimeter
  • Pedestal, an architectural support for a column or statue
  • Pilaster, a column form that is only ornamental and not supporting a structure
  • Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests
  • Terminal, statue or ornament that stands on a pedestal
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