History of West Australia/Daniel Keen Congdon
DANIEL KEEN CONGDON, J.P., M.L.C.
Greenham & Evans.
D.K. CONGDON, J.P., M.L.C.
IT not infrequently happens that the council table becomes a stepping-stone to the Halls of Legislation. One sees many instances of this, more particularly perhaps in the Australias. The municipal chamber ofttimes provides a very valuable graduating ground for the prospective legislator, who when he enters the Parliament of his country does so with the conviction that he knows intimately the district he represents, and has some idea of the manner in which the laws of the country should be framed. The schooling which such a man bas obtained proves of much practical benefit to him, and he should gain status in the House. He is enabled to grapple with measures in an intelligent manner, and whenever a bill affecting municipal matters is under discussion his contribution to the debate is as a rule a worthy one, born of a thorough knowledge of the point at issue. In Western Australia at the present time we have many examples of the councillor-cum-legislator in Parliament, and good members they have proved too. Amongst the number is Daniel Keen Congdon, who was born in Kent in 1840, and is the son of William John Congdon. Young Congdon was educated at a private boarding school conducted by the Rev. John Freeman at West Ham, Essex. When his educational studies were finished he took up the profession of a civil engineer, but his probationary period had just elapsed when his father left for Western Australia under engagement of the Government to act as dispenser and compounder of medicines at one of the convict depôts. In the year 1853 the Congdon family arrived in Western Australia, and settling down at Fremantle with his parents the subject of this biographical sketch entered on his career in Australia by joining the staff of Mr. Charles Alfred Manning, general merchant, whose business was then the most extensive in Fremantle. Meanwhile Mr. Congdon had been diligently studying and making the most of every spare moment, so that after the lapse of three or four years he resigned his position at the merchant's house and entered the Educational Branch of the Government Service, accepting a position as school teacher at Pinjarra. Down amid this peaceful woodland did the pedagogue teach the young people of Pinjarra the three R's. On the 23rd December, 1861—four years after his arrival in the district—Mr. Congdon married Miss Jane Ainslie Fairbairn, daughter of Mr. John Fairbairn, and sister of Mr. R. Fairbairn, the Resident Magistrate of Fremantle. Mr. Congdon stayed at Pinjarra for twelve months longer and then returned to Fremantle, where he opened a business of his own. In 1863, at a point exactly opposite the Daily News office in High Street, he started as a chemist, druggist, and draper. He had obtained a good knowledge of drugs and chemicals from his father, and consequently had some pretensions to the calling of an apothecary. The shop was not adorned by stately plate glass, but was a homely cottage with a garden in front, and the purchasers of drug sundries had a neat little promenade to the "shop" after leaving the front footpath. When Mr. Congdon commenced Fremantle business houses were few—there being not more than ten in the street which is now a busy crowded thoroughfare. As Fremantle grew so did Mr. Congdon increase his premises, until in later years he built the commandingly expansive premises occupied by Messrs. Cargeeg, Dimant, and Co. in High Street. Three years ago he retired from active business affairs, since which he has devoted the whole of his attention to municipal and parliamentary matters.
In Fremantle municipal administration Mr. Congdon has taken a leading part. He was a member of the old Town Trust, and always took an active interest in the deliberations from the time his return from from Pinjarra. In October, 1885, he received a numerously signed requisition from prominent residents asking him to stand for the mayoralty. Acceding to the wishes of the requisition, he contested the election with the Hon. W. E Marmion, M.L.A., who was a popular man in Fremantle. Mr. Congdon secured the seat by 79 votes. Having been in the Council for ten years, he thoroughly understood the work which was likely to fall on his shoulders, and discharged the functions so satisfactorily that he held the office for three successive years, which period is set down as the consecutive limit in the Municipal Act. In 1891 he was again requisitioned to stand for mayor, and was returned with a substantial majority. Mr. Congdon held the office for one year, and was then asked to again stand, but having given up business in Fremantle and being a resident of North Fremantle he pointed out that he did not think he would be in a position to thoroughly and conscientiously discharge his duties—Mr. George Davies was elected mayor. But Mr. Congdon had shown his admirable qualities for the mayoral chair, and Fremantle was again anxious to have his services. In October, 1895, he was once more asked to stand for mayor. In the meantime North Fremantle had been created a separate municipality, and the residents of the newly-born municipality clamoured for Mr. Congdon. No man can serve two masters, much less two municipalities. Mr. Congdon declined Fremantle proper, with the result that he was unanimously elected to the mayoralty of North Fremantle.
On July 22, 1886, Mr. Congdon was made a J.P.
In June, 1887, he was nominated to a seat in the Legislative Council, which seat he held till the initiation of responsible government. In 1890 Mr. Congdon stood for South Fremantle in the Assembly, but was defeated by Mr. David Symon. He had a crowning success, however, in the Legislative Council election for the West Province, being returned as senior member for that electorate in 1894. It seems but natural and fitting that Mr. Congdon should occupy a seat in Parliament, for he certainly did some valuable work in the interests of Fremantle. An outline of the work sponsored by him will be of interest. On taking office as Mayor the first work he undertook was a sweeping reform in the sanitary conditions. Fremantle was then—to put it mildly—in a very insanitary state, and the task of purifying it partook of the nature of an Augean stable cleansing. Mr. Congdon was almost as energetic as Hercules of old in his undertaking, and, setting to work, had a Sanitary Committee appointed from members of the Council and leading residents. He drew up a report which was presented to His Excellency Governor Broome, and in this pointed out that the great drawback to sanitary reform lay in the lack of a water supply. Certain suggestions were made, with the result that the Government placed on the Estimates a sum £9,000 as a nucleus for a water supply for Fremantle. The present efficient water scheme was then launched with eminently satisfactory results, for under the improved water service and the reforms which Mr. Congdon instituted sanitary conditions became apparent on all sides, and a number of objectionable hovels—menaces to public health—were razed to the ground. In his report to Governor Broome Mr. Congdon asked that the Government, having a staff of engineers, should expend the money voted in reticulating the town with mains. This was done within twelve months of the presentation of the report, and the water supply—drawn from a huge well in the prison from which radiate numerous lines of drives—was so constructed that at Tanyge engine on the site can pump twice the quantity at present required. The report which Mr. Congdon and his colleagues forwarded contained sound suggestions with regard to sanitary laws, and it is not too much to assume that it was primarily responsible for the present Health Act. Mr. Congdon can therefore claim to have played an important part with regard to water supply and sanitation generally. He was instrumental in having North Fremantle created a separate municipality. In the later years of his office as Mayor he was strongly of opinion that the residents of North Fremantle were not being equitably treated with regard to the distribution of the Council's finances. Although Mr. Congdon was Mayor he was unable to get justice for the people on the north side of the Swan, and when the Council refused to grant a few gas lamps for the use of belated citizens "over north" the last straw was laid on the camel's back, and something like mild rebellion looked out from Mr. Congdon's eye. He took up the cause of separation, and as a result of his efforts (and those of other gentlemen) North Fremantle was created a separate municipality in October, 1895. As Mayor Mr. Congdon had a lot of genuine hard work to do in connection with the initial difficulties of getting the municipality into working order. This over, he resolved that North Fremantle should have a good recreation ground, and on his recommendation Sir John Forrest, the Premier, placed £l,500 on the estimates for the purchase of 10 acres of land, belonging to Sir Oriel Tanner, facing the river—a very picturesque spot indeed, and one eminently fitted for the purpose proposed. Provision has been made for its fencing, so that North Fremantle will shortly be in possession of a splendid pleasure ground. Mr. Congdon picked out land for the site of the new municipal offices, at a cost of £700, provision having been made by the Government for this outlay; but it should be pointed out that the Government had already sold their blocks of land in Fremantle, otherwise the necessity for placing this sum would not have arisen. Mr. Congdon took an active interest in having the Fremantle Oval vested in the Mayor and Councillors, and the North Fremantle Park is also held under these conditions.
Mr. Congdon was a member of the Royal Commission appointed some years ago to enquire into the working of the Locomotive Workshops. He is also a member (and in the absence of the chairman, acting chairman) of the Civil Service Commission, and and has given much time and patient attention to the sittings of this body.
He is associated with a number of cricket, football, and other athletic clubs as patron; and is president of the Fremantle Building Society and one of its original promoters. He is a director of the Fremantle Gas and Coke Company, and of the Fremantle Baths Company for establishing which he took energetic measures.
Mr. Congdon stands high in the Masonic Fraternity, holding the office of Deputy District Grand Master of the craft in Western Australia. Politically he is a Liberal, and has been a consistent supporter of the Forrest Government. He fills a useful place in politics and as a man is known by his works. Daniel Keen Congdon will long be gratefully remembered by the residents of Western Australia generally and Fremantle particularly.