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Daring Dr. Bain of Clare

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Dr. Bain, in case you don’t know about him (and why should you?) was often called “England’s greatest gift to Clare”!  He was also described as having "A Heart as Big as a Mountain".

  • He came to Clare as a GP in 1865, and worked with various partners in his practice until he retired in 1889, having made a lot of money from an early investment in Broken Hill.    

He tried his very best to get Clare up and running – it seems to have always been a town that never quite gets itself together to really boom! 

Doctor John William Devereux Bain (1838-1903)
Doctor John W D Bain, Clare SA
  • He built a huge indoor swimming pool, and that failed for a mixed bag of reasons.  It is under the service station/pet food place just next to the oval and beside the Hutt River, and Val Tilbrook says it's still under the concrete floor of the current building!    

  • Over it during the winter he had a skating rink, and he also provided the lighting for another skating rink elsewhere in the town either before or after this pool/skating rink closed. 

  • After the skating rink/swimming baths closed he turned the building into a butter factory, which also ultimately failed. 

  • He put in a big vineyard – one of the first larger ones – and orchard on the Mintaro Road not far from Polish Hill River, where he intended to make his own wine, and he was one of the men who started the Clare Fruit Preserving Company which built the original building at what is now the Mr Micks tapas bar. 

  • This Company failed within a few years, and the building was to become the Stanley Wine Company only a few years later.  

"The Clare wine industry was given its greatest boost in the early 1890s when the foundation of a long-lasting venture occurred - The Stanley Wine Company. They utilised the buildings of the failed Clare Fruit Preserving Company in a new manner:

  • The Stanley Wine Company was set up in the old Jam Factory building in 1894 by four leading men, Mr. Christison JP (brewer), Dr. Otto Wien Smith JP, Mr Magnus Badger JP (solicitor) and Mr. J. H. Knappstein (agent and vigneron).

  • "The Company had been established to solve the problem of what to do with the products of the increasing number of vineyards in the Clare district and at the October 1896 Adelaide Wine Show it won first and second prizes for a light red of 1896 vintage.

  • Many leading townsmen themselves planted vines; for example, Christison, Knappstein, Dr. Bain, Charles Kimber and sons, and R. E. H. Hope, son of John Hope and brother-in-law of Christison. The opening of the renovated Stanley Wine Company cellars in February 1897 attracted an enormous amount of attention."

The local press praised the farsightedness of the men who formed the company. The extensive machinery was described as well as the additions to the old Jam Factory. Speakers heaped praise on the capacity of the land of the Clare district which 'was equal to any purpose'. The wine that would be produced, claimed Mr Christison, 'would gladden the heart of man'"

  • By the time that was formed in about 1895, poor Dr Bain was in financial trouble – not just because of all his failed investments in the town, but also because he was involved in other mining ventures, none of which was successful. 

  • Because he had sold his practice, he had to leave his beloved Clare and he  moved to Port Germein to practice, but he died in 1903. 

  • He never married, but he did have a child by a woman in Clare – very unconventional as he acknowledged it was his child! 

  • His house is still in Clare on Agnes Street – the corner of Agnes and Burton Street and is called Bain House – its quite a nice old house.

Dr Bain was also very musical and was involved in the Town Band, which is probably why a  Rotunda was chosen as his memorial.

- Millie Nicholls

The Bain Rotunda, Clare SA.

The finest tribute to any individual citizen of the past is the Bain Rotunda, a memorial on the Soldiers' Memorial Park erected by public subscription to the memory of the late Doctor John Devereaux Bain, whom a recent contributor to 'Links from the Past' described as a Man — 'Who had a heart as big as a Mountain.'

  • His memory is revered for many kindly acts and deeds of philanthropy before the dawn of the present century.

  • April 15 1904: On Wednesday evening the rotunda erected to the memory of the late Dr. J. W. D. Bain ft-as opened, a Continental being held in aid of the funds for the erection of the building. The Continental was successful in every way, the amount raised, over £30, being more than sufficient to pay the balance of the cost of the building.

  • Mr. W. Kelly (Mayor of Clare) performed the opening ceremony. He referred to the good deeds performed by Dr. Bain during his lifetime, and the benefit the rotunda would prove to the people of Clare.

The following vocal and instrumental programme was presented: —

  • Musical selections, performed by the Clare Brass Band;

  • songs, by Messrs. R. Russell. P. W. Reed, J. Victorsen, and J. McGillick;

  • choruses, by the Clare Choral Society;

  • and pianoforte selection, performed by Master J. McDougall.

Cool drinks, cake and produce, and sweets stalls did good business during the evening.

Dr Bain's Ventures

  • "You remember that good old Dr. Bain thought a swimming pool would be such a boon to Clare, and for a time it was popular." "I remember when the opening ceremony took place Mr, T. R. Bright was Mayor, and as soon as the speeches were over there was a rush to the dressing cubicles, and soon there was a lively scene in the water among swimmers and- divers."

  • J.—Why did it not continue? It was turned into a skating rink, was it not? B.—For a time it was used for swimming in summer and skating in winter. It was found that the water was too cold and some people became ill. One of the circumstances which killed the scheme was the refusal of the Board of Health to allow the water to be run into the creek, I mean river. J.—It must have cost the Doctor a good deal of money, but he was a good old sort, and did a good deal for Clare.

  • Speaking of roller skating, do you remember the first rink in Clare, also established by the Doctor? B.—Yes, it was on the property now occupied by the National Bank. A man named Uffindel, a timber merchant, had erected a long timber shed there. The Dr. acquired the property, and Mr. Paetke put in a beautiful wood floor; but an awkward mistake was made. Someone suggested that if the floor had a coat of oil it would be greatly improved. This was due, but it was found that the rollers would not grip, and slid about to the great discomfort of the skaters.

  • To overcome this trouble another someone advised sprinkling whiting over the floor, and I happened to be there on the night they tried this, but the result was disastrous, for the whiting and oil was mixed into putty" by the skaters, and people were falling about on the putty, damaging their clothes as well as endangering their limbs. All this had to be scraped off and the floor washed to make it usable. J.—Ah ! well, we have to buy our experience. I notice there are usually many advisers, "but they are not always wise.

  • Doctor Bain also took a leading part in the Clare Fruit Preserving Co. B.—Yes; that was a genuine attempt to help the fruit-growing industry, long before there was any dried fruit trade here.

  • There was a very small local market for fruit, but a number of hawkers were taking fruit into the recently opened up northern areas. J.—Why was the company not a success? You had something to do with the directorate, had you not? B.—Yes ! unfortunately, I was one of those who lost much time and money, but it was all in the way of good citizenship.

  • I don't think the scheme was well thought out, because we found there was little market for our finished product except in Adelaide, where we had to compete with stronger companies.

  • We found we were badly handicapped, we had to pay carriage up from Adelaide for all tins, sugar, and other materials, and then to pay carriage down on all goods, and then to compete with those who had not these charges to meet.

  • There was also a difficulty in getting a competent manager. And then we could not give so good an assortment as the Adelaide people. No strawberries nor raspberries were available in the district, and pulp brought from Tasmania was too costly, so the directors had to pay the bank overdraft, , and now the Stanley Wine Cellars occupy the old building. J.—In the interval between the formation of the two companies the building was used as a skating rink, also. B.—Yes, then Dr. Bain conies into the picture again. He procured an engine, a dynamo, and some arc lamps, and had the cement floor put in order, and for some time this was an attraction on winter evenings.

I am thinking we shall not see the like of Dr. Bain again.

The Bain Memorial Rotunda, Clare SA

"Say first, of God above, or man below, What can we reason but from what we know? Of man, what see we but his station here, From which to reason, or to which refer?"— Pope. "This was a man!" — Shakespeare.

By Dr. Bain's demise the residents of Clare and district have lost a friend, one who can never be replaced. Their interests and advancement were ever the first thought in his mind. He loved the place as though it were the offspring of his own creation. He watched its growth and expansion from its earliest infancy, and in his day at plentitude sought to raise it yet higher amongst the ranks of country towns of South Australia. In very truth, he has been called " the grand old man of Clare," and right royally when he had the means did he uphold his reputation as a public spirited philanthropist.

In our midst are many evidences of his care and thought for the wellbeing or the people, mentally and otherwise, and they will ever live as a testimony to his generous and thoughtful nature. Five years ago when necessity compelled him to leave the place of his adoption his heart-strings were rent at the separation, and he ever entertained the hope of being able to return to Clare, here to spend his declining days. This hope was destined never to be realised, but despite this the memory of his many philantrophies will ever linger with the people, and be handed down from generation to generation. Notwithstanding the high place he occupied in public esteem, the doctor was of a somewhat retiring disposition, and although repeatedly asked by his many admirers at different times to occupy prominent public positions he was not prevailed upon to accept the honors they desired to thrust upon him. The only exceptions he made were in favor of St. Barnabas' Church, and the Clare Institute. For five years, from 1873 to 1878, he was people's warden of St. Barnabas' Church, and for 80 years be was president of the Clare Institute. He might almost be called the father of the institute, for it was through his instrumentality that it was brought into existence, and he it was who performed the opening ceremony.

Bain Memorial Rotunda, Clare SA

To his munificence is due the fact of its being out of debt to-day. He was indefatigible in his efforts to keep the contents of the reading-room and library thoroughly up-to-date, and the proud position the Clare Institute holds to-day amongst the country institutes of the state must be ascribed in great part to his diligent oversight.

The subscribers were not unmindful of the value of his services, and on two occasions he was made the recipient of presentations — receiving a handsome oil-painting of himself and an elaborate presidential chair, both of which the doctor handed to the institute committee.

The portrait has hung for many years in the reading-room of the building, and the chair now occupies a place in the library. These were the sum total of the doctor's public positions, but he was ever mindful of the interests of the town and district. Nothing that was mooted for their advancement ever failed to enlist his sympathy, and he spared neither time nor money to secure the end in view. The producers had in him an excellent friend, and one who was a staunch believer in the producing capabilities of the district. On the opening of some of our northern country he essayed himself to join the ranks of agriculturists, but unfortunately the venture failed, but this did not deter him from investing capital here to assist the producers. He was also amongst those who started the Clare Jam Factory which unfortunately likwise proved a failure. He was thoroughly imbued with the idea of the value of this as a dairying district, and he established the Clare Butter Factory with branch creameries at Mintaro and Watervale as a means of pushing that industry. For a time his enthusiasm on the subject prevailed with the farmers, and many of them were induced to go in more extensively for dairying. Finally, however, many gave up bringing milk to the factory, which, however, is still carried on. His interest in the producing capabilities of the soil did not end with dairying. He was amongst the first in the district to go in extensively for vine and fruit-tree growing, purchasing a property at Hill River which he had planted, and which is now becoming more valuable. Mining received a great share of the doctor's attention, and he was ever hopeful for the mining prospects in South Australia. He spent a large amount of money in prospecting in the surrounding district, but without attaining successful results. Dr. Bain was a great lover of music and art, and patronised them to the fullest extent as they existed here. We believe that he inaugurated the first local string band that performed in Clare, and even in the later years of his residence here he was always willing to assist at orchestral gatherings. Amateur dramatic companies were always certain of his moral and financial support, and he was a keen critic of the work they did. One of the chief thoughts of his life seemed to be to provide healthy and suitable amusements for the people.

He started skating rinks on three different occasions, once in a building where the National Bank now stands, once at the jam factory, and the third time at the Clare baths, now the butter factory, the rink at the latter place being carried on for several years. The rink at the jam factory, now the Stanley wine cellars, was memorable for the fact that the building was lit with electric light, and as lamps of that description were few and far between in those days the people came from far and near to see them. Residents will remember many a pleasant evening spent on the wheels in these rinks. The establishment of public baths was another happy inspiration of the doctor's, and at considerable expense he had a very commodious building erected for that purpose, and there many of our present townsmen learned the useful art of natation (the action or art of swimming).

He also started a gymnasium club, providing all the necessary equipment out of his own pocket, and many a youth in this town would never have learned to "circle the bar" had it not been for the doctor's generosity.

Many-sided as was Dr. Bain's character, it is as a philanthropist he will longest be remembered. Even before his fortunate investment in Broken Hill mining stock, and his sudden accession to wealth in consequence, his generosity was well known to all, but when added means brought added opportunities his public and private benefactions were multiplied. No deserving applicant for assistance ever went empty handed away from his door, and in fact his generosity was sometimes shamelessly trespassed upon. Amongst his numerous contributions for the public good were the following: —

  • £1,000 to the Anglican cathedral ;

  • three tablets and windows to St.Barnabas' Church, Clare ;

  • about £250 to the Institute ;

  • a public drinking fountain and trough to the town of Claire;

  • and very many donations of a smaller character to various public institutions.

In the hey-day of his prosperity the doctor seemed to be always on the watch to find some benevolent outlet for his superfluous cash, and many of his generous actions are even now unknown to the general public. .

As a medical man Dr. Bain was revered by the great majority of his patients. His kindness of heart and genial nature made him often tbe recipient of the history of his patients' temporal woes and he had ever a kind word and quite ready to help alleviate these. Nothing that was related was of too paltry a nature to receive his helpful condolence and sympathy, and in this way he endeared himself exceedingly to the poorer classes of his patients. In his transactions with the latter he was especially considerate, and many a household in the neighborhood today can a tale unfold of his magnanimity.

Dr Bain's Memorial Rotunda, Clare SA

His purse was ever open to the well-deserving indigent amongst his clients, and many hearty blessings have (been) bound upon his ministrations. Too soft-hearted, perhaps, for a surgeon, he disliked the sight of the operating-knife almost as much as did the patient, yet never flinched when duty called his services into requisition. He was extremely sensitive as to causing pain, and whenever possible avoided the necessity.

Dr. Bain was a son of Dr. Wm. Bain, M.R.C.S., M.D., L.S.A, of Blackwall, London; be had three brothers and one sister. One brother resides in London, one in Honduras, and the third, who is now on his way to Clare, in Formosa. Before coming here Dr. Bain lived for five years in Asia Minor. He graduated M.R.C.S., Eng., and L.S.A., Lond., in 1864, and in 1865 came to South Australia, and settled in Clare as a successor to tbe practice of Dr. Davies.

He continued to practice his profession, having in partnership different medical gentlemen, until the arrival of Dr. O. W. Smith in 1877. Dr. Bain and Dr. Smith continued in partnership until 1889, when a fortunate investment in Broken Hill stock made Dr. Bain a wealthy man, and he shortly afterwards retired from the practice of his profession.

Dr. A. A. Smith then joined his brother, and they have carried on the practice ever since. After giving up practice Dr. Bain devoted a deal of his time to mining matters, and it was mining speculation that finally lost him his fortune. Five years ago his business affairs became so complicated that he decided to commence practising his profession again, and although a number of the leading men of the town and district waited upon him and asked him to recommence practice in Clare be was unable to accede to their request, notwithstanding his evident desire not to leave Clare, and he finally settled at Port Germain, where be practised until the illness which caused his death overtook him.

When leaving Clare the doctor entrusted the management of his business affairs in the district to Messrs. G. T. Harder and T. S. Stacy, and under them affairs progressed very satisfactorily until the time of the doctor's death, and without doubt the entanglements would in the near future have become unravelled, and the doctor had he lived come to his own again. Mr. G. T. Harder and Canon Webb are executors under the doctor's will.

Dr. Bain's death is deeply regretted in the town and district. Every resident who knew him feels that a friend has gone — a friend who can never be replaced,

We are sure that every resident will agree when we say, in the words of Shakespeare,

"This was a man." For some months before his death the deceased had been very despondent about his business affairs, as the tone of his letters to various friends in Clare shows, and when laid up be was almost tired of the struggle, and had little energy left with which to combat his illness.

Mr. G. T. Harder saw deceased a few days before his death, and his last words to him were,

"Give my love to the people of Clare."

Addendum - Mr W.G. Lewcock

One of the best known names in the horticultural world of South Australia is that of Mr. W. G. Lewcock, of Clare, who recently celebrated the golden jubilee of his arrival in the prettily situated northern township.

Mr. Lewcock landed in the State on September 17, 1867, from the ship Berar, and after having worked as a gardener— at 5/ a day of 10 hours, mind you—at Glenelg, he was engaged to proceed to Clare to enter the service of the late Dr. Bain.

A coach conveyed him from the Bay to Adelaide: thence he travelled by train to Kapunda, and the intervening country 'between that township and Clare was covered by means of a coach and four in charge of the late Mr. Sam Coleman.

"On arrival at Clare we were taken to Dr. Bains's home. . . . There was plenty to eat, a well of good water, beautiful ripe apricots with other fruits to follow—and this 100 miles from Gleneig, and the colony 30 years old. As the seasons came round we had our own grown vegetables. Many gallons of water I drew by windlass from a well 60 ft. deep, and carried by hand for flowers and vegetables." Ploughing and digging matches were novelties.

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