Crossing Swords in the Local Press

In 1886 two citizens took different views on the advantages of the constructed steel tramway along Point Nepean Road in the Borough of Brighton The first section of this tramway was opened by Sir Thomas Bent, Mayor of Brighton and President of the Moorabbin Roads Board on March 23, 1885. Some people believed the use of the tramway by heavy vehicles would prevent damage to the road and therefore reduce the heavy maintenance costs. Others who objected to the new development focussed on who should pay for this innovation. Why should Brighton bear the burden of this expenditure when the users were primarily residents of Moorabbin?.

Extracts from letters by two correspondents in the Brighton Southern Cross reveal the two points of view in words that are at time colourful, exaggerated, biting and personal and where the original purpose of the correspondence becomes lost. They also suggest the existence of some animosity between the residents of the Borough of Brighton and their near neighbours to the south in Moorabbin and beyond. In addition there is the hint that one of the correspondents is attempting to gain notoriety by advocating this cause with the goal of achieving public office.

Sir Thomas Bent used this hammer to drive this spike on the first section of the Brighton Steel Tramway on March 23, 1885. The spike was later removed and silver plated.

"…Now the principal thoroughfare to Moorabbin is the Nepean-road, and it so happens that some portion of this runs a little inside the borough boundary. The Council (Brighton) has already expended … some £5000 of borough money on this piece of road, and including the amount they propose to expend out of the coming loan … fully £8000 of the burgesses’ money is to be spent on a highway, four-fifths of the traffic on which belongs to Moorabbin. This large expenditure has been and is going on while the streets of the borough proper have been shamefully neglected. …"C Lister [1] [2]

Mr John Brown responds the next week to the correspondence of Mr Lister:

"The letter of your correspondent Mr C Lister, on "The Tramway," is another evidence of the awakening of public interest in public affairs. It is truly refreshing to note how some of our most influential ratepayers have suddenly roused themselves from the profound lethargy and indifference into which the last two or three years of prosperity has lulled them. … What arguments within the whole range of reason can Mr C. Lister bring against the tramway? He quotes the cost. How little, how insignificant, does the figures he submits appear compared with the objects gained, the reform effected. What was the state of the main road two years ago, ever since the abolition of the tolls to the introduction of the tramway, the highway to Melbourne, the grand truck road on which our local traffic was conducted, on which the produce of the surrounding districts is conveyed, the principal, the only road approach to the greatest city in the southern hemisphere, was a curse to every man who used it; it was the cruelest cruelty that could be inflicted on that noble animal the horse, and a standing disgrace, an insult to every man who called Brighton his local habitation. I have been driving my load along that road at night and seen it sway out of one hole and into another, threatening a capsize at every stride, and felt humiliated that living in such an enlightened age I was forced to witness such an insult to the spirit of progress. … But Mr. C. Lister was unconscious of all this, for while we struggled with our produce through the mud and holes and darkness, he was wrapped in sweet refreshing sleep, unconscious of the very existence of such beings as market gardeners. … If Mr Lister is to be a public man, why does he not come forward in the character of a real true public man, in the sense that has won for the name world-wide respect and veneration. One who would take into consideration the interests of all; of the sons of toil, who live in the country part of our district; as well as the sons of ease who live in the town part of it. The men who use the tramway do not use it for the purpose of exhibiting luxurious and costly equipages, but for the purpose of carrying on an honest and honourable calling. They are industrious, unassuming and substantial men, who toil night and day, and encounter all sorts of difficulties and hardships to enable them to pay their way and do their duty as useful members of society. [3]

Mr Lister took up the verbal challenge and replied:

"I have not the pleasure of knowing your correspondent "John Brown" I wish his christian name had been Henry, Thomas, William, or any other but John, as I have occasionally found "John Brown" to be only a "bogus" covering a real identity. [4] I shall suppose in this case he is a reality, and a resident of some part of Moorabbin. I did not think that my two or three inches of very innocent matter, in your last issue would have caused the bosom of "Mr John Brown" to swell into nearly a whole column of your paper. Your correspondent wanders away into a lot of purposeless verbosity, without once touching the principal point in my letter ….I have no desire that "John Brown" and his Moorabbin friends should travel on a bad road to Melbourne, but I do say it is unjust that Brighton ratepayers should have to pay out of their own pockets for the constitution of a road, which is almost for the exclusive use and benefit of the market gardeners of Moorabbin …. It is cruel on the part of "John Brown" to take thousands of pounds of our burgesses money to make for him a road, and then to roundly abuse us for demurring to such a liberty on his part. … "Mr John Brown" is jealous of my sweet refreshing sleep. In the early days of the colony, I had some experience of teaming on the Ballarat road, the notorious Carlsrhue Flat, the Black Forest in winter (sometimes making my own road and bridges with tree sapling), travelling the ranges and ravines of the King River country … not to mention other trifling experiences. I admit that my roughing is small as compared to "Mr John Browns’s" adventures between Moorabbin and Melbourne … It would suit the people of that part of Brighton bordering on the Nepean-road if "Mr Brown" and his fellow gardeners would reverse the order of their visit to and from Melbourne, and return through the borough with their hundreds of loads of unsavoury manure in the night time; instead of at a time of day when the people want to open their windows to get pure air into their rooms. "John Brown" and his friends are guilty of ingratitude. The Brighton people have subscribed to build them a tramway for their own special use. Notwithstanding this, they purchased nearly all their requirements elsewhere, and the Brighton shopkeepers get little or none of their money. … C Lister [5]

The following week John Brown replied:

"Sir, I was so affected by the "friendly reply" of Mr Lister to my letter that I feel bound to acknowledge my gratitude. For the first time in my life I have found a man willing to acknowledge my eloquence. I have hawked my ability around the civilized world, and around Brighton too, but hitherto without success. …I regret that he stops here in his appreciation of my talent, and charges me with occupying nearly a whole column of your paper. I cannot help this; it is my misfortune, not my fault. It seems to have been the dispensation of (an otherwise prudent) Providence that I should not be brief. … Long letters have been the downfall of my career. … Mr Lister saw my stumbling block, and he pointed out in a gentlemanly, friendly and polite manner for the benefit of myself and the public generally, how my "bosom had swelled into nearly a whole column of purposeless verbosity." But it puzzles me how Mr Lister came to the conclusion that I had a bosom. I might have had a bosom when I was young; but I beg to inform Mr. Lister that I have subjected my body to a minute examination, but can discover nothing more sentimental than a chest just at the present. … To make his argument good his letter should have been short, sharp, and pithy and crushing; condensed down into what his extreme modesty would induce him to call his "two or three inches of innocent matter." But no doubt Mr Lister’s long letter was not a whole column of useless verbosity. He, of course, went straight to the point. He showed, by way of argument, how in the early days - (he does not state how early, but I presume it was within the Christian era) - he used to team along the Carlsrhue Flat, Black Forest, King river country, Ovens River, Buckland River, Buffalo ranges, the backwoods of Peru, and the frigid regions of the North Pole, dragging logs up perpendicular heights, hitching up waggons in ravines, and - and a lot of other exciting, thrilling and useful information which I cannot remember just at the present. … This is the sort of man we want in the council - a man that can keep to the point, hang on to it, argue it out, and bring the true state of the case grandly and forcibly before a reluctantly yielding opposition. He goes on to state how he used to make his own roads and bridges of tree saplings. Now, this is the point he wants to get at. He has evidently got a scheme in his head for laying down saplings on the Brighton road to supersede the tramway. … And I, myself, have taken the idea into consideration; and taking Mr Lister into my confidence I would seriously advise him not to push the project just at the present. It is a little too previous. I think; it wants the subsequentness (sic). I reckoned up the cost of carrying the saplings from the Blue Mountains, and conclude it would be more than the finances of the borough could support just at the present. He seems to have forgotten that there are no saplings growing alongside the Brighton road just now. If he could wait until they grew, the cost of his project would be greatly reduced. … In conclusion, I beg to state that as Mr Lister had expressed a desire to call me Harry, I accede to the request, as I entertain for him the very kindliest regard, and I will also be happy to talk over old times with him at any time. John Brown. [6)

In the same issue of the paper a third correspondent entered the fray to challenge Mr Lister. [7] Writing under the non de plume of Consistency he reports an instance where Mr Lister’s comments to Mr Brown about the need to transport loads of unsavoury manure through the streets of Brighton in the night did not appear to meet his own actions:

"Now on Wednesday last, the 26th inst., at about one o’clock a load of very foul smelling manure was driven along the Point Nepean-road in a cart upon which was a brass plate bearing Mr Lister’s name and business address. It turned down that street at the back of Mr Bent’s residence, where it is well known Mr Lister has some land, and a heap of manure …Of course I could not say whether Mr Lister was driving the cart or not, but I think the matter calls for an explanation in the interests of Consistency."

Mr Lister failed to provide the requested explanation in the press nor did he respond to the latest tirade of John Brown Undoubtedly he did not expect the particular responses his original letter generated and perhaps recognised there could be no winner in such a debate so he decided to retire from the battle bleeding but breathing.


  1. Brighton Southern Cross May 8, 1886.
  2. Sands and McDougall, Melbourne Directory 1886 notes: Lister, Cornelius, and Co. importers of European and Eastern produce, coffee roasters and tea merchants 30 and 32 Lit Flinders-st west; p.r. Bay-st, N Btn. Cornelius Lister’s property on the south side of Bay Street was the middle one of three between Male and Warriston streets.
  3. Brighton Southern Cross, May 15, 1886.
  4. The Sands and McDougall, Melbourne Directory of 1886 only lists one J Brown living in the South Brighton /Cheltenham area. He was living in Black Rock. No indication is given as to occupation.
  5. Brighton Southern Cross, May 22, 1886.
  6. Brighton Southern Cross, May 29, 1886.
  7. Brighton Southern Cross, May 29, 1886.
27 June 2018
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