Stanford Fountain

Stanford Fountain, Gordon Reserve, Melbourne, Australia

Public Art : Stanford Fountain

Artist: William Stanford (1839-1880)

Date: 1870

Description of the Stanford Fountain: The carved bluestone fountain features a central cupid figure surrounded by birds and dolphins.  

Location: Gordon Reserve, corner of Spring and Macarthur Streets, Melbourne, Australia.

Background to the Stanford Fountain: Sometimes the artist is far more interesting than the work he creates and Stanford is a fine example of this. William Stanford (1837 - 1880) was born in England and as a lad, was an apprentice stone mason. In 1852, at the age of 15 he came to live in Victoria, Australia, where for awhile he tried his luck on the goldfields at Bendigo. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before a young William found himself in strife. Unsuccessful finding gold, Standford turned to crime and in 1854 he was found guilty of stealing a horse and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. William served nearly six years before he was released on ticket-of-leave. But before he could get his life back on track, he found himself in trouble once again.  In May of 1860, barely out of gaol and only 23, William was found guilty on two charges of highway robbery and one of horse-stealing, and promptly given a 22 years gaol sentence. William was outraged, admitting to assisting an ex-prisoner in stealing a horse but declaring himself innocent of highway robbery. Two years of his sentence was converted to hard labour (in irons) after he supposedly broke out of an "escape proof gaol".  Now, here is where the story becomes interesting. Rightly or wrongly miffed about being sent to Pentridge Jail, William became a nightmare prisoner, insubordinate and downright angry. He spent a lot of his time just drawing on a slate. One day the prison Chaplain noticed William drawing and on viewing his sketches noted the young man had talent. After the Chaplain was shown a figure William had carved from a bone left over from a stew, he took it to Colonel Champ, the then govenor of Pentridge. With a little bit of pursuading from the Chaplain, he was able to get permission from Champ, to allow William to have art lessons (providing William behaved). Somehow, the Chaplain also managed to get permission for Charles Summers (of Burke and Wills Memorial fame) to give William some basic lessons in modelling. With encouragement and a new found interest, William eventually submitted a design for a fountain. Permission was granted, but he was only allowed to use the local bluestone from the prison quarry. For four years he chipped away behind the walls of Pentridge on his fountain design. In the meantime, Summers, along with his friends, began making continual petitions for the early release of the talented William. On the 28th of October 1870 their appeals were granted, William was "discharged to freedom by remission" and was able to add the finishing touches to the fountain, as a free man. Following his release, William moved to Windsor where he set up as a monumental mason, married and became a well respected member of the community. Unfortunately in 1880 William died. His death, many believed, was as a direct result of inhaling the fine dust from the bluestone, used to create his fountain. Next time, if you are ever in Melbourne, it would be well worth your while to visit the fountain and remember William Stanford, a young rebel who did good, and look closely at the carvings he painstakingly worked on from behind the walls of Pentridge Gaol.

History of the Stanford Fountain: William Stanford designed and carved the fountain during his incarceration at Pentridge Prison. In 1871 the fountain was erected in Carpentaria Place (now Gordons Reserve) for which William received no payments. He used a stuffed eagle-hawk as his model for the birds and the Champ's (Governor of Pentridge) son for the cupid figure. In the 1880's the fountain was virtually hidden from view, thanks to the weeping willows, conifers and Moreton Bay figs that thrived in the park. When the fountain was completed the Illustrated Australian News wrote "not only a work of great beauty but...executed under circumstance of extreme difficulty (which for) most men would have been insurmountable."

 

 

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