Read his story
Charles ‘Louis’ von Doussa (1850-1932) was born in Hahndorf to Prussian immigrant parents. He became a high-profile lawyer and politician. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Mount Barker township, and he enjoyed great popularity for his generous and open-handed participation in the life of the town. His memory was honoured by the construction of a granite memorial, built through public subscription. The von Doussas legal practice still operates in Gawler Street, and is one of the oldest law firms in South Australia.
Charles Louis von Doussa, always called ‘Louis,’ was born in Hahndorf in 1850. He was the second son of Emil Louis Alfred von Doussa (1809-1882), an officer of the Prussian army, who emigrated to South Australia in 1846 with his wife Anna Dorothea von Doussa, née Schach (1811-1881).
Von Doussa trained in law from the age of 16, was admitted to the Bar in 1871, began legal practice in Mount Barker in 1872, and went on to enjoy a highly successful career in law and politics. In the late 1870s one of his better-known clients was John Dunn, as he conducted the legal affairs of Dunn & Co. He served on the High Court, and in every jurisdiction of the Supreme and lower courts of the State. He was a member of the South Australian House of Assembly for Mount Barker (1889-1902); a member of the South Australian Legislative Council (1903-1905); Attorney-General of South Australia (1902-1904); and Minister for Education (1903-1904). His brother Alfred von Doussa (1848-1926) was also a politician, and successive generations of von Doussas trained in law. The von Doussas legal practice in Gawler Street continues as one of the oldest established businesses in Mount Barker, and is one of the oldest legal practices in South Australia.
In 1874 Louis married Agnes ‘Aggie’ Bowman (1852-1886), the daughter of pastoralist and miller William Bowman of Finniss. They had eight children, of whom four survived infancy. Aggie did not survive the eighth delivery; she was interred at St James Anglican Church Cemetery at Blakiston. Louis did not marry again until 1900, when his youngest child, Olive, was eighteen. His second wife was widow Ruby Louisa Farrar, née Smyth (1855-1920), third daughter of C.A. Smyth, a Melbourne QC. In her Courier obituary in 1920 she was described as “a lady of strong character,” but compared with her husband she led a private life, best remembered as “a devoted wife, a trustworthy friend, and in every way an honored and worthy member of the community.”
When Louis von Doussa himself died in 1932 aged 82, a committee was formed to appeal for funds for a monument to be built in his memory (an early form of ‘crowd-funding’). Thirteen months later a granite obelisk inscribed with his name and the dedication ‘A patriotic Townsman’ was unveiled near the top of Gawler Street. No other resident of Mount Barker has been honoured in this way before or since. It was not so much von Doussa’s eminence that the town sought to honour, as the exceptional level of support that he had given to the community throughout his career, not just through financial bequests but also through his enthusiastic personal involvement with the town and its people.
The unveiling of his memorial was attended by a large crowd. The school band played. One of von Doussa’s many friends, newspaperman Charles Dumas, remembered him as man who “took a prominent part in everything that was to the advantage of the town or district.” He was “a foundation member of the Mount Barker Institute, a Past Master of the Prince of Wales Masonic Lodge, a good churchman, and an enthusiastic supporter of all local sporting clubs,” including the cricket, rifle, tennis and golf clubs, and especially the bowling club. He was a passionate patron of the arts, and his efforts on behalf of the Mount Barker Agricultural Society helped to make it a vital part of the district’s economic success. Even during his lifetime, a community hall that was funded by £350 of public donations was named the ‘von Doussa Club House,’ not just because he launched the appeal with a contribution of £100, but also “in view of his generosity and long and valued services as a townsman.” (The hall was initially built to accommodate the Mount Barker Boys’ Club, which had been evicted from the Christ Church Memorial Hall after the death of their benefactor Rector Alfred Heywood Reynolds in 1925. The hall is still standing in Cameron Street near the Mountain Pool; see Miller Peake History Post.)
Thomas O’Halloran, a magistrate who had started as a junior in the Von Doussa firm nearly fifty years earlier, remarked:
There was no idea of profit to himself, but for the advancement of the town and district, and there was no move of any kind with that for its objective that Louis von Doussa was not in the forefront. . . . He followed the profession’s highest traditions, and fought hard but fairly. His clients trusted him, and he never betrayed a trust. His premier characteristics were generosity and loyalty. He did not need a monument to keep his memory green, and because he did not need it he deserved it.
The Courier, commenting that “Mr von Doussa was endowed with social gifts which made friendship with him priceless, and contact inspiring,” listed the many legacies that he had left to the town in his will. These included bequests to the Anglican Church, the library of the Mount Barker Institute, the Mount Barker Agricultural Society, and a sum to establish a scholarship at the High School. Touchingly, he also left fifty pounds to the Mount Barker Improvement Committee, “to be used for the still further beautifying of the town I love and in which I have resided so long.”
At the unveiling of von Doussa’s memorial his friends hoped that it would honour him in perpetuity:
This monument will stand as a recognition of what he has done for the district. To the children it will serve as a beacon and to provide a guide as to how they should act in the future; it will remain to the memory of one who lived his life well for the advancement of his town and district.
But when Adelaide Road was widened the obelisk was moved from its position of prominence at the top of Gawler Street. It can now be seen in the relative obscurity of the north-west corner of Wellington Road and Howard Lane, near the tennis courts.
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