The Duel in the City of Adelaide

A duel is something you associate with westerns. Two cowboys pacing it out on a dusty street before turning around, and drawing their guns as quick as possible. And usually the fastest one wins.

So when I found out that there was a duel in my hometown city of Adelaide, South Australia naturally I was intrigued, and had to check it out further.

There was no cowboys, or dusty streets, or tumbleweeds in this duel … (actually the streets may well have been dusty still at this stage), but certainly no cowboys or tumbleweeds. Instead we had politicians!

The two players in this duel are Charles Cameron Kingston, Q.C. & M.P., (1850-1908) and Richard Chaffey Baker, M.L.A. (1841-1911). The scene was the Adelaide Town Hall, on King William Street, Adelaide, and the time was 1.30pm, on Friday, 23 December 1892 … and it all started over name calling!

Adelaide Town Hall, 1923 Source: State Library of South Australia, PRG 280/1/45/106

Adelaide Town Hall, 1923
Source: State Library of South Australia, PRG 280/1/45/106

The Australian Dictionary of Biography sums up the who episode quite succinctly in the following paragraph …

“The most dramatic and colorful episode in Kingston’s political career occurred in 1892. After a prominent conservative member of the Legislative Council, (Sir) Richard Baker, denounced him as a coward, a bully and a disgrace to the legal profession, Kingston responded by describing Baker as ‘false as a friend, treacherous as a colleague, mendacious as a man, and utterly untrustworthy in every relationship of public life’. Kingston did not stop there. He procured a pair of matched pistols, one of which he sent to Baker accompanied by a letter appointing the time for a duel in Victoria Square, Adelaide, on 23 December. Baker wisely informed the police who arrested Kingston shortly after he arrived, holding a loaded revolver. Amidst widespread publicity he was tried and bound over to keep the peace for twelve months. The sentence was still in force when he became premier in June 1893.”

But the best description I’ve found of the whole saga (and there’s literally hundreds on Trove), is one from a Sydney newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, dated Saturday 24 December 1892

“Considerable excitement was caused in the city to-day when a rumor gained currency that Mr. C. C. Kingston, Q.C., M.P., had challenged Mr. R. L. Baker, M.L.C., to a duel over a feud which lately has been brought prominently before the public in Parliament and elsewhere. Many rumors are in currency with reference to the affair. As far as can be ascertained the facts are these.”

It goes on …

“A messenger called at Mr. Baker’s office in the city with a package and a letter from Mr. Kingston, which was stated to be “important” by the messenger. Mr. Baker was attending a meeting of the Queensland Mortgage Company, of which he is chairman of directors, and did not receive the communication till 1 o’clock. The letter asked Mr. Baker to meet Mr. Kingston in front of the Town-hall at 1.30 that day. The package accompanying the letter contained a revolver and cartridges. The police were communicated with on the matter; and Detective Kitson and Constable Rea awaited near the square at the time appointed. It is understood that Mr. Baker sent word to Mr. Kingston that he would attend as requested. At the hour named Mr. Kingston, with a six-chambered revolver, fully loaded, went to the square, where he was taken charge of by the officers of the law. It is stated that Mr. Kingston resisted the efforts of the police to secure possession of his revolver, and that Mr. Baker also kept his appointment. Mr. Kingston was detained at the police station for some time, and then released.”

The article goes into what provoked the reaction:

“The trouble arose as follows: Mr. Baker, in a letter to Sir Edwin Smith, which was read in tho Assembly, attacked Mr. M’Pherson and the Trades and Labor Council, whereupon Mr. Kingston severely criticised Mr. Baker’s conduct. Tho latter replied in the Council in a speech in which he stigmatised Mr. Kingston as a “bully and a coward,” and said that the Wheat Rates Committee had found him “guilty of untruth.”

Questions were later asked of Mr Baker as to why he declined taking part in the duel, the following article from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, on 31 December 1892 explains his reasons

“I had two reasons,” continued Mr. Baker, ” for declining a meeting with Mr. Kingston. One was that, though I was not afraid of him, or of being shot by him, I was afraid of breaking the law and of either being hung for murder or sent to gaol for the rest of my life. Under these circumstances I left the matter entirely in the hands of the Government, in the full belief that the Government would vindicate the law. “

So, yes a duel was scheduled … but no, it never actually happened, thanks to the authorities being notified. But even so, what a sensation it caused. And if you want to read more about it, here’s a link to over 200 articles on Trove about it.

4 Responses to “The Duel in the City of Adelaide”

  1. Richard McCarthy says:

    CCK was married to my GG Aunt, Lucy McCarthy and had at least seven illegitimate children mainly with the female servants in his father’s household.

    • Colin Whelan says:

      I’m researching for book that’ll have a chapter on CCK. Would you be interested in sharing your memories?
      Colin Whelan

  2. crissouli says:

    I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

    • Richard says:

      CCK was not a QC but was a Kings Counsel – KC
      He was a member of the Queen’s Privy Council – PC
      He was a member of Parliament- MHR
      He was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters – DoL

      These are his correct post nominals as per his wife’s headstone, Lucy May Kingston (nee McCarthy).

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