Paris Nesbit : Potrait of an Inmate

It is unsurprising that Willsmere has been home to many colourful individuals in its time. One of these was Paris Nesbit (1852-1927), a former schoolmaster, author, land agent and social activist. A child genius, Nesbit was fluent in German, French and Latin, and well versed in the major poets by the age of 10, translating Goethe and Schiller into English (which was eventually published, albeit not until 1911). He studied music under Carl Linger, the famous musician and composer who would be responsible for 'Song of Australia'), and at 13 topped the Adelaide colony's scholarship examinations.

Athletic in his youth, he also developed progressive ideas for social reform and, an Anglican, became disillusioned with the more conservative approach to Christianity. Admitted to the Bar in 1873 and proved a witty, versatile, and skilled counsel and became responsible for many complex parliamentary laws, including the Succession Duties Act (1885), Real Property Act (1886) and the Insolvency Act (1886), the later incorporated in the Federal Bankruptcy Act. In 1893 he had been appointed Q.C. and for thirty years, with Sir Josiah Symon, was widely acknowledged as joint leader of the Bar.

In 1884 he unsuccessfully campaigned for election to the House of Assembly seat of East Adelaide. He was very well-versed in the site-rental theories of the American economist Henry George, a proponent of Federation and a member of the Adelaide Philosophical Society, the Adelaide Democratic Club, the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Australian Natives' Association of which he was Adelaide president in 1892.

However there was a less fortunate side to this imaginative and skilled individual. At the age of 33, whilst in Melbourne, he was arrested wilful trespass after harassing a lady he had some affection towards. Certified as a "lunatic", he was sent to Kew Lunatic Asylum (now Willsmere). After several months he was released and put on a steamer bound for Adelaide, Nesbit jumped overboard, swam back to Melbourne to visit his would-be female friend, and found himself again committed. His response to these incarcerations are found in his pamphlet Lunacy Laws and Procedure in Victoria (1896), "to a mad doctor I was mad in 1885, and, thank God, am mad still".

In 1896 he was again confined, this time in the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum, emerging determined to gain parliamentary office and amend the lunacy laws. He campaigned unsuccessfully for Barossa that year and in 1905, showing some poetic antipathy the popular liberal Premier Charles Kingston. Nesbit was again certified in 1898 and was in Parkside Lunatic Asylum for most of January-July. His efforts to secure release were thwarted by the Kingston government's illegal detention order. Eventually the Supreme Court overruled the government and freed him.

In August 1900 Nesbit launched, and initially edited, a popular weekly newspaper, Morning (eventually becoming the Morning Star and The Century), which advocated divorce law reform, legal aid for the poor, decriminalization of drunkenness, equal employment opportunity, and opposition to the “White Australia” policy. It even featured erotic verses, allegedly by an anonymous poetesses, was interested in the “new thought” movement, including vegetarianism and spiritualism. It was particularly notable for its criticism of senior religious and political leaders,

In 1906 Nesbit narrowly failed to gain United Labor Party preselection to enter Federal parliament. He resigned from the U.L.P. and helped to lead the Liberal and Democratic Union into the amalgamated Liberal Union; however that party proved to be too conservative for him and in 1910 he stood, again unsuccessfully, as an Independent for a Federal seat.

At 63 he was again certified, and briefly incarcerated, after "offending public sexual decency". Suffering increasingly from melancholia and died of perforated duodenal ulcer on 31 March 1927.

(Material derived from Graham Loughlin, 'Nesbit, Paris (1852 - 1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, Melbourne University Press, 1988 and the South Australian State Library records for “Morning”) .