RJ (Robert James) Pierce (1841-89) was an Irish doctor and surgeon who qualified after studying at Dublin's Royal College of Surgeons. Like many other Irish people of his time, he migrated to Australia where he worked as a doctor in Melbourne, Newcastle and Muswellbrook and then West Maitland.
In Maitland, Pierce developed a reputation as a physician with a kind regard for the poorer members of the community. In 1888 he became the Mayor of West Maitland.
He was highly active in the community as Maitland Hospital President and senior consulting surgeon there, President of the Philharmonic Society (and possessor of a fine singing voice) and a member of a number of many other Maitland organisations including the Fire Brigade Board (which he chaired), the Northern Jockey Club and the Hunter River Turf Club, the Maitland Lodge of Unity and the Microscopical Society (later the Maitland Scientific Society).
As Mayor, Pierce laid the foundation stone of the West Maitland Town Hall on January 26, 1888, commemorating the founding of the Colony of NSW exactly 100 years earlier. The following year he died, aged only 47, after having a seizure in High Street.
Immediately, as often happened in the nineteenth century when a well-known Maitland civic figure died, a fitting memorial was sought. A meeting in the Old Masonic Hall in High Street, attended by about 30 men of the business and professional elite of the town, discussed what would be appropriate and where it should be located.
The meeting resolved to erect 'a substantial monument' to a much-loved figure. There was debate, according to The Maitland Mercury, about what the memorial should be: in the end a circular cast iron bubbler fountain with a lamp above it was decided upon. Its siting came down to three possibilities Maitland Park or the town centre either in front of the Town Hall or at the Maitland Mercury intersection of High and Hunter steets. The intersection won out: a fountain in front of the Town Hall was thought likely to be obstructive to traffic.
The fountain cost £150. Pedestrians, horses and dogs benefited from its existence for almost five decades. But High Street changed substantially over that time: a street of slow-moving horses, sulkies and pedestrians became a busy thoroughfare increasingly dominated by motor vehicles. The High/Hunter streets intersection was deemed by the council, with the fountain, to be a danger spot. In January 1939 the structure was removed.
Its fate is not clear. It was not re-erected in an alternative location like Maitland Park, the site of several other memorials, which might suggest it had been irreparably damaged perhaps by being hit by a truck. In all likelihood it went to a council tip and was thus lost to posterity.
Its plaque, inscribed 'Erected to the memory of the late Dr RJ Pierce 1889', was retained in the Town Hall vestibule.