Monday, 26 September 2016

The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, Dunedin, 1889-1890 (Part Eight - The Closure of the Exhibition & Sale of the Buildings)


An award certificate from the New Zealand
and South Seas Exhibition, Dunedin 1889-90
[Source : Toitū Otago Settlers Museum]

This continues my Blog series looking at the "New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition" held in Dunedin between 1889 and 1890. To read all parts of this blog series please click on "New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition 1889-1890" in the left-hand "Labels" menu.


The Closing of the Exhibition

By the time the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition closed on the 19th April 1890 it had attracted 625,248 visitors over 125 days with 399,573 paid admissions (the rest being season ticket holders, volunteers and those holding free passes); and on closing day, which broke the attendance record, 18,434 admissions (which included 13,683 paid and 3,749 season ticket holders).

When planning the Exhibition it had been assumed there would be 240,000 paid admissions and 1,000 season tickets sold. The latter figure alone ended up being around four times the estimate.

The Exhibition Closing Ceremony, 19 April 1890

The "season of the exhibition" occasioned not just a visit from His Excellency the Governor, but also the Admiral of the Australian fleet, the Governors of New South Wales and South Australia, leading public figures from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and the officers of three "ships of war".

It was with regret and a feeling of melancholy on the part of the majority that the Exhibition was brought to a close and it was not expected that any enthusiasm would be evinced at the closing scenes of what would mark the end of an era in the history of the colony.

The "Volunteers", numbering some 400 men comprising of the ordnance battalion, the rifles and the cavalry who were mustered at the Garrison Hall just before 7 pm in the evening, being watched by a considerable crowd. At 7.30 pm the men marched by way of Princes street to the Exhibition, being led by a contingent of Hussars then the Ordnance Band preceding the Ordnance battalion, followed by the several rifle corps and the large crowd which had gathered. Due to the great crush of people it was found necessary to admit the Volunteers to the Exhibition grounds via the exhibitors' entrance in Crawford street where they afterwards mingled with the crowd.

The ceremony of declaring the Exhibition closed took place in the Concert Hall at 8pm, being represented on the dais by the President, members of the Executive committee, the Hon. Minister for Education, the Commissioners for the Australian courts, and a number of other invited guests including "several ladies", both on the dais and in the body of the hall.


The proceedings were opened by the Dunedin Garrison Band who were seated on the stage which preceeded the official speeches which included the reading of a full resumé of the Exhibition history and arrangements. A resumé of the awards given out to exhibitors were then read out with the classes (ie, first, second third, special etc) and to which countries they belonged.

The Exhibition Awards by Country and Class
[Source : "The Otago Daily Times"]

This part of the proceedings were accompanied by musical honours contributed by the Garrison Band, the wards to Great Britain being followed by "Rule, Britannia", France by "La Marseillaise", Germany by "Die Wacht am Rhein", the other participating colonies with appropriate pieces, and New Zealand with the version of "Hail! Zealandia" composed by Mr F. Leech of Dunedin.

The President with "somewhat mixed feelings of pride, gratitude, and regret" then rose to announce, in a lengthy speech which expressed thanks to many individuals [of which I have only included small excerpts], that the Exhibition is closed.

"I am sure to all residents in Dunedin - a matter of gratefulness and gratitude that the exhibition has been the means of drawing to our doors friends from all parts - friends even from across the sea from the distant Home country, friends from the neighbouring colonies and from the adjoining provinces of this colony. We have had during the last four months an opportunity of interchangeing ideas and of having a social community with our friends which we have never before, so far as I know, enjoyed in this colony."

Speaking on behalf of the committee, he hoped that when the Exhibition buildings were sold that the four Octagons could be saved and "provided the circumstances of the case warrant it", he would be prepared to ask the shareholders if these could be given "to the museum, university, or some other public institution". He would also ask the shareholders "to make the most reasonable terms for the main building, or else bestow it as a gift for a workmen's college", being followed by applause. [As we shall read, his intentions proved not to come to fruition]

"As it was becoming on such an occasion the opening of the exhibition was accompanied by a prayer, asking the blessing of Almighty God on the undertaking, and it is now alike our duty to and privilege humbly to acknowledge that the prayer then made has been amply answered, and that the Maker and Giver of all things has granted His protection and guidance. I now declare the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition closed."

Thereupon the band played the National Anthem, and after cheers for the Queen and the Exhibition President, the proceedings terminated, having taken less than an hour and a quarter.

The Grand Finale - The Pyrothechnical Display

All through the final day there was a constant stream of visitors  into the Exhibition "but after 6 o'clock it seemed as if the whole of Dunedin had turned out". It was not until nearly 8.30 pm that the crowd showed any signs of slackening. In the building "locomotion was almost impossible, and people had simply to allow themselves to be carried by the crowd hither and thither."  

In anticipation of the grand pyrotechnical display a large crowd had gathered in the gardens long before the commencement time. At precisely 9.30 pm the electric light was extinguished with rockets being fired first from the south western angle of the grounds then the south eastern angle. Various portions of the grounds were illuminated by colours but the crush of people was such that this could not be seen to advantage from any standpoint. 

"The effect of the girandole wheels, supported by discharging rockets, was very pretty, as also was the striking effect of the batteries of Roman candles. The display lasted for fully three quarters of an hour, finishing off with a beautiful pyrotechnic device, which gradually resolved itself into the motto, "God save the Queen"." 

Upon the electric light again lighting up the gardens it was observed that the flower beds in the central portions had been "trampled out of recognition".

The process of emptying the Exhibition buildings and grounds of some 18,000 people took some time with "many of them casting longing, lingering looks behind" as they left. This continued until as late as 20 past 11 with "only a few loiterers remaining" who then quickly left after the main lights were extinguished. It is reported that one of the last things heard in the building was the playing of a verse of "God save the Queen" as a solo on a cornet. At half past 11 the doors to the exhibition were locked. Sadly, it was now all over. 

An Analysis of the Exhibition     

Despite the openly expressed fears of many that the Exhibition would be a failure [the Wellington Exhibition of 1885 made a large financial loss], success crowned the efforts of those, who with commendable enterprise, took the initiative in executing their plan and faithfully worked hard over many months to make the Exhibition worthy of the colony. While there had been three previous industrial exhibitions in the colony "on a large scale"; this one had been on a far more extensive scale that any of the others. While visitors from other lands expressed surprise at the great display they witnessed at the Exhibition, astonishment was given by the oldest colonists on seeing the evidence of the progress we had made in so short a time.

In a report made to Napoleon of the results of the Exhibition in the Grand Court of the Louvre in Paris in 1801, it was declared that; "there was not an artist or inventor who obtained a public recognition of his ability but has found his reputation and his business largely increased".

Although the Dunedin Exhibition was not expected to show any immediately beneficial results it was noted that "thousands have already derived technical education from it, tens of thousands have been generally educated by it, and every one who has passed inside its turnstiles has found in it a great source of pleasure".

As one of the pioneers of the Otago settlement was heard to remark, "Who would have thought, 40 years ago, that we would have ever seen the like of this!".

The history of Dunedin may thus be summed up; "Yesterday dense forest, with a little clearing along the shore and a few huts; today a populous and prosperous town, reflecting the general prosperity of the country of which it is the commercial centreThe display of our products in the [Exhibition] not only brings into focus... the tangible proofs of the resources of our more immediate surroundings, but amply demonstrates at the same time, the unchallengeable resources of the whole colony."

The Sale of the Exhibition Buildings

A large auction took place of the Exhibition buildings on the 14th and 15th May 1890, being broken up into 48 lots including the main buildings, concert hall, art gallery, and the four octagons, being referred to as the Victorian, Mineral, Woolen, and Public Works Octagons on account of who had occupied them. It appears that the main entrance, art gallery, and concert hall did not sell and were offered for rent or removal by auction on the 7th June for removal or for rent or they would be demolished. The "Celebrated Eiffel Tower" was auctioned off on behalf of the Otis Elevator Company agents on the 31st May 1890.

It is known that a portion of the Exhibition buildings were taken down and re-erected at Burnside for the Kempthorne Prosser & Co, drug company as tenders were called. What this specifically comprised of is unknown and may not have been rebuilt in the same form. All their buildings at Burnside were demolished many years ago. It would appear that a great quantity of deconstructed material was also simply sold off on site by the auctioneers. 


The Exhibition "Octagon" as viewed in 2007
[From my own collection]

The last known remaining part of the Exhibition buildings was one of the Octagons which was dismantled then hauled to Kuri Bush just north of Taieri Mouth by John Keast using a team of six horses pulling a wagon where it was re-erected on the Dickson farm, the family having settled here in 1848.

A neighbouring landowner, Russell Geeves, stated in 2001 that "The dome included four nine inch by nine inch rimu beams which were 48 feet tall, now you wouldn't get timber like that these days."

Mr Dickson used the building for horse stables, a cow byre, an implement shed, and as a threshing floor for oats and wheat. But "the ventilation was poor and the workers refused to thresh in it because there was so much dust it was suffocating". At one later point it was simply used to store hay.

The last repairs were about 1976 when Mr Geeves, the then owner, patched the iron roof and replaced the wooden foundations with concrete.

Over the years, and "being absolutely riddled with borer", it became unsafe and blew down in high winds in November 2015. I took the above photograph while cycling down to Taieri Mouth back in 2007. Over the following years the roof and wall facing the road steadily fell apart and that whole side of the building ended up completely open to the elements. With untreated wood and full of borer, little could have been done to save it.       

But what, can anyone tell me, became of the foundation stone which had been laid with such honour in March 1889? There is no record of the stone itself carrying an inscription but I would be very surprised if it had not. I know that the Christchurch Exhibition of 1906-07 had a fully inscribed stone.


Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- NZ History Net / Nga Korero a ipurango o Aotearoa
- Hocken Collections, Dunedin / Uare Taoka o Hākena
- "The Star" newspaper, Dunedin
- Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin


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