Monday, 18 July 2016

"Turret Clocks and Bells" - A History of Timekeeping in Dunedin (Second Part)


George Young's 1871 Clock as it appeared in 1898
[Source : The Founding of the Otago Settlement"]

This continues my three part blog series looking at the fascinating history of early timekeeping in Dunedin New Zealand - and specifically - of its early bells and turret clocks. The first instalment can be accessed Here. This instalment features Dunedin's early town clocks while the final instalment features Dunedin's early Municipal turret clocks. This is a longer read, so grab a comfy chair and settle down for a good read. I trust you will find the subject as interesting as I have.

The need to procure a town clock for Dunedin had been discussed by the Otago Provincial Government Council as early as March 1855. But more on this in the final instalment. The subject came very much to the fore again in February 1860 when a letter from the Superintendent of the Provincial Government was read before a meeting of the Town Board directing their attention "to the importance of procuring a public clock for the town, and stating that the [Provincial] Government were prepared to subscribe £50 towards the object, on condition that the board would promise an equal amount".

But this proposal appears to have been quietly abandoned once the necessary cost became evident; "The clerk was instructed to inform His Honour that £100 is insufficient for the object as it appears from an estimate prepared by an experienced person, capable of judging in such matters, that a clock (exclusive of a clock tower) would be more likely to cost £400".


Advertisement for Mr Arthur Beverly,
Watchmaker and Jeweller of
Princes Street, Dunedin, 1 May 1858
[Source : Papers Past]

We now find that private enterprise would come to the aid of the good citizens of Dunedin in order to remedy this now woeful deficiency. Historian A.H. Reed usefully informs us that the "Colonist" of the 12th October 1860 reports that;

"Mr Arthur Beverly has erected a capital clock over his shop front in Princes street, the dial was about two feet in diameter, and the figures visible at a considerable distance. It was understood that an article of such public usefulness could be obtained for £30. It is disgraceful that the Town Board should have turned a deaf ear to the repeated remonstrances made to it on that subject".

Mr Arthur Beverly (also mentioned in the first instalment), a Scot from Aberdeen, had emigrated to Victoria Australia in 1852, initially working on the goldfields before setting up a watchmaking and jewellery business in Melbourne. In 1857, and at age 35, he emigrated to Dunedin New Zealand, setting up his new watchmaking and jewellery business in Princess street on the 1st May 1858.

According to Reed, Beverly was, "a scientist who had an abstruse knowledge of mathematics, and whose attainments were recognised in the outside world. He died on 26th October 1907, and his bequest to the University of Otago still provides the annual Beverly prize."

A unique self-winding clock by Beverly, being driven using variations in atmospheric pressure, resides at the Dept. of Physics in the Otago University registry building and has never needed to be manually wound since it was made in 1864. Beverly also employed very skilled staff, Mr Robertson "of his establishment" patenting a lever movement used on one of his clocks exhibited at the 1865 Industrial Exhibition in Dunedin.

While Beverly was not, in 1860, the only watchmaker in Dunedin, Robert Hogg (previously Henry Perring business est. 1858, sold 1858-59) and James Reid (est. 1852) being the two known others, he is the only one I can find up to this date with a privately funded "public" clock actually outside their premises. It is exceedingly unfortunate that the widespread financial crisis of 1864 forced Mr Beverly to "retire from business", selling up on the 31st October of that year.


The Old Post Office on the corner of Princes &
Jetty Street, Dunedin. Note Mr Beverly's clock 
above the porch. Taken post 1867.
[Source : "The Founding of the Otago Settlement", 1898]

By putting up his clock in 1860, Mr Beverly managed to steal a march on the Post Office whose own small public clock was not ordered until 1863. A correspondent calling himself "New Iniquity" and writing in August 1862 via the public columns of the "Otago Daily Times" wished to; "Impress upon you [the Postmaster] the necessity which exists for a Post Office Clock, one which combines the ornamental with the useful."  The Post Office was then located just a block south of Mr Beverly's shop by the corner of Princes and Jetty streets. As the above photo includes the Provincial Government Buildings at left rear, being built in 1867, the photo would be taken on or after this date.

No action appears to have been taken until the 9th January 1863 when the Chairman of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce drew attention to "the want of a timepiece at the Post Office, for the guidance of the public in posting their letters", there having often been a variance in postal closing times and "great inconvenience was often the result of this irregularity". A deputation were appointed to wait on the Postmaster who in fact had anticipated their visit "and had [already] given an order to Mr Beverly to supply a clock".

There had previously "been some discussion" as to how the clock would be paid for but the Postmaster, Mr Barr, "had taken the responsibility of the order" and "had communicated with the General Government as to the payment". While the deputation were advised that "a good clock was to be procured", Mr Barr would bravely appear to have taken some degree of personal financial responsibility in ordering the clock without first gaining Government approval for payment.

But in April 1863 we curiously find that a "town clock" had been "yesterday placed in front of the Custom House, a position selected for it; we must conclude, as being more central and prominent than the more appropriate location for such an object at the Post Office." It would therefore appear that Mr Barr's clock may have been 'diverted' by the Government to the newly completed Custom House, especially as the supplier was the same said Mr Beverly; "The clock shows a large, conspicuous dial-plate, and is made by Mr Beverly, of this city". Mention is also made of the lack of a transparent dial-plate so that it could not be "lighted at night, so as to be visible by night as well as by day".

I simply cannot locate any photographs of this clock and photographs of the Custom House (cnr of High street and Princes street) shows no evidence of a clock. An 1874 photo, which includes the Custom House, appears halfway down this page. The only other newspaper reference, being dated July 1863, states, "that a large clock has been constructed so as to peep out from the higher storey of the Custom House building, and thus prominently inform all of the progress of the old gentleman with the scythe."

My guess is that once the large Provincial Government owned turret clock was placed in the clock tower of the adjoining and intended new 'Post Office' building in February 1868 [this clock is featured in my next blog] the former was now made somewhat redundant and may have then been shifted to the old Post Office building as originally intended, being shown in the post 1867 image above. There is a reference (noted below) to the Post Office having an outside clock in March 1868.  

But Mr Beverly's 1860 clock above his premises in Princes street would still prove useful, the Speaker of the Provincial Government alluding to it at a meeting on the 1st September 1863. After the lack of a quorum at a four o'clock meeting necessitated his retiring from the chair for a few minutes (to comply with standing orders), the somewhat inconvenienced Speaker then advised the now full meeting that "It would be well if members would regulate their watches by the clock at Mr Beverly's". This clock was easily visible just across the road from the Government offices.


The Provincial Hotel, Cnr of Stafford & Manse Streets, Dunedin.
Note the clock on the upper pediment. Henry Frith Photo, Jun 1867
[Source : Te Papa Tongarewa]

The Provincial Hotel on Stafford street appears to have had a clock added to the upper corner pediment after the wooden extension down to the Manse street corner was built in 1861. This clock appears to be an "add on" and not a concurrent addition so is more likely to have been put up some time later. Stagecoach operator Cobb & Co had an office on the ground floor with their coaches departing from here so a public clock would have proved useful. On another photograph taken from an oblique angle in 1874 there is a covered area with a curved top extending about three feet back from the clock face.

In November 1876, it was noted that, "the clock at the Provincial corner, on Mr Sibbald's hotel, which has told the same hour with unflinching consistency for many years, has at last been prevailed on by the clock-cleaner to record with regularity the flight of time."  

The clock and decorative surround had been removed by the time a 1918 published image of the building was taken. I can, however, find no published reference to this clock being installed. Julius Hyman, watchmaker, had a turret clock with a three foot dial available for sale in September 1862 so this is a possibility.

After the above-mentioned Mr Beverly sold up in October 1864 the new owner of his watchmaking and jewellery business would be Mr Isaac Herman, a Jewish gentleman much connected, until his death in 1867, with the local Hebrew Church formed in 1862. These were the days of the Otago Gold Rush and Dunedin was now a prosperous and rapidly expanding township and thus an attractive place for businessmen and skilled tradespeople to set up business. Dunedin is still the richer for the contribution such people have made to this city, particularly those of the Hebrew faith, many having created a valuable legacy both in terms of business interests and philanthropy.


The premises of Mr Julius Hyman, Watch 
Clockmaker of No1 Chambers, Princes
Street, Dunedin, taken c.late 1868
Note the clock on the pediment and the
offices of Architect David Ross upstairs.
[Source : Jewish Museum Online Org]

But Mr Julius Hyman, another enterprising and entrepreneurial Jewish watchmaker also now enters the scene. In February 1862 J. Hyman, "watch and chronometer maker, jeweller &c." advertises that he had now opened a branch of his long-standing (since 1853) Melbourne watchmaking and jewellery business in Rattray street. By June 1862 he had closed his branch in Melbourne and in August 1862 moved to new premises at 1 Princes street. In September 1867 he moved further down Princess street to almost opposite the new Provincial Government buildings after taking over the business and stock of the above Mr I. Herman (deceased) in September 1867. This was, of course, Mr Beverly's old premises.

On the 11th March 1868 the Chief Postmaster advised that henceforth "Wellington Time" would be kept at the Dunedin Post Office (around 20 minutes ahead of Dunedin time), and that "the clocks, both outside and inside the office, will be set daily at the time shown by the Telegraphic clock as Wellington time". This at least confirms the existence of a clock outside the Post Office at this time. But on the 18th March 1868 our Mr Hyman advised the general public via the 'Otago Daily Times' of a now confusing variation in timekeeping within the city;

"Having charge of the Provincial clocks, I waited this morning on His Honor, the Superintendent, to ascertain if it was his wish that the Provincial clocks should be altered to the Wellington time. His Honor informed me that he could not yet see any grounds for doing so, and that the time was to be kept the same as heretofore."

This anomaly would not last long as New Zealand adopted a nationally observed standard time on the 2nd November 1868.  

In November 1868 Hyman, who was also very active in the Dunedin Hebrew Church, retired from the watchmaking and jewellery business in Dunedin to concentrate on "his upcountry business" (Mt. Ida) and "the wholesale manufacture of clocks" but remained resident in Dunedin. In actual fact, from 1869 to 1873, he was the owner of the Pier Hotel on the corner of Jetty and Crawford streets.


The "Post Office" clock and Princess street, 1874
Hyman's / Beverly's old shop is marked with an arrow.
The Custom House appears in left foreground
Burton brothers photo
[Source : Te Papa Tongarewa]

I note the small clock on the pediment in the upper photograph of Hyman's premises and although marked on the window "No 1 Chambers" this same building clearly appears (marked) in the above view taken of the "Post Office" clock tower at the Exchange in Princes street taken in 1874 by Burton Bros. But why a permanent looking veranda on the earlier circa late 1868 photo and not on the Burton 1874 photo? Another Burton Bros. photo dated 1870, which I have not shown here, clearly shows no veranda over Kirkpatrick's premises but the name of "Harrop" above the watchmaker's door, being the successor to Mr Hyman.


Mr Hyman's clock (previously Beverly's)
which had been installed in October 1860
 [Source : Jewish Museum Online Org]

Mr Hyman sold his premises to "Harrop and Neill as successors to Julius Hyman" in November 1868, David Ross moved to his upstairs premises above Hyman's shop in November 1868 and "Miss Ward's Millinery shop" took over the Kirkpatrick premises next door in Dec 1871. So my estimate as to a date of late 1868 would appear entirely correct. But the mystery of the missing veranda aside, what we are looking at above Mr Hyman's shop in 1868 is arguably Dunedin's first "public clock", albeit a privately owned one, having originally been installed by the afore-named Mr Arthur Beverly above his then shop in 1860. The clock was still in situ up to at least 1870 but a new three story brick building appears on the site in 1876.

What type of clock mechanism this was is unknown but at around £30 it would appear to have been a relatively simple movement. Mr Hyman quotes a "fine turret clock" with one dial for sale in 1862 at £50. But like Mr Young's clock described below I would imagine that the clock hands would still need to have been actuated by a "connecting rod" from the mechanism below so that it could be easily wound and adjusted as the clock sat right on the top pediment. I note in the above 1868 photo that "J Hyman" and "No 1" have also been added to the clockface.


George Young's 1871 Clock
and arch as it 
appeared in 1898
[Source : "The Founding of the 
Otago Settlement"]

In April 1871 Mr George Young, a watchmaker who had set up business in 1862, and who now occupied premises at 88 Princes street, absolutely outdid the old "Beverly" clock (at what was now Harrop and Neill's premises) when he put up "a massive and handsome clock pillar and arch". This was mounted in an extremely decorative semi-circular iron arch right over the pavement at right angles to his shop frontage so that it could hardly be missed, even at night, as two "handsome cut glass globes, each about one foot in diameter, are arranged so as to give a brilliant light upon the dial-plate". 

"It consists of a richly carved and decorated pillar, about six inches in diameter, with open relieved capital and floral volutes; base resting on a well proportioned pedestal, secured in the line of the external kerbing of the footpath into a massive block of Port Chalmers stone... The arch is semicircular in its outer rim, and consists of double ribs, connected with open iron network of chaste design, except when close covered directly over the enclosed works... Connecting the spring of these arches ribs on each side with the upper portion of [enamelled] dial plates , are inner and flatter ribs, the four spandrils thus formed being filled in with light open scroll work of floral design, cresting with ornaments being secured in centre and over each dial plate.  


George Young's 1871 Clock "Arch"
as it 
appeared around 1903
[Source : "The Cyclopedia of New 
Zealand", 1905]

This magnificent piece of "street art" was manufactured by Messrs Smith and Son, iron-founders of Glasgow from a design drawn up by the noted Dunedin architect, Mr Robert A. Lawson.

"The clock itself, being a turret one, with dead beat escarpment, and of Birmingham manufacture - is placed in the premises over the shop. From the clock, a connecting rod extends parallel with the front wall, a length of five feet, to a connecting wheel which transfers the motion to a second connecting rod nine feet in length. This rod runs from the premises to the dial plates, and sets in motion the machinery which turns the hands."

The "G&T Young clock" (but sadly minus the arch) remained a marked feature of their shop frontage at 88 Princes street then at 73 Princes street after 1938. It remained, according to "Built in Dunedin", at the latter address until as late as 1990, Young's having moved to George street in 1988. I do hope the owners of this firm, or of the building, preserved the 1871 "Birmingham turret clock" mechanism although there is of course no guarantee the same mechanism drove the clock until 1990. I would love to know what became of this mechanism.The clock face was replaced at some later stage from black Roman numerals on a white background to white on black.

Sometime after 1900 the decorative arch at 88 Princes street made way for a permanent veranda with the clock being placed above it but closer to the street for visibility with the existing lighting globes being retained and now attached to the edge of the veranda. One so wishes that the original elegant Lawson designed 1871 configuration could be reproduced today, even as a quite stunning and complete museum piece were the clock still extant. While John Hislop, another Watchmaker of 74 Princes street, received approval from the City Council in February 1869 "to erect a clock fronting his shop door" I can find no images of either this clock or of his shop. But judging by the attention given to the Young clock it appears not to have been an elaborate affair.   

As an interesting aside, I note that after a petition having been presented in Dec 1866, the Provincial Government authorised payment of £100 for an "Astronomical Clock" and £10 for a "Time Ball" for Port Chalmers, being installed at the  "Observatory" (on the bluff overlooking the wharves and harbour) at Port Chalmers in April 1867. While there was some discussion on whether the ball should be in Dunedin it was noted that Greenwich time could be sent via telegraph, the Signal Master at Port Chalmers being quite competent to do all that was necessary. Being used to accurately set ship chronometers, the balloon would be dropped daily at 1pm except Sunday. The ball had fallen into disuse by 1909.

While Toitū Otago Settlers Museum now hold the said "astronomical clock" which bears the name of George Young of Dunedin, I would however seriously question their attribution of Young as the maker without further research. This is a complex timepiece which they also incorrectly date as "about 1861". At this time it was usual to add the name of the supplier to the face of a clock rather than the manufacturer although the cases were often made by or for the supplier. I would suggest Young as the supplier as communication had been made with Melbourne for an astronomical clock and time ball mechanism but that "the instruments should be obtained from England". It appears to have been obtained by Captain Robertson "at much less expense" than originally estimated by Captain Thomson with the sum of £50 then being voted by the Provincial Council on the 20th May 1867. The definitive answer might be hidden in Harbour Board or Provincial Council records.

In 1880, Mr John Hislop, who had imported and set up the Dunedin Town Hall clock, intended recommending to the Government that a time-ball for Dunedin was "absolutely needed"; it could be set up on the roof of the Custom House and that it would cost nothing to operate. Although Dunedin was then a busy port in its own right the Government obviously did not heed his recommendation.


The next and final blog in this three part series will look at the equally fascinating history of Dunedin's municipal turret clocks over the period 1863 to 1969.


Further Information : Any further information on Dunedin's early timekeeping, bells and clocks is welcome. I will update this blog as any new relevant information comes to hand. A link to my email is in the right hand menu bar. To quote the Rev. W.J. Comrie, Presbyterian Church of NZ Historian, "Accuracy has been aimed at, but no doubt imperfectly attained."

Copyright - No commercial reproduction permitted without the permission of the writer. Excerpts may be freely quoted for academic use provided this site is acknowledged.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- Te Ara, The Enclyclopedia of New Zealand
- Heritage New Zealand / Pouhere Taonga
- Hocken Collections, University of Otago
- McNab Room, Dunedin Public Library
- Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin New Zealand
- Dunedin City Council Website
- Otago Daily Times Online
- Diary of the Rev Thomas Burns 1847 - 1852, First Church of Otago Heritage Centre (electronic version held by the writer)
- "The Founding of the Otago Settlement - Its History and Development", 1898 (from my own collection)
- - "The Cyclopedia of New Zealand", 1905 (from my own collection)
- "The Story of Early Dunedin" by A.H. Reed, 1956
- "Early Otago and Genesis of Dunedin, Letters of Rev T. Burns D.D. 1848 - 1865"
- "A Brief Account of the Origin and History and Also the Income and Expenditure of the Presbyterian Church of Otago", Rev T. Burns, 1865
- "A Great Coloniser - The Rev Dr. Thomas Burns" by E.N. Merrington, 1929
- "Cathedral in the Octagon - the First 100 Years of St Paul's 1849 - 1994" By G. Parry
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871-1971"
- "Old Scottish Clockmakers 1453-1850" by John Smith
- "Post Office Directory - Edinburgh and Leith 1864-1865",
- Presbyterian Church Research Centre (Archives) website (Lost Archives)
- Te Papa Tongarewa
- Private individuals in Dunedin

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