Monday, 25 July 2016

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

The New Zealand Industrial Exhibition
Building and clock tower, Dunedin, 1865
[Source : The Illustrated London News]

This continues my four part Blog series on early timekeeping in Dunedin and specifically of its early bells and turret clocks. Click Here to read the first instalment. This final part, which I have, due to size, had to split into two manageable blogs, focusses specifically on the highs - and unfortunate lows - of Dunedin's municipal turret clocks. I trust you will find the subject as interesting as I have.

As early as February 1855 the Otago Provincial Council had recognised the need to procure a town clock, placing the sum of £50 on the financial estimates "for the purpose of providing a town clock for the Town of Dunedin". On the 23rd March the "Appropriation Bill" approving "a sum of £50 towards the erection of a Public Clock and Bell in Dunedin, was read a third time and passed." But inexplicably the matter rested there. Cost may have been an issue as in November 1857 a correspondent calling himself "Sam Slick" writes to 'The Otago Witness' on this subject;

"Sir, On perusing the public report of the proceedings of the Provincial Senate of political wisdom, I observe with some degree of surprise that the item of [now] £150, placed upon the estimates for providing a public clock for Dunedin, has been erased. This erasure... merits of the contempt of every man who loves his adopted country..."

In February 1860, as mentioned in the second instalment of this blog, the Superintendent of the Provincial Council wrote to the then Town Board advising that they would subscribe £50 towards the cost of procuring a town clock for Dunedin provided the Town Board promised 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".

In March 1862 we find that Mr George Goodal of Anderson's Bay suggests that a town clock should be voted for by the town board; "I hope Mr Editor, you will lend your voice in the matter, as one paragraph from your pen will go much farther than mine".

Julius Hyman, 1826 - 1911,
Taken 1901
[Source "The Otago Witness"]

In September 1862, Julius Hyman (also featured in the second blog in this series) had in fact offered the Dunedin Town Board "a public clock", being "a very fine turret clock suitable for erection for public use, and as such a clock was wanted here, he thought it his duty to offer it to the board. who, if they resolved to purchase, should have it at a reasonable percentage on cost." The cost would be £50, fixing above the Town Hall £10, and winding and repairing £10 p.a. The dial was opaque and 24 inches (two feet) in diameter but a larger transparent dial of 36 inches diameter could be substituted at an additional cost not exceeding £5.

While Dunedin still lacked a municipal town clock interest appears to have waned as this example had "but one dial, about three feet in diameter, and not for illumination.", the board preferring "four illuminated dials". If this could have been the clock erected about 1863 over the Provincial Hotel mentioned in my second blog I do not know. And Mr Beverly, being a business competitor, supplied the old Post Office / Custom House clock in 1863 which is also mentioned in my second blog.

But quite surprisingly, we find that in 1863 the Provincial Council, at their own cost and without even then having any suitable building available, ordered a turret clock "for erection in the official and business centre of the town". The "turret clock, wheel and bell", costing the significant sum of £459.8.0. [NZD $49,596 in today's values] were shipped from Glasgow on the "Resolute" on the 9th December 1863, arriving at Port Chalmers on the 17th March 1864 after an 82 day (90 day port to port) voyage. So, while the clock would faithfully strike the hours there would be no melodic chimes. As the 25 cwt. bell [one source says 28 cwt.] carries the maker's name in relief, being "Bryson's Edinburgh AD1863", I would assume that the clock mechanism was also made by or for the same firm. The firm of "Robert Bryson & Sons" of 66 Princes street, Edinburgh were eminent "chronometer, watch and clock makers to the Queen" and I can find at least one turret clock to their name.

The 1864 Industrial Exhibition Building and clock
tower, probably taken not long after completion
[Source : Hocken Collections]

Dunedin was now benefiting from the Gold Rushes of 1861 - 1865, the population trebled in four years, and the city was quickly becoming the commercial capital of New Zealand. This wealth and importance would soon be reflected in the standard of new buildings which would begin to grace a rapidly expanding Dunedin which in fact became a city in 1865 due to its quickly expanding population. This new economic importance and a desire to promote the industrial and mineral resources of the province would, in this decade, be the prime motivator in organising a grand Industrial Exhibition for Dunedin.  And here our clock and bell would play a role, being placed in the tower of that grand edifice, the "New Zealand Industrial Exhibition Building" in Great King Street, a large and very imposing "twin-towered palazzo in stuccoed brick" designed by Architect William Mason.

We next read that in September 1864 a correspondent to "The Otago Daily Times" questions the decision to now "divert" the above turret clock to "Great King Street"; "This clock is urgently required for the purpose for which it was sent - to be erected in Princes street, so as to be of benefit to Government officials, business men, and the shipping in the harbour, and these classes should not be deprived of their right..."

So why the Exhibition Building in Great King Street, which is well north of then business centre of Dunedin?  The short answer is given back on the 22nd April 1864 when the Provincial Council Secretary advised a council meeting (in reply to a question) that "the only building upon which it could [then] be placed was the Exhibition Building". The building was in fact owned by the Provincial Government, having agreed to fund the construction of the building in order to house the Exhibition.

The ultimate intention for the permanent placement of the clock is confirmed in February 1868; "the clock and bell were ordered from Britain, by the Provincial Government , without any definite idea as to the building in which they were to be placed, except that it was to be a public building in the centre of the city; and that they were put up in the Exhibition Building (now the Hospital), only because they were lying idle at the end of 1864 when that place was being completed. It was at that time contemplated that the clock and bell should be removed to the centre of the city as soon as there was a public building fitted to receive them."

By August 1864 the tower of the Exhibition Building was ready to have the clock fitted by the afore-mentioned Mr Hyman, having been stored in its cases in the Provincial Government workshops at Bell Hill. With four illuminated dials of sufficient size to be seen at a long distance and with a large bell "expected to be heard all over the town" it would be "be a great acquisition for the northern part of the city". By November 1864 the clock had been "thoroughly regulated" and "keeps correct time".

The New Zealand Industrial Exhibition, Dunedin, 1865.
A view of a couple of the display courts. The Exhibition 
also included an interesting display of various clocks
[Source : The Illustrated London News]

The New Zealand Industrial Exhibition opened on the 12th January 1865 and closed on the 6th May 1865. Post Exhibition the building had intended to be used for "a public market" and a "rumour" even circulated that it might be destined to become the grandiose central administrative building for the New Zealand Colonial Legislature however that honour went to centrally located Wellington; "Dame Humour on that occasion was at fault". But what is certain is that in October 1864 the Provincial Council received a petition signed by 700 Dunedin citizens expressing the opinion that when the Exhibition closed the building would be "better applied... being converted into [Provincial] Government offices". Partly due to additional building costs being necessary, i.e. internal re-modelling costs plus two new wings, purpose built Provincial Government Buildings - without a clock tower - were built in Princes Street in 1867.

Rather surprisingly, we now find that the Exhibition building would house the Dunedin Public Hospital which was, with a rapidly expanding population, in dire need of additional space. The Provincial Council believed that this would be a better use for the building than a market. After a process of "conversion" the first patients moved into their new but always rather unsuitably arranged building in August 1866. As such a purpose had not originally been envisaged for the building this also then had immediate implications for the clock.

The large 25 cwt. bronze Clock Bell cast by 
"Bryson" of Edinburgh in 1863 which, until
Sept 2017, was located in the Meridian Mall.
[From my own collection]

It had been readily found that "the clock now at the hospital has 'striking' machinery, which was rather out of place considering the use of the building." With "a striking clock being injurious to the patients", the sound of the bell had had to be muffled with wire being wound around the arm of the hammer so "that the real sound of the bell could not be brought out".

In early February 1868 we read that the hospital clock would be replaced with a more appropriate non-striking clock and that the existing clock would be moved to the new Post Office building in Princes Street, being just next door to the newly completed Provincial Government Building. Plans for a new Post Office by local Architects "Mason and Clayton" had been announced in March 1864, a grand building "worthy of the Province" which would include "a fine clock tower" with four illuminated dials, a bell turret being placed above it. It was not intended to remove the dials from the existing hospital clock tower but simply "to change the works from one building to another".

To ensure the residents of the northern portion of the city would not be left without a clock, the Provincial Council agreed to pay for the purchase and fitting of a new non-striking hospital clock at a cost of around £170 to £180 This "will be nearly as large as the one now there" and would be built on the premises of Mr Julius Hyman of Princes Street by his assistant, Mr H. Lund "by whom all the work has been done". In March 1868 the Editor of "The Otago Daily Times" confidently writes; "We are assured that as a piece of mechanism and a correct time-keeper, the new clock is to be such as to bear comparison with anything that could be imported". As we shall read shortly this glowing assertion, with the benefit of hindsight, proved to be very far removed from the truth.

This new clock included a couple of novel improvements devised by the clockmaker and would be of eight days duration, and made of brass in an iron frame built on the "dead-beat escapement principle and [with a] compensation pendulum" along with iron or steel axles, all being "beautifully finished in every part". The time would be shown on five dials, the fifth being a small one with only a minute hand to assist in the regulation of the clock. Only the copper wires carrying the weight and the pulley were imported. Despite many "difficulties to contend with", this was proudly declared to be the first turret clock manufactured in New Zealand, and possibly, the reporter also believed, the first in the Australasian Colonies.

While Mr Hyman sold his business in November 1868 there is unfortunately no further mention of his skilled assistant Mr H. Lund who, I believe, does deserve some credit for his clock making skills. I do note an "H.P. Lund" [Henry Peter Lund], watchmaker and jeweller of High street, Christchurch who appears briefly from February 1866 to March 1866 and then completely disappears until 1874 when he is noted in Christchurch as a "working jeweller", and one final reference in 1887 before his death in 1918, aged 80 years. I have not accessed his death certificate but this would appear to be the most likely candidate. If so, he may also have been an immigrant from Norway with an anglicized name.

Both clocks "On [the] strike"
Otago Daily Times, 28 Nov 1868

As noted, the timekeeping of the Hospital clock soon became an issue. Throughout the 1870's and 1880's the clock often displayed the wrong time, sometimes with each clock face reading a different time so that "The time kept suited almost every country in the world as each face represented different times". One correspondent failed to see "how it could be termed a convenience, although it might literally be termed a 'late' convenience".  The "tin hands" were found to turn when there was a stiff breeze "as if they were intended to show the velocity of the wind, and have been frequently blown off altogether". The situation was not helped by pigeons sitting on them every morning! The "artisan" who looked after the clock was, in 1873, instructed to fit heavier duty copper hands to the clock faces.

In August 1878 the Dunedin City Council took over responsibility from the Hospital Committee for "that erratic and misleading thing, which is termed by courtesy the hospital clock" but clock watchers "were doomed to a cruel disappointment" as the timekeeping of "the apology for a clock" actually became worse. In 1879 it was sarcastically referred to as "clearly an outpatient of the venerable pile it adorns". In 1884 a tender was let to cover the clock faces with netting to overcome 'the bird problem' but was probably, I would imagine, not an aesthetic improvement.

The Hospital Clock and Tower, c,1890's.
Note that the balcony has been removed.
The lines are telephone wires.
Burton Bros. Photo
[Source Te Papa Tongarewa] 

Matters came to a head in February 1899 when the City Council Works Committee recommended that the "defective" Hospital clock which "never went right [and] was absolutely done" be replaced as it "was neither use nor ornament". The motion was put that the council replace it at a cost not exceeding £150. provided the Hospital Trustees contribute a third of the cost. The motion was defeated as although the council owned the old clock it was in a building the council did not own or control and if the Trustees wanted a new clock they should obtain the money for it from the Hospital Board.

By 1912, and at a meeting of the Hospital and Charitable Aid Board, the Medical Superintendent "drew attention to the vagaries of this remarkable piece of mechanism, which has for many years misled, puzzled, and irritated many of the residents of the northern part of the city". One frustrated board member sardonically suggested "remove the hands" while "many others of similar character followed". The question of whether its days of usefulness had ended "was finally referred to the Hospital Board". It appears to have survived this low point in its life as in 1919 the City Council appear to have recognized their obligations and voted money for extensive repairs but with the work and cost spread over two financial years. 

During the 1920 University of Otago Jubilee lecture Professor Thompson ruefully noted, "This confidence placed in local industry was not justified and further reference to this Hospital clock would be uncharitable." In 1925 a correspondent asks not only that the numbers on the town facing dial be repainted "to remove a glaring eyesore" but also that "some attempt at least should be made to have the clock regulated." I perceive his pleas probably fell on deaf ears as the old hospital [Exhibition] building, which by now was in an increasingly dilapidated state and being of necessity shorn of its fancy embellishments, was finally demolished in 1933. 

As to what specifically became of Mr Lund's unreliable but unique turret clock is, after the space of 83 years, unclear. There may be parts privately held in Dunedin but the link to the 1868 Hyman / Lund clock cannot yet - if ever - be reliably made. Period Otago Hospital Board or Dunedin City Council records from 1933 may yet uncover further information as to who it may have been sold to if it was not simply sold for its value as scrap metal. I am aware that further research on this clock by interested parties is ongoing.

The new "Post Office" Clock Tower, Princes street looking north
in 1870, then the Otago Museum and City Corporation Offices,  
Mr Beverly & Mr Hyman's old shop is the building 2nd from left. 
Burton Bros. Photo
[Source : Te Papa Tongarewa] 

At the new Post Office in Princes street, the bell was hoisted into the newly completed bell-shaped turret atop the tower on the 19th February 1868. The bell is just visible in the photograph above. In March 1868 I note the castings for the dials were being prepared for Mr Hyman by Mr Wilson of the Otago Foundry. The first of the four new dials was fitted up on the 17th August 1868, being of 5 foot 9½ inch diameter and of frosted glass for illumination. Light would be provided by six gas burners, the cost initially being paid by the Provincial Government for one year. The old 1863 mechanism was now to be moved to the Post Office "at once" and fitting the new clock at the hospital would only require some minor alterations to the old turret ready for fitting the new Hyman / Lund clock.

But the new Post Office building, which had cost the "General Government" the tendered price of £22.960, was never destined to serve this purpose as the Otago Provincial Council, under the leadership of their 'visionary' Superintendent James Macandrew, a fervent promoter of education, sought to purchase the building with the intention that it become the site of  "a college and a New Zealand University". But in July 1868 we find the south gallery being used as the first permanent Otago Museum with the "City Corporation" using the northern side between 1867 and 1871. From July 1871 to 1877, the building would at last fulfil Macandrew's vision and indeed become New Zealand's first university, now housing the University of Otago.

The last instalment can be read Here.

Further Information & Feedback :
Any further information on Dunedin's turret clocks and bells 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. Any feedback is also appreciated.

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
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- 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
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871-1971"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013
- "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


  1. Greetings, how did you attain the weight of the Stock Exchange (Meridian Mall) Bell? Many thanks

    1. Unfortunately as this was only a blog rather than a serious research paper, and as the current owners of the clock parts expressed absolutely no interest in my own research, not all my research was printed off and this would also have been a lot of paper and printer ink! But all my sources are noted at the end of the blog. I've checked what I do still hold without success. Sorry about that.

    2. Further to my reply I did find the 25 cwt reference in the Otago Daily Times of 22 Aug 1864 p4 but you may already know that. No references that I can find in Papers Past to 28 cwt so that must have been from one of the other published reference sources I listed (ie, still a secondary source).

  2. Hi Don, I have some photo's of the Bryson bell that may interest you, do you have an email address that I could send them to?

    1. Hi, My email address is em66nz[at] or there is a clickable link in the right hand menu bar.


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