Monday, 19 September 2016

The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, Dunedin, 1889-1890 (Part Seven - The Exhibition Amusements and Souvenirs)

The Switchback Railway
[Source : Toitu 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 Exhibition Amusements and Souvenirs

This blog details the Exhibition amusements and some of the souvenirs which were available to visitors.

The amusement area lay in a triangle at the southernmost part of the Exhibition grounds and bordered Anderson's Bay Road and the very south end of Cumberland street, being separated by an 8ft high "G.R. Iron" fence surmounted with barbed wire.

The Switchback Railway

The "Switchback Railway" achieved "a phenominal popularity". This is the undulating construction also visible just above the fence line in the image below.

"The owners charge threepence a ride, there and back, and the little carriage runs at full speed over a series of hillocks, up and down, the last dip between the two hills being a very deep one."

The Exhibition "Eiffel Tower"
[Source : De Maus Photo?]

The Eiffel Tower

A hugely popular attraction was a 40 metre tower, being modelled on the tower Gustav Eiffel's had constructed for the 1889 Paris Universal Exhibition. But not to be outdone, the Dunedin tower, being constructed of wood and costing £1200, featured a steam powered cable hauled lift capable of carrying 16 persons and rising to a height of 30 meters and being able to stop at four levels. Installed by the Otis Elevator Company, this was their golden opportunity to demonstrate and promote their lifts as a convenient but moreover safe means of traversing between floors. But electricity played its part in that the elevator cabin and the landings were lit by electricity together with a large 60cm searchlight installed atop the tower. For the cost of 6 pence (around NZD$5.00 in today's values) eager members of the public were treated to almost certainly their first ever elevator ride and a view of the Exhibition buildings and surrounding area from the (apparently) four viewing decks.


A Merry-Go-Round with "fiery wooden steeds, (three abreast) and swinging boats spin round on a pivot to the music of a barrel organ".

I would imagine that a selection of "sideshows" would also have comprised part of the amusements.

The two engraved Exhibition Glasses which I recently purchased.
[From my own collection]

Exhibition Souvenirs

Again, I found this aspect of the Exhibition extremely interesting. As I noted at the beginning of this blog series, it was the chance purchase of two engraved Exhibition glasses that piqued my interest in researching further the history of this Exhibition, of which I actually knew very little.  

An advertisement in the "Otago Daily Times"
for the rights to strike and sell medals and
souvenirs at the Exhibition, 27 June 1889

I discovered that my two engraved glasses were the work of a Mr Aloys [sic Alois?] Koch of Brussells Belgium who, held "a permit to sell tumblers, jugs and other glassware that have undergone the engraving process at the hands of his employees", taking up a bay in a corner of the Workmen's Court.

I can find out very little about Mr Koch other than that he appears to have arrived in Dunedin from Melbourne on the "S.S. Marama" on the 24th November 1889 and that by the end of the Exhibition his "Glass Engraving Machine" was then put up for sale. Thereafter I can find no trace of him. As similar engraved glass items were sold at the great Melbourne Exhibition of August 1888 to January 1889 I suspect that Mr Koch and his skilled staff may have been responsible for these items as well although Australian newspapers of the day do not confirm the name of this engraver(s).

Advertisement for Glass Engraving
by Mr A. Koch
[Source Papers Past]

Engraved Glassware -

The glass engraving machine, which is round and about the size of a wash tub and to which tubes are attached, is steam driven, the steam being supplied from the machinery annex, the only other requirements being a supply of sand obtained from Ocean Beach which is injected under pressure onto the glass, a supply of glassware, a stencil plate, and steady hands to direct the process. A full description of the engraving process and how the machine works is given in the newspaper.

So, for payment of a shilling, visitors could get their name engraved on a glass tumbler while they wait, being able to view the entire process "carried on before their eyes" which only took a few minutes. A large assortment of glassware, being "of tumblers, mugs, jugs and so on, plain and coloured - is kept so that a customer has a variety to choose from".

An impression of a view of the Exhibition is engraved on most of the items and stencil plates were held for every capital or small letter in the alphabet so that names could additionally and readily be engraved on each item.

While stating that "no one can possibly grumble at the price... there are few things which can be a more acceptable souvenir of the exhibition - for while ornamental and containing a representation of the exhibition these articles are also useful - and Mr Koch should be able to drive a very profitable business."

Embossed Medals and Engraving -

Another very popular stand in a bay of the Workmen's Court was that operated by Mr Henry Ismay Moralee Ross, a 21 year old "engraver and die-sinker" of Dunedin. Here Mr Ross and his staff, which included an experienced jeweller, offered visitors the chance to have a medal or object struck before their very eyes or to have an item of jewellery made and engraved of silver or gold, also with their name, initials or monogram.

The die struck
silver medal by
Mr H.I.M. Ross
[Source : EBay]
The reverse of the die
struck silver medal 

by Mr H.I.M. Ross
[Source : EBay]

The interesting aspect of the silver, and "an additional value in the eyes of the public", is that it is of the best quality and obtained through the Bank of New Zealand from the Thames mines within our own country.

Apart from jewellery which is "manufactured in a variety of forms [and] can be had in the shape of brooches, pendants, tie pins, sleeve-links, &c." Mr Ross also offered a die struck silver medal with an impression of the Exhibition buildings on one side and a Māori chief and his wife on the other.

The medal is struck by placing the blank on the die in a machine with a 90lb hammer which delivers a blow of 14cwt. The hammer "is rather a noisy instrument, and startles not a few in its unexpected descent."  

Mr Ross also had on display examples of engraving including a "breast pin on which the Lord's Prayer is neatly and clearly engraved", "art on wood, copperplate, fac-similes of signatures, &c.", and "brass and rubber stamps, dating and endorsing presses, steel dies, trade marks, dog collar and other labels, specimens of engraving of inscriptions, monograms, seals, cyphers, &c. in great variety.", for all of which Mr Ross would take orders.

Another silver medal
from the Exhibition
[Source : Ebay]
Another silver medal
from the Exhibition
[Source : Ebay]

Some examples of wood engraving, both landscape and portraiture were exhibited, along with the results of photographing images onto wood which Mr Ross had, after patient effort, successfully succeeded in achieving.

In November 1893 Mr Ross, a talented and practical young man and then in premises at 67 Princes Street, Dunedin, went on to apply for a patent for an "improved embossing device" for embossing, sinking or piercing, and to be known as "Ross's Improved Seal Press".

It would appear that others may have been selling die struck medals at the Exhibition as these appear to be of better quality, but perhaps not actually being struck in front of visitors and perhaps not guaranteed to be of New Zealand silver.

I note the publication by Messrs Pond, Finney & Co. Nelson of "The New Zealand Exhibition Cookery Book", being compiled by Miss L.M. Broad (also) of Nelson based on ingredients obtainable in the colony. I cannot confirm if this booklet was actually available for purchase at the Exhibition but it would have been readily available through all booksellers.

The last blog in this series will provide a description of the closing of the Exhibition and the sale of the various buildings. It will also highlight one of the distinctive 'Octagons' that survived to as late as 2015. The complete series of blogs will be available by clicking on "New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition 1889-1890" in the left-hand "Labels" menu.

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
- Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin

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