Tuesday 7 June 2016

The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, Dunedin, 1889-1890 (Part One - The Preparations)

The entrance to the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition,
Dunedin, New Zealand 1889-1890
[Source : Wikipedia]

My recent chance finding and purchase of a couple of souvenirs from this Exhibition encouraged me to research further what I knew about the event. What I found proved incredibly fascinating.

Rather than leave out what I consider to be interesting facts about the Exhibition, I have broken this down into a well defined and manageable Blog series based around various specific aspects as it would be so easy to get lost in too much detail. I hope that the descriptions of the various events, buildings and courts, including a few rare photos, will allow the reader to form an interesting impression of this great New Zealand colonial Exhibition. 

Industrial Exhibitions Should be Held Every Two Years

New Zealand had early on embraced the idea of holding large exhibitions to showcase trade, industry and agriculture. The progressive and economically rich southern city of Dunedin held the very first New Zealand Industrial Exhibition between January and May 1865 (the subject of a future blog). In 1884 the Stout-Vogel Government proposed that industrial exhibitions should be held every two years alternately in each island. But after a large financial loss on the Wellington Exhibition in 1885, coupled with the then economic depression, it would be 1889 before another major exhibition would again be staged. But it would be well worth the wait.

To Celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of 
the Foundation of the Colony of New Zealand

The first serious discussions on organising another Exhibition took place in November 1888 when the proposals were placed, on behalf of the people of Otago and the New Zealand Exhibition Association, before a cabinet meeting with the aim of obtaining Government funding. This Exhibition was;

"intended to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the colony of New Zealand, by holding in the City of Dunedin an exhibition of arts, industries, resources, manners, of New Zealand, Australia, and the other countries and colonies in the Southern Pacific."

"Our idea is that the Exhibition shall only be a nucleus and a microcosm of the whole of New Zealand, or rather an indication of what lies behind it and a starting point for inquiries into the resources and industries of the colony. In this connection we shall endeavor to induce exhibitors to so arrange their exhibits as to provoke the inquiries which the bureau will satisfy."

Privately Funding the Exhibition

After the forming of 'The Dunedin International Exhibition Guarantee Company' with fully paid up capital of £15,000 made up of 15,000 shares of £1.each (around NZD$2.9 million in today's values), and together with Government funding and assistance (being wholly dependent on the full £15,000 being privately raised), Dunedin then had the honour of hosting "The New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition" which ran between the 26th November 1889 and the 19th April 1890.

By November 1889, 13,005 shares had been allotted in the Exhibition company, being held by 1013 shareholders, with 35 guarantees totalling £1,765 and 29 donations totalling £919. This more than satisfied the Government stipulation of substantial public funding.

The Exhibition buildings can be clearly seen at right 
of centre in this 1890 view over Dunedin
[Source : Alexander Turnbull Library]

Government Aid and Assistance

The New Zealand Government, recognising this exhibition as the official celebration of the jubilee of the colony, generously agreed to contribute £10,000 [around NZD$1.9 Million in today's values] "in lieu of aids to buildings, collections, or expenditure of any kind" and "will give all the information and assistance which their special knowledge and experience can supply." In return the Committee agreed to the Government request for free space for Government exhibits.

A Government amendment to customs regulations would allow for colonial and foreign exhibits to be landed free of any duty with the Exhibition grounds being designated a bonded warehouse. The New Zealand Government Railways Department would provide concessionary rates for carriage of exhibits and, during "the exhibition season", offer special Exhibition fares for the travelling public. The Defence Department would contribute to the armament court. "A similar court was a great attraction at the Melbourne Exhibition, and the Defence Minister thinks that he can make this court even more interesting and attractive." The Native Department, with the assistance of Native chiefs, would provide a representation of Māori life and customs while the Mines Department would assist with the "show of minerals and industrial staples".

The Government would also issue formal invitations to the Governments of Australia and the other colonies and islands in the South Pacific asking them to be represented within the Exhibition.

A large part of the Government grant would go towards building the main exhibition building which would contain the picture galleries, the special and scientific galleries (fauna, flora, geology and mineralogy), and the historical displays.

An aerial view of the Exhibition site with the
Jervois Street entrance marked at the upper 
left hand side of the area marked in red. The 
broken red line denotes the amusement area 
[Source : Google maps 2016]

Choosing a Suitable Site

After considering nine sites for the Exhibition, a suitable site was chosen on five hectares (12¾ acres) of reclaimed land owned by the Otago Harbour Board at a nominal rent of one shilling per annum. The site would be bordered by Crawford street, Cumberland streets and Jervois Street down to Anderson's Bay Road and a bill empowering the closing off of half of Crawford street and all of Cumberland street was successfully passed through Parliament. Additionally a bill was also passed enabling the City of Dunedin to grant a license for the sale of liquor within the Exhibition building.
The chosen site was conveniently situated close to the Railway Station (then at Queen's Gardens) and the inter-colonial wharves, while a line of railway would conveniently deliver exhibits into the exhibition grounds.

Encouraging Australian and Foreign Representation

Early in 1889 the Exhibition Committee "Executive Commissioner", Mr Twopeny, paid a visit to Australia with the aim of "arousing the interest of the Australian manufacturers" and "the agents at the Melbourne Exhibition of British and foreign manufacturers." Additionally it was hoped to secure the French educational exhibit from Melbourne as well as "the fine art gallery" which had been put together for that exhibition.

Mr Twopeny returned satisfied but that the number of British and Victorian exhibits had been larger than he had imagined. South Australia should be well represented (particularly with wines) but New South Wales "largely depended upon the way in which the Government of New Zealand  approached the Government of the parent colony". Obtaining the British loan collection of works of art (shown at the Melbourne Exhibition) was "merely a matter of money" and that as it would beyond their means to secure the entire collection, steps should be taken to secure a selection of 50 of the best pictures. The Government, acting on this recommendation, cabled the British Agent-General in Australia to secure the specified pictures for Dunedin.

Construction on an annex adjoining one of the four Octagons
[Source : "The Star"] 

Construction of the Exhibition Buildings

Mr James Hislop was appointed Architect for the Exhibition on the 31st January 1889 and only a few weeks later, the contract for the main building had been let to Messrs McMath and Walker of Invercargill at a price of £4626,12.10 Further contracts were then let until a sum exceeding £25,000 had been expended. Among these were contracts to Messrs McLeod and Shaw for the main annexes, the machinery annexes, the four large and distinctive 'octagons', and other lesser buildings and amenities. The contract for the annexes embraced 378 bays. Mr Barton held the contract for the concert hall, Mr D. Low for the dining and refreshment rooms, and Messrs McMillan and Moffat for the Art Gallery.

In all, 3,000,000 feet of timber were utilised in the construction of the Exhibition buildings, including 60,000 sheets (300 tons) of galvanised iron, 20 tons of nails, 60,000 ft of glass, 20 tons of lead (exclusive of that used in the gas piping), 1,500 casks of cement, and 250,000 bricks (used mostly in the Art Gallery), and 80 tons of wrought iron. At the time "the building is by common admission the most economically erected exhibition building that is known.", the Architect being strictly bound as far as expenditure was concerned with their being "no carte blanche to secure the best possible effect, irrespective of cost".

The Exhibition buildings covered approximately 9½ acres of the 12¾ acre site. The gardens, due to necessity of space for the expansion of the exhibition displays, had had to be "greatly curtailed" and would occupy just a little over two acres. The side shows would take up three-quarters of an acres while half an acre "is practically cut to waste" round the art gallery.

As befitting a modern Exhibition of this size and importance it would include "telegraph, telephones, and electric fire alarms".

New Zealand Wide Representation

Over the next few months the President and various Exhibition committee representatives visited different parts of the colony with the aim of encouraging active participation in the event with many local committees being formed. While the space occupied by the Province of Otago "is, as a matter of course the largest", the other provincial districts throughout the country would be "nearly all, credibly represented".

The crowd gathered for the Foundation Stone Laying
Ceremoney, with the Otago Hussars in foreground
[Source : "Otago Witness", 1925] 

The Laying of the Foundation Stone 
Procession and Ceremony

The laying of the foundation stone on the 20th March 1889 was accompanied by a surprising amount of ceremony and is perhaps indicative of the sense of expectation felt by so many. The citizens of Dunedin, "who had kept close holiday and turned out in thousands" lined the route of a procession which left from the Octagon at 2.30 pm and made its way to the site of the Exhibition. Various societies turned out in full regalia and with banners flying, the order of procession being the Engineers' Band, the South Dunedin and Caversham Fire Brigade (18), the Railway Fire Brigade (8), the Salvage Corps (8), the Seamen's Union (a smaller group as the Union Steam Ship Company had refused their members a half holiday), the Ancient Order of Druids (50), the Ancient Order of Foresters (120), the Kaikorai Brass Band, and Freemasons from various Lodges (156). Lining the approaches to the Exhibition site were a considerable number of Volunteers representing Ordnance and Rifles. The procession reached the Exhibition grounds at 10 past 3, 

His Excellency the Governor, Sir William F.D. Jervois G.C.M.G, C.B., arrived at 3.30 pm, being accompanied by the two local members of Parliament and the Exhibition President and Executive Commissioner. After the playing of the National Anthem, His Excellency mounted the platform and oversaw the laying of the foundation stone, being carried out with full Masonic Honours. This would be the Governor's last official act before he regretfully left this colony to return home to England (although he actually gave serious consideration to living here permanently).

The location of the engraved foundation stone is
unknown but was almost certainly located at the
 Jervois Street entrance to the Exhibition
[Source : Wikipedia]

Within a cavity in the foundation stone were placed various newspapers, coins of the realm,  and a masonic scroll signed by the Grand Master describing the purpose of the ceremony, who laid the stone, and the intended use of the building. Thereupon the stone was lowered into place accompanied by full Masonic Honours. Thereupon the "elements of consecration" were presented and applied by scattering corn, and pouring wine and oil. Finally with the Masonic invocation being completed the Governor was invited to declare the foundation stone laid.

The President, in his reply, pointed out that "Jervois Street" bore the honoured name of the Governor and that "Generations yet unborn will, in tracing the names of our streets, be able to say that this one was named after one of the early much-beloved Governors". The President also reminded the Governor of the words the latter spoke in Dunedin in March 1887 when he "...believed that, if proper use were made of what lay at our feet, we should soon develop into the Switzerland of the South Seas."

The next blog in this series provides a description of the Exhibition opening on the 26th Nov 1889. Click HERE to view Part Two. 

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

1 comment:

  1. Great story. I totally understand that universal exhibitions and world fairs were critically important for a city/state/nation to show off its scientific and cultural progress to the rest of the world. Even if the fair did not cover its costs during the months it was open, the exports and tourism that followed made the initial outlay well and truly worth while.

    But how did they encourage overseas visitors to sail to distant Dunedin in 1889-90? Sydney and Melbourne had the same problem in 1879 and 1880 respectively, so we ran the two world fairs together, making the cost of sailing to Australia doubly worth while.