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 HERE to start at the first instalment.

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 awards 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 Pyrotechnical 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. 

In 2022 I discovered an intriguing reference (my thanks to JDP Econ Publications) to the fate of the brick Art Gallery buildings. When the history of the 1925-26 New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition (held in Dunedin) was written, part of the Art Gallery buildings were then being used as a seed store. While rather distinctive old brick buildings survive at 260 Vogel street no one has subsequently linked these to the 1889-90 Exhibition buildings. Obviously heavily altered with new roofing and entranceways and now converted into individual industrial business premises, probably only a full survey and title search of the buildings would confirm my (strong) suspicions. But if you happen to walk past one of the premises when the doors are open you will observe a tell-tale bricked up archway at the rear which would, I believe, match one of the archways between the galleries. I didn't feel confident enough to go in and ask to take a photo however I did email the Southern Heritage Trust but never received a response other than an auto response. 

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

The last known remaining - and confirmed - 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.

To view the first instalment in this blog series please click HERE

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

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 start at the first instalment in this series please click HERE.

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 provides a description of the closing of the Exhibition and the sale of the various buildings. It also highlights one of the distinctive 'Octagons' that survived to as late as 2015. Please click HERE to view the final instalment or click HERE to start at the first instalment in this series.

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

Monday 12 September 2016

The Royal Observer Corps - "Forewarned is Forearmed"

James Watson,
Royal Observer Corps
Lanarkshire, Scotland, c.1941-1945
[From my own collection]

The Royal Observer Corps (the prefix "Royal" added from April 1941) served an important role during World War Two, that of keeping a lookout for and tracking enemy aircraft.

The R.O.C. had originally been formed as the "Metropolitan Observation Service" in the south of England in 1917 then reformed and renamed as the "Observer Corps" in 1925 when further counties were added. By 1926 it had been decided that the whole of Great Britain would be covered, initially by eighteen groups or control centres.

James Watson's Royal Observer Corps
Cap Badge
[From my own collection]

Re-mobilised in 1938 at the time of the Munich Crisis, the R.O.C,, being always manned by trained volunteers, became an essential part of Great Britain’s air defences during the years of the Second World War. Their role was specifically to provide valuable and co-ordinated “on the ground” assistance in tracking enemy German aircraft. Information on enemy aircraft movements observed from observation posts, including coordinates, height, “sector clock code”, and the number and type of aircraft for each sighting would be passed onto a regional R.O.C. Control Centre. By 1945 there were now 40 Control Centres covering Great Britain which in turn controlled more than 1,500 observation posts. The R.O.C. itself came under the administrative control of RAF Strike Command and the operational control of the Home Office.

Close-up of James Watson wearing his R.O.C. Badge
(shown above) and uniform with breast-plate.
[From my own collection]

My Great Uncle, James Watson of Stonehouse in Lanarkshire Scotland, was one such R.O.C. volunteer. His photo in the uniform of the Royal Observer Corps and looking skywards alerted me to the fact that he had served with this unit, most likely from 1941. Surprisingly, and although he died in Scotland in 1957, it was only in the last couple of years that I realised that quite remarkably, I held the very self same cap badge shown in this photo which bears the rather appropriate inscription “Forewarned is Forearmed”. As James' widow emigrated to New Zealand in 1963 she brought the badge with her hence it eventually ended up in my ownership (remarkably, the fifth owner since James died).

Royal Observer Corps Breast Badge
[Source : Wikipedia]

Clydebank in Scotland (the area encompassing the heavily industrialised Clyde Valley area west of Glasgow) had suffered its own “blitz” on the 13th and 14th March 1941, the town being largely destroyed and suffering the worst destruction and civilian loss of life in all of Scotland. 528 people are known to have died, 617 people were seriously injured, and hundreds more were injured by blast debris. Out of approximately 12,000 houses, only seven remained undamaged with 4,000 completely destroyed and 4,500 severely damaged. Over 35,000 people were made homeless.

An R.O.C. observation post plotting co-ordinates using a
Mickelwaith Height Corrector instrument to determine
height, a simple but effective mechanical tracking device.
[Source : Wikipedia]

Thus the necessity of early warning of any further raids, especially around the heavily industrialised and populated areas of Lanarkshire, Glasgow and Clydebank, was imperative. Such “terror attacks” were also intended to crack morale and force public calls to end the war. However, it had quite the opposite effect, “strengthening resolve for the war in Scotland.”

The Royal Observer Corps Ensign
[Source : Wikipedia]

Initially, the only uniforms provided from 1941 were Royal Air Force overalls (boiler suits), with an R.O.C. breast badge, commonly referred to as the "soup plate" because of its shape and size. Standard issue R.A.F. No.2 Battledress uniforms were issued in a rolling programme over the next two years and it is this uniform that James Watson is shown wearing.

For the remainder of the war, the R.O.C. would provide an essential part of Great Britain's air defences until being stood down on the 12th May 1945 when it was confirmed that the Luftwaffe had ceased combat operations.

Copyright : 

Those images from my own collection may (only) be freely copied for private, academic or non-profit use provided this site is acknowledged. Thank you.

Sources :

- Watson family memorabilia (held by the author)
- Wikipedia