Sunday 25 June 2017

The Story of the Invercargill Town Clock 1860 - 1989 (Part Three of Four)

The Invercargill Post Office and Town Clock.
Taken prior to 1908
[Source :]

Proving Its Usefulness
1900 - 1943

This continues the story of Invercargill's 1893 'Littlejohn' Town Clock and chimes. You can read from the first part HERE. This third part details the lengthy campaign to have the clock tower raised and the reason for the eventual dismantling and storage of the clock.

In July 1900 comes a surprising report. The Mayor, Mr J.S. Goldie, is reported as having received a telegram from Mr J.A. Hanan, Invercargill Member of the House of Representatives, confirming that he had "interviewed the Minister [of Works] re raising the Post Office tower, so that the clock may be seen and the chimes heard all over the town. The Government are prepared to bear the expense of raising the tower, if the Borough Council or the public will bear the cost of raising the clock." The Council duly agreed to bear their share of the expense.

But raising the tower would apparently not be as easy as first anticipated. In August 1900 the Minister of Public Works writes that he had been advised; "that the brick work is as high as it is safe to take it as the walls and foundations were not designed for a greater weight than has been put on them. The tower could, however, be carried up in timber and brick nogging (not solid brick work), cement plastered on exterior, for some 15ft or so additional, but the clock would require to have seven feet dials to be seen effectively."

The Mayor then advised Council that "Mr Sharp" had informed him "that the building was quite strong enough up to the walls of the tower, above which they were somewhat weak; but still he thought they were quite strong enough to admit of the tower being carried 15ft higher." The matter was referred to the Finance Committee who duly recommended "That the Government be informed that the clock tower can be safely raised 15ft without any public risk."

Mr Hanan advised Council in early September 1900 that he had interviewed the Minister of Works who had handed him a copy of the report on the matter by the Government Architect, Mr Campbell. The latter did not believe there was much advantage in raising the tower but that the chimes might be placed above the clock chamber. This would be at a cost of about £300 "Councillor Stead thought the public would not be satisfied with simply raising the bells, they wanted the clock raised."

In November 1900 Council were advised that the Government would however vote £250 towards raising the tower, again subject to the Council bearing the cost of moving the bells. The Mayor noted that original plans had provided for a tower 25 feet higher but had, it was believed, been reduced due to consideration of cost. The Council would ask the Government for plans of the proposed alterations. In July it was advised that the plans submitted had not been approved by the [Works?] Department and that new plans would have to be prepared. This would, however, lead to a further delay but there the matter appears to have rested as there is no further mention of it.

Just after midday on the 23rd January 1901, the clock, along with church bells, began tolling upon the sad news being received that Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, had died.

In response to an offer by Mr Nicol in March 1901 to install more efficient lighting of the town clock dials at a cost of £42 per annum for five years, a correspondent notes that "the tradesman" already receives £40 a year, that "the illumination is quite good enough for all the distance that the time can be made out on the dials" but notes ruefully that for the price paid there might be an improvement in the running of the striking mechanism; "Every few days or week we have erratic chiming, or, as to-night, none at all; the hour struck mixed up with the chimes or at 15 minutes past the hour... the Council should call upon their servant for an explanation." In actual fact, Messrs Nicol Bros. appear to have charged £25 p.a. for maintaining the clock.

But the clock itself appears to have proven itself an accurate timekeeper. In April 1906 "The Southern Cross" marked the twelve year anniversary of the clock, noting that; "Many doubted its ability to keep the correct time, but it has now lived to prove its usefulness, and if it performs its duty as well during the next 12 years, it will have served the residents well."

In June 1909 the District Traffic Manager of Railways advised Council that "The Department had been in the habit of coveniencing the public by delaying departing trains when the Town Clock was slow, but the discrepancy on the 8th inst. had amounted to eight minutes, and it was out of the question to delay trains that length of time." The mayor advised that he had discussed the matter with "Mr J.T. Peter's" who had kept a man in the tower "to watch the machinery for the purpose of finding out what the trouble was." and to "rectify any fault that appeared." He believed that "the clock had been knocked about" and that unknown persons had removed shot from the compensating balance. It was believed that members of the public were accessing the tower and that a glass casing should also be placed over the main parts of the clock.

In April 1912 a similar problem of irregular timekeeping was noted with the tramways after complaints had been received about the irregular running of the trams which had timed their departure to the Town Clock. But, as the Inspector noted, no trams had left before the advertised time.

In August 1912, and despite Cabinet having voted the sum of £400 the previous July, the Minister of Public Works advised; "that if the chimes are raised as proposed there will be no occasion to elevate the clock itself, and in view of the considerable additional expense which would be involved, it has been decided, after consideration, not to interfere with the position of the clock or dials."

By September 1913 continuing problems with the chimes and of timekeeping caused the Town Council to notify the contractor "that unless the clock is attended to more satisfactorily than it has been for some time the contract will be cancelled and the deposit forfeited." Mr J.T. Peters had been awarded a new three year contract in March 1912 for his tender price of £25 p.a. but as he was now out of town he had sublet the contract to Mr J.S. Roby. The latter was to be notified that the Council intended terminating his contract.

This appears to have spurred Mr Roby into action, replying that he had taken over the clock which he had now "overhauled and put in good order and repair and had it going within ten seconds of time over a period of a week." As Peters advised in Novermber 1913 that he had sold his jewellery business the afore-mentioned Mr Roby was then given the job of maintaining the clock.

In June 1914 the Mayor, Mr D. McFarlane, advised Council that he had written to the Minister of Public Works drawing his attention yet again to the raising of the Post Office Clock tower which, due to building work all around, could not now even be seen beyond the other side of the street; "An objection was formally raised to the proposal on account of the difficulties which would have to be overcome in raising the tower, but Mr McFarlane has stated that it has since been found that the difficulties can be easily overcome."

In July 1914 the Town Council received word that Government had finally approved the raising of the tower by twenty feet and that the matter was now in the hands of the Public Works Department. But with the First World War soon taking precedence the work did not proceed and the necessary funds appear to have subsequently been removed from the Government vote. The last mention of this matter in Council appears to be July 1919.

In July 1919 Council were advised that "the Post Office clock was being interfered with and damaged by small boys who were in the habit of climbing up to the works." A small bomb or cracker was found lying on the floor of the clock room and one of the wire cables that carry the striking weights (which weighed over three cwt.) had been partly cut through. This matter was referred to the "Government authorities" for action. Security in the clock tower does appear to have always been somewhat lax.

The Foundations Under Construction for the New Post Office.
Foundation Stone laid 2 Aug 1938
[Source : "The Southland Times"]

But the clock and chimes would continue to mark the time and chime the quarters, at least to those within sight or earshot of the Post Office Square, up until the late 1930's. With the need for a new enlarged Post Office, and "to the dismay and indignation of the people of Invercargill", the Government authorities of the day decreed that the Square facing the old Post Office would be utilized for this purpose, thus now depriving the City of a useful public space. But even as early as 1893 the Government had made it very clear that any use of the space was conditional until they required it for their own purposes. The foundation stone would be laid on the 2nd August 1938.

The city council were however advised on the 17th December 1940 that the Government had no objection to the old clock remaining in situ behind the new building,  While the clock would largely be obscured from Dee street the chimes would at least still be heard. The new three story Invercargill Chief Post Office building (which I worked in for 18 years), to the design of Government Architect Mr J.T. Mair, would be officially opened by the Hon. Patrick Webb, Postmaster-General, on the 28th July 1941.

But the death knell for the old clock and chimes came as early as 1943 after the Government had decreed that all towers on Government buildings must come down "because of previous experience with earthquakes", a reasoning that was actually quite valid. The Council were then asked to accept the clock and chimes "as the property of the citizens." The clock would now be placed in storage in their old water tower.

Click HERE to read the fourth and final part of this Blog.

Correction of any unintentional errors or additional information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871 - 1971" by J.O.P. Watt, 1971 (from my own collection)
- McNab Collection, Dunedin Public Library
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- "The Southland Times"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013

Sunday 18 June 2017

The Story of the Invercargill Town Clock 1860 - 1989 (Part Two of Four)

The Invercargill Post Office and Town Clock,
Published in "The Otago Witness" 4 Apr 1906
[Source : Alexander Turnbull Library]

Setting the Clock in Motion

1892 - 1899

This continues the story of Invercargill's 1893 'Littlejohn' Town Clock and chimes. You can read the first part HERE. This second part describes the building of the clock tower, the ordering of the clock mechanism and chimes, the starting ceremony, and some of the initial unforeseen problems encountered with the clock.

By April 1892 it was noted by a correspondent that "the Post Office building is in course of extension" and that now was the time to have a town clock incorporated as a central part, preferably in a clock tower over the entrance portico as "if the building goes on without regard to the requirement , it will be difficult hereafter to supply the deficiency."

On the 14th April 1892 a deputation duly waited upon the Hon. J.G. Ward, Postmaster-General, to urge that provision be made to having a large clock placed on the new Post Office building. The Mayor noted that both in Wellington and in Wanganui the Government had erected clocks above new Post Office buildings and as Invercargill would;

"ultimately become the 'City of the South', [it] had a reasonable right to an equal concession... If the Government provided a clock the Corporation would probably agree to provide for the lighting of the clock by giving the gas free."

The Hon. Mr Ward replied that a clock would "require a fairly large sum of money", going on to suggest that "if a little effort were made by the people of Invercargill in the way of subscribing a small contribution towards the cost of purchasing a clock, he could undertake to say that a turret would be provided." The Mayor noted that the citizens had been "canvassed freely of late in connection with other calls" and if the Postmaster-General could see his way to give the clock, the citizens would, he thought, provide the chimes by subscription. This offer was noted as "a reasonable one" and if the citizens provided the chimes and the council the lighting, "he would promise to erect the tower and clock."

The Borough Council duly approved a resolution (with four dissenting votes) agreeing to light the clock and also, after some discussion, to keep it in repair. The Postmaster-General had since learnt that other corporations were responsible for the maintenance of their town clocks and that this would be "a primary condition". The Mayor noted that Dunedin's Town Clock, of English manufacture and having been purchased in 1880, "had cost nothing in repairs" nor had the clock at Ashburton which was of New Zealand manufacture.

But it appears the chimes would not please everyone. A letter to the Editor from "Sweet Silence" dated the 29th April 1892 is quick to point out that;

"When I go to Dunedin I pass my night a-bed in vain attempts to get to sleep between the chimings of the town clock there. The inhabitants no doubt get used to the musical sounds, but to strangers they are a nuisance, and as our clock will be right in the middle of our hotels, if chimes are attached to it, visitors will bless those who, in their great desire to mark their era by some great work, inflict such a sleep-murdering device on weary mankind."

A "South Ward Ratepayer" writing on the 27th August 1892 was also quick to query the Borough Council voting to contribute the sum of £250 towards adding "toy chimes" to the Town Clock at the cost of other necessary projects;

"The Council can find money to throw away in ding-dong toy chimes - which can only amuse children, while they treat the jetty with neglect and so treat the trade of our port, which is certainly a matter of vaster importance to the community that town clock chimes."

In February 1893 tenders were duly called for the erection of the clock tower. But a delay ensued after the tender prices were considered too high so the contract was re-advertised in March. Finally, and in April, Mr G. Morrison would be awarded the tender. But already there were grumblings about the lack of height for the tower meaning the clock could not easily be seen from around the city. The height of the tower would be 90ft with the height to the centre of the clock dials being 85ft.

As regards the tender for supplying the clock, the Council were advised that only one tender had been received so this would be re-advertised in June, the stipulation being that "the time-piece to be made in the colony". A Councillor moved that an "hour bell" be included additional to the chimes. The Mayor reported that there would be four bells weighing a total of 30cwt, the largest to be about 10cwt. A separate bell would cost at least £200 and alterations to the tower would be necessary. The motion was therefore lost.

Curiously, "The Southland Times" note on the 18th July that although a tender had recently been accepted for the Invercargill Post Office clock, they had it on good authority that the successful tenderer had already completed the work, it being well known that there was only one firm in the colony which could complete the work. Littlejohn and Sons of Wellington were the successful tenderer at £685 The four bells would be cast by Messrs Cable & Co. of Wellington, the largest now weighing in at 11½ cwt. and the smallest at about 7 cwt. The chime would be the same as at Westminster London, being known as the St. Mary's chimes, of Cambridge. At the end of the 18th century words were written to the musical chimes by the Rev. Dr. Taylor (as shown on the card below).

The four open clock faces on the tower were now completed and boarded up, but; "As that facing Dee street had on the boarding a well painted representation of a clock dial, not a few passers by imagined that the big clock was already in position."

While the new Post Office would be formally opened on the 7th August 1893, it would be some months before the clock and chimes, together with the clock faces, would be installed. This work would commence under the supervision of Mr W. Littlejohn after the "Waihora", having carried the clock, bells and machinery down from Wellington, arrived at the Bluff on the 15th March 1894.

Hoisting the bells up into the tower by the use of a derrick and winch proved difficult and time consuming, not helped by it being found that the largest bell, having a diameter at the bottom of 3ft 6in, would not fit through the window which was only 3ft 2in wide. This necessitated the removal of a number of bricks. Additionally, the floor upon which the clock would rest was found to not be sufficiently stable and needed strengthening. Lead flashing would also need to be laid on the floor of the bell tower to carry away water that would surely find its way through the louvered windows in stormy weather. The clock tower inner walls would be whitened "so that the illuminating power of the gas at night may be fully utilised."

By the afternoon of Monday the 2nd April work had advanced sufficiently for the Dee street clock face to be connected to the mechanism, now faithfully recording the time. But the official ceremony of starting the clock would be at 3pm the following day.

A card printed by Mr Nicol when the Post Office clock
was erected in 1893 with the musical score for the chimes
[From a card formerly in my possession]

With Tuesday the 3rd April 1894 being declared a public holiday and with the weather all that could be wished for, a large gathering of citizens had gathered in the Post Office Square to witness the official starting of the clock and the chiming of the bells. With space in the tower at a premium, only a select group, comprising mainly of past Mayors, councillors and the contractor, would witness the current Mayor, Mr Raeside, cutting a slender bit of twine which then set the pendulum in motion. Various speeches (each one reported on) were then given but were only heard by those guests in the tower with the public having to content themselves with just hearing the chimes and hour bell.

"His Worship said that the ceremony might appear to some to be a small one and of little moment, but he regarded it as a very important function and felt no small pride in his part in it."

Mr McFarlane, immediate past Mayor, along with others present, noted that a tower 30 or 40 feet higher would have been an improvement. While they had reason to be thankful he believed that had the question of adding another storey to the tower been put to the ratepayers at the time they would have authorised it. It was noted that even the Architect had protested from the start against the short tower.

But overall, all were pleased and grateful to the Government, the clock being "one of the evidences that the Government fully recognised the importance of the district." Councillor Mair added that he "hoped its presence would relieve the citizens of the scream of whistles and jangle of bells which now made certain portions of the day hideous."

Mr William Nicol, Watchmaker and Clockmaker in the Athaeneum building next door, would initially hold the tender for maintaining the Town Clock. His son, who entered the business in 1893, had in fact previously worked for Littlejohn's in Wellington so was quite conversant with their timepieces.

But the clock early on "disgraced its elevated position by playing practical jokes". The headline on the 26th January 1895 reading "Oh you Giddy old clock! What were you thinking of?" reports the first problem with the clock; "The Post Office clock, heretofore a model of propriety, behaved in a most erratic fashion for about half an hour, making time fly with the recklessness of a chronological millionaire." It appears that the clock struck the hour 383 times - and at night - making it "383 o'clock" although "The Times" made it 550, "but at that hour of the night the reckoning of a few hundreds is neither here nor there." The cause is not given.

While the clock would safely usher in 1896, with Mr Nicol sending off coloured flares and catherine wheels from the clock tower, the beginning of 1897 would highlight a major problem which had in fact been previously highlighted - that of the floor supporting the clock;

"Mr Wm Nicol, custodian of the post office clock states that the partial and unharmonious chiming of the quarters, which has been so noticeable recently, is not due to any defect or derangement of the mechanism which he can remedy, but to the warping of the floor of the tower. Upon the rigidity of this depends the accuracy of the work of the striking movement and the recent hot dry weather has so twisted the woodwork, that, as no doubt been noticed, one of the hammers does not get in its blow and a note is of course omitted. Mr Littlejohn, of Wellington, who built and erected the clock, remarked at the time that the construction of the floor was such that it was likely that the chimes would not at all times be perfect. A few days of humid atmosphere would probably bring the floor back to normal conditions and nature would thus rectify the defect, but the insertion of a light iron girder would be the best solution of the trouble as it would not be effected by the weather." [Sthlnd Times, 28 Jan 1897]

At the same time Mr Nicol requested Borough Council approval to have a heavier weight cast for the chiming barrel, the present weight being insufficient as highlighted by the current warping of the wooden bell frame on which the bells were hung. This request was left to the Mayor "With power to act". As to if he 'acted', this question would appear to be answered in February 1899 when the same chiming problems occurred. "Hour Hand" writes asking not only why the clock had not been lighted for the previous three nights but also why the chimes are frequently wrong or do not strike at all; "When a clock neither strikes nor is seen, one begins to ask the use of it." In March it was noted that one of the hammers was not striking but again, the cause is not noted. At this time Mr Nicol still held the tender for maintaining the clock.

You can read the third part HERE.

Correction of any unintentional errors or additional information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871 - 1971" by J.O.P. Watt, 1971 (from my own collection)
- McNab Collection, Dunedin Public Library
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- "The Southland Times"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013

Sunday 11 June 2017

The Story of The Invercargill Town Clock, 1860 - 1989 (Part One of Four)

The Former Invercargill Post Office
"Littlejohn" Clock Mechanism as it appears today

The Importance of An Accurate Knowledge of Time
 1860 - 1891

(Last Update 12 Jun 2017)

In 1989 the southern City of Invercargill finally resurrected their precious Town Clock and chimes, having once graced their 1893 Post Office building before spending almost half a century in storage.

When I myself saw the dusty remains of this clock, including the bells and partially broken clock faces, in storage and gathering dust in the Invercargill Water Tower during a school visit in 1970 I, along with almost everyone else who had seen them, would never have imagined that this clock would realistically ever see the light of day again, let alone once more becoming a fully functioning timepiece. But from a "peep show" and "ding-dong toy chimes" to "dismay and indignation" the long fight to not just obtain - but also retain - a Town Clock over the years has not been without its many challenges. This four part blog is not intended as a comprehensive history of Timekeeping in Invercargill although other clocks are mentioned in passing or where relevant.

I am aware of a three page article pertaining to this subject by John Watts in the NZ Postal History Society quarterly journal, "The Mail Coach" of Feb 2011, but am unfortunately unable to access it locally nor does it appear to have been published elsewhere.

Our story commences back in 1860 when Invercargill became the centre of the new self-governing Province of Southland. It was natural for the residents to now expect those civic amenities that other towns enjoyed and which would also reflect their 'importance'.

As early as the 10th July 1863 the local "Invercargill Times" writes;

"In Dunedin, the importance of an accurate knowledge of time, or rather an accurate standard, has so impressed itself upon those in authority, that a large clock has been constructed so as to peep out from the higher story of the Custom House building, and thus prominently inform all of the progress of the old gentleman with the scythe. Were the same idea followed out here,... it would be in its results most useful to the inhabitants, and conduce towards preventing the community in general being 'behind the time'. There is scarcely a village, either in old countries or new, which has not its public clock."

In September 1863 the same newspaper again stressed the need of a public Town Clock, referring to the present woefully inadequate arrangement at the Post Office for ascertaining mail time closures, being sarcastically referred to as a "Peep Show";

"We have before adverted to the necessity there exists for a clock, placed in such a position as to be of service to commercial men and others. The present peep show at the Post-Office is of little use. Strangers cannot of course be aware of it, and townspeople have not always the time in the crowded portion of the day to fight their way to the 'hole in the wall'. On the last English mail day towards half-past eleven o'clock, there were so many scrambling to ascertain the hour, that ordinary folks thrust their letters into the box regardless of late stamps, and reckless for a month's delay. The Provincial Government would earn the thanks of the community, by placing a large legible clock on a public site such as the Government buildings, or the General Post-Office. We do not think the expense would break their bank."

The Invercargill Railway Station showing
the clock above the Entrance, circa 1860's
[Source : Centenary of Invercargill Municipality]

By July 1864 it appeared that the closest to a town clock for the time being would be a timepiece placed above the main entrance of the new Railway Station, being the new "Grand Termini of the Bluff and Oreti Railways", but primarily for the use of travellers. This clock, featuring a 30 inch dial, and manufactured by 'Elder' of Bourke street, Melbourne, would be fitted up in October 1864.

But in September 1864 Mr Broad, a Jeweller of Tay street (and previously of Beverley's, Dunedin), would make the town a generous offer. He had in his possession a large eight day clock with two three foot diameter transparent dials, a seven foot pendulum,and lighting, having been made by "Messrs Syms and Sons" in Edinburgh for "a Town Hall, Church or other public building" and costing £200. This timepiece he would offer to the Town of Invercargill "by subscription" and to place it in the hands of three gentlemen "who should appoint a site for its erection". "The Southland Tmes" optimistically noted that;

"Seeing that so much inconvenience is felt in this town from the want of correct time, we trust this opportunity would not be lost by the Inhabitants of Invercargill, and that the sum required for the purchase of this clock may speedily be found."

But there is not one further comment in the paper regarding this offer and Mr Broad must have then sold it on. But another clock would at least be erected at this time. On the 4th April 1894 an "old identity" called into the offices of "The Southern Cross" after the new Post Office Clock had been started the previous day. He related that "a good many years ago he assisted to put up the scaffolding for a clock on the old iron building in Dee street where the Theatre Royal now stands." Mr Watt had erected an imported iron building on this site in 1863 before it became Sloan's Theatre about 1875 and Broad Smalls hardware shop from 1903.

But from this gentleman's comments it would appear that the clock, known as the 'Exchange Buildings' clock, soon "lost its tick and suspended operations" so was no more reliable as a town clock that any of the others. It appears that this "large clock", which included a ninety pound weight, had been erected above Mr Watt's 'Exchange' building some time just prior to June 1866. I have no idea if this had been Mr Broad's clock mentioned above but this two-faced clock must have been driven by a mechanism inside the Exchange Buildings so it is certainly possible that Broad's clock had been adapted for this use.

Next we find an editorial dated the 5th July 1867 referring to the General Government purchasing and installing public clocks;

"The want of a public clock has long been felt in Invercargill. In most other towns in Australia and New Zealand the want is met by a post-office clock. True it is that there is a railway clock of erratic notoriety; and inconveniently placed for general utility. The following paragraph will show that the Postmaster-General is giving his attention to clock erections, and it is to he hoped that his operations will be extended to this town. The 'Canterbury Times,' 22nd June, says :-'In the absence of a public clock in Lyttelton, it is gratifying to notice that the General Government have supplied the telegraph office with a clock of a superior description, manufactured to order in Melbourne... The office at Christchurch has also been fitted with a clock of a similar kind'"  

We then find that a new clock would be fitted up at the Post Office in September 1867. But as this clock would show Wellington rather than Invercargill time [New Zealand then had different time zones] would it be a 'convenience' or an 'inconvenience'? ;

"The business of the Electric Telegraph Department will now be regulated as, regards time, by a new clock which has just been placed in a prominent position over the outer door of the office. It will be necessary, however, for those doing business through the wires, to bear in mind that as the clock is to be kept to Wellington time, it will always be some forty minutes in advance of Invercargill time..."

Dee Street Invercargill showing the Elegant
 "Exchange Buildings" at right with the Clock
highlighted by an arrow. Taken 1860's.
[Source : Centenary of Invercargill Municipality]

There were evidently reliability issues with the afore-mentioned Exchange Buildings clock as it was taken down, cleaned and oiled, and placed on a new and stronger stand in October 1869 "so that the vibration of the building will not disturb the works". Additionally, "a patent copper cord, presented by Mr R. Tapper would replace the native flax cord previously used so that sudden stoppages, through breakage of the cord, will now be avoided." At this date the clock was "placed in the hands of E.D. Butts, Esq. [the Chief Postmaster], who has authorised Mr Renwick to collect subscriptions for its purchase for the public". This will be the clock projecting from the Exchange Building in the photograph above.

But as with Mr Broad's clock there is no further specific mention of this clock. Perhaps the public considered it was not "grand" enough for their town. At any rate it appears to have disappeared by 1874. While Mr H.E. Osborne, Auctioneer, advertised a "large clock" for sale in early 1872 this was only "suitable for a church or public hall" so would probably have been a 14" Station type clock.

"The Sign of The Clock" (George Lumsden)
when located in Tay Street, pre 1872
[Source : Kete Invercargill]

George Lumsden, a Watchmaker and Jeweller with premises known as "The Sign of the Clock" located in Tay Street "opposite the English Church" prior to Oct 1872 and thereafter in Dee Street "opposite the Post Office" had a public clock with two faces above his shop. The same clock can be seen above his old shop above and above his new shop below. But this appears to be too small to have been Broad's clock which had three foot diameter dials.

"The Sign of The Clock" (George Lumsden)
when located in Dee Street, post Oct 1872
[Source : Kete Invercargill]

In May 1874, an anecdote is related of how a traveller wanted to start from Invercargill by one of the morning coaches. This perfectly demonstrated the farcical lack of reliable public timekeeping in the town. After ascertaining the time with the Post Office he made doubly sure by testing his watch by the telegraph clock. This showed such a variation that he determined to check the time at the "Sign of the Clock" over the road. This proved "worse than ever" and on going round to the other side, he was still further puzzled to discover "that this two-faced clock was a perfect conundrum, as the two sides did not agree with each other!". In desperation he then rushed round to consult the Railway clock which was different again, the variation between all the clocks had been up to to fifteen minutes.

August 1875 would see a Meeting of the "Railway and Immigration Committee" in the Town Council Hall making a representation to Mr Cuthbertson, the Invercargill Member of Parliament;

"to use his utmost endeavors to get the additional sum necessary for the completion of the Government buildings placed on the estimates, and, if possible, to obtain the sanction of the Minister of Public Works to the erection of a tower and clock in the centre of the block."

Mr Cutherbertson advised in November 1875 that the site had now been secured by the Government and that, "next year, if he still remained member for the town, he hoped, by energy, and by having better reason on his side, to be able to secure money for the completion of the buildings." The Minister of Public Works would shortly be in Invercargill and would also see for himself. But such are the promises of politicians and Cuthbertson would be ousted in the 1875-76 General Election.

The New Clock placed above the
"eastern window" of the Telegraph Office
[Source : "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality]

In May 1877 "The Southland Times" reports that the Telegraph Office had obtained a clock from Wellington and that it had been placed in the eastern window of the building, "where it can be seen by the public, to whom it will be an excellent guide, as Mr Bush informs us the time is derived from Wellington every morning." This is the Government building shown above, having been designed by Colonial Architect Mr W.H. Clayton with tenders called in January 1875. The Telegraph Office moved into the upper floor of the eastern wing on the 15th July 1876. This building would form the south wing and part of the central wing of the new Post Office building opened in 1893.

A correspondent writing to the Editor in May 1883 notes that having travelled through Victoria and New Zealand he thought; "Invercargill is behind the towns of the sister colonies in not having a town clock." He goes on to suggest that a public meeting be called with a committee to be formed to divide the town into wards and have a subscription list prepared for the purpose of obtaining and erecting a clock. This was no less that twenty years since the desirability of a town clock for Invercargill had first been publicly highlighted. Even a "Stranger to Invercargill" remarks later that year that although "Invercargill is a very nice town", he goes on to suggest that "Perhaps a town clock in one of your beautiful buildings would be an improvement." But still the residents of Invercargill would be left wanting.

It appears that the Town Council, unlike the majority of councils and boroughs in New Zealand, desired the Central Government to pay for a town clock rather than out of their own funds. And of course the (by then debt ridden) Southland Provincial Government had been re-amalgamated with that of Otago in 1870 with all Provincial Governments themselves being abolished in 1876.

So, had it not been for this intransigence and southern 'penny pinching' Invercargill might have had a Town Clock as early as 1863. But does this, I wonder, also say something about the naturally thrifty nature of the predominately Scottish settlers of the south? Obviously it existed all the way up to their elected City Councillors and Mayor.

But the need for accurate town time had obviously now become acute. At a Council meeting in June 1887 Councillor Stewart moved that;

"Whereas the want of a correct public time is a great source of trouble and annoyance to employers and employed, and until a public town clock is provided it is expedient that the Fire Brigade Engineer ring the fire bell at 8, 12, 1 and 5 o'clock daily, Sundays excepted..."

The time would be set by the Telegraph Office time which came from Wellington.

With the bold heading "What O'clock?" a letter from "Northerner" to the Editor dated July 1891 again questions the lack of a Town Clock;

"One very great want and noticed in Invercargill - at least so nearly every stranger or visitor will tell you - is a town clock which could be seen and heard by night as well as by day - something reliable and worthy of the name. Surely our city fathers might make some move in so desirable a direction, seeing that every borough of any importance in the colony, with the single exception of Invercargill, possesses one, leaving us behind the time."

You can read the second part of this Blog HERE.

Correction of any unintentional errors or additional information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871 - 1971" by J.O.P. Watt, 1971 (from my own collection)
- McNab Collection, Dunedin Public Library
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- "The Southland Times"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013

Sunday 4 June 2017

Edward Simpson 1809 - 1877 : Reflections on an Emigrant and Colonist

Edward & Lucy Simpson,
Nicholas Brothers Photo, Otago, NZ
(Possibly taken in Dec 1872 when the
Nicholas Brothers visited Riverton)
[From my own collection]

On the 29th August 1861 no less than ten adult members of the Simpson family from Stowmarket in Suffolk England, led by Edward Simpson Snr, the patriarch of the family and his wife Lucy née Hopson, embarked 'en masse' on the sailing vessel 'Chile' from London Docks bound for Port Chalmers Otago in the South Island of New Zealand.

This blog attempts to tell not only something of the story of Edward Simpson Snr., my Gt. Gt. Grandfather, his early life, his story of emigration, and of his building a new life in Riverton on the southern coast of New Zealand but also something of his views on his life in New Zealand, colonial matters, and on colonization. These have been gleaned from a quite unique collection of surviving correspondence and show Edward to be an insightful man but also very much 'to the point' and not afraid of voicing his opinions.

But firstly, who was Edward Simpson? We know a little of his early life. We note his birth on the 31st May 1809 at Stowmarket in Suffolk, England, being the son of Edward Simpson Snr., an Innkeeper of Stowmarket, and Susan Bridgman. His father is noted as having been declared bankrupt on the 26th December 1795 so the family were probably never well off.

His obituary is the only record that in his early days he had been a cabin boy, working under the auspices of his Uncle, the Captain of an East-Indiaman, who appears to have taken the young Edward under his wing. Of this Uncle or of the voyages made I, as yet, know nothing. The East India Company were, at this time, trading around India and the Far East and this would have opened up the young Edward's eyes to the world as well as giving him an early and very practical education. Cabin boys were typically engaged when aged 14 to 16 years and would slowly learn the ways of seafaring life, many advancing on to becoming qualified seafarers.

But by 1831, and at age 22, Edward had returned to Stowmarket in Suffolk, evidently keen to settle down. Here, on the 10th July 1831, he married Lucy Pleasance Hopson, also of Stowmarket. Having, with his wife fourteen children, it would appear that Edward was very much a family man and this may have influenced his desire to leave the nomadic seafaring life and settle down with a wife and bring up a family. Lucy's Father John Hopson was a stonemason and Edward may have learnt his trade under him as I note the two were in business together for some years. But Edward would also enter the stonemasonry trade in his own right, setting up a stonemasons business around 1833.

The picturesque Simpson Family Home adjoining the
Stonemason's business at 5 Ipswich Road, Stowmarket.
Note the yard with an array of carved tombstones.
[Source : Humphries Family, England]

Edward and Lucy resided at 5 Ipswich Road in Stowmarket, the business adjoining their home. The photo above shows the house and yard stacked with gravestones after the turn of the 20th century when it was being run by a grandson, George Simpson. Three of Edward's sons (including my Gt. Grandfather) also became stonemasons, presumably being apprenticed to their father in the business.

By 1861 Edward, along with his wife, five sons, two daughters, and a daughter in law, had made the momentous decision to emigrate half way around the world to New Zealand.

Edward Simpson giving notice that he is handing over
his business to his son John Simpson, an advertisement
"The Ipswich Journal" of 5th Oct 1861.

The family stonemasons business in Stowmarket would continue under Edward's son John. With the future of the business secure, we can only surmise that Edward's family saw, as many emigrants of their time did, that greater opportunities for advancement lay elsewhere, in this case half way around the world in New Zealand.

Edward himself was then 52 years of age and now joined his family as they sought out a new life in the colonies. Adventure and the world that lay beyond England was already nothing new to Edward. No doubt feeling that he was not yet too old to start a new adventure in life and, along with his wife, desirous of accompanying so many of their family abroad and seeing them settled, it would appear that Edward willingly left the comfortable life that he knew. This meant leaving behind family and friends but they would not be forgotten for Edward was a prodigious letter writer, remaining in regular contact with his adult children and grandchildren back home and giving them a less than gentle reprimand when they did not respond in a like manner.

But why emigrate to New Zealand? The Otago Provincial Government were at this time proactively seeking skilled immigrants and offered a paid passage and indentured employment by means of a "Promissory Note", the cost of the passage to be repaid from their employment with the Government. This would provide settlers with some measure of surety. And in any case, few could afford the fourteen pound per person fare. That the Simpson family were still not particularly well off is confirmed by their availing themselves of this arrangement, even if this meant travelling by "no frills" steerage class on the three month voyage out.

The Simpson Family with Edward and Lucy in front
centre, taken in Stowmarket, Suffolk, England, 1861
[Source : Humphries Family, England]

On the 29th August 1861 the Simpson family departed London docks on the sailing vessel "Chile" bound for Port Chalmers New Zealand, arriving safely on the 10th December 1861. While Edward kept a diary of the voyage out he makes no mournful entries upon their departure from English shores, appears to be attentive to all goings on, and despite the tedium is in good spirits. In a letter dated 1876 Edward writes that sea travel was not so bad, in fact more comfortable than a tiring railway journey.

As it would turn out, only Edward was able to repay some of his debt to the Provincial Government with his children repaying none of theirs. This was, apparently, not an unusual occurrence as the Provincial Government were not always able to provide suitable work or to pay wages that were equivalent to that which could be derived from private employment.

So what employment did the Provincial Government provide? The obituary for his son Edward confirms that, along with his father, both remained in Dunedin for a year, being engaged in surveying land at St. Kilda, purportedly naming streets after places in Suffolk. This would be from their arrival in December 1861. But curiously, we find in December 1862 a reference to "[stone] Blocks from Waikava, by Mr E. Simpson" mentioned in a report to the planning committee for the Industrial Exhibition to be held at Dunedin. It is known that his son Charles, also a stonemason, had been at Waikava [now known as Waikawa], where his first wife Emma died in July 1862 [Link Here]. So, Charles must have gone on first, to be joined later by his father, perhaps after Emma's death.

But by the end of 1862 the Simpson family, including Edward Snr. and his wife, had taken a coastal sailing vessel down to Riverton in Southland, being a trading and fishing port, and former whaling station. It was no doubt Edward's daughter Ellen marrying and settling in Riverton in September 1862 that enticed the family to settle here. The first published reference to Edward being resident here is in April 1863.

Simpson family research indicates that Edward did not own land until 1869 when he is listed as freehold owner of a section but is yet to build on it. In June 1871 he writes disparagingly that, “I feel there is no longer hope for a house for me and nine in New Zealand I have for a long period been writing and leading my family and connections to expect something.”

Cliff Cottage, Riverton,
The Home of Edward Simpson Snr.
[From my own collection]

But his luck would soon turn and it would not be long before he would finally build his own home, "Cliff Cottage" on Brook street at South Riverton overlooking Jacobs [now Aparima] River with a good view of the ferry operated by his son Charles across to the main township of Riverton. This would be around 1872 -73 when his name appears in the Burgess Roll. The 1900's rebuilt house survives above the bowling green. (update Nov 2022) Family descendants can contact me (link in right hand menu bar) if you would like any more information on Edward Simpson's ownership of this property. 

On the 28th June 1871 a proclamation was issued creating the township of Riverton and South Riverton as a municipality. This now created the necessity of compiling a citizens list with Edward Simpson Snr. being asked to look after the revision of the list, his role being to "hear and determine the claims of the Citizens thereof to be inserted in such List and the objections of such citizens to any other Citizen having his name retained thereon."

Edward's abilities and desire to serve his community were obviously noted. In March 1872 his appointment as Clerk to the Resident Magistrate in Riverton was confirmed; "It is notified in the New Zealand Gazette of the 14th inst. That Mr Edward Simpson has been appointed by His Excellency the Governor to be the Clerk of the Resident Magistrate’s Court at Riverton." From September 1874 to July 1875 he was also the Town Surveyor for Riverton, only giving this up due to ill health.

Edward Simpson, a self portrait
 [Source : Humphries Family, England]

So, what thoughts did Edward have on his new life in New Zealand? Surprisingly, some of Edward's correspondence has survived, both in New Zealand and with family descendants in England. Edward often corresponded with Theophilus Daniel, a prominent Riverton settler (and later Mayor of Riverton), member of the Southland Provincial Council and Wallace Member for the House of Representatives when the latter was away on council business. These letters are very useful as they relate not only to events happening in Riverton but also show how Edward, an educated and wordly man, could freely express and discuss opinions and ideas that he might not have so readily expressed to family members. Latterly, Edward also made known his opinions in the local press, writing under the non-de-plume "Excelsior".

In 1866 Edward makes mention of how he had, at one time, desired to return home, the local economic situation obviously being a factor; "I seemed to have a strong desire to return at one time, I dreamed that my wish was accomplished and I was in England, what with change of circumstances and faces, I felt anxious to get back to New Zealand again – and felt when I awoke as tho’ I was thankful that I was not out of it. I looked upon it as a warning from providence and it seemed to satisfy me that my duty was to wait “His time” and not be uneasy. I was surprised at the change in myself and feelings, there may be changes here that may benefit us a little, it is evident that people are not satisfied with things as they are and if a change come it may come quickly; Colonial changes generally do." [To his Daughter Lucy, 19th Nov 1866]

In 1869, Edward still appears somewhat unsettled; "I should like very well to look round and see you all – but cannot see how at present but strange things happen sometimes and we cannot tell how we may be led by providence now where we may be called to end our days. I do not feel settled here but I believe that people would be as much surprised to see me move from here as they were at home to see me leave England." [To his Daughter Lucy, 29th August 1869]

In the same letter Edward does however allude to his active support of political matters. In 1861 Southland had separated from Otago to form a self-governing Province in its own right and he holds the firm belief that, economically, this had been a mistake;  

"I am not quite certain that I should have stopped here so contented as I have, had I now been taking an active part in endeavouring to bring about a change, and I seem to hope that there is now a fair prospect of our being reunited with Otago. A separation took place the April previous to our landing in New Zealand. Certainly no province ever had a fairer chance or better prospects and prosperity brought extravagance and its consequences are ruin and depression. We have drove the parties from power. What may be the result hereafter I cannot say and it cannot well be worse than it has been. We certainly anticipate improvement in this district and hope we may not be disappointed. It is hard when you have expended money hard earned to see your little property through mis government reduced to one third of its cost in value or less than that even – but such have been our case – we think sometimes we were wrong in coming here but cannot tell – seem to have had a call to do all that I can in aiding the change – believe that my labours have told and acknowledged as useful. I trust that what I have wrote or spoken have been in humble dependence and that if it was right he will add his blessing to my labours."  [To his Daughter Lucy, 29th August 1869]

Construction of the Jacob's River Bridge in 1874 which joined
South Riverton to the main township. Edward Simpson Snr.
lived at Cliff Cottage which appears left centre up the hill
[Source : Records of Early Riverton and District]

Here Edward spells out his dislike of corruption and dishonesty, being prompted by discrepancies in entries in the Electoral Rolls within the Jacob's River District and elsewhere whereby deceased persons were being retained on the roll in an attempt to gain greater importance and representation;

"I wish to be known as a foe to corruption and abuse in every form (if known at all) and that wherever it shall be found it may always count on me as its enemy. I hope yet to see the time when a purer and better system shall prevail, equitable laws justly carried out; and men that enforce them shall in their own persons and acts set an example of obedience." [Letter to "The Southland Times", 15th Feb 1869]     

Edward's blunt opinions and desire to effect change clearly comes through in letters to his friend Theophilus Daniel, this being a good example; 

"...I felt annoyed and vexed afterwards to find that there had been no enquiry and that George Cassels had the petition title, I was able to go for it. I am truly sorry to see so much indifference it argues bad for our cause, what men are made of I cannot tell - but indifference to their own interests (except the pocket) seem to prevail to an almost incredible extent and as to the future, it must provide for itselfMr P told me this morning he had ‘withdrawn from all night meetings and committees and found the less he did the better he was respected’ – will it always be so??" [To Theophilus Daniel, 7th May 1875] 

“I hardly supposed you would have shown my letters to his Honour but as such letters are simply the reflex of the mind they are at least honest and not studied to fit or please anyone.  If I think it I speak or write it and if I don’t I won’t.” [To Theophilus Daniel, 23rd May 1875] 

On the subject of immigration and new settlements we also have some very interesting insights; 

"There is some country not far from here well suited to shipbuilders – good timber – convenience and a demand for shipping of the right sort – there is an Ordnance just passed to establish two special Settlements on the west coast in the Province of Otago – one of them about sixty miles from here “Preservation Inlet” 100,000 acres of land has been voted and part to be given to first settlers and all the remainder sold for the special benefit of the Settlement as a start for the [?] If I was young and strong I would like such a beginning and would go – but I now begin to tumble about on rough ground and cannot see wet from dry after dark. I am little fitted for a new country but still would have a better idea how to proceed than any newcomer." [To his Daughter Lucy, 29th August 1869]

Edward expands on his belief in new colonial settlements and the best way this should be effected;

"How Shall We Increase Our Population? Immigration is the peg on which we hang all our hopes for the future, and the earliest pages of history point to that which has ever been the most successful mode of civilization, viz., by going forth in bands under an acknowledged leader, with some coherent bond or chain to keep them together; and what stronger tie than Christian love can bind man to man... Shall I remind you of the Pilgrim Fathers in Massachusetts, or the Catholics who settled in the more Southern States of America; the Mormons at Salt Lake, the Presbyterians in Otago; the English at Canterbury [N.Z.],... Why then should we not have here our Independent Congregational Societies, Baptist, Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist, or even Temperance settlements...This, then, is the agency that would be most successful with us, holding together those of kindred spirit. You would in this way get the best kind of immigrant at the least possible expense - the most permanent settler, and a larger share of the middle class. Are the Government prepared to encourage this system?" [From an undated letter found among his papers after his death].

From these quite remarkable insights we can gain an impression of someone who believed his opinions to be useful and that he could bring about a measure of change where needed. He was, however, exceedingly loving and gentle in letters to his family. His strong religious beliefs also come though in both his letters to his family and his obituary which notes "the strict honour and probity [strong moral principles, honesty and decency] in which he trained his sons". As his own Father wrote in a poem addressed to him in 1814 [Also read his name downwards in the highlighted letters]:

Each father’s care by nature’s claim do bind,
Direct us to implant in their young mind;
While they are young, you may affect with ease,
Attune them, and direct which way you please.
Regard, dear boy, your father’s firm request,
Displease not God, but firmly on Him rest.
Such is my wish that you may be His care,
In every change may you His blessing share;
Mind well the steady path that leads to life,
Pass on in honest ease and shun all strife.
Sincere to all as you to manhood rise,
Observe you serve your God as your grand prize;
Neglecting prayer to God you’ll be despised.

In Memoriam Card for Edward Simpson Snr.
[From my own collection]

Edward Simpson Snr. died at "Cliff Cottage" Riverton on the 8th October 1877, being in his 69th year and leaving an estate of £575. [around NZD$98,000 in today's values]. He is buried, with other family members, in the Riverton Cemetery under a recumbent sandstone gravestone fittingly carved and sent out by his son in Stowmarket. 

Copyright : Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own personal collection but may be freely copied for academic and non-commercial use provided this site is acknowledged. Commercial reproduction is prohibited without my specific written approval.

Sources :

- Personal papers and photographs (held by the writer)
- Humphries family, England
- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- British Newspaper Archive
- Simpson Family History, compiled by Rebecca Amundsen, 2006
- "Records of Early Riverton and District", 1937 (1971 reprint) [From my own collection]