Next time you are waiting for your turn at the intersection of King Street and Domain Avenue, glance across at the Timaru Gardens nearby. You will see a flat area of garden beds and towards the back of these are some landscaped stone steps flanked by beautifully rusticated iron urns. Sitting in front of these, amongst the beds is our Queen Victoria Jubilee Fountain.
The fountain was originally located on the small reserve in King George Place, opposite the council buildings. In 1960 the monument was moved from that site and re-erected in this south west corner of the Gardens. The steps were designed and built at the same time to create a backdrop for the Victorian styled sunken garden. Although it is neat and bare in its current winter state, it is full to overflowing in the spring and summer months with seasonal plantings in the formal beds which put on a fabulous show of bright colours set off by the green landscape of the wider gardens behind.
Queen Victoria ascended the throne on 20 June 1837. Her Golden Jubilee was widely celebrated by Colonies throughout the Empire on 20 June 1887, the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of her accession. In New Zealand and in many far flung colonies memorials to Queen Victoria appeared in the form of statues and fountains to mark the event including our own Jubilee Fountain.
On 26 September 1907 our then Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward marked an important symbolic shift in New Zealand’s perceptions of nationhood when he read the declaration of our Dominion status. The change from Colony to Dominion was one that was one that had little practical effect but Dominion status was more about perceptions – and perceptions mattered in those changing times. He hoped by doing so it would remind the world that New Zealand was an important player in its own right.
It’s a subtle reminder of our colonial past, nestled quietly into a lovely corner of our town, one that also overlooks a busy intersection where our busy, modern lives are on view, hustling and bustling by. A rather nice juxtaposition.
Innovation can come in many forms. Take for example the old Timaru Garrison Hall. Designed in 1886 by the Dunedin architect R. A. Lawson (First Church Dunedin being his most famous building) it was originally designed with an elaborate facade facing High Street, but lack of Government funding meant the plan had to be simplified. The Government funding was £300, with the remaining £700 raised locally.
The builder was W. Hall-Jones, (later an Member of both Houses of Parliament and briefly the 16th Prime Minister of New Zealand).
The front lean-to part of the building held nine rooms, an orderly room and store room for each of the four military corps, and a general reading room. However the roof of the hall is the most innovative feature. Spanning 28 metres with a radius of 22.5 metres, it was the largest span in New Zealand at the time. Each of the main roof beams is an early example of timber lamination, twelve thicknesses of 6 x 1 inch timber laminated together with 38 kg worth of nails and bolts. Since it was calculated that the roof would expand and contract by up to 25mm across its width, one end of the beams are firmly fastened to the concrete piers, the other end resting on rollers that move with the roof. This was necessary as the weight of the original galvanised iron roof was 5 1/2 ton and that size of movement would have damaged any fastenings or the beams.
The Hall was opened on the 1st September 1886 with a two day military tattoo.
St Patrick’s Church is the oldest union church still in use in New Zealand. It stands on its original site, with Burkes Pass village to one side and the original cemetery to the other. It’s the perfect example of a local co-operating church in a small isolated community.
According to the information plaque provided, the early pioneers of the MacKenzie basin area met at Stansell’s Accommodation House on August 26th 1871, to plan a church which might serve the huge area from Geraldine to Mt Cook. It would be built for several denominations to use, including Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic.
Burkes Pass must have been considered the last outpost of civilisation in those days. It’s hard for us to imagine the isolation of these areas in times when transport is so taken for granted but 150 years ago the churches of our high country regions played a major part in providing, not only the opportunity to congregate for religious devotion but also some much needed social contact. It was no mean feat to get to a service with attendees often travelling through snow and flooded rivers to be there.
At the end of the fortnightly service the Postie, who had arrived from Timaru via horseback, would hand out the mail to the congregation as they left the church. Attending church must have been a most exciting expedition, not only fulfilling religious duties but a chance to wear your best clothes, see friends and acquaintances and quite possibly receive news and information from distant shores.
It is a Heritage NZ category 1 listed building and was designed by W.Williamson. It was built in 1872 by Ogilvie and Jones of Timaru. A simple wooden construction with a Gothic style porch, lancet windows and the interior is still in original condition. It has simple buttresses and these, along with the old pines nearby, protect it from being buffeted too much by high winds and gales.
What a tough, enduring little building it is. It’s withstood years of rugged alpine weather.
Happily, in 2000 The Burkes Pass Heritage Trust was formed to protect, retain and preserve this building for future generations. Along with the church the trust have created a Heritage walk that takes in a small Musterers hut, the Mt Cook Road Board Office which was built in 1876, the former Hotel, School and several of the sturdy cob cottages built of clay and tussock. Follow on to the cemetery for more exploring.
These days it is still in use as a church, community meeting place, wedding venue and heritage centre. It is open to visitors, a delightful stop along the way and a chance to reflect on what life was like all that time ago.
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