Civic of Canterbury

1. The Jubilee Exhibition.

1:01 The Beginning of an Idea.

            In 1898 the Province of Otago celebrated its 50th anniversary and members of the Canterbury business and farming communities attended the festivities, which were as lavish as Victorian pretentiousness could provide. It was held in the Dunedin Agricultural Hall and a Mr. Secretan, returning from the celebrations, remarked to a Cantabrian friend on 21st September 1898:

            “Why should not we in Christchurch have a hall like that in Dunedin? It is much wanted.” (Press 1/11/1900 p6). Funds would be needed, of course, and the friend of Mr. Secretan at once volunteered to assist with money. Three other patriotic gentlemen also pledged to make contributions.

The notion had struck a spark, for the Cantabrians were fiercely proud of their achievements. As Lord Ranfurly, Governor General would point out in the opening of the Jubilee Exhibition, (Press 2/11/1900 p6) Canterbury’s brief history had been an inspiring tale of success. “In a mere fifty years what had been solitude had become home to 150,000 people”. (Presumably, the presence of the inhabitants of several Maori villages, plus sundry pre-Adamites, did not count) Imports had grown from £83,920 in 1853 to £1,569,000 in 1899. Exports for the same period had grown from £3,396 to a staggering £3,037,769, and the capital value of Canterbury land was estimated to be £30,000,000. But success was by no means linked to money. There was a strong feeling of growth, prosperity, justice and quality of life. “The sons of England,” quoth Lord Ranfurly, “when they leave British soil, go forth not to idle, but to work; go forth to produce; go forth to add glory to the Empire of which we are all so proud.” (Press ibid).

The Cantabrians returned home, fired with enthusiasm and determined to mark their own 50th jubilee in 1900 with even greater flourish and ostentation. Coincidently, the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association and the Canterbury Industrial Association, the predecessor of the present Manufacturers’ Association, were also looking for permanent and suitably august premises. The aid of these two bodies was enlisted and they proved to be most enthusiastic. The focus of the forthcoming jubilee would be an Exhibition of the Province of Canterbury, a grand display of the products and manufactures of a burgeoning and prosperous region, and it would be housed in premises appropriate to its glory. A brand new and sumptuously appointed Exhibition Hall would be an ideal showcase for the glorious achievements of the Province.

Organisation began with all expedition and due solemnity. A meeting of worthy gentlemen was held on 16th November 1898 for the purpose of erecting such a building, and it was decided to form a holding company to construct and manage it. Those present were Messrs W Reece, H P Murray-Aynsley, John Anderson, E G Staveley, George Gould and R M McDonald representing the Agricultural and Pastoral Association, with J A Frostick, R W England Snr., A H Hancock, T N Horsley, H B Kirk and J L Scott representing the Industrial Association. It was decided that an Agricultural, Pastoral and Industrial Hall would be built, and Messrs Anderson, Murray-Aynsley, England, Frostick, Gould, Hancock, Horsley, Kirk, Macdonald, A G Rhodes and W Reece were appointed as provisional Directors, with the last named as Chairman (Press 12/11/1917, p6). The Industrial Association had funds of some £3000, the proceeds of their last exhibition which had been held in the Drill Hall, and the members of the A & P Association stumped up a similar amount, giving an initial working capital of £6000. Some further funding was required and it was decided to approach the public.

            On 19th January 1899 a prospectus was issued for the Canterbury Hall Company, the capital being £25,000 in 5000 shares of £5 each. The proprietary shares having been taken up by the A & P and Industrial Associations, preference shares were then issued and quickly sold out. A board of Directors was appointed from representatives of the two associations and from the preference shareholders and on 3rd March 1899 the Canterbury Hall Company was duly registered.

            A meeting of the Committee of the Industrial Association on 12th August 1899 resolved that Mr. Robert Allen should be president for the Jubilee Year, a most signal honour but one well deserved. Mr. Allen was not only a very capable and diligent member of the Association but also had been the founding president when the Association was formed in 1878. Mr. Allen was also something of a novelty in another way; he was a New Zealander, having been born in Nelson in 1847, and a senior member of a business and political community that was almost exclusively English born. Moving on to other business, the assembly then appointed the various committee for the exhibition: a building committee, and exhibits and space committee, and further committees for lighting, finance, printing and advertising, entertainments, working exhibits, home industries, and decoration and arts.

An Executive Council was formed to be made up of the chairmen of the various committees, the Mayors of Christchurch and the surrounding districts, and a number of outside people whose talents were considered necessary. The Executive Council first met on 12th January 1900 at which the Governor General, Lord Ranfurly, was appointed patron of the exhibition and several prominent old colonists were honoured with the appointment of vice-patrons. These last were the Premier, the Rt. Hon. R J Seddon, Sir John Hall, the Hon. William Rolleston and Mr. C C Bowen. Charles Christopher Bowen (later Sir Charles), was a leading and very active member of the community and one of the earliest settlers. Born in 1830, he was educated at Rugby and Cambridge (Gardner et al 1973; p31). Arriving in Christchurch in 1850, he became secretary to John Robert Godley from 1850 to 1852 and was Resident Magistrate in Christchurch from 1864 – 74. He was the first President of the Canterbury Collegiate Union (the original Board of Governors of Canterbury University College) 1872-74, and was a member of the Legislative Council in 1874. He was a member of the House of Representatives from 1875 – 1881, and a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand from 1881 -2, and again from 1888-1915, as well as serving on numerous minor bodies such as the Executive Council of the Jubilee Committee. He was created a Knight Batchelor in 1910, and was elevated to the rank of Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1913. He died in Christchurch in 1917.

            As soon as it was appointed, the Building Committee looked to acquire an appropriate site, and before long was able to report that an option to purchase the property of the late Doctor Prins of Manchester Street, a residence known as “The Pines”, was available for the sum of £6,500. The adjoining land, a 2 ¼ acres (one hectare, more or less) expanse of weeds and coarse plants was also available. The land was within one city block of Cathedral Square and would be a capital situation. The site was approved, purchased and plans called for in July 1899. As was customary at that time, a competition was held for the design of the new building and the contract was won by Christchurch architects Clarkson and Ballantyne from a field of ten hopefuls. Tenders for the buildings were called for and that of Rennie and Pearce was accepted at £16,378 (Press 12/11/1917 p7) and duly signed 9th January 1900. “The Pines” was demolished and  work began with a will on 22nd January. A foundation stone was laid with due ceremony by His Worship the Mayor, Mr. W Reece, on 19th March.

            A deputation from the Industrial Association consisting of Messrs W W Charters, J Triggs, R C Bishop and J J Kinsey  later “waited upon the Board of Directors and made an application to lease the building then being erected for the purpose of holding and exhibition” (Press ibid). Permission was graciously granted. The new building was completed and handed over by the Hall Company to the Board of the Exhibition Committee, to whom the premises had been leased for three months on 26th October 1900, well in time for the official opening of the Jubilee Exhibition on November 1st.

1:02. The Buildings.

            A mild winter favoured Messrs Rennie and Pearce and the more than 200 men, tradesmen and labourers, who were employed on the site. The work continued at a cracking pace, but with care, and it was the pride of the workforce that despite the complex and strenuous nature of the contract no serious accidents occurred. Over a million bricks were laid to form the huge edifice (Press 1/11/1900, p6) and the bases, widow sills and mullions were made of Mt. Somers stone, while the stone for the front elevations came from the Totara Tree and The Minories quarries at Oamaru. The total cost of the buildings, including the temporary annexes that were built alongside as well as the main stage and the furnishings, cost about £20,000. Messrs A J White and Co. obtained the contract for the supply of chairs, upholstered in the best Utrecht velvet, for the dress circle of the main theatre. Messrs Turnbull and Jones of Wellington won the contract to provide electric lighting (of which more below) in both arc and incandescent forms.

            The building housed three halls. The main hall to the south, later to become His Majesty’s Theatre , had seating for 2500 people on the ground floor and for 500 in the dress circle and was of the very latest design. A substantial stage measuring 86ft (about 28 metres) by 40ft (about 13 metres), was served by several large dressing rooms and a capacious scenery dock (Press 1/11/1900 p6-7). The ceiling was a novel innovation in that, instead of the usual plaster, it was fitted with plates of ornamental pressed steel, a patent of the Wunderlich Company. The other two halls, the Alexandra Hall on the ground floor and the Victoria Hall on the first floor, each had a capacity of 400. Associated with the latter were the offices of the A&P Association and the Industrial Association, and they had an entrance separate from that of the main theatre. There were all together three main entrances and the wide lanes that flanked the buildings were liberally fitted with emergency exits (Press 12/11/17 p7).

The annexes, built to the north and south of the permanent buildings, were temporary structures built for the Jubilee Exhibition. They ended up by being much larger than the Exhibition Committee had originally envisaged as an overwhelming demand for exhibition space had meant that the building plans had had to be considerably expanded. Eventually they covered the entire part of the site not taken by the main building as well as a quarter acre section, the property of a Mr. Cassidy and facing onto Gloucester Street, that the Exhibition Company had leased for the duration of the event. It was on Mr. Cassidy’s section that the annexe containing the working exhibits and the electric power plant was built. Access was by way of several north – south and east – west avenues which, appropriately enough, were named after the first four ships and several prominent early settlers; the Harper, the Wakefield, the Bowen, the Godley and the FitzGerald Avenues. The annexes were also built by Messrs Rennie and Pearce at an additional cost of £3,693.

            In all some 140,000 square feet – 1.3 hectares, more or less – of exhibition space was available.

1:03.The Grand Opening.

            The Exhibition Committee had laid down three criteria for the event. Firstly, only New Zealand manufactures and produce would be admitted, with the exception of things such as pianos and typewriters that were not produced in New Zealand at all. A second criterion was the inclusion of an Arts section, a novel departure for industrial fairs, which would include a large collection of works both by old masters and proponents of the modern schools, a home industries’ section, and a young workers’ competition. Thirdly, in another departure from contemporary practice, no medals or awards would be made as the Executive believed the occasion to be unique. Instead each exhibitor would receive a certificate.

            These basic ground rules having been set in place, the buildings completed in good order, and the exhibits all in place, The Canterbury Jubilee Exhibition opened to the public on Thursday 1st November 1900, beginning a 72 day season. The weather, overcast and gloomy at first, cleared and the City was bathed in spring sunshine. Mrs. Reece, the Mayoress, performed a brief opening ceremony at the main door in Manchester street at 1:00pm. The members of the orchestra and choirs were then admitted and all made ready for the arrival of the Governor General at 2:00pm.

            His Excellency and the Countess of Ranfurly arrived on time to be greeted by a guard of honour and received by the Mayor of Christchurch. The Vice-regal party, together with the Mayor and members of the executive, then proceeded to the main hall where the formalities began. The national anthem was played, followed by the Jubilee Ode (see below). The President opened the proceeding by welcoming one and all and inviting the Governor General to speak. His Excellency did his duty with dignity and diplomacy, and his orotund words were followed by speeches by the Premier and the Mayor. The Orchestra then played the overture to “Britannia”, the official party made a tour of the exhibition, and the doors were open to the public at 3:00pm. The show was under weigh at full steam ahead.

Admission to the exhibition was 1/-, children half price, and admission to the evening concert a like sum. Season tickets were available at 1 guinea for gentlemen, and half a guinea for ladies and youths, from Messrs Milner and Thompson or from the exhibition secretary Mr. Thomas Garrard.

            The exhibits were numerous and of a huge variety. There were displays by the various manufacturers and merchants such as Strange & Co, A J White., and J Ballantyne & Co., who had arranged a “special display, which for artistic merit and beauty of conception cannot be excelled in the Colony” (Advert. Press 1/11/1900 p2). Exhibitors came from all parts of the country, mainly from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, but Nelson was well represented as were other provincial centres. The available area was fully booked, but many manufacturers were unable to attend due to an upturn in trade: the depression of the 1890’s was lifting and prosperity was high. “The only difficulty we have met with” said Mr. Allen. President of the Exhibition, in an interview “in connection with the whole Exhibition arose from the fact that the great bulk of manufacturers throughout new Zealand have been particularly busy during the past few months. This prevented some of them responding to our prospectus.” (Press 1/11/1900 p7), a situation that even manifested itself in public apologies. A typical example of this felicitous phenomenon is summed up by an advertisement inserted on page one of the Press on the day of opening:

THANKS

I BEG to THANK the PUBLIC for their Generous Support, and I wish to notify that the demand for my JAMS has been so GREAT this season that I have had to decline orders for several kinds for over two months, SO AM UNABLE TO SHOW MY JAMS IN OUR JUBILEE EXHIBITION.

J MUNNINGS

‘Jam Manufacturer’ Addington

(Press 1/11/1900 p1.)

            Magnificent as were the displays of the various merchants and manufacturers, without a doubt the most spectacular were those of the Government departments (the central Government had made an ex gratia contribution of £1,000 to the Exhibition funds) and the generic groups.

            The Agricultural Department display contained over a thousand items, including models of apples, pears and other fruits “tempting because of their truly wonderful resemblance to the genuine article”. There was a collection of grasses and weeds such as damage wool or clog watercourses, and a display of wheat and its products such as flour, semolina, blue and white starch, glucose, macaroni, bread and biscuits. The Home Industries Department contained over 5,000 items. Yard after yard of shelf space was covered with paintings, pincushions, and photographs, collections of coins and seashells, carvings and models, “interesting specimens of kindergarten work” and some 900 items of needlework. Another section of this department was devoted to Maori handcrafts. The Lands and Survey Department had made up a comprehensive display of maps in the main foyer, and the Public Works Department had arranged an exhibit of native timbers. The latter included one hundred blocks of different woods, polished on one side and natural on the other, with accompanying cards explaining the distribution of the timber, its uses, its cost and where it could be obtained. The central piece of the wood display was an elaborate wooden mantelpiece and overmantel for a fireplace; it was made from 1,800 individual pieces of wood of thirteen different varieties and was valued at over a £1,000.

            The working exhibits and the young workers’ display were situated in the annexe facing Gloucester Street, on Mr. Cassidy’s section. As it contained the power generators and some thirteen working machines as well as 250 exhibits, the work of young craftsmen – engineers, painters, decorators, blacksmiths and more – it was indeed a hive of activity. As if these were not enough there was a host of minor exhibits: locally made fireworks, a complex arrangement of cut glass that displayed some 163 samples of tea and coffee, kauri gum, and an amazing weighing device that, upon the insertion of one penny in the appropriate slot, would display the weight of the individual who stood upon it.

            Perhaps the most striking exhibit was the military display. New Zealand troops were currently on active service in South Africa, assisting in the pursuit of the 2nd South African War (more usually known as the Boer War), and a montage describing conditions on the front was a great favourite. The exhibit was a reconstruction of a British Army emplacement, and it seems to have been quite startling: “Without a word of warning we stumble upon an improved sandbag fortress and find ourselves looking down the muzzles of an array of death-dealing khaki-coloured Boer bafflers.” A officer was there to talk about his position and explain the workings of the fort and the various items of lethal hardware that equipped it. There was a Nordenfeldt, a cumbersome but effective quick firing gun, a belt-fed Maxim machine gun, and a 12 pounder Armstrong field gun, as well as submarine mines, buoyant mines, a ground mine, and a torpedo, together with a large collection of Mausers and sporting rifles captured from the Boers in the Transvaal. This section attracted much attention.

1:04. The Jubilee Ode.

No account of the Jubilee Exhibition could be complete without mention of the especially commissioned Jubilee Ode. This deservedly forgotten example of Victorian literary pretentiousness was penned by Mr. O T J Alpers of Christchurch and put to music by a Mr. Maughan Barnett of Wellington. It was performed on the opening night in the main theatre by an orchestra of 60 performers and chorus of 270 voices conducted by a Mr. Wallace and received, predicably, a rousing reception. The Press, in an editorial of 2nd November 1900, was fulsome in its praise: “ the author – seized the spirit of the occasion with artistic discernment and poetic feeling, and expressed himself with simplicity, vigour and effect. It is no bad tribute to our New Zealand system of education that it has produced fruit yielding wine like this”. The text, in all its turgid and jejune sentimentality is as follows:

I

Lift we our hearts, our voices lift in praise!

In joyous mood this hour of Jubilee,

Forget we not, O God our thanks to Thee.

Beneath Thine all seeing eye and guiding hand,

Thy people prosper in their new-won land,

Strong with the strength of youth, yea strong and free.

II

Roll back the years!

Waste lay the land untamed and rude

O’er tussocked plains a reedy brook

Seaward its course slow winding took;

Unmurmuring, in slumbrous (sic) mood,

Save where the north wind’s fevered breath

Rustled the raupo, still as death

The sad fens hooded, and the land

Awaited yet the Pilgrim Band,

A bounty-wasted solitude.

III

Hark, the City’s busy din!

Anvils clang and spindles spin:

Craftsman’s toil, inventor’s skill

Unite a Nation’s need to fill.

Lo, the miles of sun-kissed plain,

Summer clad with budding grain.

And lo, the rolling leagues of green!

Pasture lands the hills between.

1:05. An Electrifying Argument.

Christchurch being Christchurch, nothing was easy. Even by this time, Cantabrians had acquired a reputation for acrimony and contentiousness. One example of discord was the matter of the electric lights. Electric power had been installed in the exhibition buildings not only for practical reasons but also as a demonstration of the sophistication of the very latest technology. Predicably, there were those who were not happy about the details. Some of the exhibitors were incensed at the cost of the power and had obviously done their homework well in comparing the relative costs of electricity versus gas. Dennes Bros. Ltd., a company of die sinkers and glass engravers, and a substantial exhibitor, wrote to the Exhibition Executive on November 28th 1900 requesting most firmly that the area that they had rented for the duration of the exhibition have gas reticulation fitted as the electric lighting was quite unsatisfactory. Other stallholders had, it seemed, been allowed to have gas fitted (Press 10/12/1900, p2).

            Thomas Garrard, Secretary of the Executive, replied promptly to the effect that gas could certainly be laid to Dennes’ exhibit, but the cost would be 2/6d per week for lighting equivalent to 16 candle power, the charge being the same as that for electricity to provide similar illumination. This evoked a howl of outrage from Dennes Bros. (in the most courteous of language of course) who informed Mr. Garrard that he must have made a mistake in his quotation which, based on the cost of electric light, worked out to a rate of 11/- per burner per week while the gas Company’s charge was only 1/3d per week. A prompt reply was most politely sought, but none was forthcoming. Dennes Bros. wrote to the Executive again, demanding a reply and pointing out that business was suffering due to lack of adequate lighting. Mr. Garrard replied curtly that his quote stood, that Dennes Bros. had applied in the first place for electric light and power for the whole season of the exhibition, and the Executive was unable to disturb arrangements with the contractors at a moment’s notice.

That was not the end of the matter, of course, and there followed a tirade from Dennes Bros., but the matter was never really resolved and other exhibitors joined in the fray. W Barnett and Co. had the power to their display disconnected in protest at they considered to be the extortionate prices demanded. As Mr. Barnett, principal of the company explained to the Press “I had five 16 candle power lamps and for two weeks’ lighting I was charged £1-5-0, or at the rate of £2-10-0 per month. The cost of lighting my shop (including the cellar and outside burners) is £1-8-1d per month. The space I have at the exhibition is 6ft by 10ft (2 metres by 3 metres, approximately) and yet it costs more to light it than it does to light the shop!) (Press 11-12-1900 p5).

            The argument, it would seem, stemmed from misunderstanding as to the relative costs of gas supply and electrical generation, poor co-ordination between executive and exhibitors, and changes in the original specifications. Mr. Seager, the Christchurch representative of Turnbull and Jones, the electrical contractors, explained it all to the Press (11/12/1900, p5).

            The exhibition display area, although lit up as no other similar exhibition had been before, had nevertheless been poorly organised. The Lighting Committee of the executive had increased by 25% the area that had originally been contracted to be lit, so the same amount of lighting had to be spread over a quarter as much area again as had been envisaged. The time allowed for the installation of electricity had meant that no increase in generation could be made and so, in effect, the butter was spread over far more bread than had been intended. To complicate matters, the erection of walls and partitions by the exhibitors had meant that the effect of the general lighting had been much reduced and there was simply not enough individual lighting available to cope with the extra demand. The contractors had had a very limited time in which to arrange matters and there was no room for variations. Turnbull and Jones had, in fact, done a magnificent job: in less than four weeks – the time between acceptance of the contract and the opening of the show – they had erected a temporary power generation plant consisting of four steam engines and seven dynamos, had run out some nine miles (about 15 kilometres) of wiring and had put up 80 arc lamps and some 400 incandescent lamps (Press 11/12/1900 p5).

The exhibitors, in Mr. Seager’s opinion, were getting a very high standard of technology at a very favourable price, but the matter did not stop there. In fact it was never satisfactorily resolved, and the matter of the electrical installation was source of grumbling and argument for a long time after the show closed.

1:06. All Things Come to an End.

            Magnificent as it was in both concept and execution, the time came at last for the great Canterbury Jubilee Exhibition to wind down.

2:01. Imperial Splendour.

            By January the Jubilee Exhibition was one with history and the Hall Company was left with a magnificent building to put to some useful purpose. The amenities were such that it was obviously a prime venue for functions and lavish events, and the Hall was booked for several such. The reception for Imperial Troops returning from the war in South Africa was held at the Hall, as was the presentation of medals won by New Zealand troops in that conflict. “In fact, almost every function of importance in Christchurch since the beginning of 1901 was held in the Canterbury Hall” (Press 12/11/1917 p6-7).

            One such typical function was an Old English Fair held on 31st October 1901, almost a year to the day from the opening of the Jubilee Exhibition, to raise funds for the new Melanesian Mission ship. The fair was made up of a number of stalls selling goods such as Pacific Island crafts and curios, and a cigarette stall catering to “votaries of the Goddess Nicotiana – which was stocked with all the most notable brands” (Press 1/11/1901, p6). There were concerts and side-shows;  a shooting gallery, a Punch and Judy show, a magic well, and a “Gipsy Encampment” where “in the dim recesses – were to be found ladies who foretold the future” (Press ibid). Milkmaids distributed ice-creams and an “army of young ladies attired as charity girls sold the pretty souvenirs containing, in addition to the information regarding the fair, some charming  illustrations of bits of scenery and also portraits of dusky maidens” (Press ibid). The fair attracted a large number of patrons and the handsome sum of £200 was raised from door admissions alone. More was raised by the stalls and hawkers and at the end of the day Mr. Charles Clark auctioned of the remaining sweets and knick-knacks. Another worthy cause benefited well form another typically Cantabrian fund-raising event.

Without a doubt, however, the most prestigious and glittering event in the history of the building occurred on the evening of 22nd June 1901. The occasion was the Mayoral Reception for their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York on their visit to Christchurch.

            The Royal Visit was a matter of enormous pomp and ceremony, and was hugely prestigious for Canterbury in general and Christchurch in particular. Only the very best of amenities and facilities were put at their Royal Highnesses’ disposal and naturally the Canterbury Hall was to be the focus of the main social event. Messers J Ballantyne & Co. and Strange & Co., merchants of the very highest quality and taste, were entrusted with decorations under the direction of Mrs. Rhodes, the Mayoress, and the result of their lavish endeavours was indeed most elegant and in the finest taste of the times.

            Canterbury Hall became, in effect, a Royal Palace. The ducal colours of deep red and dark blue were selected for the theme and ten metre drapes in these hues adorned the walls. Large mirrors were placed at strategic positions, giving the impression of even greater space, and potted ferns and palms gave an air of freshness and greenery. Old gold plush was lavishly employed in the drapes and bunting. Carpets of rich red and ultramarine blue covered the entire floor area as well as the daïs, upon which were two armchairs of lighter blue for the Royal couple as well as rattan chairs with red cushions for the entourage. Ballantyne’s had responsibility for the main hall area, while Strange’s saw to the decor of the Selwyn County Council board room, which had been redecorated as a retiring room for the Duke, the Secretary’s office, which had been transformed into a boudoir for the Duchess, and the entrance hall.

            It was indeed the most glittering affair that the City had ever witnessed, most sumptuous of decor and the “magnificent dresses of the ladies and the scarlet and blue military uniforms lent brilliancy to the whole” (Press 24/06/1901 pp7-8). No expense was spared. A covered way was constructed to the main entrance and carpeted to allow guests to alight under cover and another such was built at the southern door for the exclusive use of the Duke and Duchess, the Governor General, and their entourages. Nine o’clock was the set time for the beginning of the festivities, but there were not enough carriages in the City to cope with the huge number of guests who would have to arrive at that time, so guests were invited to arrive from 8:00pm. This they did, some fifteen hundred of them, and there was a continual stream of arrivals for the next hour and a half. They were met by the Mayor, attired in full court dress, and the Mayoress.

            Once inside, the guests strolled around the capacious and luxuriantly decorated hall, talking and socialising, and admiring the magnificent surroundings. In due time the royal party arrived, announceed by the fulsome strains of the National Anthem, and the guests lined up on either side of the long red carpet. “A hum of expectancy arose” (Press 24th June 1901, pp7-8).

            The official party entered in procession, marshalled by Captain Dudley Alexander. First came the Governor General and Lady Ranfurly, the Premier Mr. Seddon and Miss Seddon, and the Mayor and Mayoress. Then came the royal suite made up of such luminaries as His Serene Highness Prince Alexander of Teck, Lord Wenlock, Viscount Crighton, the Duke of Roxburgh, the Chevalier Martino and a bevy of baronets and honourable gentlemen. Lastly came their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, attended by the Duchess’ ladies in Waiting Lady Mary Lygon, Lady Catherine Coke and the Hon. Mrs. Derek Keppel. The party processed with due dignity, eventually reaching the especially appointed daïs where they sat and were then treated to a concert of various items; Miss Laing-Meason on piano playing Chopin’s Polonaise in A Major, Mrs. Burns singing “Sing Sweet Bird”, Mr. Millar singing “The Admiral’s Broom” accompanied by Miss Katie Young on piano, and so on.

            An article by “a Lady Correspondent” (Press 24th June 1901 pp7-8) spoke gushingly of the decorations and the concert, and dwelt in microscopic detail on the attire of the various leading socialites. The current formal fashion was gorgeous but sombre; black and silver was the overall tone, relieved only very occasionally by a flash of coloured ribbon, and a galaxy of diamonds and crystal. The Duchess wore “black jetted chiffon over satin. The sleeves formed by large butterflies of jet. Round her throat a diamond collar, an exquisite diamond necklace, and a long diamond chain which was caught on the corsage with a diamond broach: the front of her bodice glittered with diamonds, and the broad white ribbon she wore relieved the sombreness of her dress. Her beautiful fair hair, piled high on top of her head, was encircled by a magnificent diamond tiara, which seemed to gather to itself all the rays of light in the room, and flashed them abroad in a coloured radiance. The royal bouquet of beautiful white blossoms was tied with a red and white ribbon.”  Details of the dresses of the Countess, the Ladies in Waiting, the Mayoress, and the leading ladies followed in detail; black silk, black satin, black poplin, black crêpe-de-chine, black velvet, black peau de soie, and vast amounts of jet beads and sequins, diamonds and pearls.

            The concert was brief and the royal couple, surrounded by their retinue, swept down briefly to the floor to exchange a few words with one or two singularly privileged people, and swept on to their private rooms. Then they were off once more on their travels, leaving the gentlefolk of Canterbury to socialise, starry eyed at their all too fleeting moment of imperial contact. The City would glows with the lustre of reflected majesty for weeks to come.

2:02: Of Organs and White Elephants.

            Despite the grandeur of the buildings, the excellence of the facilities, and the lustre of royal patronage, the Canterbury Hall was less popular than it might have been. Fundraising for the Melanesian Mission was all very well, but more was needed. The building had to earn its keep, and the social events that were sought did not eventuate. Canterbury hall, within a year of its opening, began to look more and more like a very large white elephant. The Canterbury Hall Company decided to divest themselves of their eponymous asset and, in 1903, made the first approach to the Christchurch City Council with an offer of sale. The Company offered the Council the buildings, plus two and a quarter acres (about one hectare) of adjoining land, for £27,500, but the Council would not entertain the proposal. Two years later, in 1905, the Company again approached the Council with an offer of sale, this time for $25,000, which was later reduced to £21,000. The Council considered the offer but Mr. M C Grey, who had been a councillor in 1903 and had then strongly opposed the purchase, was by this time Mayor and his opinions had not changed. He again opposed the offer, but the matter was given full consideration.

            A proposal to raise a loan of £23,000 at 4 ½% interest was floated and the matter put to the citizens by way of a referendum. The ratepayers strongly rejected the offer by a vote of 2044 against and 809 for (Press 12/11/1917 p7). That was the firm rebuttal that saw an end to Council interest in holding the property for more than a decade. The interest of the City Council in other aspects of the building, however, remained, and one singular involvement was with the City Organ.

            There had been a movement afoot since the very beginning of Canterbury hall to acquire an electric organ, and in 1900 a quote for such an instrument was obtain from Messrs Ingram & Co., Hereford, England. The cost was £3235-10-0. This was a very large sum of money, of course, and there were no funds available at the time as all finances were being put into the building itself. But Mr. A J Frostick, chairman of the Ceremonial and Entertainment Committee of the Jubilee Committee was nevertheless enthusiastic and managed to convince the Prime Minister, Mr. Seddon, of the merits of the proposal. Mr. Seddon was likewise enthused and, perhaps rather rashly, promised that the organ would be presented to the Canterbury Hall at the end of the exhibition.

            The promises of politicians being what they are, no such time happened, but the acquisition of an organ remained on the agenda, and an instrument was acquired. At first it was proposed that the ratepayers of Christchurch should pay for the organ, at least in part, but negotiations continued and it was ultimately agreed that the central government would donate the organ to the City. The Government having consented to hand the organ over to the City, the civic response was immediate and quite predictable; a committee was formed. The Organ Committee was made up of the Mayor, Mr. George Payling, and Councillors Allison, Horsley, and Parsons, together with Messrs Frostick, Kaye, Hart and Dr. Bradshaw.

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