The man behind Hawera's tower

02:20, Mar 23 2014
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Arthur W Gillies

"Arthur Gillies, who was he? There isn't a street named after him nor is there a park. I have never heard of him."

This Hawera man and many more residents quite understandably don't remember hearing his name.

At the centennial of the Hawera Water Tower this month it is interesting to remember Arthur William Gillies, the mayor responsible for building Hawera's special landmark.

Arthur Gillies was born and educated in Dunedin where his father was a businessman and owner of the Awamoko Estate, a sheep farming property near Oamaru and before his death Member of the House of Representatives for the electorate of Bruce. After the death of his father, Robert Gillies, in 1886, Arthur bought and farmed a sheep station in North Otago where he was captain of the North Otago Mounted Rifles. He also chaired the board of the North Otago Farmers Co-operative for four years, but sensing a new business opportunity came north to Hawera where in 1904 he bought the business of the Egmont Farmers Union - the auctioneering firm created by the late Arthur Albert Fantham.

Arthur Gillies was a charming, well educated man who took an active part in local affairs; he was president of the Winter Show Company and secretary of the Egmont Agricultural and Pastoral Association. In 1912 he was elected mayor of Hawera and immediately faced a local crisis that followed the destruction of the Central Hotel and the McGruer Bone building by fire.

The supply and pressure of water was insufficient for fighting fires and the fire brigade's hoses could barely direct water to the height of the shop verandas.


The insurance companies immediately spoke of raising their premiums on buildings in High St and morale was low at the fire brigade because they had lacked the water to quell the fire which might have burnt out the complete central business district of the town.

The borough council instructed the council engineer, Mr JC Cameron, to report on suitable schemes with the aid of a consulting engineer, Mr Dobson, from Christchurch. Of the three proposals they gave the mayor and council, a water tower was chosen.

Mayor Gillies travelled to Wellington to discuss with Mr (later Sir) Heaton Rhodes the new Postmaster-General in the Reform Government about the wish to use a piece of Post Office property on which to raise a water tower. A land exchange was made with the borough council and work started as soon as plans could be drawn.

Mr Cameron, the borough engineer, advised by S T Silver of Wellington, designed a 51 metre high concrete cylinder with an octagonal top that contained a main tank holding 454,000 litres and a lower tank of half that amount.

The ground work got underway in October 1912 using day labour under the direction of Mr Cameron, erecting shuttering to contain concrete, mixing bucket loads of concrete by hand which was lifted by simple gantry to waiting shutters. The total cost was estimated to be [PndStlg]5000.

When the base of the tower was built the foundation stones were laid in place on Wednesday, December 11, 1912 by Mayor Arthur Gillies and the Mayoress Mrs Gillies before a crowd of about 100 residents.

Arthur Gillies' desire to get the water tower complete and functioning did not deny him his other interests. In January he chaired a well attended meeting of prominent citizens to form the Hawera beautifying society with the aim of improving the appearance of the town in the way that beautifying societies had formed in Dunedin and Christchurch. Mr Gillies declined the presidency but endorsed Mr Goodson a well known proponent of amenity gardening.

Since his arrival in Hawera Arthur Gillies was a member and soon captain of the Hawera Golf Club at which he was a strong player representing his club on many occasions.

Work on the tower continued through 1913 and in April Premier William Massey accompanied by local MP GV Pearce and councillor Goodson inspected the work on the tower before going on to King Edward Park. It was at the tower Gillies discussed the raising of the special loan to pay for work.

By January 1914 the tower and the new pipes were nearly complete however an earthquake felt on Sunday morning, February 5, caused the structure now loaded with water to lean towards the south by 760 millimetres. Mr Cameron quickly assessed the situation and by carefully undermining the north side and loading the second tank brought it back to the near vertical. This operation and pouring of additional concrete on the steps and wing walls took seven days to complete.

On March 10, Mr Gillies, in front of a carnival crowd, opened the model yacht lake at King Edward Park, a substantial concreting undertaking that was built during the time that the water tower was being erected. There was no formal opening for the water tower but both tanks had been filled from the Kapuni source and a 10 inch water main laid in High St so the new asset was effective and tested from March 26, 1914. That night Mayor Arthur Gillies presided over his last council meeting when he reviewed the two years of his mayoralty and spoke of the great support from the councillors. He could certainly have been pleased with his term of office for much progress was evident in Hawera during these years.

His own achievements included having chaired the Hawera winter show committee for several years, been secretary of the Egmont Agricultural and Pastoral Association and having formed the Farmers' Co-operative Association moved to Rotorua and then Auckland where he became a partner in the Auckland Stock Exchange.

Before they left Hawera Arthur Gillies and his wife made a substantial donation to the Hawera Hospital that formed the basis of a fund to build a Children's Ward at the Hospital in Gladstone St. It was made in the name of Emily Gillies of Auckland and John Reid of Oamaru.

Taranaki Daily News