A tale of two Christchurch statues

Our most famous broken statues are due back

Last updated 12:11 16/02/2013
godley statue

The sculptures of Godley (1867) is one of the most significant statues in Christchurch.

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Our most famous broken statues are back in the limelight and poised for an eventual comeback. CHARLES COLE tells the tale.

The sculptures of Godley (1867) and Scott (1917) are two of the most significant statues in Christchurch, each with a fascinating history.

Though neither man lived in Christchurch for very long, over generations their images have become familiar features of the city landscape: Godley, in the centre of Cathedral Square, and Scott, one block to the west in the riverbank garden.

Within seconds of each other on February 22, 2011, both sculptures twisted and fell off their plinths in the earthquake. Both sustained damage and need fixing, and now both are on display in museum exhibitions in the city.

The damage to the Scott statue can be seen at the entrance to the Canterbury Museum exhibition, Scott's Last Expedition.

The marble fractured and broke right across both ankles, so the feet are displayed on a little stand, alongside which the main body of the statue lies on its back, prone and ungainly, and, no doubt, as rigid as the polar explorer's body when it froze in icy sub-zero temperatures in Antarctica.

The bronze ice pole that formed part of the statue had been bent and had to be cut to enable the feet to be separated from the body. There are no other fractures or cracks, though there is some minor loss of marble along with scratches and impact marks.

Scott was fortunate to land on the grass around his base, unlike poor Godley who had the top of his bronze head dented when he fell to the hard paving in the Square. His left arm (the one over which his coat was draped) broke away from the body, but he still clutches his hat in his right hand.

However, he will need neither hat nor coat in the near future - he is safe from the elements in the museum's Quake City exhibition at the Re:Start Mall.

There are also several scrapes and scratches on the bronze, and visitors to the exhibition will be able to see these at close range because Godley will be on view at ground level for the first time.

Canterbury Museum curator of human history Sarah Murray says the museum "leapt at the chance" of having the statues available for exhibitions.

As well as seeing the statues up close, the absence of Godley's left arm also let people see how the sculpture was originally created.

The bronze casting and the bolting together of Godley's parts at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, is one thing, but the original inspiration of the sculptor is quite another.

Admirers of Godley would always be grateful that the commission went to English sculptor Thomas Woolner, who captured not just the look, but the spirit of the man.

Woolner was a fine exponent of Pre- Raphaelite realism and captured Godley's character, giving him an attractive expression of determination and equanimity.

One English art critic explained this further: "It is an infallible and an easy test of goodness in a statue when the expression of features gives the keynote to the expression of the figure . . . Every line in the dress, and in the figure shown under the dress, carries out the idea . . . of compressed energy and simple resolve."

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The same critic praised Woolner's courage in depicting Godley in ordinary clothes because it showed he was not trying to embellish the fundamental truth that he was trying to present in his subject.

He did not even mention that these clothes would go down extremely well in a new and egalitarian society. Godley looks as if he has just stepped off the ship at Lyttelton, in ordinary gentlemen's Victorian dress, ready to found the new settlement of Canterbury, his hat and coat apparently unnecessary accessories that he could cast aside at any second in order to go about his task.

The talented Woolner had gained many commissions through his social connections, especially in Oxford, and this was also how the 37-year-old had obtained the Godley commission (Godley and many members of the Canterbury Association had studied at Oxford's Christ Church College).

Yet, following the successful initial display of the Godley at the South Kensington Museum, and then its installation in the centre of Christchurch as the first portrait statue in New Zealand, Woolner's career escalated.

Very soon he was at work on a statue of Lord Palmerston for London's Parliament Square, and he went on to complete many public statues in Britain, India, Australia (Captain Cook in Sydney, 1879), and Singapore (Stamford Raffles, 1887).

It is fittingly symbolic that Godley's statue was placed right in the heart of Christchurch before the Cathedral was even constructed. It was erected in 1867, six years after Godley's death, while the project to fund and build the Cathedral would not be completed until 1881.

For years Godley appeared as a lonely figure waiting for the realisation of all his plans: A populous and thriving colony with a cathedral at its centre.

However, Godley has been the greater traveller than Scott since the quakes.

Last year he was displayed in the Canterbury Museum exhibition Canterbury Quakes, then he travelled to Dunedin as part of that exhibition's national tour.

Previously, the 145-year-old had only showed signs of itchy feet once he had reached his half century.

By 1918 there had been several years of debate about a tramway shelter that had been erected in the very centre of the Square, right in front of Godley, blocking his view. Many citizens were unimpressed the council had let this happen, and were even less impressed when, instead of re-positioning the shelter, the council decided to build an even larger one and shifted Godley to the north side of the cathedral (an area which was empty until the Citizens' War Memorial was erected there in 1937).

From his new position facing down Worcester St, Godley could have spied on the newly arrived Scott statue, except at that time the Clarendon Hotel on the corner was in the way.

In any case, Godley would have had no need to feel threatened by the new upstart of Italian marble because during debate about his relocation some years previously, The Press described the area which would later accommodate the Scott statue as "a less honourable position . . . alongside the City Council offices" (now the site of Our City O-Tautahi).

Godley's proper place was in the centre of the city, surveying the cathedral in a mixture of reverence and quiet satisfaction.

After a 15-year absence, he was returned to this position in 1933, by which time the council had been taken to the Supreme Court over the issue, and the tramway shelter had been demolished.

Though not a central figure in Christchurch, Scott deserved particular recognition in the city.

He had chosen Christchurch as the base for his Antarctic expeditions and had been popular during his brief weeks in the city.

Cantabrians enthusiastically farewelled his ships, Discovery in 1901, and Terra Nova in 1910, as they departed on their polar explorations.

There was much sadness when the news came in 1913 that Scott had reached the South Pole the previous year, but had died on the return journey. He and the other four members of the polar party perished on a painful trek, beset by blizzards, unusually low temperatures, and diminishing rations.

A plaque on the base of Scott's statue quoted one of the last lines in Scott's journal, written to the public just before he died: "I do not regret this journey, which [has shown] that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great [a] fortitude as ever in the past."

Unfortunately, the words were squashed together as if the engraver had run out of room. An indefinite article, as well as some commas and quotations marks were left out, and the words "has shown" was abbreviated to "shows".

The city council wasted no time in organising a memorial fund, which raised [PndStlg]1000, and later commissioned Scott's widow to create the statue.

It is rare for the spouse of a famous person to be a sculptor, even rarer for the famous person to be one of the leading candidates of their generation to have a statue created of them.

Lady Kathleen Scott had studied sculpture in Paris where she had met Auguste Rodin, and she was to be responsible for several public memorials. She was responsible for a statue of Edward Wilson in Cheltenham, and for the statue of Captain Smith of the Titanic that was placed near Lichfield Cathedral (Smith died with the sinking of his ship just two weeks after Scott perished in the Antarctic).

Some busts of hers exist at the National Portrait Gallery in London, while a bust of her husband, as well as an artistic nude, can be seen at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

The Christchurch statue is a replica of her bronze statue of Scott (1915), which stands in Waterloo Place, London.

The latter was organised by naval officers, some of whom objected to Lady Scott's idea of depicting her husband, as one Admiral Beaumont put it, "in his rough sledging dress".

The statue "should not lose in dignity and importance by contrast to other statues near . . . it should be, not working clothes, but a dress suitable to the greatness of the character".

Lady Scott, more in the Woolner camp, ignored such views and proceeded to provide a realistic portrait of her husband.

Bronze would have been the first choice for the Christchurch replica, but by 1915 all available metal was being used by armament makers and Carrara marble was chosen instead.

The war also had an effect by delaying the transportation of the completed statue for several months in 1916. It was eventually unveiled with much public celebration on February 9, 1917.

The city council's heritage experts have detailed plans for the conservation, repair and strengthening of both statues and their eventual return to their plinths.

Work will involve engineers, conservators, stonemasons and heritage experts.

Some work on Godley will use new portable XRF technology, a non-invasive means of establishing bronze composition.

It may even be possible for some repairs to be carried out in full view of the public, while the statues are on display.

The whole process will take time, but in any case there is no desperate rush to reinstate the statues to their positions. The area around Scott's plinth is still a work site and plans for Cathedral Square have by no means been finalised.

It is, however, possible that Godley may once again be left standing, watching and waiting for his cathedral to be built.

- The Press

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