Early benefactors' gifts to the city
Early benefactors' gifts to the city
Early Christchurch benefactors established a tradition of giving to help the needy and adorn the city. MIKE CREAN reports.
Ask a land agent what Riccarton Bush would be worth as a sub- division for development and the reply would make your eyes water.
Yet this 6.4-hectare site, in a prime location, was handed to the people of Christchurch for no charge.
The pioneering Deans family had owned it for 100 years when they handed it to the city in 1947. It remains one of the largest gifts ever made in Christchurch.
The Deans family were simple Scottish farming folk who prospered and, in terms of Canterbury history, became nobility. They believed wealth and status carried an obligation to help those not so lucky. Call it "noblesse oblige".
There was a lot of it around last century. Many people who had succeeded in farming, business and the professions made generous gifts of land, buildings and funds.
Benevolence was not limited to the wealthy but the names of an affluent few stand out among Christchurch donors. Social historian Professor Geoffrey Rice says many successful people made generous bequests to public projects. One was South Canterbury runholder Allan McLean, whose mansion has been in the news lately, as efforts are made to save it from demolition.
McLean lived briefly in the mansion, on Manchester St. While there he established a trust to care for people of reduced means, who could live in his house after he died. In his will, he left money to fund the trust's work.
McLean died in 1907. The trust ran the mansion before moving to more suitable quarters in Fendalton. The mansion was sold to the government in 1955.
A similarly utilitarian bequest was the Rhodes Memorial Convalescent Home, on the Cashmere Hills.
The Rhodes family bequeathed their mansion for the care of people convalescing from illnesses. They had perceived a need for such a facility and they expected hospital authorities to fund its running costs.
However, the funding was not forthcoming, so the Rhodes family established a trust to run it.
The home was destroyed in the recent earthquakes.
Benefactors also left funds for non- practical structures to adorn Christchurch. Fountains and statues were popular, though two brought some embarrassment to the city.
A Mr Barnett left money in his will for a statue of Captain Cook. It was erected in Victoria Square in 1931 and still stands there. Barnett, an affluent businessman, was roundly applauded for his generosity. When it became known that he had also profited from illegal bookmaking, upright citizens blushed.
Prominent commercial and political figure John Peacock left money to the Christchurch Beautifying Association, which commissioned a fountain to stand in the Botanic Gardens.
Peacock was widely respected as "squire" of St Albans, a pillar of his church and a faithful husband to his wife, Kate. The couple adopted Janey, their maid's illegitimate daughter. Janey married a no-good drunk who beat her.
Janey divorced him. Then Kate died and Peacock married Janey. He was 68, his daughter-wife 40.
Peacock died in 1905 but the sense of scandal lived on.
It might have had something to do with the fountain being dismantled and left in a shed for nearly 50 years, before being renovated and installed in its present Gardens site.
No scandal surrounded the Bowker Fountain, a gift from early settler Henry Bowker, who died in 1921.
He had looked out on Victoria Square from his office and decided a fountain should stand in front of the proposed Christchurch Town Hall. The fountain was built in 1931 and still stands. The Town Hall was erected 34 years later and its future is in question.
Notable benefactors in their own lifetime were businessman Robert McDougall, who donated the 1932 art gallery, named after him, that still stands in the Botanic Gardens, and baking powder magnate Thomas Edmonds.
The latter left a string of buildings to the city in the 1920s.
They included the Theosophical Society Building on Cambridge Tce, the Repertory Theatre and Edmonds' Band Rotunda, with the ornate clock tower and telephone cabinet nearby.
Small donors also contributed much. Rice says fundraisers frequently enlisted the help of newspapers to run appeals for donations and then to list the donors. Subscriptions to worthy causes, involving annual payments, were also well supported.
A highlight of giving by "little people" was the town hall project. Public donations raised a seventh of the total cost of this 1970s building.
Fundraising by mystery envelope sales was popular with all sectors of the community, while a gala ball appealed more to well-off citizens.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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