by Lorna Price

Here’s a bit of background history into these early Invercargill public gardens. Once again, we can be thankful to the planners of the early cities and towns of New Zealand who had the forethought to set aside land for parks and reserves. As early as 1857 John Turnbull Thompson, the chief surveyor for Invercargill, laid out the new town and had the foresight to set aside 200 acres of land that would later become Invercargill’s parks and reserves. In fact, Turnbull’s original idea had been that there should be green belts set aside on each side of the town. Very quickly, the council of the time appropriated the west side green belt for railway purposes, then gas works, followed by tramway sheds and a power house. Part of the north and west belt was set aside for the provincial hospital. Part of the eastern belt was taken for the water works, and the original fire engine house and bell tower were also sited on parks and reserves land. When by November of 1874 part of the Queens Park reserve was appropriated in order to build a school, 110 ratepayers signed a petition to protest the taking of yet more parks and reserves land. It did no good and the school was still built. Evidently the council’s interpretation of what parks and reserves meant was confused with what plans for town amenities might mean, a common complaint to this day.

Invercargill Public Gardens and Otepuni Stream, c. 1916. Image courtesy of Invercargill City Council Archives A0637_S27880018.

In 1863, the area now known as Queens Park was still covered in indigenous podocarp swamp forest. A Mr Thomas Waugh had by 1872 been appointed as the first borough gardener of Invercargill. Some of the oldest trees in Queens Park date from this time and are thought to have been grown by Thomas Waugh from seed provided by the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Many of these trees where Pinus radiata (Monterey pine) and Cupressus macrocarpa (Monterey cypress, or as we call it in New Zealand – ‘Macrocarpa’). Apart from the shelterbelt to replace the native podocarp forest, there seems to have been little done to plant ornamental trees or to beautify the area until 1911. In fact, prior to this time the park was leased in 10 acre lots to graze cattle. What Māori thought of the settlers felling all the original trees and grazing their cattle on land that had been considered of spiritual significance and which they referred to as Taurakitewaru, I shudder to think.

Up until 1911 the Otepuni gardens were the principal town garden in Invercargill and all the horticultural beautification activities focused in this more central area. As such, Mr Waugh seems to have been required to focus on this area. That said, he was also very much involved with the efforts to stabilize the sand blowing in from Sandy Point causing problems with silting up of the river harbour. He conducted trials to see which grasses could help with stabilization of the sand dunes and it seems by utilizing marram grasses he did have some success. Judging by the many notices in Papers Past, it seems one of his principal activities at the Queens Gardens area was, apart from the planting of shelter belts, that of the Borough Pound Keeper, dealing with stray animals in the area!

Waugh passed away on the 11th April 1896. On this occasion an article in the local paper of the time gave the Borough Council a very back handed compliment for their helping his widow. The reason for this becomes clearer when reading what happened immediately following Mr Waugh’s funeral, which will be covered soon. If there is one thing digging for the historical truth has shown up, it has become apparent how important it is to use as many independent sources of information as possible.

Gardens, Invercargill, N.Z. and the Otepuni Stream, c. 1910. Image courtesy of Invercargill City Council Archives A0637_S27880014.

Mr Thomas Waugh was a true early settler, hardworking, community-minded, and a devout Presbyterian. Judging by the numbers of letters he wrote for “The Southland Times,” giving a full account of the works being done on the various reserves and parks under his stewardship, and in corresponding with a wide range of people in his quest to source plants for the parks and reserves he was in charge of, he must have been well informed, well-read, and much respected by many, including prominent botanists and curators of botanic gardens far and wide, and far from just a borough gardener

According to the New Zealand Botanical Society newsletter from March 1993 and the Southland Times for April 1896:

He came from a long-established farming family in Roxburghshire, Scotland born in 1832. At the age of 26 he married Emily Jane Salisbury at Lowick, Northumberland (One of many such areas affected by the industrial revolution in England and Scotland and suffering from the knock-on effects of the land Enclosure Acts of 1845-1860s). An article from The Southland Times reported; “Mr Waugh, was appointed to the office of curator.” The appointment lasted from 1872 to 1896 and Mr Waugh was variously called the Town Gardener, Borough Gardener, or Corporation Gardener. He “wonderfully improved the southern portion of the town” by straightening the Puni Creek, and he planted conifers for shelter, followed by eucalypts, his favourite genus. At the nursery grounds of the Corporation of Invercargill he built up a fine collection of native Veronicas (Hebe’s).

Thomas Waugh was in contact with Sir George Grey, asking for his advice, plus a number of plant collectors, including William Smith Hamilton, who had discovered the Gunnera hamiltonii, and Thomas Kirk, with whom Mr Waugh had accompanied on plant hunting expeditions in the Southland area. In fact, Mr Kirk wrote on one occasion “it affords me great pleasure to express my thanks to Mr Waugh, Curator of the public gardens Invercargill, for his kindness in forwarding fruiting specimens of several species found in the plantations under his care”.

Gardens and boys in a canoe on the Otepuni Stream, Invercargill, c. 1910. Photo by William Nees. Image courtesy of Invercargill City Council Archives A0637_S27880010.

More than any other source of information that has come to light is the Obituary of Mr Waugh which tells us something of his values and character:

Obituary of Thomas Waugh, 13 April 1896, Southland Times

We have to-day to record the decease of a townsman one of the best known and most generally esteemed among us. Thomas Waugh for a long series of years was the conservator of our public gardens and indeed the originator of the system of tree planting which has transformed the desolate looking flat country into a picture of beauty in the words of the architect of St Pauls “Si momentum requiris circumspice”, or, in English “for his monument look around.” There is no corner about the city in which the handy work of Mr Waugh is not in evidence. As a practical forester he was beyond compare the best in the colony. Mr Waugh, who had been born and breed to agricultural pursuits – his family having been Roxburghshire farmers for a century or two past – his family landed here in the year 1859. For some time, he and his young wife, engaged in pastural pursuits. They were indeed pioneers in the now well know Mavora, Lake country. Afterward Mr Waugh entered into business in the suburb now known as Richmond Grove, where for some years he made good progress. At this time the town of Invercargill became possessed of the proceeds of the sale of the Tay Street frontage from the BNZ eastwards to Nith Street, which had to be expended in the utilization and beautification of its recreational reserves. Mr Waugh, whose qualifications were well known, was at once appointed to the office of curator. This position he entered upon with enthusiasm. The first work undertaken was the straightening of Puni creek, which at that time followed a serpentine course through several of the blocks of the town. When completed this work wonderfully improved the southern portion of the town. Mr Waugh’s particular hobby – for so we may be permitted to call it – was the cultivation of the Eucalypti, he regarded that species as of first importance after the conifeæ, which he considered merely shelter trees. Our public gardens to-day are in evidence as to the wisdom of his method of forestry. Collaterally he took a strong interest in the indigenous plants of the colony. There is probably no finer collection of veronicas to be found in the world than that which he leaves in the nursery grounds of the Corporation of Invercargill.

Mr Waugh’s untimely decease is traceable to the excessive strain placed upon him during the early part of last year in connection with the unemployment difficulty. He took upon himself the work of two men, planning, directing, and supervising the work of several gangs [By this, it may mean prison gangs or unemployed men doing heavy unskilled work in return for a small allowance or a combination of both]. All this time his health was indifferent, but the natural energy of the man carried him through. The end came two or three weeks ago when he had to submit to the inevitable and take a rest. It is due to the Corperation to say that every consideration was accorded him, a resolution being passed to the effect that he be relieved from his duty during his illness without his position being affected. The last hours of the man, whose loss we deplore were soothed by every attention possible given by his friends, among them the Rev. George Lindsay, whose ministration were a source of comfort, not only to the departing one, but also to his family as well.

Yesterday, in the course of the forenoon service, Mr Lindsey referred very touchingly to the deceased. He said truly that he was a man of deep strong nature ; one who was not lavish of his friendship, and who’s best mental, moral and religious qualities were only disclosed to those who’s friendship had been of some standing and evident sincerity. He was a reserved man ; naturally self-suppressive and retiring, but full of strong desires for the welfare of his fellow man. In closing the service with Hymn 250, Mr Lindsey said he had selected it because it was one that Mr Waugh had a great liking for, and one which was indicative of his attitude towards God. The two last lines of the sixth verse were among the last— if not the very last— words he uttered :

” Now to lie thine, yea, thine alone, O Lamb of God, 1 come.”

If ever there was a gardeners hymn then this would have to be it and it tells us a little of the driving force behind the man.

Hymn Of Promise

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise; butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. In our end is our beginning, in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Post script

According to information pieced together from Papers Past, in the immediate aftermath of the funeral, Mrs Waugh was petitioning the council that she and/or her son of 23 be allowed to stay on in the council cottage provided for the Keeper of the pound for stray animals and continue to work as the keeper of the pound. Her alternative at that time, as it was for so many widows, would have been to immediately vacate the council cottage and with no funds due to her, just get on with it.  Three of the councilors appear to have favoured this cold attitude as a normal and acceptable outcome for a widow. Fortunately for Mrs Waugh, the vote on the matter was taken when one of the men was out of the room and thus the vote was carried and she was awarded a small widow’s allowance. But not the cottage; she was obliged to move out. It was small recompense for her, whose husband almost certainly had been worked to the point of collapse.

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