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Hamilton’s Parana Park: “A Haven from the Busy Rush”

By Ruth Wackrow

When proud Hamiltonian and champion of the Waikato region George Parr died on 26 February 1929, one of Kirikiriroa Hamilton’s best loved parks was born. In his will, Mr. Parr generously bequeathed his home and the three acres of land it sat on to the people of Hamilton with the intention of it becoming a convalescent home and playground for children and families to enjoy.[1] Although it was ultimately decided that the house would not be appropriate for a convalescent home, Parana Park was developed into a popular family destination that people are still enjoying almost 100 years later.

Parana Park Hamilton, 1936. © 2005 University of Waikato Library. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Parr was born in St. Helens, Lancashire, and moved to Hamilton with his parents as a young boy. The family initially settled in Cambridge, but subsequently moved to Hamilton, where his father – Mr. John Parr – later became mayor. After leaving school, George and his brother Robert acquired a grocery business in Hood Street, which they ran until George retired. He was said to have taken an active part in “the public life of the town”, and was the president of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce for several years. However, Parr never married, and left no children. [2]

The task of creating the Parana Park recreational area was given to the Hamilton Beautifying Society, who immediately began formulating plans. The Society’s 1931 annual report shows that much of the initial work was undertaken by returned soldiers, such as cutting down the old orchard, clearing away hedges, ploughing the entirety of the park and seeding it with grass, building a substantial aviary with ponga, making preparations for a children’s paddling pool, creating paths down to the river and grading the approach to the proposed bridge between Parana Park and adjoining Memorial Park. [3]

By the beginning of 1932 the children’s paddling pool was completed, chairs had been placed, gas and water lines provided, and beautiful gardens formed. Shelters with small tables, coin operated gas rings, and the shade from large trees all made for an excellent picnicking destination. [4]

The park’s “rolling lawns and magnificent flower beds, which form a colourful setting for the profusion of stately trees”, was considered one of the most beautiful areas in the burgeoning town. One visitor reported that the “Rhododendrons and various other shrubs make a fine showing”. [5]

A ponga house had also been built to grow a large variety of begonias in beds and hanging baskets, the health and beauty of which were admired. Although begonias were previously thought to be delicate hothouse plants that were best grown in individual pots in New Zealand, frilled, crested, double, single, crisper and crispata begonias were all flourishing in beds and the pendula variety was in pots hanging from the roof. This way of growing begonias in New Zealand had “opened up a new field in the cultivation of these plants” and was “a sight worth going many miles to see”. However, it seems that in early 1932 many residents of Hamilton were still totally unaware that such a beautiful site was available to them, and visitor numbers were low. It was said that “When the public of Hamilton fully realise the attractions of Parana Park there will doubtless be more use made of it”. [6] This prediction was soon proven to be correct, as in February 1933 it was reported that the park was “rapidly becoming a popular resort”. [7]

Improvements to the land were nearing completion in April 1933 and a foot bridge over the small stream that divides Parana Park and Memorial Park, made from Te Kuiti limestone, was finished. Two marble memorial tablets were laid in the bridge, which commemorated the late George Parr and the late Annie McPherson. [8] Ms. McPherson generously bequeathed almost £3000 to the Hamilton Beautifying Society to be used on work at Parana Park. It was felt that an ornamental bridge would be an ideal way to spend the money as it would greatly improve public access to the park. [9] 

The bridge that connects Parana Park and Memorial Park in 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow

In August 1933 around 25 boys from the Kahukura Boys Club marched down Victoria Street to Parana Park where they planted liquidambar trees. A ceremony was held with some citizens of Hamilton and the mayor Mr. J R Fow spoke about the history of the park and commented on the beauty and utility of the trees. [10]

Parana Park had become a “haven from the busy rush of main-street traffic, where the children can play in safety while their parents rest under the shady trees”, [11] a vision Mr. Parr would have surely loved.

Nevertheless, the beauty and good health of the plants was tempting to some in other ways. In December 1935, two boys aged 11 and 12 were charged with the removal of plants from the park, which they sold to residents around Hamilton. The court commented that the residents should be aware and take more care as they could themselves be charged with receiving stolen goods. [12]

It appears that the theft of plants continues to be a threat to this day, as there is at the time of writing a sign between the stone bridge and the children’s playground which reads: “Please don’t steal our plants”.

In 1937 one seedling of oak and one of a tanekaha tree were planted to celebrate the coronation of King George VI by St. Peters Guide Company. The trees were donated by the Hamilton Beautifying Society to celebrate its 13th birthday. Eighty visitors attended. [13]

In addition to the various birds in the park’s several aviaries, there were also pens of white rabbits and guinea pigs, which added to the parks popularity. [14] There are still aviaries in the park and the birds remain popular with children. In 1937 a wallaby, which was one of Parana Park’s most loved attractions, escaped through a hole in the wire netting and a lively chase ensued.  After an exhausting effort by the two park-keepers and several residents who lived near-by, the animal was eventually caught and put back in its pen. It was noted that the wallaby was very fast and elusive. [15]

Aviary at Parana Park Hamilton in 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow.

The children’s paddling pool proved to be extremely popular on hot days and in 1937 its design was altered for safety reasons after several complaints were laid. [16] One parent called the pool a “trap for children” after her son had been caught by surprise by the steep sides and depth of the water and had become a “duckling up to the neck, above which appeared a shocked and whitened face”. [17]

Terraced stairs were created around the entire pool replacing the steep sloping sides, and more trees were planted around it. [18]

Once reopened the pool was once again crowded on the weekends, and a fine display of wood hyacinths, spring growth on trees and grass in good condition was observed, making the area a fine place for children to play. [19] The paddling pool is still extremely popular during the warmer months, with “hot weather, high use and “unhygenic [sic] activity”” seemingly comprising its greatest contemporary danger. [20,21]

The Paddling Pool at Parana Park, Hamilton, 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow.

In 1937 a pergola was completed, the begonia house was rethatched and the creek was cleaned out. The year started with a very wet summer, resulting in a lot of heavy vegetation growth that the staff needed to work hard to control. An astonishing 30,000 plants were propagated in the early months of the year for use in the beds. [22]

An additional 100 pongas were planted in 1939 to add to those already in the area, adding to the abundance of native plants. [23]

During the 1930s and 1940s many groups delighted in using the park for various garden parties, school fetes and church fundraising events for organisations such as the League of Mothers, [24] St Paul’s Methodist Church, [25] St Aidan’s Church, [26] the Salvation Army, [27] Girl Guides and Brownies, [28] and the P and T Ladies association. [29] There were reports of heavy-laden stalls which sold cakes, sweets, and ice-creams, and games and competitions were put on. The South Auckland Pipe Band played several times over the years to which school children performed folk dancing for entertainment. On one occasion Norman Tate, a man “better known to thousands of school children in Australia and New Zealand as the Fun Doctor” [30], arrived expecting to relax at a garden party, but was recognized by the excited children and was compelled to perform his popular juggling act. [31]

Whitiora, Frankton and Hamilton West Schools often held and attended events at the park. Hamilton West School held its garden fete at the park in November 1933 to help raise money for the school. The South Auckland Caledonian Pipe Band played while the children performed folk dancing, and as well as the usual stalls and competitions there was a conjuring act, comedy pieces and a “King of the Ugly Men” competition, which was won the schools headmaster, Mr. Hall. [32]

A similar event was held by Hamilton West School in 1934 where “the weather was delightful, and the park presented a gay and animated scene”. [33] There was a large attendance of parents and hundreds of children in bright clothing had a wonderful time. However, this event was deemed to have an unsatisfactory outcome by the Hamilton Beautifying Society.

Mr. Wallis, then foreman of Parana Park, told the Society that it was the first time a school had organised a picnic at the park and that they were continually climbing trees, running up and down banks and that damage was inevitable; more control should have been exercised over the children. [34]

However, the Headmaster of Hamilton West School and the Chairman of the school committee refuted the claim that the children had damaged the park; “special precautions were taken to ensure that the beautiful park was treated with the care it deserves”, strictest supervision throughout the entirety of the grounds by staff, the Parents Association and members of the School Committee was maintained and “the children themselves, who on all occasions take a particular pride in their conduct, behaved in every way, in keeping with the tradition of Hamilton West School”. [35]  Saying that they were insufficiently controlled and caused damage to the park was a misrepresentation of facts. One boy did climb a tree, but under supervision to retrieve a model airplane, and no damage was done to the tree. Mr. Wallis was asked to assess the damage after the fete and found none and admitted that the park was left in good order.  

Despite this admission, it was decided at the Beautifying Society’s meeting to not “sanction the use of Parana Park in future for organized school picnics”, saying that it was an inappropriate venue for 300 or 400 children, but good for the use of individual families. [36]

Memorial tablet commemorating George Parr on the bridge at Parana Park, Hamilton, 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow.

In 1942 a proposal by W. H. Paul, chairman of the Hamilton Beautifying Society, was made for the creation of an open-air theatre, similar to one in London’s Regent Park. [37] After some discussion it was agreed upon, and in 1943 the theatre was completed, the first of its kind in New Zealand. The theatre was made up of a grassed raised stage, wings of lawsonia hedges, and a backdrop of poplar. It could hold over 1000 spectators and took three years to construct. [38]

Mr T. Horton, Supervisor for Parks New Plymouth, visited in 1945 and gave his praise to the beauty of the gardens at Parana Park – and especially the open-air theatre – saying it was giving a lead to the whole country by creating an open-air theatre that was as beautiful as it was useful to the cultural life of the town. [39]  The open-air theatre was used for the first time by the Hamilton High School girl’s drama club when they gave a reading of J. M. Barrie’s ‘Quality Street’. [40] However, the theatre was not officially opened until March 1947. Performances by the schools of Hamilton included four picturesque ballets, music, dances and verse speaking. Over 700 people attended, and the proceeds went to Hamilton Plunket Society. [41] The theatre was well used during the 1940s and ‘50s, but sadly has since been removed.

At present there is a large variety of native and exotic plants at Parana Park and a kōwhai themed children’s playground. However, there is little to acknowledge the precolonial Māori ownership of the land, or that it was taken in 1863 during the invasion of the Waikato by colonial forces in the ‘New Zealand Wars’. It is situated opposite Rangiora hill, now the site of the Anglican St. Peters Cathedral, and upstream of Miropiko Pā. Both are important sites for local Māori. [42]

In less than one decade Hamilton will celebrate Parana Parks’ 100th birthday. It is still very well utilised by the public, a fact that Mr. Parr – and all those who made such an effort to turn Parana Park into the place it is today – would be proud of.

A view towards the Kōwhai themed playground, Parana Park, Hamilton, 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow.


[1] Bequests to Hamilton, Waikato Times, 2 March 1929, P8

[2] Obituary, Waikato Times, 26 February 1929, P6

[3] Beautifying Society, Waikato Times, 22 April 1931, P10

[4] Beautifying Hamilton, New Zealand Herald, 7 May 1932, P16

[5] Beautifying The Town, Waikato Times, 4 January 1932, P6

[6] Parana Park, Waikato Times, 21 January 1932, P8

[7] A Garden City, Waikato Times, 7 February 1933, P3

[8] Waikato Times, 8 April 1933, P5

[9]  Memorial Bridge, Waikato Times, 12 March 1931, P6

[10] Port Waikato Club, Waikato Times, 4 August 1933, P3 

[11] Glory of Summer, Waikato Times, 14 December 1935, P9 

[12] Theft of Plants, Waikato Times, 21 December 1935, P7 

[13] Coronation Trees, New Zealand Herald, 13 September 1937, P12 

[14] Improvements to Park, New Zealand Herald, 30 March 1933, P11

[15] Poverty Bay Herald, 23 February 1937, P2

[16] Parana Park, Waikato Times, 5 August 1937, P8

[17] Paddling Pool, Waikato Times, 30 April 1937, P9 

[18] Bathing for Children, Waikato Times, 16 September 1937, P8 

[19] New Paddling Pool, Waikato Times, 19 October 1937, P6

[20] Is Parana Park Making Your Kids Sick? Waikato Times, 25 February 2013

[21] High Bacteria Levels Close Children’s Water Feature in Hamilton Park, Waikato Times, 5 February 2020

[22] Borough Amenities, Waikato Times, 29 December 1937, P6 

[23] Waikato Times, 19 September 1939, P6

[24] League Of Mothers, Waikato Times, 25 February 1931, P5 

[25] Women’s World, Waikato Times, 24 November 1936, P3

[26] Garden Party, Waikato Times, 31 March 1939, P8

[27] Children’s Fete, Waikato Times, 5 December 1936, P8 

[28] Guides’ Field Day, Waikato Times, 1 November 1937, P3 

[29] P. & T. Ladies’ Association, Waikato Times, 13 November 1937, Page 16 (Supplement)

[30] Mr Norman Tate, Sun (Auckland), 29 December 1928, P12

[31] Garden Party, Waikato Times,18 November 1933, P8 

[32] Garden Fete, Waikato Times, 27 November 1933, P8

[33] School Garden Party, New Zealand Herald, 27 November 1934, P3

[34] Picnics in Park, Waikato Times, 29 November 1934, P8

[35] Parana Park, Waikato Times, 1 December 1934, P7

[36] Use of Public Park, New Zealand Herald, 30 November 1934, P15

[37] News of the Day, Gisborne Herald, 11 December 1942, P2 

[38] Open-Air Theatre, Waikato Times, 12 October 1943, P4

[39] Visitor’s Praise, Waikato Times, 3 October 1945, P4 

[40] Open-Air Theatre, Gisborne Herald, 17 October 1945, P6

[41] Open-Air Theatre, Otago Daily Times, 17 March 1947, P4 

[42] New Zealand Parliament, [Volume:670; Page:17080], Nanaia Mahuta, Hamilton City Council (Parana Park) Land Vesting Bill — In Committee

Gardens Scenes on New Zealand Stamps

Ian Duggan, Te Aka Mātuatua – School of Science, The University of Waikato

Postage stamps were first issued in New Zealand in 1855. At first they featured what is known as ‘The Chalon Head’ – an illustration of Queen Victoria, based on a portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon, which also appeared on stamps elsewhere in the world (e.g., the Province of Canada, the Bahamas and the Colony of Natal). Further variations of portraits of Queen Victoria followed. In 1898, however, New Zealand became one of the first countries globally to release ‘pictorials’, beginning a trend of placing pictures on its stamps, including landscapes and native birds. Inevitably, stamps featuring gardens, garden flowers and other garden-related paraphernalia, were produced. In this blog, I examine the stories of some of these stamps.

The immortal spirit of youth

Health stamps were a long-running series of charity postage stamps. Released annually between 1929 and 2016, they featured one or more limited edition stamps each year. The series was a uniquely New Zealand one, in that they included a regular postal charge along with an additional fee that went to the benefit of local health projects. Some popular themes included members of the royal family and birds, but it was not until 1945 that our stamps delivered their first garden scene. The depiction was, however, not of a New Zealand garden, but of the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, London.

Health Stamp advertisement, Otago Daily Times, 2 October 1945, P2

Kensington Gardens’ Peter Pan statue, the work of renowned sculptor Sir George Frampton, was chosen for the 1945 Health stamps because of its representation of “the immortal spirit of youth”[i]. The postage rates of the stamps were one pence postage with a further half pence fee charity contribution, and a second stamp, which had a postage rate of two pence, along with an added one pence charity fee. A unique feature of this release was the introduction of a second colour to the Health stamps. As announced by the Acting Postmaster-General, the Hon Frederick Jones in June 1945: “In the 1d and 1/2d denomination the statue and lettering will be grey-green and the background buff, while in the 2d and 1d denomination the colours will be carmine and cinnamon respectively”[ii]. Released on October the first, the proceeds of the charity component were donated for the purpose of maintaining Children’s Health Camps, “for under-weight, delicate, or convalescent children of primary school age”.[iii]

Coming up roses

The earliest in a variety of stamps released depicting roses were those commemorating “Roseworld ‘71”, the inaugural International Rose Convention, which was held in Hamilton in November that year. The convention was attended by delegates from around 15 countries, including 80 from Australia[iv]. In all, it was estimated that more than 70,000 visitors converged on Hamilton over six days.

The idea for a world rose convention arose from a meeting in London sometime around 1968, where it was voted to hold the initial event in New Zealand.[v] Hamilton was subsequently chosen as the venue by the National Rose Society of New Zealand, in part because of the large size of the Waikato Winter Show Buildings at Claudelands Showgrounds.[vi] Further, Hamilton was considered worthy due to “Hamilton City Council’s acceptance of a scheme to establish a rose garden off Cobham Drive”.[vii] This garden, known as the Rogers Rose Garden, was one of the first developments in Hamilton Gardens; development began on the rose garden in 1969, and was opened in 1970, the year before the convention.

The three stamps, depicting a Tiffany Rose (2c), Peace Rose (5c) and a Chrysler Imperial Rose (8c), proved exceptionally popular, with buyers forming something of a stampede. It was noted that:

The “rose” stamps which were placed on sale in the first week of November proved so popular that within a week stocks at many Post Offices were either exhausted or very low, says the Post Office. To meet the demand, it has arranged with the printer, Courvoisier of Switzerland, to print a further supply.[viii]

Roses proved popular in the 1970s, with the Roseworld ’71 stamps followed by what is known as the ‘Rose Definitives’ collection in 1975. ‘Definitive stamps’ is a term denoting postage stamps that are part of a country’s regular issues, available for sale for an extended period of time, and designed to serve the everyday postal needs of the country. Nine denominations, each featuring a different rose cultivar, were initially released; the 1c stamp featured the ‘Sterling Silver’, 2c ‘Lilli Marlene’, 3c ‘Queen Elizabeth’, 4c ‘Super Star’, 5c ‘Diamond Jubilee’, 6c ‘Cresset’, 7c ‘Michele Meilland’, 8c ‘Josephine Bruce’, and the 9c depicted the ‘Iceberg’ cultivars.

Interestingly, two of the stamps were reissued in 1979, overprinted with a new price; The 8c ‘Josephine Bruce’ stamp was reissued with a lower value of 4c, while the 6c ‘Cresset’ stamp was overprinted with a value of 17c. In 1980, similarly, the 7c ‘Michele Meilland’ stamp was overprinted with a 20c value.

In a move some might say pushed the envelope, roses again featured on our stamps with a New Zealand-China joint stamp issue in 1997. Released as a pair of 40c stamps, one features Rosa rugosa (Mei kuei), and the other ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ (also known as Rosa ‘New Zealand’), a rose cultivar developed in New Zealand.

Rapid deliveries: Brief notes on other issues

A number of other stamps have featured garden and related images. The 1983 definitives issue included five stamps featuring fruit grown in New Zealand; grapes (10c), citrus fruits (20c), nectarines (30c), apples (40c) and kiwifruit (50c).

Originating from Asia, Camellias are a common component of New Zealand gardens, and were the focus of a series of stamps in 1992. These depicted a variety of cultivars; ‘Grand Finale’ (45c), ‘Showa No Sakae’ (50c), ‘Sugar Dream’ (80c), ‘Night Rider’ ($1), ‘E G Waterhouse’ ($1.50) and ‘Dr Clifford Parks’ ($1.80).

The Scenic Gardens series in 1996 was notable for being the first stamps to depict New Zealand public gardens. The series celebrated five public gardens; Seymour Square Gardens, Blenheim (40c), Pukekura Park, New Plymouth (80c), the Auckland Wintergarden ($1), Christchurch Botanic Gardens ($1.50), and the Marine Parade Gardens, Napier ($1.80).

Besides these series, individual stamps have also featured garden related images. In 1960, a definitives series of eight stamps featuring native flowers was released, including flowers from species such as Kōwhai (3d), a common component on New Zealand gardens. Come 1967, and the introduction of decimal currency, it was decided that there was insufficient time to produce a new set of pictorial stamps. As a result, the design of the 1960 issue was retained, and the Kōwhai stamp was reissued carrying a value of 2 1/2c.

Finally, in 1999, as the new millennium approached, a gardening stamp was released as part of a ‘Nostalgia’ series. A stamp titled ‘Garden’ ($1.80) featured images of seed packets from horticultural supply company ‘Yates’, along with a Masport push mower.


[i] Evening Star, 8 June 1945, P6

[ii] ibid

[iii] Record First Week, Auckland Star, 10 October 1945, P6

[iv] Bans on garden fires in U.S., Press, 2 November 1971, P14

[v] ibid

[vi] World rose convention to be held in Hamilton, Press, 29 October 1971, P11

[vii] Waikato Roses, Press, 7 May 1970, P21

[viii] Popular stamps, Press, 17 November 1971, P22

Miss Moore’s school garden, 1910 – 1924

By Claire Bibby

On September 1st, 1910, Miss Elise Moore, teacher at Hinerua school, wrote in the school logbook -“25 present. Children are starting a garden today, to be worked on their intervals, but I cannot find time to help them as I am busy all lunch hour correcting spelling & seeing that mistakes are written out & that sums are got right.”[1]

Miss Elise Moore, teacher, and the Hinerua school children and wider school family holding flowers from the school garden.

For 14 years from April 1910 to May 1924 Miss Moore taught at Hinerua School. Her logbook shows that gardening was on the school curriculum throughout this time and used to teach academic and physical skills, to care for tools and to provide research data for regional crop performance. The garden provided opportunities for connectivity with the local community (who helped in the garden) and with pupils from other schools (through horticultural competitions). The garden also connected the school with the local farm boys who went to War.

Hinerua school, which opened in 1909 and closed in 1924, was situated on a small hill at the base of the Ruahine mountain range in Central Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. A mountain stream flowed nearby. The nearest village was Ongaonga, 15 miles distant and the nearest town, Waipawa, about 25 miles away. The pupils were farming children from Blackburn and Hinerua. During the formative years weekly attendance was around 22-27.

Elise Moore, born in Clyde in 1875, was one of five children.[2] Her father Samuel Moore had been a Police Inspector escorting gold in Australia and New Zealand.[3] Miss Moore was educated in Lawrence and became a teacher, eventually becoming the principal of Kanunda Girls College in Adelaide, Australia.[4] Wanting to return to New Zealand, she took the first position available, which was Hinerua School.[5]

The Hinerua School site was windy and cold with poor afternoon sun. Miss Moore recorded the children suffering from rheumatism, influenza, colds, and bad backs. Rain, snow, sickness, home help and farming duties affected attendance.

With perseverance the school gardens developed. Henry Hill, the school inspector, visited on 17th June 1911 and reported “The little gardens made by the pupils are neat and tidy and the grounds have been planted with several varieties of pines for shelter and ornamental purposes.”[6]

Hinerua school garden. Undated.

Neighbouring farmers helped. In July 2011, Mr Fargher brought posts for a garden fence. The next day brothers Ernest Adams (age 19) and Bertie (age 17) built it. In the future, both boys would enlist for World War I service, survive, and return to the district.[7] [8]

On 14 March 1913, Miss Moore recorded “Mr Adams kindly lent us a horse & sledge to cart soil from the sheep dip yards…” She went on to write: “17th-20th March   Much time has been given to gardening this week so as to get the gardens into order for the year. The digging is very hard and there are not many children strong enough for it.  At present gardening is interfering with our regular schoolwork but I am hoping that once the gardens are formed the children will be able to keep them in order in their intervals & dinner hours. Half an hour’s gardening is done by Std V each week from 10.30 to 11.”

Inspector Hill visited the school in May 1913 and found it closed. 

“On inquiry I was informed that Miss Moore was suffering from influenza & that most of the children were suffering from mumps,” he wrote. “The ground about the building drains the surface water under the school. Good health of the children can hardly be expected under the conditions.”[9]

He observed “The children’s gardens are neatly arranged and pansies, phlox, petunias, violets and several other varieties of flowers were in full bloom. Several beds of strawberries are neatly laid out. Everything is ready for Spring.”[10]

He added on his August inspection “…there are strawberry beds that almost tempt an Inspector to visit the place on another occasion!”[11]

A year later in his August 1914 report, Inspector Hill wrote “The externals of this school are highly commended to the Committee, Mistress and pupils. The flower gardens are full of primroses in full bloom & form a pretty sight adding a charm to the surroundings. There are beds of strawberries & the plantations are in good order & present a healthy appearance…This small outlying school continues to present features of special interest in the training of children. The family life is fostered, and there is a delightful tone in the school. All the external arrangements are a reflex of the internal. The children are happy and work with diligence and fair success… The training in preparing a table for the children’s lunch is worthy of general adoption in all country schools.”[12]

Hinerua picnic 1917. Hinerua School is in the background. The teachers house which accommodated Miss Moore is in the foreground. Source Ongaonga Museum.

Then, disaster. In October big winds struck the school. Miss Moore recorded the outcome in the school log.

“7th Oct. As the gale was still bad in the morning it was considered advisable not to hold school.  Much of the asphalt has been carried away & our gardens have suffered badly.”

“8th Oct. The day was so hot & the ground so dry after the wind that I decided not to take gardening.”

“30th Oct. Vegetable seeds which children had planted have been blown away during gale – the potatoes & artichokes which were planted from 5 to 6 ins. deep were uncovered.”

“3rd Nov. Another gale has again uncovered the potatoes & destroyed the beans that were up.”

“10th Dec. School was closed in the afternoon because of the raging gale.  School during the morning was very trying owing to the noise caused by the wind. Some of the little ones were very frightened.”

The wind sent sparks from the school chimney into the adjoining paddock and set logs on fire. The fire spread quickly and the neighbouring farmers and school boys had difficulty in putting it out.

At the end of 1914 Miss Moore sent a letter to the Education Board requesting, for the second time, a register for the Elementary Agriculture class.

She wrote “I have not been able to get in 40 weeks of instruction in gardening this year as the weather has very often not been suitable on gardening day.”  She thanked the Board for seeds and tools and asked for a wheelbarrow.

The 1915 records show the school had 5 spades, 1 potato fork, 2 rakes, 3 hoes, 1 watering can, 1 trowel, 2 small forks and 1 wheelbarrow.

In addition to learning how to grow and prepare food from garden to table, the school log inform the flower garden was used for teaching art, empathy, and compassion.

In May 1915 Miss Moore wrote “Children made paintings of a Japanese anemone from natural flower and sent them to a schoolmate in Waipawa Hospital, who is recovering from a serious operation.” 

The children gathered flowers which they “carried with a letter of welcome and gratitude to a returned wounded soldier.”

One class photograph shows the children holding flowers and another shows the children posing with tools in the school garden of brick edged beds with flowers and paths between.

There were few gardening entries in 1916 owing to a year of terrible weather and illness. Gales set the chimney on fire for the second time. Three farm boys were farewelled for military training. On Dominion Day in September, instead of taking a holiday, the children came to school. They began to clear around some of the trees planted on the school hill, naming each tree after one of their local soldiers. They would take the Dominion Day holiday in October when the three farm boys-turned-soldier returned home for final leave.

In December the Ongaonga Horticultural Show was held. The school entered the children’s competitions for maps, freehand drawings, brush work and writing, and achieved prizes. These competitions were entered annually, with Miss Moore once cycling eleven miles into Ongaonga with the entries to ensure they arrived in time.[13] [14]

A local farm boy, Lance Hardy, was killed in action in France in 1917. When two returned soldiers were welcomed back to Hinerua in 1918, Miss Moore and her pupils established The Lance Memorial Fund in his memory. The money raised was forwarded every month to the Salvation Army and alternately to the Y.M.C.A to provide refreshments for soldiers. Perhaps some of the money come from selling school vegetables as Miss Moore was required to furnish a return on the sale of garden produce. Net sales were also reported in the local newspaper.[15]

In 1920 the Education Office asked for a scale plan of the garden for the Director of M. & T. Institution so that the years experiments would be a permanent office record for reference. The Office wrote “In all school gardens it will be necessary to limit demonstration work to one or two but not more than three classes of crops. There are many problems still unsolved with onions or potatoes or maize or marigolds according to the district. It is these problems that ought to be tackled in the school garden and the estimates obtained ought to be of use to the community.”

Miss Moore kept records of the potato yield for each garden plot including the child responsible, the potato type (Maori Chief, New Era, Northern Star or Dakota Red) when the plot was planted and manured, the type of manure used, the date the plot was harvested and the potato weights.

At the end of 1921 school Inspector R G Whetter described the flower plots as exceptional.[16]  By 1923, Hinerua School’s golden years of gardening were on the wane. The school year had opened with three pupils, averaging six in the first quarter. Before the year was out, no boys were on the roll.

The Education Board sent seeds of salvia, gaillardia, pansies, stocks, coreopsis, sweet peas, asters, wallflower, larkspur, cosmos, petunia, zinnia, antirrhinum, godetia, and miniature sunflower, which were dutifully planted out.

In July the children planted seeds of onion and lettuce and made experiments with cress. At the end of the year, Mr W.C. Morris, Supervisor of Agriculture visited and gave a talk on weeds and grasses. Miss Moore wrote to him apologising for the neglected gardens, advising his talk had inspired the girls to clear the gardens. In early 1924 they made a nature study collection of weeds and grasses.

On May 8th Miss Moore wrote that the Education Board was of the opinion the school should be closed as the average attendance had fallen to three. Settlers were meeting to discuss the situation.

“May 30th   I have been appointed to Makaretu North School & am leaving for there tomorrow,” she wrote.

She commenced at Makaretu on June 2nd, remaining there until the end of 1932, after which she retired to Palmerston North where her sister and brother lived. She died in 1942.

Clive Alder Hinerua School site 2021. Clive’s father, Cecil Alder, and Cecil’s two brothers and four sisters attended Hinerua School. Photo Claire Bibby.

The Hinerua school buildings were removed, and the grounds reverted to farm paddock. Today what remains are the shelter belts of Macrocarpa that the children planted, spring bulbs, and the odd brick that once edged the garden beds.

Clive & Steph Alder at the Hinerua School plantation of Macrocarpa (Cupressus macrocarpa), 2021. These are likely some of the trees planted and maintained by the school children. Photo Claire Bibby.

The school log and school inspector reports remind us of the glory days of school gardening, epitomised by Inspector Hill’s description in 1913 – “It is like an oasis, an educational oasis, in a lonely isolated spot.”[17]

The bridge opposite the school in 2021. Photo Claire Bibby.

[1] Hinerua School logbook 1909-1924 Accession number 674/966/38149 Knowledge Bank Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust

[2] Birth, Death and Marriage Historical Records

[3] Manawatu Standard, Volume LVII, Issue 182, 3 July 1937, Page 8 Obituary Miss Marion Moore

[4] Manawatu Standard, Volume LXII, Issue 180, 1 July 1942, Page 3 Obituary Miss Elise Moore

[5] Ibid

[6] Archives NZ. Inspector’s and Examination Reports, Annual Returns Hinerua R22355623, 17 June 1911

[7] Online Cenotaph Record Ernest Adams

[8] Online Cenotaph Record Bertie Adams

[9] Archives NZ. Inspector’s and Examination Reports, Annual Returns Hinerua R22355623; 7 May 1913

[10] Ibid, 7 May 1913

[11] Ibid, 20 August 1913

[12] Ibid, 28 August 1914

[13] Hinerua School logbook

[14] Waipawa Mail, Volume XXXVII, Issue 8415, 3 December 1920, Page 1 Spring Blooms Ongaonga Horticultural Society

[15] Waipawa Mail, Volume XXXVI, Issue 7750, 18 July 1916, Page 2 Ongaonga (Own Correspondent)

[16] Archives NZ. Inspector’s and Examination Reports, Annual Returns Hinerua R22355623; 5 September 1921

[17] Ibid, 20 August 1913

What’s in a name? Punic apples, red trees, and botanical nomenclature

Annette Giesecke, Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington

The eruption of Mt Vesuvius in the year 79 CE was indisputably a calamity for the residents of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other settlements around the Bay of Naples. Yet the misfortune of these individuals has provided later generations with an invaluable window into daily life in the Roman world. Houses, their roofs collapsed but complete with cookware, furniture, toys, and, in some cases, their inhabitants, were preserved by Vesuvius’ pyroclastic flow. The houses’ gardens, of course, did not survive, but carbonized pollens and seeds, together with root cavities left in the hardened volcanic ash, have revealed that every Pompeiian house, however large or small, had a garden. Additional evidence for the character and appearance of these gardens has been gleaned from the many Pompeiian frescoes depicting densely-planted landscapes. Interestingly, identifiable plant species and, in some cases, even cultivars still appear in domestic gardens and other designed landscapes today. For example, a fresco from the so-called House of Venus in the Shell, depicts a garden planted with roses (Rosa gallica), southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), myrtle (Myrtus communis), cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera), strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), oleander (Nerium oleander), pine (Pinus spp.), and ivy (Hedera helix) (Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Garden fresco, House of the Marine Venus, detail, first century CE. Pompeii.
© Werner Forman. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Roman garden plants may be recognizable and familiar to us, but do the names we today assign botanical specimens correspond to names used in antiquity? Take the pomegranate, Punica granatum, for example. The modern English “common” and Latin “scientific” names for the pomegranate do, in fact, derive from classical antiquity. In classical Latin, the fruit was known either as malum punicum or malum granatum (also melogranatum). Malum is the Latin word and mēlon the Greek for “apple” (which could be used for a range of tree fruit). Granatum derives from granum, “grain,” and means “(multi-) grained”, alluding to the fruit’s numerous grain-like seeds (see Figure 2). The adjective punicus, strictly speaking, refers to Phoenicia in Asia Minor but was more frequently used with respect to Carthage, the Phoenician colony in northern Africa, the birthplace of Hannibal and long Rome’s mortal enemy; the pomegranate was believed to be of African origin. The Romans thus called the pomegranate by at least two names, “Punic apple” and “many-seeded apple.” The Greeks, incidentally, called the pomegranate rhóā but also referred to it as mēlon.

Figure 2: Pomegranate (Punica granatum). From Professor Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé, Flora
von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz
, 1885, Gera, Germany. © Kurt Stueber’s online library. Courtesy of

While this plant’s modern names are indeed derived from the classical, it is important to note that they do not reflect actual ancient usage. The common English name “pomegranate” is a combination of Latin pomum, “fruit,” and granatum, “many-seeded.” The modern scientific name Punica granatum (the feminine ending -a being appropriate for a fruit-bearing and thus “feminine” tree) borrows from both malum punicum and malum granatum but reflects modern plant taxonomy, the science that finds, identifies, describes, classifies, and names plants by designating, among other things, a plant’s Family (group of genera that share a set of underlying features); Genus (group of one or more plants sharing a wide range of characteristics); Species (group of plants capable of breeding together and producing offspring similar to themselves); Subspecies (naturally occurring distinct variants of a species often in isolated populations and indicated by the abbreviation “subsp.” followed by a descriptor); Variety (minor subdivisions of a species differing slightly in botanical structure and indicated by the abbreviation “var.” followed by a descriptor); and Cultivar (distinct variant or hybrid known only in cultivation and indicated by a name in single quotes).[i] In particular, Punica granatum is a binomial, adhering to the formal two-part naming system indicating genus and species established by Carolus Linnaeus in the eighteenth century to classify all life.

In antiquity, plant names were neither consistently binomial—indeed, they were often not—nor were they necessarily consistent even within a given culture or language. In fact, some plants were not named (if wild and not “useful”), and others were known by multiple names: by Latin names, Greek names, and names given them in their places of origin and in the language of that region, for instance[ii]. This is not to suggest that names assigned in antiquity were random or meaningless, far from it. Rather, it is the case that naming is a direct reflex of the desire to “own,” and this desire is predicated on usefulness. It is also the case that plants’ names, however flexible, appear largely to have reflected their physical characteristics, their place of origin, or their agency in medicinal or alimentary contexts. An example, is Artemisia spp. (“spp.” indicating a range of species), perhaps most likely the species vulgaris known commonly as “mugwort”? Here again the Linnaean name is derived from its ancient Greek name, artemisía, which was employed to treat gynecological conditions and was named after the goddess Artemis, goddess of childbirth.

It is not the case, however, that ancient names always found their way into modern nomenclature, and they can be misleading to a modern reader of an ancient text. The rhododendron is an example. What we know today as Rhododendron spp., a genus of some one thousand species of woody plants in the heath family (Ericaceae), is a very different plant from what Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder in the sixteenth book of his Natural History called rhododendron (from the Greek meaning “red tree”), namely the Nerium oleander, a shrub or small tree in the dogbane family Apocynaceae—though both, notably, are shrubs or small trees that can bear red or reddish flowers:

Belonging to this last class, there are the following trees that do not lose their leaves:the olive, the bay laurel, the palm, the myrtle, the cypress, the pine, the ivy, the rhododendron …. The rhododendron, as its name indicates, comes from Greece. By some it is known as the nerium, and by others as the rhododaphne. It is an evergreen, bearing a strong resemblance to the rose-tree, and throwing out numerous branches from the stem; to beasts of burden, goats, and sheep it is poisonous, but for man it is an antidote against the venom of serpents. (Natural History 16.33.79)[iii]

Yet elsewhere, Pliny uses rhododendron to name what has been identified in modern times as Rhododendron ponticum:

In the country of the Sanni, in the same part of Pontus, there is another kind of honey, which, from the madness it produces, has received the name of “maenomenon” [maddening]. This evil effect is generally attributed to the flowers of the rhododendron, with which the woods there abound; and that people, though it pays a tribute to the Romans in wax, derives no profit whatever from its honey, in consequence of these dangerous properties. (Natural History 21.45.77)[iv]

Do the names we assign botanical specimens correspond to names used in antiquity? The answer, then, is “sometimes in part, and sometimes not.”

Excerpt (adapted) from Annette Giesecke, “Plants and Culture in Antiquity”, Introduction to A Cultural History of Plants in Antiquity, A. Giesecke ed. and contrib. (Bloomsbury: London, 2022), pages 7-10.


[i] Brickell, Christopher, and Judith D. Zuk. 1997. The American Horticultural Society A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. New York: DK Books.

[ii] Hardy, Gavin, and Laurence Totelin. 2016. Ancient Botany. London and New York: Routledge.

[iii] Pliny the Elder. Natural History, Vol. 4: Books 12-16. Edited and translated by H. Rackham. 1945. Loeb Classical Library 370. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[iv] Pliny the Elder. Natural History, Vol. 6: Books 20-23. Edited and translated by W. H. S. Jones. 1951. Loeb Classical Library 392. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Putting down roots in a new settlement

by Austin Gee

Bell Hill, Dunedin, c.1860. Presbyterian Research Centre (Archives), Dunedin, P-A132.7-12.

This rustic early Dunedin scene shows cottages not in some quiet suburban side street but rather near the city centre in Moray Place, close to where the principal church would be built. Or rather, it was on top of where the church would be built, since Church Hill, more commonly known as Bell Hill, would first be excavated to about half its original height, a huge project that began in 1862. The neat garden surrounded by the picket fence was not a domestic veggie patch but one of the earliest commercial nurseries. George Matthews, who is possibly the man standing next the door of the cottage, ‘was a pioneer horticulturalist who helped the colonists expand the range of plants in their gardens and helped them make Otago more like “home”.’[1] He was born in 1812 in Stuartfield near Old Deer in Aberdeenshire, 10 miles (16 km) west of Peterhead. Matthews worked on the family farm until he was about 18, when he became an apprentice gardener for the Laird of Nethermuir, about 10 miles west. His training complete, he became foreman gardener at Fyvie Castle (a further 12 miles west), moving on after a year to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. After six years as foreman gardener nearby at Dryden (near Rosslyn Chapel), he married Eliza Pressly in 1840 and went to work in Ireland. First at Martinstown on the edge of the Curragh, and later in the western outskirts of Dublin at Knockmaroon, he ‘achieved considerable reputation as a plant-grower, his attention being specially directed to the hard-wooded sorts.’[2] He got to know a fellow gardener, James Gebbie from Riccarton near Kilmarnock, ‘and the two men discussed their families’ future options in the colonies.’[3]

They plumped for the new Otago Settlement, possibly because a gardener Matthews had once worked with, John Anderson from Old Deer, was already in Dunedin. He had arrived at the start of 1849, and in December Gebbie and family came too. The Matthews, with their three children and George’s youngest sister Jane, followed them in March 1850. The family eventually grew to four sons and two daughters. Jane Matthews married the Yorkshireman John Hartley Jenkinson the following year. The Gebbies and the Matthews stayed together in a suburban cottage made from tree fern trunks. Matthews then purchased the quarter-acre (1000 m²) section in Moray Place that can be seen in the photograph for £40.[4] It was on the site of what is now Bracken Court, facing the top of Burlington Street, and ran down to the Octagon roughly where the Athenӕum is now. The north-facing slope was ideal for a nursery, sheltered from the wind and with a ‘never-failing stream’[5] at its foot. With great foresight Matthews had brought a selection of seeds, trees and other plants with him from the United Kingdom. Dunedin, founded in 1848, was barely two years old and still just a large village, and though its residents were busy planting, it was not enough to support a gardener or seedsman’s business. Matthews ‘found that the prospect of doing much in the way of gardening was very poor, and he soon became convinced of the reality that a hard struggle was before him. In fact, he found it necessary to engage in manual labour of the severest kind, but he never felt discouraged. He went bravely to work, taking employment wherever he could obtain it… at certain seasons his services were in demand for breaking up ground with bullocks, and for thrashing grain with the flail … The first job he undertook was to assist in building a house. After his day’s work, his time was employed in clearing, breaking up, and fencing a quarter-acre of flax land’, his Moray Place nursery. ‘Here he laboured before and after his regular day’s work, and often late on moonlight nights. Nine months after his arrival he had a house of his own, which he built himself, and a little nursery, from which he occasionally sold a few apple-trees, hawthorn plants, or gooseberry bushes. For years, however, there was very little demand for nursery goods, and he continued at work, occasionally taking a contract to drain land, form a road, or clear a building site.’[6] For several years Matthews was farm manager and gardener to the future Superintendent of the Otago Province James Macandrew and his brother-in-law William Reynolds in the Glen, south of the town.[7]

The anthropologist Helen Leach has pointed out that ‘Gardening seems to have been a major interest of the Otago settlers: the Otago Witness had a garden column every month in the early 1850s, and the Otago Horticultural Society had been formed early in 1851.’[8] In due course the Church Hill Nursery began to prosper and was expanded towards Princes Street. By 1853 Matthews was able to buy a second property above the Town Belt in Mornington and developed a 10-acre (4-hectare) nursery there for shrubs and trees, which he called Hawthorn Hill. He later added a further 25 acres, but it was mostly poor, hard, clay soil which he had to drain and manure extensively. Thorn, holly and laurel hedges could only protect the nursery against the prevailing winds so far, but in any case ‘the trees grown in this exposed position are very hardy and remarkably healthy.’ The site of the nursery is today covered with the houses of Hawthorn Avenue. Matthews’ ‘love for rare and fine plants was an absorbing passion’. His own garden was ‘beautifully kept’ and contained some rare exotic trees, while the lawn was ‘literally as green and smooth as the cloth upon a billiard table’.[9]

Tens of thousands of timber, fruit, nut and specimen trees were grown at Hawthorn Hill, along with decorative shrubs such as rhododendrons, laurustinuses, hydrangeas and oleanders. The fruit included apples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, peaches, grapes, currants, figs, blackberries, raspberries and gooseberries ‘by the thousand’.[10] By the late 1850s Matthews’ regular advertisements in the Otago Witness drew ‘the attention of Settlers to his one and two-year old Apple Trees, which are remarkable for bearing when very young. Also Pears — Plums — Peaches — Apricots — Cherries — Gooseberries — Black, Red, and White Currants — Raspberry Canes — Strawberry Plants — and a large stock of Rhubarb Roots. Forest Trees, consisting of Ash, Elm, Poplar, Locust, Laburnum, &c. Evergreen and Flowering Shrubs — Roses and Flower Roots — Lilies and other Flowering Bulbs, &c.’[11] He planned in 1858 to establish an ‘Agricultural & Horticultural Museum’ and invited ‘his numerous friends in the country’ to send him ‘specimens of Wheat, Oats, Barley, Rye, Peas, Beans, Vetches, Grasses, &c. Also, Potatoes, Turnips, Mangold Wurtzel, Carrots, Parsnips, Beet-root, Onions, Shallots, and various sorts of Fruit. Also, specimens of rare and useful Native Trees and Shrubs. Likewise, Minerals, &c.’[12] It is unclear if anything came of this scheme, which predated the foundation of Otago Museum by a decade.

Advertisements. ‘Fruit Trees on Sale’, Otago Witness, 16 May 1857, P4.

As land was turned over to crops and pasture there was a great need for hedging. Matthews sold gorse or whin seed and yellow broom for hedges, and by the mid-1860s was advertised half a million thorn quicks at 12–15 shillings a thousand. That many would produce nearly eight chains (160m) of hedgerow.[13] For the pasture itself, Matthews sold clover seed and cow grass ‘from one of the most celebrated Seedsmen in Edinburgh.’[14] Perennial and Italian rye grass, Yorkshire Fog, Timothy and cocksfoot were big sellers, and Matthews recommended ribgrass, a drought-tolerant plantain, for sheep runs as it ‘will grow well on rocky ground at a very high altitude.’[15] By 1863 he was importing clover seed by the ton. The following year, Matthews started selling Peruvian guano to establish permanent pasture in drought-prone areas or to grow crops on poor soil.[16] In 1870 he was entrusted with the levelling, harrowing and sowing of the new racecourse on the swampy, ‘almost useless’ site of Forbury Park.[17]

Advertisements, Otago Witness, 13 August 1859, P2

George Matthews was already doing so well by the time the Otago gold rush began in 1861 that ‘the attraction of the goldfields did not seduce him from his own proper calling’,[18] but he was in any case pushing 50 by then. His slightly younger friend James Gebbie was tempted to try his luck, however. Returning from a few months on the goldfields he bought some land for a new nursery in the bush on the east bank of the Water of Leith, a small stream prone to flash floods, adjoining what is now the site of Otago University and not far from the original public botanic garden. There he grew a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers, and found strawberries ‘extremely profitable’.[19] One of his few failures was a ginkgo tree brought from Sydney which, despite careful nurturing over 18 years, did not grow an inch.[20] After the Botanic Garden moved to its present site in 1869, Gebbie’s son James took over the management of the 11-acre (4.5 hectare) reserve. He planted many trees and laid out walks for the public, using some of the land as nursery beds for the family business.

Advertisements, Otago Witness, 17 June 1871, P22

The Matthews family meanwhile moved to a newly built 11-room single-storey brick house on the hillcrest above the city in 1870, though they continued to operate the Moray Place nursery about 1.4 miles (2.6 km) away for many years. The original wooden cottage survived until 1872 when it was replaced by a large stone and brick building designed by the locally celebrated architect Robert Lawson housing a shop, office, seed store, living accommodation and conservatory. It faced the neoclassical portico of the Masonic Hall and was considered ‘more in keeping with its improved and improving surroundings’[21] than the pioneer cottage had been. Its pediment proclaimed the building the ‘Otago Seed Warehouse’. Eventually the site of the old nursery was swallowed up by the demand for business premises in the central city and the land was sold by the Matthews family in 1911.[22] Though he became an elder of First Church, the principal Presbyterian church, in 1860, Matthews ‘took no very active part… in public matters’, though ‘at the same time he had decided opinions, and did not fail to express them when occasion required’.[23] Illness restricted his involvement in the business in his later years, and he died at the age of 72 in 1884, after a working life helping transform the countryside of Otago, both farms and domestic gardens. His son Henry managed the business during his father’s illness and continued it after his death with his foreman John Wood McIntyre, ‘an acknowledged authority on New Zealand flora’. It was largely due to them that ‘New Zealand species were gradually recognised overseas as valuable garden plants’,[24] being exported to Europe and North America, and even to Japan. In 1896 Henry was appointed the country’s first Chief Forester, in charge of government nurseries and plantations, and he helped establish the first state forests. In the meantime, one of James Gebbie’s sons had become Curator of the Oamaru Public Gardens..


[1]    ‘George Matthews’, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, See also Ruth Gow, ‘George Matthews’, in The Advance Guard: Series One, ed. George Griffiths (Dunedin: Otago Daily Times, 1973), 97–110.

[2]    See George Matthews’ obituary in the Otago Daily Times (Dunedin), 10 October 1884, supplement, 1.

[3]    ‘George Matthews’, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin,

[4]    ‘Hawthorn Hill Nurseries, Mornington, Dunedin’, Otago Witness (Dunedin), 16 February 1878, 21.

[5]    Obituary for George Matthews, Otago Daily Times, 10 October 1884, supplement, 1.

[6]    ‘Hawthorn Hill Nurseries, Mornington, Dunedin’, Otago Witness, 16 February 1878, 21.

[7]    ‘Biographical Sketches of the Colonists of the First Decade’, Otago Witness, 17 March 1898, 27.

[8]    Helen Leach, ‘Matthews, Henry John’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, in ‘Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand’,

[9]    ‘Hawthorn Hill Nurseries, Mornington, Dunedin’, Otago Witness, 16 February 1878, 21.

[10]  ‘Hawthorn Hill Nurseries, Mornington, Dunedin’, Otago Witness, 16 February 1878, 21.

[11]  ‘Fruit Trees on Sale’, Otago Witness, 16 May 1857, 4.

[12]  ‘Agricultural & Horticultural Museum’, Otago Witness, 20 March 1858, 3.

[13]  ‘Wanted to Sell, Hawthorn Quicks’ (advertisement), Otago Daily Times, 29 June 1868, 1.

[14]  ‘Just Landing per Avondale, Clover Seeds and Cow Grass, Otago Witness, 13 August 1859, 2.

[15]  ‘Rib Grass for Sheep Runs’ (advertisement), Otago Witness, 8 June 1861, 4.

[16]  ‘Peruvian Guano for sale’, Otago Daily Times, 15 October 1864, 1.

[17]  ‘Forbury Park’, Otago Daily Times, 15 August 1870, 2.

[18]  Obituary for George Matthews, Otago Daily Times, 10 October 1884, supplement, 1.

[19]  Obituary for James Gebbie, Otago Daily Times, 26 September 1900, 7.

[20]  ‘Horticulture in Otago’, Otago Daily Times, 10 March 1870, 2.

[21]  Otago Daily Times, 18 November 1872, 2.

[22]  The shop was then replaced by Jamieson’s Buildings, now renamed Bracken Court.

[23]  Obituary for George Matthews, Otago Daily Times, 10 October 1884, supplement, 1.

[24]  Helen Leach, ‘Matthews, Henry John’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, in ‘Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand’,

A short history of New Zealand’s ‘The Gardener’s Journal’

by Ian Duggan

The first issue of ‘The Gardener’s Journal’ – a New Zealand based periodical publication focussed on a diverse array of garden-related topics, from design, history and gardeners to travel experiences – was published in February 2008.  Initiated and edited by Margaret Long, the motivation for starting a journal was, based on conversations with a variety of people, a feeling that there was a gap in the New Zealand market for in-depth articles on gardening-related subjects not normally found in other publications. Margaret attracted an impressive variety of expert contributors from the outset, largely from a network of individuals that she had established through the development of her own gardens – Frensham – situated just out of Christchurch, and through garden tours she had led through the U.K. and Europe. For example, the lead article in the very first issue was by eminent English gardener and garden writer Beth Chatto O.B.E., known as the creator of the Beth Chatto Gardens near Colchester, U.K. – a garden that Margaret had visited several times – who had gained repute in attaining ten gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show between 1977 and 1987 for her “Unusual Plants” exhibits. This initial issue quickly gained attention, being described by garden journalist Mary Lovell-Smith in Christchurch newspaper ‘The Press’ as a “compact, classy, cultivated affair’, and a “serious and often erudite publication”[i]. Despite being New Zealand based, the journal aimed for broad geographical spread, both throughout New Zealand, and including overseas articles.

Cover of Issue 2 of The Gardener’s Journal, May 2008

In its initial incarnation, the publication lasted eight issues, four in 2008, followed by four more in 2009. At the end of 2009, however, publication ceased due to Long’s growing commitments; she was experiencing increasing numbers of visitors to Frensham, and she was leading annual garden tours to Europe. The business, her own, involved leading trips that lasted generally three to four weeks each. With planning tours included, a lot of time was spent away, while home commitments were increasing.

Cover of Issue 8 of The Gardener’s Journal, November 2009; the final issue in its first incarnation

‘Frensham’ was named after her father’s favourite rose, a dark red Floribunda rose developed in the U.K. in the 1940s. Starting development in 1992, Frensham emerged from what were bare paddocks. At the time, Long had little gardening experience, no formal horticultural training, and no vision or plan for the site. As such, Frensham was made through trial-and-error, with a lot of learning throughout the process. Long published a book in 2019 on her garden; ‘Frensham: A New Zealand Garden’, written by herself with images by photographer Juliet Nicholas, and published by Quentin Wilson Publishing.  

While the journal had gone into an extended hiatus – one that Long didn’t actually know would ever end – it was resurrected in 2021. Following publication of the book, the urge to start the journal had again blossomed, and her books’ publisher Quentin Wilson offered to come on board to undertake the design and layout on the relaunched journal. The focus, she says, is much the same for the journal now as it was initially, with only one exception; the deliberate avoidance of any information that can be downloaded off the internet, though she admits that a little of this is sometimes unavoidable. The rate of publication has also been pulled back, now offered as three issues per year.

The new look The Gardener’s Journal, Issue 10

Articles in the resurrected journal have been diverse, and have included those with an interest in garden history. These include: ‘The Cottage Garden: A Potted History’ by Claire Masset of the National Trust (U.K.), and author of the book ‘Cottage Gardens’; ‘Three Men and a Glasshouse: The making of Dunedin’s Winter Garden’ by garden and music historian Clare Gleeson; and ‘The Wars for the Roses: the battle to save the New Zealand collection of heritage roses’ by Murray Radka, known as “one of this country’s leading rosarians”.[ii]

The Gardener’s Journal, Issue 12

The Gardener’s Journal is available as an A5 sized soft-backed journal, printed on high quality paper, by emailing Margaret (, or from selected stores. Subscription for a year (including postage) is NZ$75, or individual copies can be bought for NZ$25. The website for Frensham can be found here:

Further Reading

Claire McCall, ‘Decades of work turn Frensham into star attraction’, Stuff, 19 December 2018

Margaret Long & Juliet Nicholas (2019), ‘Frensham: A New Zealand Garden’. Quentin Wilson Publishing, 266p.


[i] Mary Lovell-Smith, ‘Compact, classy, cultivated affair’, The Press, 1 May 2008

[ii] Claire Finlayson, ‘Meet the history teacher who rescued our heritage roses’, Stuff, Feb 19 2022

There’s more to Hamilton Gardens than meets the eye 

by Peter Sergel

Most people’s understanding of Hamilton Gardens doesn’t stretch beyond the fact that there are gardens from different countries and different periods in history. However, Hamilton Gardens has a unique concept that reflects a wider trend for museums and gardens. Many modern museums, like the new Smithsonian Museums in the U.S., are specialising and focus on a particular story. A local example will be the museum Tainui are planning that will tell the story of Tainui’s culture and history. Hopefully it will be as engaging as the Smithsonian museums. (1) There are still artefacts in these modern museums, but they’re presented in the context of a story. There are also some major new gardens following this trend: rather than just having the usual range of plant collections, they have a theme and their plant collections are used to support that. (2)

Hamilton Gardens – Medieval Garden (under development). Credit: Hamilton Gardens

It is probably easier to see Hamilton Gardens as a specialist museum or gallery of gardens whose meaning, function and form can tell us a lot about different cultures and our past. A number of notable writers and thinkers, like Proust, Bergson, Dilthey, Nietsche, Santayana, Gadamer and Pinker, have explained that some knowledge of history is how we understand ourselves and human society. As one of the writers put it, ‘History doesn’t follow a clearly defined path, but it can help to get some idea of where you’re heading, if you know where you’ve been.’ (3)

In the early 1990s someone installed a plaque in the Cloud Court at Hamilton Gardens with Paul Gauguin’s famous questions in French, “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Gardens might be able to provide some of the answers because they have always been shaped by religious, economic, social, scientific, philosophical, political and cultural developments. Those different forms of garden are an enduring shadow or reflection, cast by cultures that have faded into history. Contemporary gardens can also provide a reflection of our own time, best understood in the context of the longer story.

It’s also essential to understand the historic and cultural context to gain a basic understanding of each particular garden in the Hamilton Gardens collection. (4) As a visitor you can just enjoy the aesthetics of different forms of garden that you might otherwise need to travel the world — or even back in time — to see. But over the years there has been regular feedback from visitors who read something or went on a guided tour and found that even a little knowledge substantially increases the enjoyment of their visits.

Each new form of garden evolved from changing attitudes and new societal thinking, and each of those changes played a key role in the evolution of civilisation. With research, the story writes itself, but it’s been broken down here into the six ‘ages of man’, plus an emerging future. There are different ways of dividing history into eras and ages, but the most suitable base to work from in this context seemed to be a British academic model. (5) Each age or era has distinct characteristics reflected in its gardens, so within each of these ages, the four or five most significant developments have been selected. These aren’t sudden changes or events, but rather underlying, transformational and permanent societal changes that characterised the age. Each change was reflected in a different form of garden, and the intention has been to eventually represent each of those garden types at Hamilton Gardens.

The Stone, Bronze and Iron Age have been combined in the collection of five Gardens of the Ancient World. This period saw modern humans spread out around the world, adapting to new environments and creating new tools. While life was often dominated by spiritual beliefs, there were also emerging forms of literacy and numeracy. Most ancient societies appear to have had a belief in an afterlife, and one of those belief systems defined the form and almost every detail in the new Ancient Egyptian Temple Garden. The great Vedic empire is often overlooked but amongst other things, it was renowned for its gardens and invented modern mathematics, with the first innovation reflected in the proposed Vedic Garden. The Chinese seem to have had the most advanced cultures of the ancient world, represented by the proposed Mayhana Sanctuary Garden. This form of garden reflected ancient mystical beliefs and an enduring relationship with mountain landscapes that still influences the traditional arts of Asia. The greatest explorers of the ancient world spread across the Pacific establishing gardens, with aspects of these displayed in the proposed Pasifika Garden. In the process they quickly adapted to unfamiliar environments using the clever techniques now shown in the existing Te Parapara Garden

Hamilton Gardens – Ancient Egyptian Temple Garden (under development). Credit: Hamilton Gardens

The most advanced societies in ancient times were those that had regular contact with other cultures, sharing new ideas and sometimes driven by competition with their neighbours. The creation of larger empires facilitated the development of a civil service and public facilities, while the development of trading networks led to the spread of new religions, all reflected in the five Gardens of the Silk Roads collection. The first is the proposed Persian Garden. The great trading empire of Persia was at the heart of the Silk Road networks and its famous gardens inspired many other cultures along those trading routes from Spain to the edge of China. The Roman Empire was the first to develop a wide range of public facilities, often including a garden court similar to the proposed Roman Peristyle Garden. The first enduring civil service were the scholar administrators of China’s Han, Song and Ming Dynasties. They developed highly refined gardens that reflected many aspects of their arts and culture, partially reflected in the existing Chinese Scholar’s Garden. Buddhism spread from India along the Silk Roads, substantially influencing Asian cultures, including those, like Japan, that lay beyond the main trading routes. The existing Japanese Garden of Contemplation reflects the dominating influence of Buddhism and the other Asian belief systems. Islam also spread along the trading networks, profoundly influencing many cultures. With interpretation, the existing Indian Char Bagh Garden reflects a traditional Muslim view of the world.  

Hamilton Gardens – Japanese Garden. Credit: Hamilton Gardens

Christianity dominated the culture and politics of the Medieval period and the Gardens of the Renaissance in Europe. The proposed Medieval Garden has two courtyards that reflect the two fundamental tenets of the early Christian church. The existing Italian Renaissance Garden provides clues to several aspects of the Humanist movement that helped Western Europe catch up with Silk Road civilisations. The proposed French Parterre Garden reflects aspects of the development of a modern state’s financial administration, and shadows of the Reformation can clearly be seen in the existing Tudor Garden

Hamilton Gardens – Tudor Garden. Credit: Hamilton Gardens

The Enlightenment from the mid-17th century to the 18th century was one of the most remarkable periods in the story of human civilisation. The four Gardens of the Age of Enlightenment reflect four key changes that gradually transformed Europe into the dominant centre of world power. The proposed Baroque Garden reflects the emergence of new and improved technologies, such as improvements in printing and ballistics, notably canon technology. The proposed Hortus Botanicus garden reflects the development of science and the capitalist economy, while the proposed English Landscape Garden was always closely associated with the growth of liberal democracies. The Counter-Enlightenment, inspired by Rousseau, was a reaction to enlightenment thinking, and the existing Picturesque Garden is a reflection of that moderating movement. 

Hamilton Gardens – Baroque Garden (under development). Credit: Hamilton Gardens

The transformation undertaken in the Enlightenment allowed Europe to colonise and control large areas the world. The four Gardens of the Age of Empires reflect four of the major changes that were taking place. European colonisation followed a very similar pattern and some characteristics of that can be seen in the existing Mansfield Garden. At the same time Europeans became fascinated by other cultures, particularly those of Asia. Driven by new fashions and limited knowledge, they adapted all manner of Asian arts, shown in part in the existing Chinoiserie Garden. Exploitation of resources and people in the colonies generated immense wealth in countries like Britain, allowing a completely new form of garden to evolve, which will be recreated in the proposed Victorian Flower Garden. Perhaps the greatest advance of the age was one we now take for granted in the West; a value placed on the welfare of the individual, not just the important individuals. That led to several Humanitarian movements and reforms designed to protect the lives of the poor and led to the abolition of slavery. You can see the direct results of some of those institutional reforms and social movements reflected in the existing Park Cemetery.  

Hamilton Gardens – Mansfield Garden. Credit: Hamilton Gardens

History will probably associate our current age with petroleum products, but the four Gardens of the Modern Age represent four positive developments. Recognising local heritage doesn’t sound like a major step, until for example, you consider the importance now given to local Māori culture. The earlier support for local culture can be more clearly seen in the existing English Arts and Crafts Garden, which was a conscious reaction to the dehumanising aspects of the industrial world. The growth of consumer society was closely associated with the spread of American culture and Modernist design, reflected in the existing Modernist Garden. The growth and influence of environmental movements will be referenced in the proposed extension of Echo Bank Bush, and the multiple influences of modern art partially addressed in the existing Concept Garden

Hamilton Gardens – Modernist Garden. Credit: Hamilton Gardens

Niels Bohr famously said that ‘it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future’, but the two existing and two proposed gardens in the collection that make up the four Gardens of a new age, are reflections of some relatively safe assumptions. The capacity of computers will increase, particularly artificial intelligence along with our increasing dependence on computerised systems. The growth of megacities and intense urban development is another trend, as are major developments in genetic engineering and mankind’s ingenuity in adapting to climate change. (6)

The results of the thirty developments in civilisation briefly listed above, have led to results we now take for granted. Each has added a layer that collectively created the modern world. (8) Each of those developments or layers was reflected in a different form of garden. However, more information and explanation is obviously required to appreciate the direct link between each development and associated type of garden, which is why the Garden History Research Foundation is supporting some form of publication to explain the context, meaning and history of gardens, along with the history of Hamilton Gardens itself. It is important to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. Hopefully as more gardens are developed, with good interpretation, more people won’t just see Hamilton Gardens as a pleasant place to stroll. They’ll be able to appreciate it is also a unique museum that can tell a powerful and compelling story about civilisation and evolving human behaviour. 


  1. The newest Smithsonian museums tell stories about: the American Indian, African American History and Culture and the Jewish Holocaust.  
  2. For example: The Eden Project tells the story about the importance of plans and Cranbourne has the theme of water. 
  3. Marcel Proust, Pleasures and Days, Alma Classics, 2014  (translated from the 1913 original), p. 286  ; Marcel Proust, The Past Recaptured, Fishpond, 2009, Translated from the 1927 original) p. 139  ; Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, Zone Books, 1990, (translated from the 1896 original), p.101; Walter Kaufmann (translator), The Portable Nietzsche, 1954,  p.250; Niall Ferguson, Civilisation, Penguin, 2011; HansGeorg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 1960, p. 56; Stephen Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Penguin, 2012, p.XIX
  4. The Operative 2020 Management Plan for Hamilton Gardens was prepared under the requirements of the Reserves Act 1977. It includes a long term plan for the Gardens based on the concept outlined in this blog.
  5. Bloomsbury Academic are producing a series of books and on-line collections with sections written by leading academics. These cover the cultural history of at least 33 subjects including ‘gardens’. Each is broken down into the: Ancient World, Medieval, Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment, Age of Empires and Modern Age. These are consciously Eurocentric so we’ve added another ‘Silk Roads’ section. 
  6. The existing Sustainable Backyard Garden and existing Surrealist Garden and the proposed Structural Garden and proposed Bee Meadow.

It will always be subjective what the 30 most important steps in the development of civilisation are, but these are the 30 steps that were chosen, partially influenced by which steps were reflected in a different form of garden. The spread of modern humans around the world, adaption to new unfamiliar environments, developing complex belief systems, mystical relationships with the landscape, invention of mathematics and writing, establishment of trading networks, larger stable settlements with public facilities, civil administration, the spread of Buddhism, spread of Islam, spread of Christianity, the Humanist movement, development of state administration systems, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, emergence of new technologies particularly improvements in printing and canon, development of science and the capitalist economy, growth of liberal democracies, the Counter-Reformation, European colonisation of the world, influence of other cultures, accumulation of surplus wealth, a new value placed on each individual, value placed on local heritage, the growth of conservation movements, development of the consumer society, development of modern art, growth of mega cities, impact of computerised systems on modern society, the development of artificial intelligence, advances in genetic engineering and adaption to climate change.

Urban conservation and conflict in early Aotearoa: Dunedin Town Belt, 1848-1860s

by James Beattie

Keywords: urban conservation, Aotearoa conservation, urban environmental history, Dunedin/ Ōtepoti, class tensions, 1850s-1860s


Seen from the air, Dunedin’s Town Belt appears as a green swathe circling the central and northern parts of the city, a fragment of a once great forest that thrived in Ōtepoti/Dunedin. The Town Belt is one of the oldest in the world. Purchased from Kāi Tahu in 1844, its origins date back to the earliest years of the Otago Settlement and originally comprised some 120 hectares.[1]

Now encompassing 202 hectares, this public land, while highly modified, is today a haven for many birds and invertebrates, including kererū, tūī, bellbird, tomtit, rifleman, ruru, shining cuckoo, and kōtare. Dominant vegetation types today include broadleaf, exotic deciduous and coniferous forest, grassland, kānuka forest, and even swamp forest. Though highly browsed, it has several rare and endangered plants.

Its serenity and reputation as a refuge from the bustle of the city, however, belie its troubled settler history. From 1848, Otago’s European authorities faced ongoing challenges in trying to balance short- and long-term development, as well as safeguarding the needs of the many against the needs of the few, in the management of Dunedin’s Town Belt.

Figure 1: Note the grid layout of Kettle’s plan for Dunedin, typical of New Zealand Company settlements. ‘Index Map of the Otakou Settlement Middle Island New Zealand – Surveyed in the years 1846 and 1847 – C H Kettle [189 x 65 cm inside border, 1 mile to 1 inch]’, Source: National Archives of New Zealand, R698465.

Town Belt Origins

In line with the New Zealand Company precepts of planned settlement, surveyor Charles Kettle’s plans for Dunedin included a Town Belt, as well as other public reserves (Figure 1).

The origins of the Town Belt and other reserves in New Zealand lie in the nascent development of town planning in Victorian Britain, which was only developing at the time of Aotearoa’s colonisation.[2] The need to create places to promote health and recreation during the Industrial Age motivated the establishment of parks in European and colonial cities in this period. This was underpinned by prevailing belief in the environmental basis of diseases. Vegetation, medicos and lay people believed, removed poisonous air from cities and through their respiration purified the unhealthy city air.[3]

The clearest earliest statement of the vision and purpose of the Town Belt comes from the Dunedin Public Lands Ordinance (1854). This ordinance set up a Board of Commissioners to manage Dunedin lands ‘reserved for public purposes’. Public reserves—from those set aside for everything from education to cemeteries—included ‘a Park, and other places for health and recreation in and about the Town of Dunedin.’ Clause 16 specifically addressed management of the Town Belt. This enabled authorities to lease portions of the Town Belt to private citizens (presumably for grazing, as later occurred), but stipulated that provisions had to be

… made for preserving the trees and shrubs thereon, or such part of them as it may be desirable to preserve, with a view to the ornament and amenity of the ground, and also for draining and improving it, and ultimately laying it down in grass, with walks and carriage drives, as a public park or place of recreation. [4]

Finally, the clause permitted only the erection of fences on the Town Belt.  Development of the Town Belt as a fully grassed recreation area was never completely realised, possibly because Dunedin Botanic Garden (established in 1863) came to fulfil this recreational role.[5]

Competing visions of the Town Belt

While Otago’s leader William Cargill had envisioned at least part of the Town Belt as a grassed recreation park, others viewed and used the reserve very differently. Almost at the outset of European colonisation, issues arose with illegal timber getting—invoking his powers as Resident Agent, Cargill had had two men charged in 1849. These concerns continued into the 1850s and later, as well as calls for other uses for portions of the Town Belt.

In 1854 the Provincial Government received a petition for parts of the Town Belt to be released to provide extra pasturage for cattle, a request it declined.[6] The area of the Town Belt diminished in the 1850s through the development of cemeteries, such as Arthur Street Cemetery and the Northern and Southern cemeteries. In 1857, for example, 31 acres (c. 5 hectares) was removed from the Town Belt to create the Northern Cemetery and 28 acres for the Southern Cemetery.[7]

In 1857, a survey of Otago Province described the manner in which settlers were using the Town Belt. An area ‘reserved for the use of the inhabitants as pleasure grounds’, it observed, the Town Belt ‘…is mostly covered with timber, and supplies a large portion of the firewood, consumed in the town (figures 2 and 3).[8] Clearly, most settlers regarded the Town Belt as a common resource.[9] In the next decade, an influx of goldminers placed even greater pressure on the Town Belt, as squatting and timber-getting increased.[10]

Figure 2: A picnic in Woodhaugh Valley in 1863. Note the size and maturity of the trees. ‘Picnic at Woodhaugh Valley’, oil on canvas, 965 x 1,635 mm, 1919/134/1355. Source: Permission from Toitū Otago Settlers’ Museum.
Figure 3: Photograph of the Dunedin Town Belt with a boy and man resting on a felled tree. As records show, felled tree trunks were common. Photographer: unknown Date: unknown, CS/12318. Source: Permission from Toitū Otago Settlers’ Museum.

In 1858, Otago Provincial Council Clerk John Logan wrote a frustrated letter to the Deputy Superintendent about misuse of the Town Belt. Logan complained ‘that several parties have of late erected temporary houses and squatted down on a portion of the Town Belt within a few yards of my place’ on Royal Terrace (Figure 4). They

…have already done irreparable damage by cutting down a considerable portion of the Bush on the Belt which served to beautify the place and which hitherto had been carefully preserved by Mr. Chapman and myself respectively. They have no particular interest in sparing any of the trees[,] having only a temporary end to serve and consequently I now find that only certain portions of the trees which are cut down are used[,] the rest being left to rot and obstruct the passage along the ground.[11]

As well as having illegally erected dwellings, Logan rounded on the squatters for having destroyed the trees. These trees, he thundered, ‘served to beautify the place’ and had been ‘carefully preserved’ by him and Chapman. Logan also criticised the settlers for wasting timber, by leaving trees rotting and unused.

Figure 4: A photograph of John Logan’s house, Fern Tree Cottage (Violet Grove, Royal Terrace). Note the house’s proximity to the Town Belt. No date (circa late 1850s/early 1860s), CS/13752. Source: Permission from Toitū Otago Settlers’ Museum.

An official response to Logan’s complaints followed later that month in 1858. Issued by Logan himself, a series of public notices stated ‘that SQUATTING, as also CUTTING DOWN TREES [sic] upon the Town Belt of Dunedin, are strictly prohibited; and any person hereafter guilty of so Cutting the Trees will be prosecuted as the law directs.’[12] Although the relevant magistrate’s file has disappeared, other prosecutions followed, as revealed by contemporary newspaper coverage of the magistrate’s court.

Gold Rush Pressure

Any such regulations were swept aside with the influx of miners to Otago’s Gold Rush. In five short months from mid-1861, Otago’s population swelled from 13,000 to over 30,000. Dunedin was inundated with (mostly) male miners from all over the world. Squatting and timber-getting increased on the Belt.

The Otago Daily Times editorial of 1862 complained that “The beauty of the town belt is being slowly but surely destroyed by the indiscriminate felling of the timber that forms its chief ornament.”[13] It implored Otago authorities to protect its standing trees.

In 1865, for example, the Dunedin Magistrate fined Mary Farquharson £2 and costs, noting that ‘he was very glad to see that the citizens were now coming forward and assisting the police to put a stop to the practice of destroying timber on the Town Belt.’ The complainant, Alfred Talbot, related that ‘[h]e had frequently seen her cutting down trees on the Town Belt’, warning her on several occasions.[14] However, the scale of squatting and timber-getting associated with gold mining appears to have been beyond the scope of authorities to control.

In 1865, control of the Belt was delegated to the newly formed Dunedin Municipal Corporation.[15] The newly appointed Reserve Ranger reported over 75 squatters living in the Belt in 1866, as criticism mounted over perceived Belt mismanagement. In 1866, ‘Citizen’ added her ‘voice to the willful and selfish spoliation attempted by the Mayor and the City Council’.[16] In December 1866 an angry crowd of 300-400 citizens gathered to protest against the Council leasing portions of the Belt for grazing to Council members or friends. The heated meeting accused the Council of ‘self-aggrandisement and self-seeking’ and of ‘depriving them of the free use and occupation of the Town Belt’ through its granting of leases.

The Otago Daily Times added its voice of support to the protestations. Putting aside utilitarian and financial aspects, it declared that the council’s decision flew in the face of the intention of the reserves, as

…unenclosed, unbuilt upon—places free from the contamination of the everyday, busting, active life of man [sic]; that they should be places to which the hard-handed, week-worn workers could resort and breathe a purer and more life sustaining air than is inhaled during their daily toil.[17]

A petition charged that the sale of leases was ‘an infraction of the rights of the public to be full, free, and unrestricted use of the ground for purposes of recreation’. Within 24 hours, the petition had gathered 700 signatures and was duly presented to the Superintendent of Otago.[18] Locals formed a committee to lobby against the actions of the council. Eventually, pressure from the Otago Provincial government and local citizens saw the Council revoke most leases in 1872.

Biodiversity loss

Over time, the composition of the Town Belt changed markedly. As William Martin observed, while extensive, ‘[i]t was not then realized that the removal of the surrounding forest to make room for settlement would create such a new set of conditions that changes would inevitably occur in the composition of the Town Belt forest.’ Such pressures included changes wrought by wandering cattle and, later, possums, as well as garden escapees, deliberately introduced exotic trees, and deforestation (figures 5 and 6).[19]

Figure 5: This view of the Town Belt, with William Street School on the right and Ōpoho in the distance, illustrates clearly the impact of urban development on the Town Belt. ‘Town Belt, with William Street School, Dunedin, 1881’, attrib. to John Crawford, watercolour on card, 255 x 177 mm, 1919/134/247. Source: Permission from Toitū Otago Settlers’ Museum.
Figure 6: This photograph from 1862 looking towards the present suburb of Roslyn from the Octagon, shows the extent of forest in Dunedin’s Town Belt. Note the tall trees visible on the skyline. Source: Permission from Toitū Otago Settlers’ Museum.

Ongoing environmental changes in the Town Belt, coupled a growing valuing of native nature by European New Zealanders, contributed to the establishment of the Dunedin Amenities Society in 1888. As the oldest and longest-running environmental organisation in New Zealand, the Society has since its founding played a major role in protecting the Town Belt, through planting and fundraising, and raising awareness of its value.[20] (Dunedin City Council has responsibility for maintaining the Town Belt.)


Conflict over the Dunedin Town Belt in the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s illustrates underlying tensions between classes, between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, but also underlines efforts to conserve aspects of native nature for reasons of beauty, health and enjoyment. These early tensions over public parks and their usage, as well as their importance to the general well-being of an urban population, appear remarkably modern to present-day readers who have, under lockdown restrictions, so recently experienced parks and the benefits they bring to mental and physical health.


I thank Jenny Chen, Pete Read, Seán Brosnahan, and Claire Orbell from Toitū Otago Settlers’ Museum for their help.


Some of the material from this blog comes from ‘J. Beattie, ‘Fashioning a Future Part II: Settlement, Improvement and Conservation in the European colonization of Otago, 1840-1860’, International Review of Environmental History, 7, 2 (2021); ‘Battle for the Belt’, Forest & Bird Magazine, No. 378(2020), pp.60-61.


James Beattie is an award-winning environmental historian who teaches at the Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington, but resides in Ōtepoti/ Dunedin


[1] 11 July 1857, Otago Witness, 2.

[2] Tom Brooking, ‘“Green Scots and golden Irish”: The environmental impact of Scottish and Irish settlers in New Zealand: Some preliminary ruminations’, Journal of Irish & Scottish Studies 3, No. 1 (2009): 41-60.

[3] James Beattie, ‘Colonial Geographies of Settlement: Vegetation, Towns, Disease and Well-Being in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 1830s-1930s’, Environment and History, 14, 4 (November, 2008): 583-610.

[4] Dunedin Public Lands Ordinance, 1854’, Otago Gazette Issue 11 March 1854, vol1, no 5A, 2-4.

[5] The aims of the Ordinance, however, represented something of a dead letter, as government deemed its provisions illegal. Passage of the Public Reserves Act (1854), however, confirmed Crown ownership of reserves, but vested the power to manage and proclaim such reserves in the person of the provincial superintendent.

[6] 12 August 1854, Otago Witness, 3.

[7] 20 June 1857, Otago Witness, 2.

[8] 11 July 1857, Otago Witness, 2.

[9] Many Scottish and English settlers who had experienced land eviction and the reduction of commonage perpetrated the same acts on Kāi Tahu.

[10] Clayton, ENNZ.

[11] John Logan to Deputy Superintendent, Royal Terrace [Dunedin], 10 August, 1858, Otago Province Series 6, 245, Micro 414/8, no. 244 Hocken Library.

[12] 28 August 1858, Otago Witness, p.3. This notice was repeated on 4 September 1858, Otago Witness, p.8.

[13] Otago Daily Times, 15 September 1862, p.4.

[14] Otago Daily Times, 13 October 1865, 5. I thank Austin Gee for finding this material.

[15] Neil Clayton, ‘Settlers, Politicians and Scientists: Environmental Anxiety in A New Zealand Colony’, ENNZ 9, No. 1 (2014): (accessed 23 July 2021).

[16] Otago Witness, 18 December 1866, p.5.

[17] Otago Daily Times, 19 December 1866, p.4.

[18] Otago Witness, 19 December 1866, p.4.

[19] William Martin, ‘The Dunedin Town Belt’, handwritten, Dunedin Town Belt, DC 2134, Toitū Otago Settlers’ Museum.

[20] ‘About the Society’, (accessed 23 February 2022).

A Dunedin garden and orchard from 1850-1905

by Claire Bibby

Between 1850 and 1905, the curve of hills surrounding present day Mavis Street in southern Dunedin sheltered a beautiful garden and orchard. Heritage Gardener Claire Bibby tells the garden history through three eras of care.

Jeffreys, Ellen Penelope, 1827-1904 (née Valpy), Dunedin 1850. View taken from Forbury Hill above Allandale, 1850, Hocken Library Accession No: 7,764

In May 1850, Wiliam Valpy, reputed to be New Zealand’s wealthiest resident on his arrival to the colony in 1849, hosted a harvest home for his friends and workers on his farm at Forbury, Dunedin. Forty people sat down to an old English-style meal of roast beef and plum pudding. A toast was made, the Reverend Burns acknowledging that “the land was well fitted to reward any toil and labour bestowed upon it.” The Valpy’s daughter, Ellen, painted the harvest scene (above).

Wiliam Valpy (

William and Caroline Valpy hosted a second harvest home in 1851.

“A large tent was erected on a sheltered part of the grounds for the occasion; and under the canopy two of the beautiful fern trees so peculiar to New Zealand, spread their graceful foliage over the happy company,” reported the Otago Witness. The guests visited the fields and gardens and a new dwelling house under construction built “of beautiful stone …eliciting the admiration of all.”

An early settler reminisced about the occasion in the Otago Witness in 1872.  “Forbury House was then in course of erection by Mr David Calder, and its proportions and surroundings being quite baronial when compared with, even the most pretentious mansion that had yet been raised, it was the object of much wondering interest.”

The situation was described as bleak but romantic. “We pictured the extensive swamp stretching from before the house to the north-west point of the Peninsula, covered with the richest cultivation— fields of waving golden grain seen beyond the ample parks and spreading lawn.”

Mr Valpy died in 1852 before the house was complete. He was buried on his property, remaining there until his reinternment in Dunedin’s Southern Cemetery in 1890.

In 1861, Thomas and Wilhelmina Allan of Scotland arrived in Dunedin. Mr Allan was a nurseryman and florist and by 1866 had established the Exhibition Nursery on Cumberland Street and a Seed Shop at The Cutting.

Miniature of Thomas Allan and Wilhelmina Allan enclosed in a brooch fashioned with gold mined by Thomas Allan in the Dunstan gold rush.

In 1870, a visitor to his nursery wrote in the Otago Daily Times, “He has a fine property at Forbury, which he is transforming into nursery gardens and pleasure grounds, and where he intends to grow his nursery stock, as the city becomes too closely built up. There he will find ample scope, having 16 acres of fine, rich, and well sheltered ground. The fruit trees, which were planted there by the late Mr Valpy, are literally hanging to the ground with the weight of fruit which shows that in sheltered positions fruit will succeed in Otago!”  It was noted the gardens had twenty-two hives of bees.

The visitor returned in August 1871, writing for the Otago Witness.

“Several winding walks are being made through the bush, and these, when completed, and the banks planted with ornamental trees and shrubs, according to the plans shewn us, will no doubt make the place very attractive.”

The splendid views of the Forbury Race Course, the Ocean Beach, and along the bay to Dunedin were admired.

“The Forbury House is a massive structure of Caversham sand-stone and is in so dilapidated condition as to remind one of an old castle of centuries ago,” the writer continued. “There were at one time a fine garden and orchard attached to the house, but they had been neglected for years previous to coming into Mr Allan’s possession; so that these improvements have been of little advantage to the present occupant, who is preparing ground for the planting of an orchard of a thousand trees — chiefly plums, cherries, pears, and apples.”

It’s likely the original orchard and gardens were planted by Mr Valpy’s estate manager, John Anderson. Mr Anderson had been trained as a gardener on large estate in Scotland and employed in gardens before sailing to New Zealand. He was a founding member of the Dunedin Horticultural Society, of which Mr Allan was to later become secretary.

Mr John Anderson (

Mr Allan began restoring and enlarging the Valpy’s Forbury House, renaming it Allandale House and Gardens. There were beautiful green terraces in front of the house, suitable for games. He offered the site for garden parties, fetes and picnics, the earliest of these recorded in 1873.

By 1878, Allandale House and Gardens were flourishing. The house had been enlarged to 16 rooms with an airy hall. There was a stable, coach house and greenhouse. An artificial pond had been formed in the grounds. In December that year, a full account of the garden plantings was published in the Otago Witness.

“The gardens and Allandale House, formerly Forbury, lie in a bight or valley surrounded with hills clothed with native bush.”  

There was a fine collection of hybrid rhododendrons “…comprising about 50 varieties and hundreds of plants.”

“Allandale gardens have long been noted for the fine roses grown there, and they were, at the time of our visit, just coming into bloom. The collection comprises nearly 150 varieties, including, many, of the newest and finest in cultivation.”

The writer listed conifers and deciduous trees by variety and described the shelter hedges in detail. There was also a fine collection of heaths, fuchsias and pelargoniums.

Allandale was gutted by fire in May 1879, caused by a log rolling out of a hearth. Mr Allan had not insured it fully, and he had taken out a mortgage against his properties in April with Joseph Morgan Massey, the Dunedin Town Clerk. Mr Massey foreclosed and within a year the sections of Allandale township were being sold by Mr Massey. There followed a sensational series of Court trials which ended in 1883, when Mr Massey was imprisoned for fraud in a Council case.

The Allandale nursery land, and presumably the orchard, had been acquired by Robert Macquaid, the George Street fruiterer.  In 1898 a visitor to Macquaid’s orchard, writing in the Otago Daily Times, said the property was a beauty spot, describing a similar outlook to when it was in the possession of Mr Valpy, nearly 50 years earlier and Mr Allan, 20 years previously.

It was “ideally situated for an orchard, benefitting from a northerly exposure, and sheltered from southerlies by a high hill at the rear…views of the ocean stretching away to the right, the bay in front and the sylvan glades of the Peninsula”.

The orchard had apples of Hawthornden, Stirling Castle, Codlin, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Gloria Mundi, Prince Bismark, Nonsuch and more. There were Jargonelle and Bon Chrétien pears, groves of gooseberries and currents and a choice selection of plums, apricots and peaches. Mr Macquaid said he had harvested 800 lbs of Sir Joseph Paton strawberries that season. The article closed with a description of “Leafy groves, soft walks, laden boughs, cool shades and a glorious prospect.”

One can only imagine what Thomas Allan thought on reading this.

At the turn of the century the Allan’s moved north and Mr Allan established himself as a nurseryman at Avondale, Auckland. He developed a 400-tree orchard and sold seed, flowers and fruit, and Pohutukawa trees, for honey. He died in 1926, aged 91, and was buried beside his wife in the Waikaraka cemetery, Onehunga.

Robert Macquaid died in 1907 at the age of 81 and is buried in Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery, where his wife Mary was buried in 1903. Between their deaths, the Macquaids “well-known orchard” was surveyed and in 1905 the sections were advertised for sale, for building on.

The beautiful gardens and orchards first established in 1850 on the finest land in Dunedin, with the best of views and shelter, are now residential housing along the roads and streets of Valpy, Motu, Mavis and Allandale.

Further reading

Heritage Roses NZ Inc. Journal Volume 49, Issue 2, February 2022.

Heritage Gardeners 1871-1872 Thomas Allan Catalogue

For the garden and nursery descriptions, see the following articles in Papers Past:

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume IX, Issue 427, 11 May 1850

Otago Witness, Issue 5, 5 April 1851, Page 2

Otago Witness, Issue 1091, 26 October 1872, Page 2

Otago Daily Times, Issue 2491, 29 January 1870, Page 5 (Supplement)

Otago Witness, Issue 1414, 28 December 1878, Page 5

Otago Daily Times, Issue 11035, 12 February 1898, Page 3