100 years young in 2014

The small Edwardian summer-house to one side of the Botanic Garden Main Drive seems such a peaceful little building. It is hard to imagine anything controversial should be associated with such a blissful structure But for many years there has been speculation as to who built the summer-house.

The Summer House is associated with Labour Day, which is an annual public holiday on the 4th Monday of October. It commemorates the struggle for an 8-hour working day. 

Originally donated in 1914,  2014 marks its 100th year of existance in the Main Garden, and the fact that it remains in such good condition shows the quality of original workmanship.  At one stage it was covered with a rose that caused some damage before being removed, but the minor repairs restored it to its original conditon.  I wonder if it will receive a letter from the Queen to mark its centenary?

" In 1977 the summer-house was featured in the Evening Post as part of a series of articles called 'City Scapes'. Grant Tilly drew a little pencil sketch and David McGill wrote a story called 'The Gazebo at the Bottom of Our Garden'.

McGill recounts negotiations between the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners and the City Council in 1914 [the building was purchased that year by WCC for the sum of twenty pounds] He goes on to speculate on the age of the summer-house suggesting that it could be close to a century old.

Summer House   1947

McGill descibes an old man coming into the Garden twelve years previously who said that as a lad he held a candle while his father built the summer-house which was to be put on a dray for a Labour Day procession. McGill then says it was built by William Mudge and quotes a Mrs H M Smith of Khandallah, who says it was erected by William Mudge her great grandfather

In 1994 historian Donal Duthie personally became much more interested in the history of the summer-house. He was contacted by a lady who gave him a copy of some memoirs written by an aunt. Her aunt was Hilda McArthur daughter of George Blatherwick secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners Union of NZ Hilda McArthur's memoirs were written in 1994 when she was 90 years old. She describes in wonderful detail how her father decided to build a gazebo to represent his Carpenters and Joiners in the Labour Day parade. George built the gazebo in his own time on the premises of Munt Cottrell Carriers on the corner of Victoria Street and Chews Lane. Hilda says 'Well I remember going with my father and spending many hours holding the light whilst he hammered and chiselled his way to the completion of his dreams'

For the day of the grand procession the structure was loaded onto what Hilda calls a lorry (dray). The floor of the gazebo had to have holes cut in it to allow the lorry wheels to turn Hilda was allowed to ride in the gazebo as a special concession because Labour Day October 26 was also her birthday and because she had asssited her father with the construction.

The procession wound its way through Wellington streets to a carnival and sports day at Newtown Park. However Hilda explains that all was not well. As they turned into Kent Terrace Hilda's new raincoat fell and became entangled in the lorry wheel. The procession had to be halted while they extracted the coat. The detail and tenor of Hilda McArthur's notes convinced Donal Duthie that George Blatherwick was without doubt the builder

A search of the Evening Post revealed an account of the 1914 Labour Day parade. It described the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners as being to the fore. It gives a description of what they call a summer-house and says that it was built out of heart totara, the best that could be got for the purpose.

The summer house is listed as a gazebo in the WCC heritage inventory which states the structure was built in the 1900s the architect is unknown and the style is Federation Carpenter Gothic. Under History is a quote from David McGill's story boldly stating "It is reported to have been built for the Labour Day procession by William Mudge". Both the heritage inventory and David McGill say that the gazebo was built of redwood.

The original WCC summer-house file itself has vanished.

Grant Tilly sketch

On September 5 2000 the descendants of George Blatherwick wrote to the Botanic Garden asking permission to put a small plaque on the summer-house. The wording would be to the effect that it was built by George Blatherwick and that it was part of the 1914 Labour Day parade. Hilda McArthur had died but she had one remaining brother and the family hoped to have the plaque in place before he passed on.

The Botanic Gardens were sympathetic but explained that while the Wellington City Council Heritage inventory claimed William Mudge was the builder they could do nothing. At this point a letter was sent to WCC Heritage asking them to revise the Summer House history and from here on the plot really thickens. A huge wad of correspondence reveals mislaid letters unanswered letters and general confusion For instance one letter from WCC Heritage says the summer-house is not included in the non-residential inventory. Ten months later another letter says that it is.

In the meantime Kenneth George Blatherwick the last remaining son of George Blatherwick has died. And nothing has changed in the two years since the family made application to the Botanic Garden for permission for a plaque to be attached to the summer-house. "

Based on an article by Donal Duthie, garden historian first published 2002 in Newsletter of the Friends of the Wellington Botanic Garden

The rear of the summer  house also records a memorial to William John Morris who  lost his life in an attempt to save his younger brother, Joseph aged 8, from drowning in Wellington Harbour. Both boys had decided not to attend school and went to the harbour reclamation at Thorndon to play. Whilst there Joseph fell in and William, who was an excellent swimmer, dived in to rescue him. A worker named Brown pulled Joseph, quite exhausted, from the water by his ankle but his older brother was nowhere to be seen. Once young Joseph was on dry land Brown looked into the water and saw the brother lying on the seabed and although four nearby men plunged into the water to rescue him he was dead by the time they reached him. William's heroism and selfless act of bravery is quietly commemorated in this peaceful corner of the Botanic Garden. Details from a newspaper report at the time of the accident - Evening Post, Volume XLII, Issue 27, 31 July 1891, Page 3

Details from a newspaper report at the time of the accident
Evening Post, Volume XLII, Issue 27, 31 July 1891, Page 3

Information on plaques and memorials in the garden
can be seen in the MEMORIALS REGISTER 
Click to access
Based on an earlier article by Donal Duthie