Donal Duthie  July 1994

On the 12th March 1910 an enormous garden fete was held in the area we now know as the Main Gardens. The purpose
of this fete was to raise funds for the Boys' Institute.

The Boys' Institute was founded in 1903 and in the intervening years had built the large building and swimming pool in Tasman Street. It was anticipated that the fete would enable the Institute to heat the pool and provide some furniture for the building. The idea of a fete was not new, as a similar one had been held in Christchurch with great success. Newspaper reports don't say who the person responsible for organising the fete was, but it is clear that there was a great deal of enthusiasm and a massive committee of more than 126 people was allocated all sorts of tasks, ranging from being the hostess at one of the tea marquees to organising the six girls of the Kia Ora branch of the Girls Realm Guild to sell cool drinks.

The 'Dominion' newspaper gave the fete good promotion. It started off with a news item on March 3rd 1910 saying that there was an extraordinary amount of interest in the forthcoming fete and that the three marquee committees had matters in hand. Then on March 8th, the 'Dominion' reported on a full committee meeting held in the Museum and arrangements were finalised for the many events. One of the novelties was a post office where post cards could be bought and posted. There were to be many other things, like a motor railway, cookery competitions, floral competitions, decorated hats, apple bobbing, nail driving, and a cigarette race - whatever that might have been!

The next day, March 9th, the 'Dominion' had a long column listing the names of all those on the various committees, including the marquee hostesses, who were Mrs Newman, Mrs Rhodes and Lady Ward, the wife of the Prime Minister.

Then on March 12th, the day of the fete, the 'Dominion' ran another story. The 'Dominion' said that a telegram had been received from Sir Joseph Ward the Prime Minister extending and 15 taken "hearty wishes for success". The story went on to say that at the post card stall a valuable coloured photographic floral post card album will be disposed of, probably by means of a guessing competition. It said the album contained about 250 cards representing flowers, pot plants, fruit and animals, which have been produced by the new Rommel process and are photographs from nature.

After the fete on Monday 14th, the 'Dominion' had a full column reporting on the bnlliant success of the fete and went right into every details of every activity. The motor railway, it seems, was a shuttle service of nine cars that packed people in and ran them from the front gate down to Thorndon Esplanade and back. For many people it would have been their first ride in a motor car.

Of the Post Office, the 'Dominion' said that this was where the enthusiast might post his purchase. The whole idea proved so attractive that 3000 post cards were sold

Even allowing for the enthusiastic hyperbole of the reporter, the fete was clearly very popular and more than 350 pounds was raised enabling the Boys' Institute to heat the pool. The 'Dominion' report concludes by telling us that Mr Clifton Osmond won the post card album by guessing 850 beans, the correct number being 859.

The 'Evening Post1 appears to have only one report on the fete and this appeared after the fete on Monday 14th March. The 'Evening Post' headed the report "Discovery of the Gardens". The report covers the attractive feature of the gardens, the success of the fete, and the possibility of repetition and perhaps using funds raised for improving the Gardens themselves. It all reads as a modem editorial, but the wording is a delightful dose of Edwardian flowery language, with an excess of adjectives and occasional dips into classical literature. It concludes with the wonderful sentence - "A fee to see the emerald, gold and ruby rainment of Princess Botanica might help to buy some decent covering for the Cinderella of the Town Belt".

Such a fete was not repeated in the Botanic Garden, but the Boys' Institute did have another fete in 1913. This time it was to have been at Newtown Park but there are no reports in the papers and it seems likely that the weather was not good and the venture was transferred to the Wellington Town Hall. It would appear then, that more than 3000 post cards went through the Post Office at the Botanic Gardens during that fete. All cards were franked with a special cachet in red ink. The cachet was a round one consisting of two circles. Inside the circles was the wording 'POSTED FROM WELLINGTON'. In the centre it read 'B.I.FETE 12 MAR 10. BOTANICAL GARDENS'. 

Postmark and cachet

During the early 1980's Des Hurley did some research on the Botanic Garden cancellation cachet and also for the second fete supposedly held at Newtown Park. The Hurley story was written up in the New Zealand Stamp Collector and makes interesting reading. The interesting thing about these cachets is that there are only two examples know of the Botanic Garden cachet, and only one of the Newtown Park. One card with its cachet appeared at a postal history exhibition in Wellington about 10 years ago. It had a message from Miss Eva Holm to her sister Breta. Eva said "Fine day. Big crowd. Motor ride to be remembered. Sending this from Gardens under difficulties". Eva and Breta Holm were founders of St Mark's School and both served as head mistresses.

Needless to say, the two surviving 'Botanical Gardens' cachets are eagerly sought after in postal history circles, and collectors are prepared to pay a lot of money for them. So if you have any old postcards, have a look through them for that historic cancellation. If you have one it will be extremely valuable.

The Dominon newspaper,reported as follows: 

On Saturday,  Garden Fete                                      on Monday report of success


Alexander Turnbull Library - 'Dominion'


'Evening Post"
New Zealand Stamp Collector, D E Hurley

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