Photo 1985

JOY FOUNTAIN

by Donal Duthie
 from Friends Newsletter 1993

  Just off the main drive of the Botanic Garden, very close to the elegant little summer house, is the small Joy Fountain. This fountain is a circular bowl half filled with water and in the centre there is a hexagonal plinth topped by the statue of a small child. The child is sitting and has doves perched on the shoulder and the knees. The statue is carved from Hinuera stone and shows all the style and new freedom of Art Deco.Small children love this fountain In the winter they push their fingers into the jets of water spurting from the mouths of concrete frogs and on warm summer days it is not unusual to see several children splashing around as naked as the statue on the plinth.

This rather ordinary little statue has a history that bears all the hallmarks of a bureaucratic maze. In 1930, Martin James Kilgour died and in his will there was a bequest of one hundred pounds to go "towards the purchase of a piece of statuary for the Botanic Gardens".  The will went on to say that this statuary should be placed adjacent to the main gate in Glenmore Street. The will and its intention seem to be quite straightforward, and it would also seem that there should have been ro major problems in implementing it. However, it was to be almost 16 years before the fountain and its little statue were there for all to see.

The entire passage of the Kilgour bequest through Council was grist for the bureaucratic mill.  The Wellington City Council has a marvellous file on the numerous transactions and deliberations of the Joy Fountain. Until recently this file was held in the Records Section of the Town Clerk's Department which was the controlling authority for the Botanic Garden at that time.  Sadly the recent re-organisation of Local Bodies has meant that we no longer have a Town Clerk, and more importantly for the Joy Fountain, there is no Records Section.   Recent enquiries for the historic file have been fruitless.  Staff from Corporate Services (the modern equivalent for the Town Clerk's Department) have been polite and industrious in their search for this file, but the Joy Fountain file and other histonc items from Botanic Garden history appear to be consigned to a storage area at the Barker Street Depot and appear to be un-catalogued

Going back to 1930, as soon as Mr Kilgour's bequest was revealed to Council it became clear that there was a very real difference between the thinking of City Solicitor, Mr John O'Shea and the Director of Parks, Mr J G McKenzie.   Mr McKenzie made it known from the start that he thought the one hundred pounds should be spent on "a fountain and basin for the Botanical Gardens" This was not good enough for Mr O'Shea who wanted a statue of some note in either marble or bronze.  O'Shea told councillors of a recent trip he had made to Victoria, Australia, and in the City of Ballarat he had seen a magnificent Italian marble statue in the style of classical Rome. This statue was housed in an elegant Victorian pavilion to shelter it from the elements and he made it clear to Councillors that such a statue would be a handsome endorsement to the Botanic Garden. At a later Council meeting, O'Shea produced evidence in support of his claim for marble or bronze. The evidence took the form of quotes from the Encyclopedia Britannica and dictionaries as to the definition of a 'piece of statuary.  The verbal battled raged on for some time and clearly Councillors were divided on the issue. Eventually it became clear to all parties that although one hundred pounds was a handsome sum for 1930, it was nowhere near the mark for a classical Italian marble, and so the 'cloth was trimmed' to McKenzie's fountain and basin. But as wth most political committee decisions, a compromise was made to the O'Shea camp that the fountain and basin should include a sculptured figure.  Round one was drawing to a close, but the end was still a long way off.

By the time Council was ready to start on turning Mr Kilgour's bequest into reality, the country and the city were in the gnp of the Great Depression.  As the Depression eased, a war was looming in Europe and both these factors had an effect on the destiny of the little Joy Fountain.  After ten years of wrangling, Council eventually opted for Park Director McKenzie's idea of a "fountain and basin for the Botanical Gardens" but with the addition of a piece of statuary. During all this time, the Great Depression had been grinding on and this had made Council extremely cautious about spending, even if it was money in hand such as a bequest. However, by 1941 Council was contemplating running a competition for an appropriate design, but after some debate they decided to go back to the drawings McKenzie had commissioned in September 1934. These plans had been drawn by Mr Ellis, Art Master at the Wellington Technical College. Having reached a decision on the design, Council was ready for some action and in June 1942 a contract was awarded to execute a piece of statuary in Hinuera stone that would be appropriate for the drawings of Mr Ellis.  The City Engineer was instrumental in convincing Councillors to award the contract to Mr Alex R Fraser A.R.D.A., of The National Art Gallery. At this stage Mr Ellis fades from the picture, but the Council was to hear a great deal more from Mr Fraser.

The contract with Fraser was to complete the statuary in one year, that is by June 1943. When June 1943 came round, Mr Fraser advised Council that, because of extra duties at Wellington Technical College where he was teaching, he had
been unable to complete the contract, and Council granted him an extension to January 1944. In January 1944 Fraser advised Council that "owing to the pressure of work" he had not been able to complete the statue and Council granted another one year extension to January 1945. By January 1945 Fraser advised Council that "the work would take longer than expected"! Council replied by granting another extension to the contract. This time it was until July 1945. July came and went and then in August Mr Fraser advised Council that the work would be completed in October. This time Mr Fraser beat the gun and the work was completed in September of 1945. Newspaper reports say that the statue "was placed in the Public Library for viewing". One can imagine the sense of relief that Council officers and in particular Councillors must have felt when this milestone was achieved. In November 1945 Council was again shown the drawings that Mr Ellis had done in 1934. The basin shown to Council was a low pool with eight sides and a central plinth for the statue. Council adopted the plan and authorised work to proceed. Some might say "easier said than done"!

There was an immediate response from the sculptor, Fraser. He wrote to Council strongly objecting to the octagonal pool. He demanded "a round pool for freedom of movement", and he was also insistent that the water jets playing into the basin must emanate from the mouths of ornamental frogs. Hard on the heels of the letter from Mr Fraser, was a letter from the Building Controller. This was wartime and the use of cement was strictly rationed and accordingly the Building Controller refused the application from the Wellington Crty Council to purchase cement for the project. Two more applications to the Building Controller were refused, but eventually on the fourth application he saw fit to allow cement to be purchased. This was in June 1946. Work progressed rapidly at this stage, for by September 1946 Council workmen had completed a circular bowl and the pedestal to support the statue which was still on display in the Public Library.

In the same month of September, Council issued another contract to Mr Alex R Fraser. This time he was to fix the statuary to the pedestal supply and fix embellishments and plaster the walls of the pool. The embellishments were the plaster frogs that Mr Fraser had convinced Council were essential for the pool-surround. Mr Fraser was once again unable to complete the work in time, and once again Council granted an extension to his contract. However by December 1946 all work was finally completed. The statue of "Joy" was firmly in position, the fountain jets were playing and all that was required was an inauguration ceremony.

Friday 6th December 1946 was a busy day for the Wellington City Council. His Worship the Mayor, Mr William Appleton, escorted Councillors on a tour of inspection to a number of sites throughout the city. Firstly they went round the Transit Housing settlement at Miramar, then they viewed a number of homes for ex-servicemen constructed from building materials salvaged from the army camp at Anderson Park. A stream diversion at Watwarth Road was next, and then they viewed a valley which was to be filled with refuse using the new 'Bradford Tip' method. Finally, the tour called at the 'Botanical Gardens' where there was a short ceremony to unveil the figure of "Joy".

The Dominion and Evening Post newspapers for Saturday 7th December 1946 both reported on the ceremony at the Botanic Garden on the previous day. The item in The Dominion was very brief. The Mayor, Mr Appleton, was quoted as saying he "hoped the Kilgour bequest would be the forerunner of many similar bequests for the beautrfication of the crty" and Mr Alex R Fraser expressed similar sentiments. The Evening Post was more expansive, and their report dated Sat Dec 7 1946 is shown in full in the box.

"JOY" IN THE GARDENS

UNVEILED BY THE MAYOR

The figure of the boy and his pigeons, named "Joy" by the sculptor, which was for some time on display in the foyer of the public library, was unveiled by the Mayor (Mr. Appleton) in its proper setting in the Botanical Gardens yesterday afternoon in the presence of members of the City Council and interested visitors to the gardens.

Some years ago an old 'Thorndon' resident and lover of the Botanical Gardens, Mr. Martin James Kilgour left a small sum in his will for a piece of statuary, but made no condition other than it should be placed as near as was convenient to the main gates of the gardens.

Mr.Alex. R. Fraser, the Wellington sculptor suggested the design and surround, and to the late Mr. Kilgour's bequest the council added a sufficient amount to carry the sculptor's suggestions out in full detail; the figure is mounted upon a pedestal in the centre on a shallow water lily and goldfish pool, into which jets will play.

The appreciation of the council and citizens of the kindly thought which had actuated the late Mr. Kilgour was expressed by Mr. Appleton, who said that he hoped that that bequest would be the forerunner of similar gifts for the beautification of the city. Mr. Fraser expressed similar sentiments, saying that Wellington was singularly lacking in such small statuary.

Today "JOY" is attracting a great deal of comment, and no doubt will be the centre of interest for visitors to the gardens tommorow.

From the Evening Post


At this point everything in the garden would seem to be lovely, but the Council file on "Joy" shows that this was not so. A few days after the newspapers reported the unveiling, the Mayor received a most unwelcome letter. The sister of the late Martin James Kilgour wrote to say that she and other remaining relatives were annoyed and upset that the Wellington City Council should have the temerity to unveil her brother's bequest without the common courtesy of inviting them to the ceremony. It would seem that in their haste, the Council simply forgot the relatives. The final item on the file is a copy of a letter from His Worship The Mayor to Mr Kilgour's sister expressing apologies to the family and making a rather feeble excuse about suddenly deciding to have an unveiling while the Council was on its inspection tour. This excuse doesn't really hold water as clearly someone had arranged for Mr Fraser to be at the ceremony.

Escalating costs from estimates are not new to Council, as from the original bequest of £100 in 1930, the final costs had
risen to £520 in 1947.

Today the "Joy" fountain sits in a relatively open part of the main Garden; however thirty years ago it was surrounded by dense shrubbery, and several overhanging trees, which gave an enclosed and intimate atmosphere of isolation. The years have seen changes, not only to the shrubbery around "Joy" but also underneath. The original iron plumbing had become so coagulated with iron deposits, water was reduced to a pathetic dribble and then ceased. In 1970 the old plumbing was removed and new copper pipes installed. Not long after this the old drains blocked up and were found to be cracked and full of roots, so they too were replaced. The paving around the pool had badly sunk in places, to the point where it was dangerous, so it was relaid on a firm base.

Parks administration has never been particulary fond of "Joy". At one stage in the late 60's a team of painters were in the Botanic Garden painting buildings and garden furniture, when they came to the fountain of "Joy", and it was given a good coat of cream enamel. Not just the bowl and pedestal but "Joy", the doves and all! It created some interest and even dismay. One evening the regional news on TV. featured the heavily painted statue. The very next day a sand blasting crew arrived and peeled back the paint to the original Hinuera stone carved by Mr Fraser. The years have also seen some vandalism to the statuary and the wings on the doves and Mr Fraser's frogs are rather battered, but I think it is only adults who notice these things.

My own opinion of "Joy" is not complimentary. I feel it is out of character with the rest of the Victorian and Edwardian garden furniture. There is a vague feeling of a junior Rob Muldoon about the face, and I freely admit to not being an Art Deco fan. However, my feelings are of no consequence. "Joy" and the fountain were created for the children of Wellington. Right from the start children loved playing with the water. The Evening Post talks about water lily and goldfish in the bowl, but I doubt if they were ever tried. If they were, it would be certain that they wouldn't last long with the children playing. In 1993 the fountain is as popular as it was in 1947, and I am sure that children will enjoy it for many years to come.


Thanks to:

Alexander Turnbull Library

Wellington City Library

The Botanic Garden, Wellington A New Zealand History 1840 - 1987
by Winsome Shepherd and Walter Cook

The Town Clerk's File 20/30 Statue "Joy"
(whereabouts now unknown)

UPDATE P C Tomlinson

Over the years the soft Hinuera stone used for the sculpture has eroded, as have the frogs. Hundreds of small hands had worn the frogs into a shapeless mass, and the figure had also seriously suffered over the years.  The Garden in 2008 decided that renovaton was required, and the figure was recast in recostituted stone.  The Friends donated the frogs, which where recast in bronze for permanancy, rather than the original cement plaster.  Interestingly, recently through the web site an enquiry was received asking where the frogs could be purchased, and could they purchase one!  Perhaps there is an opening for a frog based business! 

The refurbished fountain was officially opened on 29 October 2009 by the Mayor, much to the delight of many children.

As an aside, it is interesting that the 1874 Buchanan map of the garden clearly shows a pond in approximately the position where the Joy Fountain is now.  The original stream has been piped, with that earlier pond likely to have been  replaced by the existing pond and fountain.