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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Alexander Turnbull Library
Wellington City Library
The Botanic Garden,
Wellington A New Zealand History 1840 -
The Town Clerk's File 20/30
Over the years the soft Hinuera
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.