Better times ahead for unwanted clock
Parts of an historic clock have done their time in Balclutha and are destined for display at the Toitu¯ Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin.
Clutha District Council records officer Jane Soper said she was making more space in the council’s storage area when the components of an 1860s clock were discovered a year ago.
One of its four 1.8 metres wide clock dials hangs above the reception area at the Rosebank offices.
In a shed out the back Soper found the other three clock faces, along with the metal gears and hands of the grand timepiece that once graced Dunedin’s former landmark Stock Exchange building for more than a century.
‘‘As we had no skills for restoration an offer was made to the Balclutha Memorial Town Hall project team and the chairman said they didn’t have a need for it.’’
So the council decided to approach the Dunedin City Council to ask if it could be restored as a part of the city’s history.
The quest to re home the clock was a timely reminder of its rather painful 50-year-old history in Balclutha as the clock no-one ending up wanting. It was donated to the then Balclutha Borough Council by a resident, one Harold Cartwright, who bought it from the Dunedin City Council when the Stock Exchange building was demolished in 1969.
For the next 10 years debate raged in the town and council chamber about where a clock tower would be built to house it.
The Balclutha War Memorial Hall to the north and the Rosebank triangle to the south were possible locations, and later on the new Clutha County Council administration block that was to be built in about 1980.
However, the costs were prohibitive; $900 was one of the early quotes that Cartwright obtained to erect a 5.4m tower, with South Otago Newspapers general manager VM Bridgeman setting up a public appeal to raise the funds in 1973.
A competition was proposed in 1977 to design the clock tower, to cost no more than $2000.
Meanwhile, the clock was gathering dust in storage. By 1978, plans had been scrapped; the council decided to sell the clock, and the public was not happy. It was reported in regional newspapers that people thought it was ‘‘a pretty poor show’’ that the council had said yes to erecting the clock and no 10 years later.
In a letter to the editor, Cartwright the donor was also bitterly disappointed, because the former mayor Bob Pearson who he had presented it to had been ‘‘very much in favour of it’’, and thought the clock a ‘‘great gift’’ to the town.
However, the council decided the town could not afford to build a clock tower, and to sell the clock to (the then) Lincoln College. But the college later declined the offer to buy it.
And so the clock languished unwanted in a shed for until 1983, when it was reconditioned and converted to single dial by Daniels Jewellers in Dunedin and hung in the council offices, where it will remain as a mark of respect to the original donor and perhaps as an ode to unfinished business.
Toitu¯ Otago Settlers Museum curator Pete Read, who is preparing to move the clock parts, said it was only right that a face remained in Balclutha and not join the others in Dunedin.
‘‘It is absolutely part of its story and part of Clutha District’s history so it’s fitting that that bit stays where it is.’’
The other three dials, the original 1860s mechanism and the 1950s IBM gear (when it was converted to electricity) are returning to Dunedin to the museum.
‘‘The clock enhances our ability to tell the story of public timekeeping in Dunedin, adding to existing collections and stories such as that of the Bell Hill cannon, Bell Hill bell and the George Young clock.’’
The museum makes reference to the Stock Exchange building in two places in its displays and also in an area about the 1865 New Zealand Exhibition held in Dunedin that the clock is also connected with.
‘‘So we are delighted to be getting the other pieces that we can potentially use to illustrate these stories at some point in the future.’’
The clock had quite a journey before it reached the Stock Exchange building in
Tick: In 1863, the Otago Provincial Government ordered the multiple-dial clock and bell from the United Kingdom. Its 25cwt bell was cast by Bryson of Edinburgh.
Tock: In 1864, the clock and bell were stored in a building built for the 1865 exhibition.
Tick: Here’s where things get a little complicated: In 1868 Julius Hyman, a prominent Jewish Dunedin identity, with help from the Otago Foundry, made a new silent clock for the exhibition building, which eventually became the first Dunedin Hospital. It was the first turret clock made in Otago, and possibly the first of its kind in either New Zealand or Australia.
The original 1863 clock dials remained at the exhibition/hospital building while the mechanism was moved to what would eventually become the Stock Exchange building in 1868 (it was the Post Office at the time).
Hyman made new dials for the grand location, the same ones that ended up in Balclutha with the rest of the clock.
Tock: By 1878 the university was occupying the Stock Exchange building, but could not take the clock when it moved to Leith St. The next occupier, the Bank of New Zealand now owned the clock and passed it over to the Dunedin City Corporation when they quit the building.
Tick: In 1953, possibly earlier, the clock stopped working, which led to it being converted to an electric slave system. The IBM master clock from this conversion will be a prime addition to the museum’s computing collection and could potentially be useful for computer history displays.
Tock: In 1968, the clock was removed from the building prior to demolition in 1969, and taken to Balclutha.
The bell was retained by the city council, and until recently hung in the Meridian Mall.
It is thought that other parts of the original 1863 ‘‘hospital’’ clock are privately held in Dunedin.
The Stock Exchange clock dial in the Clutha District Council foyer at Balclutha.