Alison Clock

Marine Square, Devonport, Auckland

  • Alison Clock.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 23/10/2005.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 23/10/2005.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 23/10/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 4513 Date Entered 30th June 2006


Extent of List Entry

Extent of registration includes part of the land in CT NA 616/104 (as shown on Map B of Appendix 4 of the Registration Report) and the Alison Clock structure, its fixtures and fittings thereon. Fixtures and fittings include the timepiece and its component parts, and a commemorative plaque. The registration incorporates an area extending 0.5m north, east, south and west from the external edge of the concrete plinth at the base of the Clock.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (North Shore City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Pt of Lot 1 DP 22936 (CT NA616/104), North Auckland Land District


Located close to the wharves of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company in Devonport, the Alison Clock was erected in 1928 to commemorate the services of Hon. E.W. Alison, MLC, a prominent local politician and the ferry company's founder. The monument was largely funded by the wider local community, but with a contribution from the Council. The structure was designed by the renowned architect, Roy Lippincott, and unveiled in October 1928. Containing a prominent clock, it has served as a public timepiece for nearly 80 years.

Ewen Alison:

Ewen William Alison (1852-1945) was a prominent local politician who played a significant role in developing Devonport's ferry and bus services in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His parents - Alexander and Jane Alison - were amongst Devonport's earliest settlers, having arrived in the area in 1854. Alison's father played an important part in the Devonport shipbuilding industry, one of the largest in New Zealand between 1860 and 1880. Ewen married Mary Ann Coleman in 1876, entering local politics in the same year.

Alison had a lengthy political career, serving as Mayor of Devonport from 1890 to 1895 and from 1902 to 1907. He was also the first Mayor of Takapuna in 1913, as well as being a Member of the House of Representatives for Waitemata from 1902 to 1908 and a member of the Legislative Council from 1918 to 1932. As Mayor of Devonport, Alison oversaw the provision of the first water supply system to the Borough in 1894 replacing the collection of water from wells and rainwater. He was also responsible for the establishment of foreshore reserves, the improvement of King Edward Parade and its seawall, and the acquisition of Rangitoto as a public reserve.

Ewen Alison established the Devonport Steam Ferry Company with his brother, Alexander, in 1881. He was chairman and managing director of the company for 53 years, during which time it gained a monopoly as the only ferry service operating on the Waitemata Harbour. The service was vital to the development of Devonport, with ferry transport being the main direct link with Auckland until the Harbour Bridge was built in 1959. The Alison family commissioned many of the Devonport ferries, including the Tongariro, the Tainui, the Victoria and the Brittania.

Alison had several other business interests, including the establishment of the North Shore Transport Company, which provided bus services on the North Shore. He was also involved with shipping in the upper North Island, and was chairman of the New Zealand Coal Mine Owners' Association and a number of goldmining companies in Auckland. In addition, he was a founder and president the Takapuna Jockey Club, the Waitemata Golf Club and the Takapuna Bowling Club. He was the author of three books; A New Zealander Sees the World (1937), A New Zealander Looks On (1939) and A New Zealander Looks Back (1946). As well as the Alison Clock, Ewen Alison has several North Shore streets and a park named after him.

Erection of the Alison Clock:

The proposal to erect the Alison Clock began when Mr. Thomas Lamont was Mayor (1923 - 1927). The idea for its erection reportedly came from Alison's friends, who according to a contemporary newspaper report, 'realised that his own life-story was the history of Devonport.' Funds for the memorial appear to have been primarily raised through public subscription, although the Devonport Borough Council also contributed finance. The place chosen for the memorial was described as Devonport's 'most prominent site, right at the borough's front door'. The monument was to lie next to the Devonport Steam Ferry Company's Victoria wharf, whose importance had partly been responsible for the shifting of the suburb's commercial focus to Victoria Road from an earlier centre further east in Church Street. Its incorporation of a timepiece was also a reminder of the extent to which water transport in Devonport relied on the ferry company's timetable.

Throughout 1928, arrangements were made for the erection the clock, which was initially intended to be surmounted on a cenotaph. However, following the Mayor and Councillor Walsh's suggestion that a 'less massive and taller design be adopted', the Council approved a design incorporating a tall slender column by the Auckland-based architect Roy Lippincott. Lippincott was noted for his forward-looking projects, having previously been involved in the planning of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra, and the design of Auckland's most avant-garde timepiece - the clock tower - as part of the Old Arts Building, University of Auckland (NZHPT Registration # 25, Category I historic place). The latter was erected shortly before the Alison Clock, in 1923-1926.

The Alison Clock was built by D. Mount Limited. Its electrically-worked timepiece was ordered from England and installed to the order of Mr. W. Coltman, an Auckland clock maker and jeweller. The dials of the clock were driven from a long case master located in the Council offices. The timepiece was lit from the Borough lighting circuit, and an underground wiring conduit was laid from the clock to the chambers at an estimated cost of £38.

Unveiling of the Alison Memorial Clock:

The Alison Clock was unveiled at 2.30 pm on 27 October 1928, in the attendance of Ewen Alison himself. Several hundred local residents attended the opening and the Devonport United Band played at the event.

The Mayor of Devonport, Mr E. Aldridge, addressed the crowd at the band rotunda in the nearby Windsor Reserve. The Mayor referred to Alison as the 'Father of the Shore', remarking that he had been closely and actively connected with the life of Auckland's North Shore for over 50 years and that he, more than any other individual, was responsible for the transformation of the North Shore from 'hamlets of isolation to thriving and prosperous suburbs today'.

The Mayor outlined the purpose of the clock for Devonport with the following words:

No more fitting memorial could have been planned or devised. Useful beyond words as a chronological guide to the tens of thousands of hurrying ferry users, it stands as a sentinel on our waterfront, where the busy ferries ply regularly throughout the year; it uplifts a pillar to adorn the day, and a light to brighten the night; it stands as a column four square to every wind, with a dial which keeps track of the flying sun and the wheeling cohorts of the stars as they chronicle passing Time. It suggests Past, Present and Future; it tells of Progress and of the forward march of events which keeps step with capable citizenship; and it tells the changing land and the restless sea that there is to be found an impregnable empire in a man's heart when he is endowed with Energy and Enthusiasm, consecrated to Service, and crowned with Success.

References to progress mirrored the modern design adopted for parts of the monument. Other speakers at the opening included Mr. A. Harris, M.P., Mr J. W. Williamson, Mayor of Takapuna, Mr T. Lamont, previous Mayor of Devonport, Mr W. H. Duncan, who oversaw the collection of funds, and Mr A. E. Glover.

Mr Alison responded to the addresses, saying 'I believe in the doctrine of the strenuous life, the doctrine of work and achievement'. He commented that he had withstood fierce criticism during his work in public affairs, particularly over the introduction of the water supply to Devonport, but added that 'it has been my experience that when a man earnestly and honestly uses his best endeavours on behalf of the people, the great majority recognise his efforts and support him'.

Subsequent history and modifications:

The Alison Clock was one of several monuments and memorials erected along the esplanade in Devonport in the early to mid 1900s, which contributed to the beautification of the seaside suburb. A newspaper article published shortly before the clock was unveiled noted that 'the spacious waterfront esplanades of Devonport appeal to all visitors and as they are beautified in the coming years they will rank as the finest waterfronts in the Dominion...'. The development of the esplanade was influenced by Victorian and Edwardian tastes for recreation, in which seaside perambulation played a significant role. Other monuments erected in the vicinity included the Coronation Sea Wall (1902), a fountain commemorating the South African - or Second Boer - War (1903), and the First World War Memorial (1923-1924). Similar developments occurred in seaside resorts and suburbs elsewhere in New Zealand, as at Marine Parade in Napier and in Petone, Wellington.

The Alison Clock was also the first of several public clocks erected in Devonport. In 1936 a timepiece was incorporated in the Watson Memorial, constructed by the Borough Council on King Edward Parade. A newspaper article at that time commented that synchronised timepieces erected at strategic points were appropriate given that Devonport was '... a community that lives by catching boats and buses'. Three further public clocks were subsequently erected at strategic points in Devonport.

During the 1950s, the Alison Clock was maintained by the Automatic Telephone & Electric Co. of Auckland, but by 1979 Plessey (NZ) Ltd was maintaining the timepiece. Plessey recommended replacing the pendulum master clocks of all the public Devonport clocks, except the Alison Clock, with Solid Plessey Chronogram units to improve their accuracy.

At the same time, Plessey Ltd noted that the cabinet of the Alison Clock cabinet had a hole in its roof and that two glass faces were cracked. The company recommended that repairs be carried out immediately, that the existing Slave units and master clock receive an overhaul and that a Gel Cell battery and charger be installed to replace the dry cells. Plessey also suggested that all the clocks be lit by photo cell control rather than from the street lighting circuit which they ran on at the time. However, the Alison Clock remained driven from a master clock in the Council Chambers until the late 1980s, when it was connected to its own master clock in the passenger terminal building.

The clock remains in use, having served the local community as a public timepiece for nearly 80 years. North Shore City Council became caretakers of the clock after the body took over responsibilities from Devonport Borough Council in 1989.


Other clocks registered by the NZHPT include: the Victoria Clock Tower, Victoria Street, Christchurch (NZHPT Registration # 3670, Category I historic place) designed by Benjamin Mountfort and later used as a monument for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee; War Memorial and Clock Tower, Seymour Square, Blenheim (NZHPT Registration # 243, Category I historic place) which was unveiled in 1928 and serves as Marlborough province's principal monument to residents killed during the First World War; Clock Tower, Railway Road, Hastings Central Mall (NZHPT Registration # 1075, Category I historic place) completed in 1935; Memorial Clock Tower, Hokitika (NZHPT Registration # 5054, Category II historic place) constructed in 1903; Edmonds Clock, Christchurch (NZHPT Registration # 3106, Category II historic place) constructed 1929; Town Clock and War Memorial, Waipawa (NZHPT Registration # 4844, Category II historic place) constructed in 1935; and, Rest Rooms and Town Clock, Havelock North (NZHPT Registration # 4797, Category II historic place).

The clock is one of five surviving public clocks or clock remnants of early twentieth-century date in Devonport, the others being located on King Edward Parade (Watson Memorial, 1936), at the intersection of Victoria and Albert Roads, at the intersection of Lake Road and Old Lake Road and attached to a shop at 87 Vauxhall Road.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Alison Clock is historically significant for its connections with the influential Devonport politician and businessman, Ewen Alison.

The Alison Clock has aesthetic value as a landscape feature of elegant design, located in a prominent harbourfront position at the end of Victoria Road, the main commercial thoroughfare in Devonport. It has architectural value for its associations with the notable architect, Roy Lippincott.

The clock has social value as a monument erected as a result of a community initiative and partly funded by the community. It also has social value for its public timekeeping functions, being used by ferry commuters for almost 80 years.

a)The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Alison Clock reflects important and representative aspects of New Zealand history, including the commemoration of public figures, the importance of timekeeping in an era of public transport and the beautification of seaside resorts through the erection of public monuments.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The Alison Clock is associated with notable individuals in New Zealand history, including the renowned architect Roy Lippincott and prominent local businessman and politician Ewen Alison.

(e)The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

The Alison Clock was initiated and partly funded by the Devonport community, and has provided a useful timekeeping service to the Devonport community for the past 80 years. During this period it has been maintained by the local council, indicating public esteem.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

Located on a road reserve next to Devonport's main ferry terminal, the Alison Clock has considerable potential for public education about Devonport's late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century history, Auckland's ferry network, and the role of public commemoration in early twentieth-century society. Devonport is a popular seaside resort, with numerous local and international visitors.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The Alison Clock can be considered technically accomplished for the elegance of its design.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The Alison Clock has commemorative value, remembering the contribution of Ewen Alison to the development of Devonport.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The Alison Clock is part of a broader historical and cultural landscape adjoining the Devonport waterfront, and is a particularly visible feature in a commemorative landscape focussed on King Edward Parade, Windsor Reserve and the southern end of Victoria Road. It is also one of a network of surviving historic clocks erected by Devonport Borough Council in the suburb. Devonport, itself, is a well-preserved nineteenth- and early twentieth-century settlement, containing numerous historic buildings including many in Victoria Road, close to the Alison Clock.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Lippincott, Roy Alstan

Roy Alstan Lippincott (1885-1969) was born in Pennsylvania and graduated Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, New York, in 1909. He became involved with the "Chicago School" of architects including H.V. Von Holst, Marion Mahoney and Walter Burley Griffin who were in turn greatly influenced by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

In 1912 Griffin won the competition for the design of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra, and offered Lippincott a junior partnership shortly afterwards. They moved to Sydney in 1914 and to Melbourne about a year later.

Lippincott entered several design competitions with draughtsman Edward F. Billson and in June 1921 they won the competition for the design of the Auckland University College Arts Building. Lippincott and Billson established a partnership and Lippincott moved to Auckland later that year.

The Arts building with clock tower is the best known of the buildings designed by Lippincott for Auckland's University campus. The Students' Association building (1921-1926), Caretaker's Cottage (1928-31) and Biology building (1938) were also to his design, as was the north-west wing of Choral Hall added in 1925. Other buildings designed by Lippincott during his time in Auckland were Smith and Caughey's Department Store building (1927-29), Massey University Science building, Palmerston North (1929-31), Farmers Trading Company Tearooms (1934-36) and St Peter's Preparatory School, Cambridge (1936-37).

He was elected Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1922 and a Fellow in 1924. He was actively involved in both Auckland Branch and National Council Affairs, particularly in the field of architectural education. Lippincott remained in New Zealand until 1939 when he returned to the United States and practised in Los Angeles. He became a partner in the firm of Kaufmann, Lippincott and Eggers, Los Angeles, and retired in 1958 when he moved to Santa Barbara.

Roy Alstan Lippincott (1885-1969) was born in Pennsylvania, USA. Lippincott gained a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, New York, in 1909. Subsequently, he became influenced by the Chicago School of architects, who were a group of architects active in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. The group had parallels with the European Modernism movement and was amongst the first to promote the new technologies of steel-frame construction in commercial buildings.

In circa 1912, Lippincott was offered a junior partnership with Chicago School architect Walter Burley Griffin, who had won a competition for the design of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra. He moved to Sydney with Griffin in 1914 and to Melbourne the following year.

In 1921, Lippincott and draughtsman Edward F. Billson won a competition for the design of the Auckland University College Arts Building - now known as the Old Arts Building, University of Auckland (NZHPT Registration # 25, Category I historic place). Lippincott moved to Auckland later that year and remained in New Zealand until 1939. In addition to designing the Old Arts Building, Lippincott designed several other buildings for Auckland University, including the Students' Association building (1921-1926), the northwest wing of Choral Hall (NZHPT Registration # 4474, Category I historic place) added in 1925, the Caretaker's Cottage constructed (1928-1931) and the Biology Building (1938). He also designed an addition circa 1927-1929 to Smith and Caughey's Department Store Building (NZHPT Registration # 656, Category I historic place), the Massey University Science Building in Palmerston North (1929-1931), the Berlei Factory in Auckland (1930-1931), the Farmers Trading Company Tea Rooms in Auckland (1934-1936) and St Peter's Preparatory School in Cambridge (1936-1937).

Lippincott was elected Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1922 and a Fellow in 1924. He was actively involved in the Auckland Branch and National Council Affairs, particularly in the area of architectural education.

In 1939, Lippincott returned to the United States, where he became a partner in the Los Angeles practice Kaufmann, Lippincott and Eggers. He retired in 1958 and moved to Santa Barbara.

D. Mount Limited

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The Alison Clock is situated on the harbourfront at Devonport, a maritime suburb of North Shore City noted for its well-preserved nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings. Devonport lies on the northern shoreline of the Waitemata Harbour, immediately opposite the main CBD of Auckland. The memorial is located in Marine Square, a public space at the junction of Queen's Parade and Victoria Road, Devonport's main commercial thoroughfare. Marine Square is the main point of arrival when coming to Devonport by ferry, and is part of a lengthy esplanade that helps to define the settlement's maritime character. The memorial is located on the southern side of the square, on a pavement beside the current cargo wharf and close to the entrance to the main passenger ferry terminal.

Numerous other historic structures lie along the Devonport waterfront, including the Esplanade Hotel (NZHPT Registration # 4481, Category I historic place) on the northern side of Marine Square. A large concentration of commemorative monuments and markers exist nearby in King Edward Parade, Windsor Reserve and the southern end of Victoria Road. These include a First World War (1914-1918) memorial, a hydrographic marker where the charting of New Zealand's coastal waters by HMS Acheron commenced in 1848, an historic flagstaff from the maritime signal station on Mt Victoria, a plaque commemorating the site where Devonport women cast their first vote in a general election in 1893 and the remnants of a fountain built to commemorate two local troopers who died in the South African - or Second Boer - War. Other monuments further to the east along King Edward Parade include the Coronation Sea Wall, built to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII and peace in South Africa at the end of the Second Boer War in 1902.

The Alison Clock consists of an elegant column, set on a square concrete base surrounded by two low steps. The four-sided column is approximately 9.1m (30ft) high x 0.45m (18in) square, with a 3m (10ft) square base. The top of the column fans out in the shape of a multi-pointed star to support the clock. The base fans out to a similar, but squarer, form incorporating restrained art deco-style detailing including fins and cartouches.

A brass plate on the north elevation of the column is inscribed with the words: 'The Alison Clock: erected by citizens in honour of the Hon. E. W. Alison, M.L.C., and to commemorate his 50 years of valuable, notable and continuous service to the community 27th Oct. 1928.'

The column is surmounted by a four-faced 900mm electrically worked clock, which is encased in a square brass clock cabinet, which is painted green. On top of the cabinet is a thin spike or finial, and attached to the bottom of the cabinet is a large handle. Decorative roundels are located near the corners of side of the cabinet. Each clock face contains minutes marked out in Roman numerals. The hands are elaborately shaped, with the hour hand squatter than the minute hand.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1928 -

1979 -
Roof of clock case repaired, glass faces replaced, dry cells replaced with a Gel Cell battery and charger

1989 -
Clock connected to master clock in Devonport Passenger Building

Construction Details

Concrete base and column; brass clock case

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Laxon, W.A., 'Alison, Ewen William 1852- 1945, updated 7 April 2006

Musgrove, 1986

Sydney Musgrove (ed), The Hundred of Devonport: A Centennial History, Devonport, 1986.

Walsh, 1986

T Walsh (ed.), An Illustrated story of Devonport and the old North Shore from 1841 to 1924 : with an outline of Maori occupation to 1841, (Auckland), 1986

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.