Watson Memorial

King Edward Parade, Devonport, Auckland

  • Watson Memorial, Devonport. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: russellstreet. Taken By: russellstreet. Date: 16/08/2011.
  • Weston Memorial, Devonport. Looking south, with Bastion Point in the background.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Joan McKenzie. Date: 10/11/2005.
  • Watson Memorial, Devonport..
    Copyright: Devonport Museum. Date: 1/06/1980.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 4517 Date Entered 30th June 2006


Extent of List Entry

Extent of proposed registration includes part of the land in SO 20236 North Auckland and bed of Waitemata Harbour (as shown on Map B of Appendix 4 of the Registration Report), and the memorial, its fittings and fixtures thereon. Fixtures and fittings include a clock and commemorative plaque. The registration incorporates a small semi-circular area of lawned ground around the memorial. The ground may incorporate the archaeological remains of a nineteenth-century jetty.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (North Shore City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Part of SO 20236 North Auckland, and part bed of Waitemata Harbour

Location description

R31, King Edward Parade, Devonport, Auckland


The Watson Memorial was constructed in 1936 by Devonport Borough Council, in remembrance of Alexander Richardson Dickey Watson (c.1878-1917), a major local public benefactor. Its construction was part of a programme of beautification along Devonport's esplanade, converting the landscape from a rocky seashore and place of commercial activity to a site of genteel perambulation and other forms of recreation. The monument was erected on a site that had previously been used as Devonport's main wharf. The wharf was located in the early commercial and industrial centre of Devonport, but had been superseded by an alternative jetty further west used by the Devonport Ferry Company. The latter stimulated the growth of a newer commercial centre in Victoria Road, as Devonport became an increasingly fashionable seaside suburb, with more regular and reliable connections to Auckland. By the 1930s, the former centre focused on Church Street had been connected to the Victoria Road hub by a lengthy sea wall and esplanade, funded partly by a substantial bequest from the locally-born landowner A.R.D. Watson.

A.R.D. Watson and the Watson Memorial

Born in Devonport in circa 1878, A.R.D. Watson was the only child of Alexander Watson and his wife Matilda. Watson senior was a builder/entrepreneur who had purchased and developed extensive lands in the Devonport area, including a residential subdivision overlooking Torpedo Bay. After the death of his parents in 1911 and 1912, A.R.D. Watson came into a considerable inheritance, which included the substantial family home on North Head, Devonport, and the Watson Building, a two-storey commercial building on the southeast corner of the intersection of Wellesley and Queen Streets in central Auckland (since demolished). For some years prior to his death in 1917 at a prematurely young age, he and his Devonport-born wife Wynne Powley, lived the greater part of each year in Sydney where he also had business interests. Watson, reputed to be an excellent mathematician, was one of few qualified actuaries in New Zealand. Although he died in Sydney, Watson's remains were interred in Auckland. He had no descendants.

Watson was a noted public benefactor both before and after his death. While still alive, he had given over the family home, a prominent feature on the headland of North Head, to the Auckland Hospital Board for use as a convalescent home for soldiers wounded in the First World War. He also left half of his sizeable estate to be shared among nine bodies after his death, these being two Presbyterian orphanages (Auckland and Sydney), the Salvation Army (Auckland and Sydney), Dr Barnado's Homes, the St John's Ambulance Association (Auckland), the Sydney Picture Gallery, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland City Council, and Devonport Borough Council. The bequest to Devonport Borough Council was to be used, 'in or towards extending or completing or permanently improving the esplanade along the beach or foreshore as is now started opposite "Ventnor" and in case such esplanade is completed, then in or towards the erection of a permanent ornamental fountain...'. North Head, where Watson's family home was located, overlooked the esplanade.

In May 1935 Devonport Borough Council considered the question of a suitable memorial to Watson whose bequest by that time had yielded ₤4,000 for seafront improvements to King Edward Parade. The King Edward Parade sea wall, commenced in 1902, extended for nearly 2 km east of the wharf in the newer centre of Devonport. In 1928 a new bathing beach with concrete terracing to provide seating for bathers was developed near the rowing club on either side of what was later to become the site of the Watson Memorial on King Edward Parade. The sustained beautification project illustrates an emerging civic pride and desire that the seaside settlement should have an appropriate esplanade for genteel recreation.

The idea of a memorial to commemorate Watson's generosity was raised by December 1934, following major improvement works. In May 1935 the Borough Engineer was asked to prepare an estimate for a proposed memorial lamp and drinking fountain in Watson's memory, to be erected on a site opposite the foot of Church Street. In July 1935 instructions were given for the site to be prepared at an estimated cost of ₤300, but the form of the memorial had changed. Provision was to be made for a 24-inch, three-dial clock (₤80) and drinking fountain (₤15). Funds under the Watson Bequest were to be used as far as possible.

There was some precedent for construction of a clock as a memorial. In 1928 the Borough had erected the Alison Clock on Marine Square - outside the ferry wharf at the foot of Devonport's main street - to commemorate former Mayor and founder of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company (DSFC), Ewen Alison. Alison was influential in shifting the focus of commercial activity in the suburb towards the Devonport Steam Ferry Company wharf from the earlier centre, where the Watson Memorial was to be erected.

Erection and unveiling of the Watson Memorial

The Watson Memorial was built by Devonport Borough Council staff to the design of Borough Engineer, Arthur Griffiths. By January 1936 construction of the horseshoe-shaped retaining wall that would enclose the site to be occupied by the Watson Memorial, was underway. The Works Committee adopted 'Design Number 1' for the memorial on 11 March 1936. At the beginning of September Auckland jeweller A. Kohn Ltd's price of ₤59 was accepted for supply of the clock. Towards the end of September the slave dials for the clock were being constructed and the bronze plaque was being cast. By the end of October all concrete work had been completed and plastering of the column was in hand with the Power Board and the Post and Telegraph Department about to install the wiring for the clock dials, which were due the following week. The electrically-worked clock supplied by A. Kohn Ltd appears to have consisted of a short case pendulum master and a three-faced 600mm outdoor unit which was mounted on the concrete column.

The memorial was unveiled on 25 November 1936 as part of celebrations marking Devonport Borough's fiftieth jubilee. The unveiling ceremony was performed by Mr Watson's widow. A number of his relatives were also present. The Mayor, Mr H.F.W. Meikle gave a short address recalling the generous bequest of the late A.R.D. Watson, pointing out that the extensive improvements that had made King Edward Parade 'one of the finest avenues of its type in the Dominion' had been made possible as a result of Mr Watson's public spiritedness. The memorial was one of several erected along the esplanade in the early to mid 1900s that contributed to the beautification of the seaside suburb. The development of the esplanade was influenced by Victorian and Edwardian tastes for recreation, in which perambulation played a significant role. Similar beautification occurred in seaside resorts elsewhere in New Zealand, as at Marine Parade in Napier and in Petone, Wellington.

Evidently stimulated by the construction of the monument, the erection of public clocks caught the Council's imagination as part of the Borough's golden jubilee celebrations. Towards the end of August 1936 (around the time the cost of the clock mechanism for the Watson Memorial was being considered) a small piece 'Living by the Clock' appeared in the New Zealand Herald. As Devonport was '...a community that lives by catching boats and buses' synchronised timepieces erected at strategic points were seen as appropriate to a suburb dependent on 'time and tide'. The Borough Engineer was to enquire into the probable line and power charges for such an installation. In early October the question of synchronised clocks at strategic points in the Borough was further discussed as a fitting memorial to the jubilee. Prices of installations were received.

Three additional clocks were subsequently erected: at the conjunction of Victoria and Albert Roads (a pole-mounted clock that continues in service); at 87 Vauxhall Road (all that remains is an empty clock case above the south end of the verandah); at King's Store on Lake Road, opposite Old Lake Road (this cube clock sits above the shop verandah on the north side of the Kawerau Avenue/Lake Road intersection and is still in working order); and at Stanley Bay, opposite the entrance to Stanley Bay Park (this clock appears to have been removed). As no mention is made of the clocks at Victoria and Albert Roads, Lake Road and Vauxhall Road in newspaper coverage of Devonport's jubilee celebrations, it is presumed that they were erected slightly later.

Subsequent Use and Modification

Within a few months of the opening, the clock in the Watson Memorial was keeping irregular time, a problem probably caused by an intermittent electrical leak. This necessitated replacement of the line to the clock. Consideration appears to have been given at this time to installing master clocks in each clock, but does not seem to have been pursued further.

An electric clock installation was undertaken in 1953 by Automatic Telephone and Electric Co. (New Zealand) Ltd using their equipment. Time was guaranteed to be within 30 seconds per month and the equipment was not subject to outside interruptions. A new face and glass was required following damage by vandals in 1968. The original clock hands also appear to have been replaced since the 1930s. The Watson Memorial clock was recorded as running slow over three months in the winter of 1978, and in 1980 the dial surround required substantial repairs and the internal mounting plate needed replacement. The three slave units were overhauled and the master was replaced. A continuous 230 volt electricity supply was installed to the tower. A photo cell unit was fitted to switch the clock's internal illumination on during the hours of darkness.

The clock is currently in working order, although the clock face on the south side of the column is missing. North Shore City Council became caretakers of the clock after taking over responsibilities from Devonport Borough Council in 1989. A.R.D. Watson's bequests have continued to be of benefit to the Auckland public, having helped to fund the casting of bronze sculptures in the Auckland Domain to commemorate the centenary of Auckland city in 1940, and the establishment of a Gothic art collection at Auckland Art Gallery in 1965.


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 Marine Square (Alison Clock, 1928), 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 structure has historical value for its associations with the development and beautification of the Devonport esplanade, and with Devonport-born philanthropist A.R.D. Watson, whose bequest enabled works on King Edward Parade to be carried out. It also has historical value as one of five early twentieth-century clocks erected at strategic locations in the Borough, when public transport run according to 'time and tide' formed the main means of travel in Devonport.

The Watson Memorial has aesthetic significance for its simple art deco design and harbourfront location, and as a focal point at the end of Church Street.

The memorial has social significance as a public clock, used and maintained for 70 years.

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

The Watson Memorial reflects important and representative aspects of New Zealand history, including public benefaction in the early 1900s, the beautification of seaside towns and suburbs,

and the importance of timekeeping in an era of public transport.

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

The Watson Memorial was unveiled as part of Devonport Borough's golden jubilee celebrations in November 1936, and is associated with Devonport-born A.R.D. Watson, who made numerous public bequests in Auckland, including funding for much of the sea wall along Devonport's King Edward Parade; the casting of a bronze sculpture - located in the Auckland Domain - to commemorate the centenary of Auckland city in 1940; and the establishment of a Gothic art collection at Auckland Art Gallery in 1965.

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

As one of five clocks erected at strategic locations throughout the former Devonport Borough; and as one of two memorial clocks erected on Devonport's iconic waterfront, the Watson Memorial has provided a useful service to the Devonport community for the past 70 years. During this period it has been maintained by the local council, indicating public esteem.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The Watson Memorial has commemorative value, marking the beneficence of A.R.D. Watson to the development and enhancement of Devonport's esplanade.

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

The Watson Memorial is part of a broader historical and cultural landscape along the Devonport waterfront, which incorporates the King Edward Parade sea wall, late Victorian/Edwardian premises at the junction of King Edward Parade and Church Street, mature pohutukawa trees and several memorials along King Edward Parade, including a monument commemorating the fourteenth-century landfall of the Tainui canoe. The landscape may also incorporate the archaeological remains of the nineteenth-century Devonport or Duder's Wharf and other commercial and industrial activity of a similar date along the foreshore. The Memorial is one of a network of early twentieth-century clocks in and around Devonport. Devonport, itself, is a particularly well-preserved nineteenth- and early twentieth-century suburb of metropolitan Auckland.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Griffiths, Arthur. T

Arthur T. Griffiths

Arthur Griffiths (1896-1980) served as Devonport Borough Engineer from 1922 until his retirement in November 1967. During this period he oversaw the construction of Devonport's concrete roads, designed and built the Borough's drainage system and was the waterworks engineer responsible for North Shore's water supply from Lake Pupuke.

Born in Auckland in 1896, Griffiths was educated at Auckland Grammar School and the University of Auckland. He was articled to the civil engineering firm of Gannon and MacDuff. After serving in the signal corps during the First World War (1914-1918), Griffiths became assistant engineer at Hamilton Borough and was responsible for its drainage system. In addition to his duties as Borough Engineer at Devonport, Griffiths was engineer to the Rangitoto Domain Board until his retirement, and in the 1920s and early 1930s built all roads and tracks on Rangitoto Island using prison labour. Griffiths served as Chairman of the Municipal Engineer's Works' Guild for a number of years and also was the primary officer reporting to Devonport's first town planning committee, convened in the late 1950s.

In addition to grander projects such as the filtration plant for the North Shore water supply - designed with tanks 33.3 yards long enabling their later use as the Takapuna municipal swimming pool - Griffiths' role as Borough engineer also led to him designing local memorials, including the Watson Memorial (1936) on the waterfront and the current band rotunda adjoining Flagstaff Road in Windsor Reserve. In designing the latter, Griffiths is quoted as saying that he sought to achieve something ornamental, but with a musical atmosphere. The metal railing of the band rotunda represents bars of music; the notes are the opening bars of 'God Save the Queen'. Griffiths was also commissioned by the Borough to make a movie of the Queen's visit to Devonport in 1954. The film was shown at the Victoria Theatre in June of that year and is held by North Shore City Council Archives.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The Watson Memorial occupies a harbourside location in Devonport, a seaside suburb on the Waitemata Harbour opposite the main CBD of Auckland. The memorial lies on King Edward Parade, a lengthy esplanade extending to the east of Devonport's main ferry terminal. Together with a network comprising the Windsor Reserve and Queen's Parade, this esplanade helps to define the settlement's maritime character and is a particularly important feature when approaching Devonport from the sea. Devonport is noted for its well-preserved nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings.

Located on the harbourward (south) side of King Edward Parade, the Watson Memorial is sited on a small horseshoe-shaped reclaimed area bounded by a rendered concrete sea wall. Below the sea wall on either side of the memorial are concrete terraces adjoining the beach, which provide seating for bathers. A historic rowing club building is located a short distance to the west of the memorial, while an esplanade reserve with mature pohutukawa trees is located off to the east. Buildings clustered around the Church Street intersection opposite the memorial include the Masonic Hotel and several late-Victorian/Edwardian-era commercial buildings. Constructed on the site of the former Devonport (also known as Duder's) Wharf, the reclamation material that provides the site for the Watson Memorial is likely to overlie archaeological deposits linked to Devonport's original cargo facility. Other archaeological material linked to boatbuilding and similar activities may lie nearby.

The memorial stands in a small amenity area of lawn and flowerbeds - also incorporated within the registration - opposite a road junction with Church Street. The structure is a simple, streamlined monument that can be described as Art Deco in style. Standing on a stepped podium and a 2.8 m square concrete pad, the monument takes the form of a slightly tapering square plastered concrete column with chamfered corners. Apart from a band of short longitudinal saw-tooth lines let into the concrete close to the top edge, the structure is without decoration. The column, about 6m high, terminates in a shallow dome.

Clock faces, illuminated at night, are located near the top of each elevation. Each surviving face is circular and inset behind glass. Incorporating Roman numerals, they are marked out with minutes, and have squat, curvaceous hands. Attached to the lower part of the elevation of the column, facing King Edward Parade, is a bronze plaque (730mm x 510mm) inscribed:

Watson Memorial

In Grateful remembrance


Alexander Richardson Dickey Watson

Who was born at North Head Devon-

port and Spent the Early Years of His

Life in this District and Whose Gen-

erous Bequest Enabled the Seawall

along this Foreshore to be Erected

March 1936

Currently painted in a cream colour, the memorial is particularly striking in its setting against the harbour and the green space of Bastion Point on the southern shore of the Waitemata Harbour. It provides an especially strong focal point when viewed from Church Street, although it is also a landmark as viewed from the harbour and elsewhere. It is one of several memorials located on or near the esplanade, including a plaque on the sea wall behind the Watson Memorial marking the site of the former Devonport Wharf, a memorial erected in 1959 to commemorate the arrival in the Waitemata Harbour of the Tainui canoe, and the Coronation Sea Wall marking the end of the South African - or Second Boer - War and the coronation of Edward VII. Another memorial clock, the Alison Clock, lies next to the main Devonport ferry terminal in Marine Square.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1936 -

1953 -
New electric clock installed

1968 -
New face and glass

1980 -
Three slave units overhauled; Master clock and dry cell batteries replaced with a Plessey Chronogram unit with mains-fail, and a 24 volt Gel Cell battery and regulated battery charger;

1980 -
Photo cell unit fitted to switch the internal illumination on during hours of darkness. Continuous 230 volt supply installed

Clock hands replaced

Construction Details

Concrete column, podium and pad

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

28 February 1928; 16 May 1935; 16 January 1936; 26 November 1936

Musgrove, 1986

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

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

21 November 1936; 26 November 1936

North Shore City Council

North Shore City Council

Devonport Borough Council Minutes, DBC 109-33 6/5/54, Public Clocks (Property) (Council and Community Buildings and Facilities) 1918-1953; & DBC 109-34 6/5/5B 1978-1989, DBC 109-28 5/8/2, Estate of A.R.D. Watson (Finance) (Trusts and Bequests) 1925-1931.

North Shore Times Advertiser

North Shore Times Advertiser

23 November 1967, p.6; 9 October 1980, p.5

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.