The history of Coastal Otago (Te Tai o Araiteuru) relates to the tradition of the waka Arai Te Uru. These traditions and histories provide the basis for tribal identity. Muaupoko (Otago Peninsula) in particular provided a sheltered place for settlement, and Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and Kāi Tahu, who remain associated with the area, all visited and lived in the vicinity. At one time up to 12 kāinga existed in the lower Otago harbour. The coastline was a major trade route. Tauranga waka and associated nohoanga occurred up and down the coast, linking sea and land based resources. The mahinga kai and the varieties of plant resources were important to iwi, and with the Pākehā settlement and land sales starting in the late 1840s (particularly the sale of the 400,000 acre Otago Block) there was a significant loss access to land based food sources. The site of the Dowling Street Steps is within 180m of the Toitu Tauraka Waka, an historic landing site where Ōtākou Kāi Tahu and previous tangata whenua Waitaha and Kāti Māmoe landed their waka when embarking on mahinga kai expeditions. The tauraka waka became well known as the Ōtakou Kai Tahu trading site with colonial settlers. The land on which the Cargill’s monument sits is in an area traditionally known to Kāi Tahu Māori as Otēpoti.
Captain Cargill and erection of the monument
‘A Working Man’ wrote to the editor of the Otago Daily Times in January 1863, suggesting that in addition to plantings and an iron rail fence, the Octagon could be improved by a ‘monument to the late Captain Cargill, and have a drinking fountain. There would then be something to remind us of the commencement of Otago; - also something useful for a labouring man, when thirsty, without going to the tavern to quench his thirst; or let it be a playing fountain as well as a working one.’
Cargill had died in three years previously in August 1860, and as one of the leaders of the new settlement, the New Zealand Company’s agent, and as the representative of the Otago Association, he was certainly worthy of memorial. As the Otago Witness noted, ‘the business of founding the colony rested on him.’ After his role with the New Zealand Company ended, Cargill was Commissioner of Crown Lands (until 1852), and Superintendent of Otago from 1853 until he retired in 1860. In June 1863, the Provincial Government called for tenders for the erection of the monument, to be sited in the middle of the Octagon. The monument was described as ‘a richly decorated Gothic cross, after a design prepared under the superintendence of Mr Swyer, the Provincial Engineer.’ The Provincial Council had voted £1000 [$117,250] for the work. Despite such apparent certainty, the location and nature of the monument was still being debated at the end of 1863.
In March 1864, a reporter inspected the proposed monument designed by the Provincial Engineer, intended for the centre of the Octagon:
‘The design consists of a tower and spire in the decorated style of architecture, having an altitude of about 40 feet [12 metres]. The base of the tower is about 10 feet [0.9 metres] square, to be constructed of blue stone from the Bell Hill quarry. At the four corners will be angle buttresses supporting bronze lamps; and on each side are to be drinking fountains, the water flowing from arched recesses. The buttresses are to be continued up and surmounted with canopies. Panels fixed in trefoil arches supported on polished shafts, enriched with annulets and foliated caps, will contain the in memoriam inscriptions. Above the decorated panels the tower is continued for about 6 feet [1.8 metres] surmounted with crocketed pinnacles at each corner. The spire which is octagonal is to be carried on a flying arch, buttressed by the pinnacles surmounting the tower, and will contain at its base arched openings, richly decorated. The spire will be about 15 ft. high [4.5 metres] from the top of the tower, and will be surmounted by an ornamental vane in bronze. The structure is to be surrounded by a scroll railing in bronze having openings at each side opposite the drinking fountains, to which access is given by flights of steps. The whole design is exceedingly elegant, and will be a great ornament to the town. The general effect is not unlike that of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh, on a small scale.’
Swyer was trained in Britain as an architect and surveyor and worked in both these roles in Victoria, Australia for 10 years prior to his arrival in Dunedin where he became Otago’s provincial engineers in 1862. He was responsible for Dunedin’s roads, sewage, water supply, public buildings, and amenities such as the powder magazine. Work on the monument was underway by March 1864 – equestrians (in the habit of ‘scouring across the Octagon at night’) were warned to stay on the roadway. The contractor was John Young of Stephen Street, Melbourne, at a price of £1515 [$177,640]. Much of the cutting and dressing of stone was to be completed in Melbourne, but the site was taken possession of on 15 March 1864, with bluestone from the town belt quarry near London Street, for the base deposited on site, and men set to dress it. The contract was expected to be complete in December 1864. In June 1864, John Collens invited tenders from draymen for carting 50 tons of stone from the wharf to the Octagon, with particulars available at the works. Historian, Hardwick Knight noted the plans suggested the monument was to be surrounded by bronze railings with a gate that provided an entrance to the fountain ‘…lamp posts were to be set at the corners with globular glass shades’. That a memorial was being erected when Dunedin itself was still in a primitive state, with at times impassable roads, did not go unnoticed.
Public reception to the monument
The Lyttelton Times correspondent, visiting the New Zealand Exhibition of 1865 in Dunedin, turned his critical eye to the new monument, still in the course of erection. Commenting on the architectural drawings, on display at the exhibition, he wrote, ‘… the general effect is pretty, but the detail is somewhat laboured and unmeaning.’ The Otago Witness joined in on the commentary, stating:
‘The design seemed very pretty, but now that it is erected, one shudders at its ill taste …it is an insult to the memory of Cargill that such a trumpery insubstantial-looking thing should be considered a fitting recognition of his services. …Dunedin is a sufficiently queer city without barley-sugar ornament of this description.’
Cargill’s political opponent J.G.S. Grant was even more scathing. Grant wrote ‘the Bride Cake monument was thrust down the throats of an apathetic public by his designing family.’ He went further suggesting that the monument should be removed and put on Cargill’s grave. He reached his apogee in April 1865, comparing the gargoyles to members of the Cargill family – ‘The different members of the royal [Cargill] family are represented in the monument together, with their heads downwards, and grinning like baboons at the head of their father…meekly welling out of his mouth water to quench the thirst of his grateful children, the people of Dunedin.’ Actually, there was no water supply to the monument at this time, but as historian Olive Trotter, writing in 1985, coyly described, Dunedin’s ‘riff-raff’ put the dry basins ‘to a use for which they were never designed’, and as a result a high hoarding was erected around the monument ‘to protect it from the attacks of dirty little boys – and men.’
There was public cynicism about the monument. A report on a libel case, mentioning the Octagon, noted the presence of the ‘Cargill sugar cake monument.’ The North Otago Times, recalling a coach journey from Dunedin to Oamaru described going ‘round that peculiar specimen of the aberration of man’s intelligence – the Octagon – with its monument to the father of the Province of Otago, Captain Cargill, who is popularly supposed to have come here for the express benefit of everybody but himself.’ Mayoral candidate in the 1865 elections, W. Wilson, campaigning on works to be completed for the good of the town, joked about having the Cargill Monument ‘fenced in, or covered up, as the ratepayers wished’, and making the other part of the Octagon a ‘proper thoroughfare.’ The monument remained blocked off with hoarding while the Octagon was developed. In 1867, the question was asked of the Provincial Council whether ‘it is the intention of the Government to remove the hideous railing at present round the Cargill Monument.’ The Provincial Council denied any responsibility for the matter. Meanwhile, the Directors of the Water Works Company wrote to the City Corporation offering to supply water to the Cargill Monument, free of charge. The matter was referred to the Works Committee, which agreed to call for tenders for the work.
Grant suggested that the monument be moved: ‘Seriously, this wretched, caricature must be moved off the Octagon. Princes Street must be joined longitudinally with George Street, and so also, must Stuart Street be straightened.’ In 1869, the monument was once again an issue in Council elections. Candidate for the High Ward, Mr Reeves, argued that it was wrong that the centre of a valuable piece of land, such as the Octagon, be taken up ‘by such a gingerbread thing as the Cargill Monument.’
Relocation of the monument
By the end of 1871, the council was discussing moving the monument to a new site opposite the Custom House in the Exchange. In December 1871, the council advertised for tenders for removing and re-erecting the monument, on a new base. The monument was moved in February 1872 and the site cleared by Māori prisoners. In April that year, the Otago Witness reported the ‘establishment of a public drinking fountain, at the Cargill Monument, recently removed from the Octagon to the present site, opposite the Custom House.’ It cost £400 to remove the monument and re-erect it at the Exchange. The Water Works Company supplied water for the fountain free of charge. Contractor James Gore re-erected the monument, with the addition of two shields, serving as access to the interior and bearing the inscription recording the occasion of its original construction and of its re-erection. The shield depicts elements of the Swyer family crest, a swans head and neck emerging from a crown.
Art historian Rodney Hamel suggests the new site was appropriate for historical reasons as it was close to Water Street and the landing point of the John Wickliffe, the ship on which Cargill arrived in Dunedin. Additionally the new site was adjacent the original site of the Mechanics Institute where Cargill must have spent significant time when he was Superintendent and the buildings were used as the Provincial Chambers. Further indignities were to follow. In its new location, near Classically-inspired buildings such as the Custom House (1863) and the Provincial Building (1865), it had sympathetic but overbearing neighbours. The monument took on a new role as a ‘seating area, a place for off-course betting, a grandstand for passing processions and bands and a place where orators or the religious could address crowds, and no doubt disrupt the traffic.’
The Salvation Army held its first public meeting at Cargill Monument in 1883, an event later commemorated with a plaque at the site. By 1890 the buildings of Dunedin had developed to equal the grandeur of the monument which was alluded to, in the Taranaki Herald, as the epicentre of the business district: ‘within a radius of at least half a mile of Cargill’s Monument – the architecture of the streets is ornamental and artistic, showing that the people have not only enterprise and go-aheadness, but that they have an eye to ‘the beautiful’ as well.’
The monument’s falling fortunes
The most telling fall in the monument’s fortunes was the council decision to erect men’s toilets underneath the monument, known as the ‘Bank of New Zealand Comfort Station.’ Public toilets were first requested by the Town Board for the Beach Reserve where Cargill’s Monument now stands as far back as 1861. The toilets that were installed in 1910 were of the first three underground ‘comfort stations’ in Dunedin, and those at the Exchange were for men only, and the only installation that was a cause of trouble due to their proximity to bars and the resulting behaviour of inebriates. There was irony, Hamel points out, in the fact that the toilets served the patrons of the surrounding hotels, who after closing, created ‘alcoholic pandemonium, vulgarity, obscenity and blasphemy’, around the Salvation Army’s memorial intended to promote temperance. The toilets were closed in 1961 and filled the following year, then planted over with flowerbeds.
The monument suffered damage over time, from vandalism, pollution and weather. Strong nor-west winds in 1916 resulted in damage to the spire of the monument, ‘causing a mild sensation’ in the city. The Otago Early Settlers’ Association voiced concern about the condition of the monument, with Dr Robert Fulton telling the City Council in 1922 that it was ‘a resort for drunks and weary Willies, and coloured gentlemen extolling the benefits of racehorses.’ The water had been cut off from the fountains to save money, and the basins were full of ‘matches, mud and old boots.’ Its condition, Fulton said, was a disgrace to the city. By the 1960s discussion about the possible removal of the monument to an alternative site was mooted with the Early Settlers Association on board. The Exchange was a busy area – a tram and bus terminus with a web of wires cutting between the buildings (see Figure 10). The monument became isolated on a traffic island and it was not until the Wickliffe House Plaza was developed that the monument was once again safe from the stream of traffic.
Over time, the monument was subject to further damage. Two men were charged with intentionally damaging the monument in 1993 which resulted in a piece falling off. Only 18 months earlier it had suffered because of people climbing on it resulting in four pieces breaking off. This led to conservator Ian Bowman being commissioned by the then New Zealand Historic Places Trust to produce a conservation report in 1992. This report identified the need to remove moss, salts, graffiti and rust, remediate the pitting of the stone, repair or replace missing joints and carving and steel fixings, remove concrete from the basins, and suggested that the return of lighting and fencing would provide some protective measures. A proposal to move the monument due to traffic layout changes was published in the Otago Daily Times in 1995. Lower High Street was closed in 1996 and was, along with the triangle of land upon which the monument stood, incorporated into a brick laid piazza outside Wickliffe House.
Seismic strengthening and restoration work
Twenty years later, the monument required essential seismic strengthening and restoration work and an inspection was carried out in August and September 2009, resulting in a condition report bring produced in 2010 by Marcus Wainwright and Guy Williams. Seismic strengthening and repair works were undertaken between 2011 and 2013 with an original budget of $500,000, but completed for under $350,000. The structural strengthening work that was conducted on the monument was considered unique in the country due to the complexity of the partial deconstruction, restoration and strengthening required. Plans to upgrade the piazza with new grey-blue concrete paving, street furniture, plantings, and LED lighting features including lighting specifically to highlight Cargill’s Monument were proposed in 2015. The $602,000 proposal to revamp the Exchange area was accepted by the Dunedin city Council. To date these plans have not come to fruition.
ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (Style):
The style is 14th century decorated medieval. It appears to have been inspired by the monument to Sir Walter Scott in Edinburgh.
The monument was originally built in the centre of the Octagon in the middle of the present road. In 1871, after Captain Cargill's widow had died, the Council decided to shift the monument out of the way of the traffic. James Gore shifted it by mid February 1872 to its present site in the Exchange. It became dilapidated in the first half of this century and was refurbished in 1960. The stonework was cleaned and neat paving and gardens placed around it.
Elaborate stone carving.
Fence built around the monument
Monument relocated from the Octagon to Custom House Square, now known as The Exchange
Drinking fountain made functional
Additional building added to site
Public toilet built beneath the monument
Surrounding area incorporated into the Exchange piazza
2011 - 2013
Restoration and seismic strengthening work
Materials are Oamaru Stone for the carved work and Port Chalmers breccia for the plinth.
Public NZAA Number
28th May 2019
Report Written By
Sarah Gallagher and Heather Bauchop
Tom Brooking, 'And Captain of Their Souls. Cargill and the Otago Colonists', Dunedin, 1984
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
Rodney Hamel, ‘Not set in stone’, Otago Daily Times, 5 Sep 2009, p. 53. URL https://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/magazine/cargill-monument-not-set-stone accessed 26 Nov 2018.
The Cargill Monument, Reprinted from the Otago Daily Times, 6 Nov 1976, Granville Books, 1976.
A fully referenced Upgrade Report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand.
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
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.