Sunday, December 19, 2010

The old Mt Eden direction table

I was at the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall on the afternoon of 1 December, and passed this: the direction table, which used to be on top of Mt Eden/Maungawhau. According to the management plan, it was made by Royal Doulton and donated by former Sir Ernest Davis in 1927.

Being made in 1927, it shows the Eastern/South-Eastern line of the railway still as a "deviation" (the Main Trunk was shifted to that line via Orakei and Glen Innes to Otahuhu in the earlyn 1930s). Major volcanes are there. There's no airport at Mangere.

I do remember seeing the table up on the mountain, peering at it, looking at all the directional notations. I thought it was cool.

But, in November 1983, it was vandalised and smashed.

Mt Eden Borough Council acted quickly, bringing in a professional ceramic conservator, Ms Sabine Weik, to put it back together again. But they weren't going to risk it being up there, on the mountain that had been its home for 56 years, any longer.

Now, its home is the foyer of the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall on Dominion Road at Balmoral. Ah, well. At least, it's safer than where it was. A pity, though. A replacement was installed on the mountain in 1986. Sometime I'll head up there to get a photo -- but as I vaguely recall, it isn't like this one.

Update, 22 December 2010: Some additional information, from the reference file 151, held at the Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Central Library:

On 25 March 1924, Ernest Davis wrote from where he stayed at the Hotel Cecil in London to the Mayor of Mt Eden at the time, Ernest Herbert Potter (a son, by the way, of Albert Potter). He had approached the previous Mayor, John Wisdom Shackelford, sometime between 1920 and 1923, with the suggestion of an observation table atop the mountain, but Shackelford expressed reservations regarding the risk of vandalism. Davis' revised proposal called for the table to be embedded in concrete, to make it impossible to dislodge. The Council accepted his offer. On 17 February 1926, Davis and Potter visited the proposed site for the table.  "Mr Davis proposes to give a Direction Table to be erected on the top of the Mount, to show the direction first in which the Cities on the shores of the Pacific lie. Secondly  the direction in which the chief centres of New Zealand lie, and thirdly the objects of interest in thed immediate vicinity of the Mountain. Such a table will be of great interest to visitors from Overseas and from other parts of the Dominion ... The Council will require to provide a concrete plinth to support the Direction Table which, when finished, will be a very great acquisition to the Mount." (Minutes 15 March 1926) It appears to have been installed around June 1927, a bit too late for the expected visit by the Duke and Duchess of York in February that year -- the Borough Councillors resolved to send up a plan of the Direction Table to the mountain when they visited.  (Minutes 31 January 1927) I can just imagine that -- "Sorry, Your Royal Highnesses, we haven't quite got things in place, so here's a sketch instead ...

Whoops -- there was an error, discovered after the table was installed. "Mr Davis wishes it to be known that the error in the position of Cape Town on the Table arose from confusion between the Magneric North and the True North. He is taking steps to have this corrected." (Minutes, 23 January 1928) But the error wasn't fixed. In 1934, the Mayor of Auckland George Hutchinson wrote to the Chairman of the Mt Eden Domain Board:

"Sometime ago His Excellency the Governor-General forwarded to me a letter from Sir Phillp Game, in which Sir Philip questioned the accuracy of the direction of Capetown on the Direction Finder at the top of Mount Eden. I enquired into the matter, and find that Capetown should lie some 2 degrees west of the Dunedin direction, that is, in the south-western quadrant, and 87 degrees from its position as shown. I have no doubt that this error is already known to the Board, and possibly the difficulty of altering the Tablet is the reason it is left uncorrected."

The devastation in 1984 was appalling.

 (From the Auckland Scrapbook, Auckland Research Centre. Original newspaper source not known.)

Sabine Weik was assisted by the original blueprints of the table in putting the pieces together, but it was still an estimated 100 hours job, with some of the fragments measuring only centimetres. Building filler was used in the cracks. Its replacement, made of bronze, is now up on the mountain (but, of course, there are copper and bronze thieves about these days as well ...)

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