Gala Day at Wainoni Park – 1909

There is great excitement in the households around Christchurch today. It’s the Labour Day holiday and many families are going to Wainoni Park for the opening of the season. Everyone has been looking forward to the visit ever since the advertisement for the Gala Day first appeared in the Star. At just one shilling for adults, including tram fare and admission, and half price for children, it’s one of the few affordable entertainments for working class families in Christchurch.

Boat Landing at Wainoni Park
Boat, loaded with passengers arrives at Wainoni after leaving Barbadoes Street at 2pm. [1]
As an extra treat, there will be the opportunity to take the afternoon motor boat, instead of the tram, leaving from the Barbadoes Street Bridge at 2pm for Wainoni. If that connection is missed, there’ll always be the tram the whole way, with the prospect of being greeted by the Rouse brothers – Fred, Eddie and Dolf, dressed in their dashing uniforms – at the Wainoni tram stop entrance.

The park is owned by Professor Bickerton and his family, and covers 82 acres, with picnic grounds and space for 20,000 visitors, and a bicycle stand accommodating 1000 machines. There’ll be plenty of entertainment, with rifle shooting, quoit-throwing, sports competitions, a Pierrot concert, clowns, Punch and Judy and a volcano scene called the “Last Days of Pompeii“.

Most importantly for the crowds, the Bickerton’s are well- known for their chemical novelties, electrical displays, mock sea-fights, Heliostat lantern and hot air balloon ascents.

Gala Day Wainoni Park 1914
Annual gala at Wainoni Park on January 24, 1914. (1) The balloon ascent by Captain Jonassen. (2) A charming poi dancer; (3) Prize-winners at the baby show. (4) The young women’s race; (5) The balloon ascent soon after the start, with Captain Jonassen on the trapeze;(6) The married women’s race; (7) The children’s race. [2]
Naval Battles

All the boys will be excited to see one of the Bickerton’s mock naval battles.

Last year the Australasian Squadron of Bluejackets – 200 sailors dressed in their blue jackets and wide bottomed pants – had visited the Park and witnessed an excellent little naval battle. Submarine mines had shot the water into the air and the ground had shaken. Eight little naval ships had blazed away and the two fortresses went up too – the din was terrific.

At the end of this fierce encounter, two of the battleships blew up – one turning turtle and settling, and the other flying in chips as high as the trees. Then disaster struck – one of the four foot battleships was set alight by the fire of its own bow gun! The sailors shouted ‘Fire stations’ and volunteered to salvage the ship.

To mark the end of the show, a geyser exploded out of the water. [3]

No doubt many of this year’s visitors also remember ‘The Intrepid Aeronaut’ from two years earlier. The ‘Intrepid Aeronaut‘, Professor Barnes, drew a large crowd for his aerial ascent on the afternoon of Thursday 28th November, 1907, in a balloon measuring 150 by 75 feet.

A stiff nor’wester was blowing, and in spite of the shelter provided by trees at the park, the balloon was violently blown from side to side. After considerable delay, and against the pilot’s better judgement, the balloon was released with Professor Barnes suspended underneath on a swing.

The wind seized the balloon, sending Barnes on a perilous flight through the tree tops, smashing through the wooden fence of the enclosure, where it became caught. Shaken and severely bruised, ‘the Intrepid Aeronaut’ was picked up and, after several minutes, was taken off to recover. [4]

There is always a spectacle at Wainoni Park on every holiday – not always ending as they should, but always drawing large crowds!

How did this all come about?

The ‘Prof.’

Alexander William Bickerton 15 June 1910
Alexander William Bickerton. [5]
Born at Alton in Hampshire in 1842 and orphaned as a boy, Alexander Bickerton, the ‘Prof.’ was educated at the Alton Grammar School, the Royal College of Chemistry, and the Royal School of Mines, winning prizes, medals, exhibitions, and scholarships, until he could write a long string of letters after his name.

After moving to London to attend chemistry and physics lectures, Bickerton earned money by giving lectures himself. Initially they were not popular, so Bickerton adopted the style of two popular English Preachers – Dr. Morley Puncheon and Charles Spurgeon – and he soon attracted a huge following, by being ‘as entertaining as a music-hall and as sensational as a circus‘.[6]

New Zealand Bound

As Bickerton’s popularity increased, he was offered professorships in various subjects, ranging from agriculture to electricity, in England, Canada, Australia and Japan. In 1874, when he was teaching at Hartley Institution at Winchester College and Training College, he was advised to accept the Professorship of Chemistry at Canterbury College in New Zealand. He took the advice and so Bickerton and his young family made their way to the other side of the world to start a new life in a new province, Canterbury.

The new planet. 1909
Sketch for publication in the Spectator, 7 January 1909, with caption: “The new planet. The Press: “O, I say, Prof., what about this new major planet beyond Neptune?” The Prof: “O, I can’t stop just now – I’m coining money at Wainoni, but you may be sure it’s another proof of partial impact and the third body”. [8]
As there was no Professor of Physics at the newly formed college, Bickerton also did all the work of that Chair as well. In addition to these duties he also became the Government’s public analyst. [7]

The Prof. had a remarkable skill for engaging his students, and his lectures were always entertaining as well as educational. Sir Ernest Rutherford, his most famous student, would in later years describe him as a ‘most lovable character‘… ‘unusually clear and stimulating‘ whose ‘enthusiasm and versatility were of great value in promoting an interest in science in a young community‘. [9]

The Prof. remains Rutherford’s mentor and they are good friends.

A Faddist and a Fool

Yet some say Bickerton, is quite mad – a faddist and a fool. Although he is not an astronomer, he has some new ideas about how the stars are made which he calls ‘The Theory of Partial Impact’. He has written many books with fanciful titles like ‘The Romance of the Heavens’, and ‘The Romance of the Earth’, and will talk to anyone who will listen about his theory.

His enthusiasm for his theory appeared to upset the University Board of Governors who claimed that he spent too much time talking about his own theories in his classes. At least this was used as a reason by the Board to try to remove him from his position in the 1890s. In reality Bickerton was often in strife with the Board, some of whom objected to his teaching style, others to what they saw as his socialist views and lack of respect towards the church.

Initially their efforts to remove him failed and in 1900 Bickerton was able to take leave from his job as Chair of Chemistry at Canterbury College and travel to England and Australia to give lectures on the his pet subject – his “Theory of Partial Impact“.

Eventually opposition to his socialist ideals and bohemian life style proved too strong and in 1902 the University Board finally managed to remove him from office. He has continued to promote his theories and has written many letters to scientific publications but no one seems interested. In fact some are quite skeptical.

The Beginning of Wainoni Park

Years previously, the ‘Prof’ had cast his eye over the desert waste of broom-dotted sand hills on the way to New Brighton, offered for sale by the City Surveyor, Cornelius Cuff in 1880, and seen potential. Local legend says that the Bickertons retired an elderly pet donkey to the land in the expectation its days would pass quickly. However on a family outing to visit the land some time later, the donkey was found hale and hearty – the sea air having given it a new lease on life.

The Prof. recognised the land was something special and set about moving his family there from Christchurch. People thought him strange when he proceeded to turn a portion of it to practical use and a magnificent plantation soon covered the spot.

Federative Home Wainoni
Bickerton, centre left with beard and light coloured shirt, seated amongst other Federators outside his house at Wainoni in 1896. [10]
Federative Homes

Years previously, the ‘Prof’ had cast his eye over the desert waste of broom-dotted sand hills on the way to New Brighton, offered for sale by the City Surveyor, Cornelius Cuff in 1880, and seen potential. Local legend says that the Bickertons retired an elderly pet donkey to the land in the expectation its days would pass quickly. However on a family outing to visit the land some time later, the donkey was found hale and hearty – the sea air having given it a new lease on life.

The Prof. recognised the land was something special and set about moving his family there from Christchurch. People thought him strange when he proceeded to turn a portion of it to practical use and a magnificent plantation soon covered the spot.

Cycling Church

Before it was opened to the public, the Bickerton’s Wainoni home had been enjoyed by the Professor’s students, who would cycle, row or take the tram from Christchurch to enjoy dances, theatre and fireworks displays hosted by the Prof. He also established a ‘cyclists’ church, where parishioners would cycle to Wainoni to hear sermons, social comment and lectures on the sciences.

…the visitor, fresh from the discomforts of a burning sun and riotous east wind, found himself in something like a miniature paradise of flowers and ferns, clean, cool sand and aromatic pines.” [11]

Punch and Judy at Wainui Park.
Crowds watch Punch & Judy during the 1906 Christmas holidays at Wainoni Park, Photo: W. H. Bickerton. [12]
Wainoni’s popularity increases

Wainoni became popular also as a place for school excursions. In April 1906, the Leeston school committee packed the morning train to Christchurch with 106 pupils and friends for a trip to Wainoni for the school picnic. They changed at Addington for the Steam Train, which took them directly to Wainoni. They enjoyed a day filled with Punch and Judy shows, merry-go-rounds, swings, punting, sand-weaving, miniature geysers, gramophone selections and even the hatching of a serpent’s egg.[13]

Pyrotechnics

The older children always beg to stay at the Gala for the evening fireworks display. Dick Bickerton, the Profs’ son, is a master of the art of pyrotechnics. He’s studied the art for some thirteen years now!

King George and Queen Mary had enjoyed Dick Bickerton’s fireworks displays when they visited Dunedin in 1901.

He had successfully blown up the unsightly piles of the old Akaroa wharf in April 1903 using an explosive the Bickertons invented called ‘spittite’. They had put in one charge and blew the pile up below the mud. It didn’t cause much noise, but sent a spectacular water spout 25 feet into the air, along with a great number of fish! The council thought the experiment thoroughly satisfactory in every detail.

It would have been something special to have been one of the 26,000 people who had been at the International Exhibition in Hagley Park on New Year’s Eve, 1906 to see Dick’s radium rockets shoot one and a half miles into the air before bursting into thousands of coloured stars. His other creations included the “Prince of Wales’ Feathers“, “Dancing Skeleton“, Scroll and Rainbow Wheels, “Egyptian Emblem” and other pyrotechnic ‘set pieces’. [14]

Labour Day celebrations at Christchurch: the huge crowd in Wainoni Park deeply interested in the Punch and Judy show. Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 20 OCTOBER 1910 p008. Image: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19101020-8-1
Labour Day celebrations at Christchurch: the huge crowd in Wainoni Park deeply interested in the Punch and Judy show. [15]
Wainoni Park
The home and conservatory, Wainoni Park. [16]

The Orrery and Tellurian

The people of Christchurch have much to look forward to on this Labour Day holiday! Visitors to the park should be sure to see the new contrivance the Prof. has set up in the Pike. It is called an Orrery and Tellurian, and demonstrates the workings of the solar system. It has three hundred cog wheels and shows the movement of the various bodies around the sun. There is also a large model of a suspended globe, and if you are in luck during your visit, the Prof. himself will be there to explain the actual kinetics of the solar system.

Cash to be won!

There are cash prizes to be won for quoit throwing, rifle shooting and for those 12 months and under, the chance to win £2 first prize in the baby show.

A long time favourite of the people is Signor Vignola’s Italian Trio, who will be playing selections throughout the day.

The Rouse brothers greet visitors off the tram at the entrance to Wainoni Park
The Rouse brothers greet visitors off the tram at the entrance to Wainoni Park. [16]
At 3.30 pm there will be the Ladies Guessing Competition, and at 4 pm the Girls’ Skipping competition, with loads of running races for all the family. For 6d extra and 3d for children, families can stay and watch the fireworks at 9.15 pm, culminating in the spectacular ‘Wainoni Geyser‘.

There will be free milk and hot water at the Park for tea, so there is no need to take any along – the Bickerton’s think of everything! [17]

No wonder they are called the Pleasure Gardens!

  1. Image: Private Collection.
  2. Source: The Canterbury Times, 4 Feb. 1914, p. 45. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 18, IMG0019.
  3. As in a Mirror. Bluejackets at Wainoni. A Battle in a Pond. Star, 13 January 1908
  4. Star, Issue 9097, 29 November 1907
  5. Canterbury Museum, Image Reference: 6338. Photograph by Hemus Sarony Photography, 15 June 1910.
  6. Professor Bickerton’s Wainoni” By Tim Baker.
  7. Evening Post, Volume CXV, Issue 5, 7 January 1933, Page 19. Obituary, The Manchester Guardian, January 24, 1929.
  8. Cartoon by Low, David Alexander Cecil 1891-1963 “The new planet. 1909.” Image: Alexander Turnbull Library Reference Number: A-279-014.
  9. The Times, Friday, January 25, 1929.
  10. Canterbury Times, 5 April 1899. Image: Christchurch City Libraries
  11. Manawatu Standard, Volume XL, Issue 7701, 11 November 1903, Page 8.
  12. Source: Weekly Press, January 17, 1906.
  13. School Picnic: Ellesmere Guardian, Volume XXIX, Issue 2750, 21 April 1906, Page 3.
  14. Evening Post, Volume LXXIV, Issue 113, 8 November 1907, Page 84.
  15. Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 20 OCTOBER 1910 p008. Image: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19101020-8-1
  16. Image: Private Collection.
  17. Star, Issue 9404, 30 November 1908, Page 3.
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