During the mayoralty of George Swan (1833–1913) things began to take off in Napier, particularly on the Marine Parade.

In 1894, George proudly stood before an assembled crowd of Napierites on a miserable August day to open the new band rotunda in front of the Masonic Hotel, Marine Parade. It had been planned since 1889.

Owners of the Masonic Hotel, Messrs Neal and Close, had donated the band rotunda, and George Swan paid tribute to the men's generosity of what he was assured was "the handsomest rotunda in New Zealand".

In fine form that day, George listed a few other items that Napier needed, such as a tower for the town clock and some chiming bells to go with it, and "a peal of bells for our fine cathedral".


He continued: "A rotunda is needed in the Botanical Gardens", and referring to the present rotunda that "also lamps are wanted round this handsome edifice, for if anything can add to music a greater charm when concerts are given in places like this, it is plenty of light".

(Ironically, when gas lamps were erected in October, the gas jets were not covered by glass and flickered around in the wind, and the band members playing were said to be "greatly hampered and inconvenienced". These were soon replaced by covered glass ones).

In closing his speech, George said "everyone with soul at all must love music, and this structure, where music will be discoursed for the enjoyment of citizens is a great boon indeed". He then called for three hearty cheers for the donors, Neal and Close.

Just as the heavens opened, Mayor Swan announced the next part of the programme. Close's and Swan's wives would plant a pohutukawa tree each next to the rotunda.

During the downpour, and assisted by the curator of the Botanical Gardens, Burton and both women – or as the Hawke's Bay Herald called them "two modern representatives of good old Mother Eve stood their ground well, and with umbrellas held over them, added the finishing touches to the beautifying of the nearest approach to Paradise available at the moment".

Three years later, in 1897, George Swan would be at the Masonic Hotel making another opening speech. This time for the Masonic Hotel reopening after the previous building had burned down in 1896.

Both the band rotunda and pohutukawa trees in front of the Masonic Hotel fortunately survived the fire.

The next big test for the band rotunda and pohutukawa would be the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake. The Masonic Hotel was destroyed by fire, and the band rotunda collapsed. The pohutukawa trees, however, survived.


The managing director at the time of the quake was George Ebbett, lawyer, property owner and ex-mayor of Hastings. Using some creative powers of financing, he financed and rebuilt the hotel. It was officially reopened in 1934.

George Ebbett wrote to the Napier Borough Council in February 1935 about the area now left vacant by the band rotunda, as it was not reinstated.

The land on which the rotunda once stood, George believed, and told the council, was donated to the Napier Borough Council by Neal and Close.

A woman who had been a long-time resident of Napier and was now living in Melbourne, J Wilson, had a proposal to make to the council. She would donate £50 (2018: $6000) if the area of the band rotunda and the two pohutukawa trees would be saved and conditions were met.

The band rotunda area, if necessary, would be excavated to two or three feet (600mm and 1.2m) deep and filled with soil and "planted with roses or other suitable plants".

Maintenance of the garden would be done by the council, and they must keep it in good order and the pohutukawa trees must be "reasonably cared for and left as long as they live, unless of course some urgent necessity for their removal should arise".


The council voted seven to three in favour of referring her offer to the council's Town Planning Committee, which would report back to the full council.

In March 1935, the council accepted the £50 offer and also decided to spend £50 its own money and to "canvas for further funds for the beautification of this plot".

Part of the areas where the band rotunda once stood was arranged in a circular garden, and the triangular area was planted in flowers around the perimeter.

Next time you are walking past, reflect on the 1894 pohutukawa that survived two fires, an earthquake and the possible axe in 1935.

• Michael Fowler will speaking on the history of Napier's Marine Parade from 1928 until 1938 during the Winter Deco Weekend at the Century Theatre, MTG, Saturday, July 14, at 3.30pm. Free admission.

• Michael Fowler (mfhistory@gmail.com) is a chartered accountant, freelance writer, contract researcher of Hawke's Bay's history.