Premium gold

MUSEUM NOTEBOOK

You've probably driven past the Watt Memorial Fountain at the intersection of Victoria Ave and Ridgway St numerous times.

But do you know why it is there, and what William Hogg Watt did to have a fountain named for him?

The following is transcribed from a small article written in 1931 after the opening of the Margaret Watt Memorial Orphanage, named in honour Watt and also in memory of his daughter Margaret who died when the SS Avalanche was shipwrecked in 1871 off the coast of England.

"In 1840 William Hogg Watt and Thomas Ballardie Taylor, two young men filled with the spirit of adventure, were living in Sydney and they decided to come across to New Zealand. The question was, how were they to get there? They solved the problem by purchasing for a small sum a long-boat that had belonged to a migrant ship. The craft was without a deck so the two young men set to work and built one, also raising the sides. They christened the boat the Catherine Johnstone and taking a young boy with them, set sail for Wanganui with a cargo of 'trade' consisting of goods that they considered would be readily saleable.

Advertisement
Museum Notebook
Museum Notebook

"And so in 1841 a voyage of vast importance to Wanganui was commenced - a voyage that today would cause considerable excitement in view of the cockle-shell nature of the little vessel. The Catherine Johnstone was the first of Messrs. Taylor & Watt's fleet of ships, the others including the Governor Gray, the Rosebud, and the Tyne. A still later vessel the Lady Dennison, carried guns, although they were seldom used.

"On their arrival at Wanganui, Messrs. Taylor & Watt sold their cargo and built a store on the 'beach' [now Taupō Quay]. They subsequently started to trade regularly between Wanganui and Wellington. The Catherine Johnstone also made many voyages to and from Australia, with Captain Taylor in command. Taylor & Watt built up a lucrative business in Wanganui and acted as 'bankers' to the settlers all along the west coast. Watt took an active part in the town's affairs. He was chairman of the Town Board and later represented the town on the Provincial Council.

READ MORE:
Museum notebook: Did you know Whanganui Regional Museum held these cameos?
Museum Notebook: Our city's deep well of knowledge
Museum Notebook: Drama on the Whanganui river
Museum Notebook: It takes tui: our all-singing, all-talking, nectar-scoffing native honeyeater

"The first Australian bank to establish a branch in Wanganui did so on the inducement of Watt, who was its first customer. On the day the bank opened, he applied for and obtained a loan of £6000 [around $700,000 today], so great was the bank's faith in his business ability.

Mayoral portrait of William Hogg Watt
Mayoral portrait of William Hogg Watt

"The late Mr. Watt represented Rangitikei in Parliament back in 1866, and it was only because of his extensive private business in those early pioneering days that he found it necessary to resign in favour of the late Sir William Fox, who was closely associated with Mr. Watt politically for many years and was one of his personal friends. Later, Mr. Watt represented Wanganui, and the close fight he had to succeed against the late Hon. John Ballance is within the memory of many old residents. He was Mayor of Wanganui for a number of years, and his service to this centre sets inspiration to a younger generation.

Catherine Johnstone, the first ship owned by Taylor & Watt. Watercolour.
Catherine Johnstone, the first ship owned by Taylor & Watt. Watercolour.
The Watt Fountain in its original position at the intersection of Victoria Ave and Ridgway St, 1880s. The fountain was relocated to Cooks Gardens and later returned to its original site.
The Watt Fountain in its original position at the intersection of Victoria Ave and Ridgway St, 1880s. The fountain was relocated to Cooks Gardens and later returned to its original site.

"Mr. Watt gave Wanganui its first water supply when he made a gift of Westmere Lake to the city. A memorial marking the appreciation of the citizens was erected in the form of a fountain at the intersection of Ridgway Street and the Avenue, but this was later removed and now stands in Cook's Gardens."

The Watt Memorial Fountain was later moved back into its original location.

Sandi Black is the archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Advertisement