Irene Leaver – the daughter of the Mayor of the New Brighton’s Borough – couldn’t help but let her eyes stray up to the surrounding crowd. I’m sure with a small lump in her throat; she forced a smile to her lips and returned to her duty of laying the foundation stone for the New Brighton Clock Tower, convinced that the world had finally gone mad. It was the 14th December 1934.
Sumner Borough Mayor, W.H. Nichollson may have had the same thoughts as he did his bit at the laying of the foundation stone for the Scarborough Clock Tower in Sumner that very same day. It had all began as a lovely thought when Richard Edward Green approached the Christchurch City Council with his idea of gifting three memorials to the people of the city. With what was to follow, the city of Christchurch may have wished that Richard hadn’t made an appearance at all.
A dark cloud rolled over Sumner and New Brighton that day. Irene had made the walk towards the ceremony platform with a bodyguard, the bomb threat over the proceeding being taken very seriously. This threat was not just for the New Brighton celebrations but also for Sumner who been warned in the same fashion. The man behind all this ill feeling was very rich Christchurch builder, Richard Edward Green.
He had fallen out with his family in the years before and his way – so his family claimed – to make sure that any inheritance was gone for anyone else, was blowing it all on these ridiculous gifts to the city. Angry letters were sent to the papers, slamming his character, accusing him of all sorts and finally threats against these memorial beginning date seemed to be the last desperate straw for the Greens.
Richard pressed on in spite, instructing that both clock towers for Sumner and New Brighton were to be in the honour of his father, Edmund Green. Richard had just been 7 years old when he arrived with his parents and little sister in Lyttelton in 1859. His father had been promised work and received a free passage by James Edward Fitzgerald to come to Christchurch and set up the first telegraph system in New Zealand. After this historic milestone, Edmund went on to open his own building business. It is not written as fact but it’s not hard to imagine that this was how and why Richard became a builder, he seemed very proud of his father and his achievements.
The Fitzgerald statue was the third gift to the city, offered to the Christchurch City Council and the Christchurch Beautifying Association. It seemed that Richard was a huge fan of the man, speaking about him to anyone who would listen. Understandable, as James Edward Fitzgerald had been the main reason the Greens had made it to New Zealand. This could have been just plain gratefulness.
The fights that broke out over the statue’s placement were so bad that Richard withdrew the statue and it sat in storage until the Domains Board (a collection of remaining members of the Provincial Council) took ownership of it and placed it on Rolleston Ave in 1938. There it sat until 1939, covered up and ignored until it was unveiled in a student prank. There would be no ceremony or fuss for the statue of our first Superintendent.
Edmund Green (died 1899) is buried at Barbadoes Street Cemetery.
In 1863, the family experienced a tragedy when Richard’s little sister, Mary Eliza died at the age of 16 due to a bad snow storm. She had found work in North Canterbury at a place called Saltwater Farm. Richard went with her to meet her ride on Papanui Road. By the time, the small party reached Woodend, snow had completely covered the road. They reached their destination, hours after they were due, the bullocks that had pulled them through the storm were near collapse. Poor Mary Eliza, almost frozen, was bed ridden with brain and rheumatic fever for a fortnight before she lost her fight for life.
*image courtesy of the http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/*
*photo of Scarborough Clock Tower Plaque and Fitzgerald Statue taken by Annette Bulovic*