New Zealand Centennial Exhibition | Edmund Anscombe

The New Zealand Centennial Exhibition celebrated 100 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. It ran from November 1939 until May 1940  on a site at Rongotai next to the airfield. The architect Edmund Anscombe designed the buildings and grounds in the Art Deco style.

Edmund was born in 1874 in Sussex, England. His family emigrated the same year as part of the Assisted Immigrants scheme and they settled in Dunedin. He attended Caversham School and in 1888 he went to Melbourne to visit their 1888 Exhibition. He said:

“From then on, anything pertaining to Exhibitions held for me its own decided and never ending interest”.

He also attended the Chicago World Fair (1933) and New York’s World Fair (1939) among others.

His architectural work in Dunedin included the Lindo Ferguson Building, Arthur Barnett’s Department Store and the Logan Park Grandstand. In 1928 he moved to Wellington and notable among his buildings here is the Post & Telegraph building next to Waitangi Park. He was eating inside one of his own buildings in Hastings when the 1931 earthquake struck, and having such faith in his own work he continued eating and the building was one of the few to remain standing.

Construction on the Centennial Exhibition site began in April 1939 by Fletcher & Love Construction Companies and involved over 1000 people. The site was over 22 Hectares in size of which the buildings covered 7 Hectares.

The Exhibition was intended to show New Zealand’s progress and achievements. Inside the buildings were endless displays of modern technological wonders. There were ‘Courts’ or exhibition halls for Government Departments, Māori, Women, the Dominion, Engineering, Manufacturing, Transportation and the British Empire. There was even a model of the Waitomo caves.

But most visitors headed straight to the Crazy House with its tilting floors or the roller coaster in Playland, not visiting the ‘serious’ exhibits until a second or third visit.

The women’s section was made a special feature. There were displays of Victorian domestic interiors and in the Lecture Hall topics such as ‘The art of icing’; ‘What to do for burns’ and ‘Childrens’ fears’ were canvassed.

William Tretheway’s sculpture depicting Kupe, his wife Hine-te-aparangi, and a tohunga, on the waka Matahourua stood at the end of a reflecting pool facing the main entrance. It was hollowcast in plaster of Paris and painted bronze as it was only intended to last for the duration of the Exhibition. In 2000 it was recast in bronze and placed on Wellington’s waterfront.

After the Exhibition, the buildings were used in part by the New Zealand Air Force and then in 1946 what was remaining burnt to the ground.

Edmund died in 1948. His funeral service was held at St John’s Willis Street and he was cremated at Karori Cemetery. His ashes were interred in Anderson’s Bay Cemetery in Dunedin with his wife.

One of the first colour films in New Zealand was made by Edmund of the exhibition. It is only 30 seconds and well worth a look:

The Kupe statue and Centennial Tower at the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 1827-043

Olaf Hansen

Olaf (known as Yank), aged 35 and a taxi proprietor lived in Seatoun Road. In April 1932 he had gradually been excavating a cliff at the rear of his house to make more room for a yard.

On 14th April, he worked for a while on the excavation and then came in for a cup of tea. He remarked ‘Isn’t it a wonder the cliff doesn’t fall down after being undermined like that?’

He returned to his work and a few minutes later his wife Mabel heard a woman scream, followed by a rumble. She came out and was told her husband had been buried beneath a fall. Douglas Logan, medical practitioner said that Olaf suffered from severe shock and internal injuries. Mabel was with Olaf when he died at Wellington hospital later that day.

Olaf was born in Denmark. He is the only interment in this plot.

There is a Mabel Hansen who died aged 56 and was cremated at Karori Cemetery in 1951 but have not confirmed the connection.

Plot: *Ch Eng 2/K/268

By Julia Kennedy

Olaf Hansen plot


This unusual plot design caught our eye in the upper area of Church of England 2 section. It is clad with marble and has a concave tablet surface and a concrete plinth with a bell curved edge. We thought learning a little more about those buried here may explain the design, but we could find very little about them.

Ellen Maria King was the first interment in 1929. She died aged 60 at her home in Derby Street, Mt Victoria. She was the wife of William Henry King who died in 1943, aged 80 and who was a watchmaker and jeweller. We cannot establish their origins or where they married. They first appear on New Zealand electoral rolls in Taranaki in 1914.

Their son Jack Ian King who is also memorialised on this plot was born in 1901 in South Africa. Jack studied at Wellington Technical College and later at University College London. He was apprenticed to the architect Joseph Dawson from 1917-1922. He then entered into partnership with him in 1929 to form the practice Dawson & King. The practice had to endure the hard years of the Depression.

Jack became president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects 1953-1955. He received a CBE in 1966 for services to architecture and the Standards Institute. He died in 1972.

We like to imagine that it was Jack who designed this plot, based on his profession.

Plot: *Ch Eng 2/J/468

King plot
King plot

Wellington Anniversary Day

To mark Wellington Anniversary Day, we would like to share this photo we found from 1913.

A group portrait of early settles who arrived in New Zealand before 1840. 72 years ago at the Wellington early settlers gathering on Anniversary Day. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19130130-16-01.

The ‘Early Settlers and Historical Association of Wellington’ issued an open invitation to all early settlers and their descendants to attend a reunion at Newtown Park on Anniversary Day 1913.

The event was an open picnic with sports in the afternoon, and the Governor General and Lady Liverpool attended. The new kiosk was open and hot water was available for those who prefer a ‘billy tea’ and lunch under the trees. There was bobbing for apples, highland dancing, a maypole, a baby show and a treacled bun competition (?).

All early settlers on arriving at the park were invited to enter their details in a book (we wonder where this now is?). On the day it was discovered that there were three ladies present born in the ‘20s. A photograph was taken of all of those who arrived or were born in Wellington prior to 1840.

Of those in the photograph, we have identified three at Karori Cemetery:

Ellen Howell

Ellen Howell’s plot

Ellen was born in Kent in 1835 and arrived in Wellington in May 1841 on the ship ‘Lord William Bentinck’ with her father John Clout, stepmother and three siblings. She married Thomas Howell in 1855. He was a storekeeper. They appear to have had fourteen children. In 1891 Thomas and Ellen sought to recover in the Supreme Court £100 damages from the Apollo Soap and Candle Factory due to their works causing ‘divers, offensive, unwholesome and unpalatable smells, vapours and stenches’ affecting their properties in Riddiford Street. They did not succeed in their suit. Ellen at Howells Ave in 1923. The newspaper reported she was aged 91.

Plot Ch Eng/P/37

Agnes Leslie

Agnes Leslie’s plot

Agnes is a little bit of a mystery. She died in 1925, aged 86 at the Home For the Aged Needy. She was rejected for the Old Age Pension in 1899 (as she was only 62 years of age). In 1903 she was awarded a pension of £18 noting she had been 62 years in the colony. She lived in Holland, Frederick and Brougham Streets 1890 -1920. But we cannot find out more about her. She is buried in an unmarked plot.

Plot Ch Eng 2/G/663

Not in the photo, but another interesting burial at Karori Cemetery of an early settler:

Frederick George Petherick

Frederick Petherick

Frederick arrived in Wellington on the ship ‘Aurora’ on 22 January 1840 with his parents, brothers and sister. It was the first immigrant ship to arrive in Wellington, chartered by the New Zealand Company and the arrival of this ship is marked by Wellington Anniversary Day. Frederick was 8 years old when they landed on the beach at Petone.

He later took part in the gold rushes in Victoria during the early 50s and then the West coast for more gold mining. He married Elizabeth Ballinger in 1879. They had four children. In 1881 he was a carpenter and storekeeper in Featherston where he was declared insolvent. His liabilities amounted to £792. He died at his home 112 Oriental Parade in 1917.

Plot Ch Eng 2/D/22

By Julia Kennedy

Thomas Campbell Edwards

One of our readers Jayce wrote in to ask if we knew what this object is on Thomas Edwards’ grave. Having examined it and done a few Google images searches, we’re stumped if we know what it is. Jayce’s guess that it is of some sort of flower holder seems the most probably. It appears to have been sitting lose on the grave originally and someone has concreted the remaining parts into the ledger later on, as it appears some parts are missing.

What do you think it is?

Thomas Campbell Edwards was a twenty-year-old electrician who was assisting to repair the lift in the Public Trust Building on 21st May 1912. He called to an assistant to turn on the power but before doing so neglected to remove an iron handle which was temporarily fixed on a spindle. The handle struck him with a terrific blow to his leg.

He was admitted to hospital and while there he developed pleurisy. This coupled with the shock was attributed to his death which occurred on the 11th June. He was the son of James Edwards, a farmer from Hamilton.

Thomas’ grave is on the main road facing the north end of the Seaforth rose gardens, for those who like to walk in the cemetery.

Plot: *Ch Eng/A/291

By Julia Kennedy

Edwards plot (detail)
Edwards plot (detail)
Edwards plot
Edwards plot

Mary Wood

Mary (May) Wood

Mary was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Samson. She married firstly to John Douglas McNeil in 1904 in Dunedin. They had two children: John Samson and Margaret.

John left on active service in May 1916 and when he returned in March of 1918, he found Mary with a child three months old. John petitioned for dissolution of the marriage and £500 damages. Andrew Crichton was named as co-respondent.

Andrew admitted that he was the father of the child. His wife had died in 1916 and he had sent two sons to the war. One had been killed and the other was gassed.

A decree nisi was granted and the McNeil children were handed over to John.

In 1919 Mary married Benjamin Wood. Their sons Bertram James and Arthur were born in 1921 and 1922 respectively.

Mary died on 12th November 1922 at her home, 42 Rolleston Street at the age of 37. ‘Deeply regretted’ said the death notice.

Benjamin Wood was a carpenter. Perhaps he made the grave marker himself? The marker had wandered from the plot recently, and the cemetery staff were kind enough to reinstate it at our request.

Plot: *Public 2/N/456

Wood plot


Alfons Frederick Fischel was born in Prague in 1874. His profession was an engineer. He married Gisela Karmel in Vienna in 1902, their marriage was recorded in the Jewish register of births, deaths & marriages. Their only son, Walter George, was born there in 1903.

Walter married Margrethe [Margaret] Finlay and they had two children. Walter and his family arrived in Wellington in September 1938. He worked as a vet.

In October the following year his father and mother, Alfons and Gisela arrived in Wellington. They settled in Hankey Street.

In 1941 Margaret’s sister and brother-in-law, Otto [Bob] and Luise [Louisa] Rothbaum, arrived with their son Henry, aged 15. Otto had been interned in the UK prior to his departure for New Zealand.

Records at National Archives indicate the family were initially regarded as enemy aliens, before being declared stateless and then becoming naturalised British subjects after the war.

Alfons died in February 1947 aged 73 and his ashes were placed in this niche of the columbarium behind the Crematorium Chapel. The plaque reads ‘Oberbaurat’ which translates as Town Planner.

In March 1947, Gisela became a naturalised citizen. Her occupation was recorded as  ‘Manufacturer of artificial flowers’.

Gisella died in 1969 and her placed beneath a bronze plaque in the Public section Plot: *Public/M/794.

By Julia Kennedy

Alfons Fischel plaque in the columbarium

Tangiwai Funeral Service

Tangiwai Funeral Service – 31 December 1953

Seventy years ago, a funeral service was held at Karori Cemetery for the twenty-one unidentified victims of the Tangiwai disaster that occurred on the night of 24th December. The service was held at 10am on a Thursday morning. The burial place had been specially chosen, near the lawn cemetery.

In attendance were over six hundred mourners, including a large number of cabinet ministers, members of the diplomatic corps, service chiefs and civic dignitaries who stood at the 30-yard-long grave. Lining the grave and along its edges were laid punga fronds. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh attended, having flown from Hamilton that morning with the Prime Minister Sidney Holland. The Queen continued her planned engagements in Hamilton alone.

A public address system was installed so that those present could follow the service, which was also broadcast.

The service was conducted by representative leaders of the churches. At its conclusion, the Duke placed a wreath of blue flowers beside the white cross from the citizens of Wellington. He then stepped back and bowed his head for a moment. The Prime Minister Mr Holland followed with his own wreath.

The Duke then passed down a line of mourners, offering a few words of comfort to many of them. Mr Dunbar who lost his cousin in the disaster said ‘His presence here and sympathy was a great comfort to all’.

On 27 March 1957, a memorial service was held and a memorial to the victims was unveiled by the Prime Minister with the names of all who perished inscribed on it. After the service, relatives of the victims were the guests of the government at afternoon tea at Parliament buildings.

By Julia Kennedy

The Duke of Edinburgh attending the mass burial of Tangiwai railway disaster victims, Karori Cemetery, Wellington, Royal Tour 1953-1954. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/4-106737-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23203934


In 1921, arranged by her daughter Madame Parker, Madame Emilie Marguerite Clemencot (nee Chavelle) and Madame Parker’s sister Mademoiselle Blanche Emilie Clemencot arrived in Hastings from St-Chamond, Loire, France.

Madame Parker (born Berthe Emilie Clemencot) had arrived in New Zealand in the early 1900s and married Henry Griffith Parker in 1907. Shortly afterwards she went to Buenos Aires returning to settle in Hastings in 1913 where she reestablished her business as a corset and dress maker.

Her sister Blanche had been married in France in 1908 to Eugene Waldmann and we are uncertain if they divorced, but she represented herself in New Zealand as Mademoiselle Clemencot.

Emilie Clemencot was aged 71 when she arrived in New Zealand. She had married to Pierre Frederic Clemencot in 1871. Their other children were Arthur, Edouard, Louise, Louis, Jeanne, and Malvina.  

Emilie had lived through the Franco-Prussian war and the very recent experience of WWI:

‘I left France as if I was leaving some mud hole behind me, and I said to myself ‘I am going to heaven’’.

In 1923, also arranged by Madame Parker, her brother Arthur and his wife Alice and their two children were welcomed to Hastings where she had purchased and furnished a house for them. In 1926, Alice bought a maintenance case against Arthur. ‘Love in France – Parted in N.Z.’ ran ‘The Truth’ newspaper headline. They separated and both left the country over the next few years without further trace.

At the same time as the divorce case, Madame Parker relocated to Palmerston North with Emilie and Blanche. Madame and Henry Parker divorced in 1928.

The mother and daughters then relocated again, this time to Wellington where Blanche worked as a confectioner. Emilie died at her house on the Hutt Road, Petone in 1930.  Many touching notices were placed in the newspaper from her friends for their ‘petit maman’.

Madame Parker travelled to England about 1939 and there is a ‘Bertha Emilie Parker’ who died in London in 1944. Blanche died in 1954 and is interred in this plot with her mother.

Also in this plot is Jules Louis Raveneau who died in 1976. We cannot find a connection to the Clemencot family. He was born in 1918.  He arrived in New Zealand from France in 1950 and appears on the electoral rolls from 1975 living in Adams Terrace. He worked as a watersider. His wife was Maria and she is buried elsewhere. Was he a cousin perhaps?

Plot: *Public 2/W/666 (this plot is in the row facing the Salvation Army area)

By Julia Kennedy

Clemencot Plot

New Zealand Tunneller 37663 Sergeant Victor Thomas Low (Lo Keong)

Victor Lo Keong was born in Dunedin on 3rd July 1894 to Matilda Kum (Cum Hong) and Joseph Lo Keong. Matilda is recorded as the first female Chinese immigrant to New Zealand and Joseph was the second known Chinese arrival in Dunedin. The couple had met in Australia.

The Lo Keong’s are widely regarded as New Zealand’s first Chinese family and Victor was one of their six children.

The Lo Keongs ran a fancy-goods store in Dunedin and raised their children to be part of wider New Zealand society, speaking English and attending public schools. Victor and his brother, Norman, both studied engineering at Canterbury University.

Twenty-two-year-old Victor Low (Lo Keong) enlisted in January 1917. His profession was listed as ‘civil engineer’. Victor was attached to the 5th Tunnelling Reinforcements, who were bound for France to reinforce the NZ Engineers Tunnelling Company.

Victor attended training at Narrow Camp in March 1917 and then left Wellington on the Turakina on 26th April 1917, the day after Anzac Day. By then, news of the extraordinary work of the New Zealand Tunnellers who had developed an extensive underground system as part of the 9th April 1917 British Battle of Arras was filtering back home.

Victor had two periods of leave during 1918. One trip to Paris and another to the United Kingdom. Whilst in the United Kingdom Victor was hospitalised with influenza in September 1918. He rejoined the company in early October 1918.

Whilst the main group of New Zealand Engineers Tunnellers were repatriated as a complete section, Victor remained in the United Kingdom in the Army Education Unit until August 1919.

While Victor was in the Education Unit as a sergeant, the idea of constructing a lasting memento of the New Zealanders’ occupation of Sling Camp was put forward by Brigadier-General Alexander Stewart, the camp’s commandant. The British Army gave permission for the construction of a kiwi on military land on the nearby Beacon Hill. The work would keep soldiers occupied while they waited to go home.

Victor surveyed what became known as the Bulford Kiwi. The chalky soil was similar to that at Arras, with which Victor was familiar. The soldiers cut the kiwi by hand. The soil was dug out to a depth of 30cm, exposing the chalk beneath. The kiwi is 128m long, with its beak extending 45.7m and the ‘NZ’ letters standing 20m high. The work was completed on 28th June 1919- the day the Treaty of Versailles with Germany was signed.

When Victor left the army he travelled to Hong Kong, where he worked for many years for the architectural firm Palmer and Turner. Victor and his wife Emily left Hong Kong in 1941, shortly before the Japanese attacked the island. They travelled through China to Chungking and into India, before returning to New Zealand in 1943.

Once back in New Zealand, Victor and Emily lived on Cuba St, Wellington, and Victor worked for the Ministry of Works in Wellington as an engineer.

Victor died on 11 May 1953, aged 59. His ashes are interred in the columbarium Wall in the Services Section.

Emily died in 1986 in Morrinsville. The couple had no children.

Victor Lo Keong seated front centre
Victor Lo Keong 1919
Victor Lo Keong’s niche, columbarium wall, Karori Cemetery services area