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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 2, November 1982

A Short History of the Cleghorn Memorial in Blenheim's Market Place

page 47

A Short History of the Cleghorn Memorial in Blenheim's Market Place

Blenheim has evolved around its "Square", which is really a triangle since the surveyor. Alfred Dobson, laid out the town, then known as the Beaver, in 1856.

He designated the "Square" Market Place with Market Street running from it north and south. It is remarkable that those names have never been changed and the main business area has always been centred on Market Street with, as a focal point. Market Place or "The Square" as it is affectionately called.

Occupying pride of place in the centre of the square is the Cleghorn Memorial, a band rotunda which really just sort of grew.

To begin with the site it now occupies was just an open well, sunk for the hand operated fire pumps to draw water to quench the many conflagrations which were common in those days.

Late in the 1880's the well was filled and a fire hydrant installed on the spot. Pipes ran from there to the river where a steam driven pump, the "Fire King", delivered water for the hydrant. Due to the fact that the new hydrant was subject to damage by horse drawn vehicles, a low concrete protecting wall was built around it.

At a meeting of the Blenheim Borough Council, held on September 6th, 1889. a letter from Mr Fred Hale. Secretary of the Garrison Band, asking the council to erect a band rotunda in Market Place was received. The council were in favour of the idea, it was to be 15 feet in diameter and was to have a 120 candle power gas lamp placed in the centre.

In December that year the concrete base was poured and a magnificent cast iron fire hydrant with fire outlets was set in the centre of it. On Christmas Eve the Garrison Band played selections from its repertoire as the first official use of the rotunda.

That was as far as the rotunda was to go for some time. The Borough Council were unhappy with the cost to date, between 40 and 50 pounds. Others were unhappy because the thing was unfinished and there was no lamp in the centre as originally planned, but the rotunda was to stay this way for some years.

Not until 1903 was the rotunda completed, paid for by public subscription and named the Cleghorn Memorial to commemorate Blenheim's famous medical practitioner George Cleghorn, born in India and qualified as M.D. at St. Thomas's Hospital, London. He left for New Zealand in 1876 as surgeon-superintendent to the Government Immigration Department but the ship he was travelling in was wrecked in the Bay of Biscay and he returned to England.

Later that year he landed in Auckland after travelling from England as ship's surgeon on the Brodwick Castle.

Two weeks later he arrived in Blenheim and entered into partnership with Dr. L. K. Horns who had been in practice in the town since 1858.

Within twelve months of Dr. Cleghorn arriving Blenheim's first hospital opened in Maxwell Road near Litchfield Street corner, and he was appointed surgeon.

In 1879 the Horne-Cleghorn partnership was dissolved. Dr. Home page 48subsequently lost his life when the Criterion Hotel was burnt down in the disastrous fire of June 30, 1887.

During the years to follow Dr. Cleghorn became a household word in Blenheim. Many experienced his professional skill and kindly sympathy. His intense interest in community affairs occupied a great deal of his time and he was always to the fore when welfare and pleasure of the public were concerned.

His skill as a surgeon was demonstrated when he operated for appendicitis on Caleb Higgs of the Globe Hotel. Renwicktown, in what is believed to be the earliest successful appendictomy in New Zealand. That was some time before the celebrated operation in England on King Edward VII which was widely acclaimed as the first successful operation for the complaint.

Dr. Cleghorn was selected as the surgeon to attend the then Premier of New Zealand. John Ballance, when he was suffering from appendicitis. The doctor was rushed to Wanganui to operate but his distinguished patient died, having developed peritonitis.

Blenheim people revered their famous surgeon and often were moved to stop and admire this eminent doctor as he passed seated beside his driver, Ned Mason, in well kept buggy and harness drawn by his beautiful pair of matched horses.

After twenty three years in Blenheim. Dr. Cleghorn sold his practice to Dr. Anderson and prepared for a visit to England.

The general esteem in which Dr. and Mrs. Cleghorn were held and the widespread regret at their leaving, was demonstrated at a public farewell for them. Ewarts Hall, which stood next to the Club Hotel opposite the Marlborough Express Office, was overflowing with wellwishers. All sections of the community were represented and Mr. J. C. Chaytor, of Marshlands, handed the doctor a purse of 300 gold sovereigns subscribed by the people of the district.

Presents of greenstone and other examples of Maori workmanship were given by residents of the Wairau Pa. A beautifully produced illuminated address was also presented to him that evening. It has been returned to Marlborough and is now in the Historical Society's Archives.

In January 1900 the doctor and his wife sailed for England on the Aotea. He spent a year studying and practising in London, then came back to New Zealand in 1901. On his return he settled in Wanganui and entered into partnership with Dr. Christie.

On June 11, 1902, he died suddenly. The people of Marlborough were greatly shocked on learning of this and on June 19. 150 people attended a public meeting convened by Mr. F. Shaw, a well known chemist, to decide on the best means of perpetuating the memory of the late Dr. Cleghorn. A committee was set up, donations were received, and several public meetings were held.

By November it had been decided that a rotunda in Market Square would be a suitable memorial. The design of this was approved by the Blenheim Borough Council at its meeting on January 27, 1903 and they agreed to subsidise the project to the extent of 30 pounds ($60). It was stipulated by the council that this money was to purchase three large lamps to be installed on top of the structure.

Work on the new memorial began immediately. By July it was completed at a total cost of 158 pounds. Two hundred and seventy three subscribers had page 49given 151 pounds 13 shillings and several promises of donations were still to come.

The fancy iron work was made in Canada and the three lamps had been imported from England. Without doubt the whole rotunda was a magnificent example of that wonderful period of ornate design and workmanship which characterised the turn of the century.

On behalf of the Cleghorn Memorial Committee. Mr. Mcintosh officially handed over the rotunda on August 30, 1903. Unfortunately the cast bronze plaque did not arrive for the opening ceremony. It was made by a Dunedin firm and was fitted later. Another nine pounds six shillings was handed to the council by the memorial committee in July 1905 which they suggested should be used for repainting and renovating the rotunda. Mrs Cleghorn also stated she was willing to pay for painting as required.

So the rotunda came to be the centre point of Market Place, complementing the Government Building, commonly known as the old Post Office, which was typical of many buildings designed by Clayton the Colonial Architect.

Since the rotunda was built no place in Blenheim has been used for so many important occasions. On its platform have stood almost every Governor General, every Mayor, Royalty, Lords and Ladies, Statesmen, Generals. Sportsmen and all manner of notable men and women.

From that rotunda many thousands of servicemen have been reviewed, many thousands farewelled when leaving to do battle for their country.

Almost every Marlborough man who fought in the Boer War and the First and Second World Wars marched past that place in the Market Square before they left for overseas.

As they returned to their home they were welcomed from the rotunda, many of them remembering their fighting companions and friends who would never return.

Every important occasion has seen crowds gather in Market Place. Declarations of peace after three major wars were celebrated with dancing and singing around the rotunda.

Sportsmen and women have gathered there after triumphant victories, to be honoured by the Mayor, Marlborough Walk participants received their medals there and many a brilliant speech has been made from its shelter.

During 1953 a small group of citizens began pressing for the removal of the rotunda and this drew possibly more correspondence to the Editor of the Marlborough Express than any other single subject before or since.

Many reports were made on the structural quality of it, some said it was falling down, some said it was as sound as ever. The pros and cons of its retention were well debated for nearly ten years, the Express published many historical photographs and several articles on the subject. As recently as 1969 the Express published a short article to the effect that the Prime Minister at the time, Sir Keith Holyoake, considered he may have made his first public speech from the rotunda more than fifty years before, when visiting Blenheim to play in a Seddon Shield football match.

As time marches by the rotunda stands proudly holding its position. Almost every building about it has been torn down and replaced, the few remaining have had their faces changed so as to be more in keeping with modern trends. The once fiat, spacious square which was the hub of the town page 50is now congested with stone banks and seats. The old Post Office is gone and its site is taken by an emptiness known as the village green until some better thing is found to fill the gap.

Much happiness and sorrow has been shared around Blenheim's square and let us hope that in the years to come the Cleghorn Memorial Rotunda will endure and stand aloof so those of us who know of the past can remember and help to make a better future for those who are yet to come.

The Cleghorn Memorial. Market Square, Blenheim.On left: Cabbie, Fred W. Martin. Tom (Kelly) Patchett (on top).Ted Norgrove on plank. Rewi Smale, boy on pony.

The Cleghorn Memorial. Market Square, Blenheim.
On left: Cabbie, Fred W. Martin. Tom (Kelly) Patchett (on top).
Ted Norgrove on plank. Rewi Smale, boy on pony.