The Centennial Memorial Fountain, located at Centenary Square, Parramatta, commemorates the centenary of the Colony of New South Wales, and that of Parramatta itself. It is the only surviving physical reminder of Parramatta’s Centennial Celebrations in 1888. The Memorial has remained an important element in the streetscape of Parramatta and a major focal point of Centenary Square (previously Parramatta Mall). The Memorial is due for restoration work as part of the redevelopment of Centenary Square and provides an appropriate opportunity to tell the story of the Memorial. What follows is a history prepared by Tracy Bradford, former Archivist at Parramatta Heritage Centre.
At its meeting on 19 October 1887, the aldermen of the Parramatta Borough Council discussed, among other things, the matter of the upcoming centenary of the colony. A motion was carried that,
…with the view to mark the Centenary of the Colony in a substantial and suitable manner this Council do now vote for that purpose the sum of £600, that being the amount of Premium received upon the loan recently floated, and that the Mayor be hereby authorised to call for suitable designs at a cost not exceeding £10.10.0. 1
Six weeks later, the Minutes record that Council accepted the recommendation of the Memorial Committee regarding the erection of a suitable memorial:
The Mayor also reported that the Memorial Committee, appointed by this Council, had brought up its report upon designs received for a Centenary Memorial to be erected within the Borough. And that the Committee had resolved to recommend the design sent in by Mr. Hollamby as being the most appropriate. The report was then read and laid upon the table by the Council Clerk…Moved by the Mayor and seconded by Alderman Drew that the Centenary memorial Committee report received this day be now adopted. Carried.2
Horace H. Hollamby, Architect of Macquarie Street South, Sydney, submitted the design thought “most appropriate” by the Committee. It was in the form of a sandstone drinking fountain and clock in the Victorian Free Classical style, incorporating a four-dial clock (to be illuminated at night).
Following the acceptance of Hollamby’s design, the Council called for tenders for the construction of the memorial fountain. At its meeting of 19 January 1888, Council opened and considered tenders for the erection and completion of the Centennial Memorial Drinking Fountain from the following contractors: Stenhouse and Mack (£580); Thomas Peters and Bros. (£745); Henry Cornish (£592) and Lyon and Moore (£684). After a motion put by Alderman Joseph Booth that no tenders be accepted, Council voted to accept the tender of Stenhouse and Mack.3
The minutes of the Council meeting of 19 January 1888 hint at, but do not elaborate on, dissent amongst the aldermen with regard to the construction of the memorial fountain. Further light is shed on this matter in the columns of The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Saturday, 21 January 1888. Reporting on that meeting of the Council, the paper records:
The Chairman (Mayor C. J. Byrnes) said he would not ask them To accept any of the tenders, as he found by the specifications that the clock was exempt, and would therefore be additional. He considered they should get the memorial erected with the clock for £600, and that was the impression he had been under when the design had been accepted; anyway he was not going to spend any more than that amount, and if they went on now they would have to pay fully £800; therefore he would not ask them to accept any of the tenders.
Ald. Taylor said the architect had certainly led them to believe that the clock was to be included in the £600, but as they had gone so far, and as every town in the colony of any importance had a public clock for the convenience of the citizens, he thought they should accept one of the tenders. It would be some time before the memorial was ready to receive the clock, and before then he was certain they could raise the necessary funds by private subscription, and he felt sure that, under the circumstances the Government would willingly grant them £1for £1 as raised. He moved that the tender of Stenhouse and Mack be accepted.
Alderman Cox seconded the motion. He had been opposed to the movement at first, but had since seen his error. He would, if it were necessary to raise the money by subscription, willingly
Give £5 towards the fund. (Applause).
Alderman Jos. Booth moved, as an amendment, “That no tenders be accepted.” He believed the whole scheme was a waste of ratepayers’ money.
Alderman Tiernan seconded the amendment.
On being put the amendment was lost on the following division: For: Aids. Jos. Booth, Moxham, Tiernan. Against: Aids. Drew, Taylor, Granger, Cox, Saunders.
The original motion was carried by the same aldermen who voted against the amendment voting for it. The Chairman did not vote. 4
Alderman Joseph Booth’s opposition to the expenditure of the £600 on a memorial fountain is also recorded in the minutes of the Council meeting held on 11 January 1888, at which he unsuccessfully moved that the decision to spend the money be rescinded, and that it be spent instead on “erecting, supplying and maintaining gas lamps in the four wards of [the] Borough”5
Perhaps the strongest supporter and probably the instigator of many of Parramatta’s Centennial Celebrations was Alderman Hugh Taylor. Taylor, the son of emancipist Hugh Taylor, was born in 1823 and educated in Parramatta. He was a publican who became a butcher during the gold rushes. Taylor was deeply enthusiastic about Parramatta and was elected as an alderman on the first Council of the Municipality of Parramatta in 1861. He remained an alderman until his death in 1897, and served as mayor from 1871 to 1874. In 1872 he was elected as the local Member for Parramatta, defeating Charles Joseph Byrnes, and remained in Parliament until 1894. 6 Reading the minutes of Council meetings and the newspaper reports of the preparations for the Centennial Celebrations, it is apparent that Taylor was able to overcome some of the opposition of other aldermen to ensure that the Centenary Memorial Fountain was erected. Taylor was also responsible for obtaining a vote of £250 to be spent on the Celebrations.
Following their acceptance of the tender from Stenhouse and Mack for the construction of the memorial fountain, Council wrote to the contractors on 20 January 1888:
Under the direction of His Worship the Mayor I have the honor to inform you that your Tender for the erection of the Centenary Memorial Drinking Fountain for the Council in accordance with Conditions and Specifications and to plan and detail submitted to you by the Council Architects for the sum of £580 has been accepted by the Council.
The Foundation stone of the said Memorial is required to be laid at noon on the 2th ins’. You are therefore required to take immediate steps to sign bonds and prepare all things necessary for the due fulfillment of your contracts.7
Parramatta’s Centennial Celebrations on Friday 27 January 1888 commenced with a procession which was described in the Centenary Supplement of the Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette as the “largest and longest ever seen in Parramatta”.8 The procession made its way from Parramatta Park, through the Macquarie Street gate, along Macquarie Street to Smith Street, along Smith Street to George Street, along George Street to Church Street, along Church Street to Ross Street before returning along Church Street to the site of the Centennial Memorial at the intersection of Church and Macquarie Streets. The procession included trolleys and drays decorated for the occasion, followed by local dignitaries and members of friendly societies and lodges marching behind their banners.
Hourigan Brothers conveyed the foundation stone of the Centennial Memorial to the site. The stone, weighing three and a half tons, came from Pye and Whiting’s quarry at Parramatta.9 The Mayor, Alderman C. J. Byrnes (the man Hugh Taylor defeated in 1872 to become Member for Parramatta), laid the foundation stone in the presence of an estimated crowd of 5,000. As part of the ceremony, a bottle was embedded under the stone. This bottle contained copies of the Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette, along with copies of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph. It also contained a parchment recording the names of the reigning monarch, the Governor of the Colony, the member for Parramatta, the Mayor and Aldermen of the Borough and the members of the Centennial Committee.10
Not surprisingly, the Centennial Celebrations in Parramatta were not without some controversy as the aldermanic disagreements about the expenditure of ratepayers’ money on the memorial fountain illustrate. On the whole, however, the celebrations seem to have been well received and supported by the community. The celebrations were largely initiated by Hugh Taylor and organised by a committee elected at a public meeting held on Monday 9 January 1888. The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Wednesday 11 January reported that over 270 people attended the meeting, chaired by the Mayor, and that a committee of “20 gentlemen” was elected to assist the four aldermen nominated by Council to plan and carry out the celebrations.11 In addition to the street procession and laying of the foundation stone of the Centennial Memorial Drinking Fountain, the celebrations included the unveiling of the Lady Mary Fitzroy Memorial in Parramatta Park, a children’s picnic in the park, a sports carnival, a citizens’ banquet in the Town Hall, a fireworks display and dinners for the inmates of the various institutions in the town (the Industrial School, the District Hospital, the Macquarie Street Asylum, the George Street Asylum and Newington Asylum.12
It is recorded that the construction of the Centennial Memorial Drinking Fountain went ahead despite some misgivings about the fact that the clock intended to be placed in the tower was not included in the tender. At the Council meeting on 30 April 1888, Alderman Taylor moved;
That the Mayor be requested to convene a public meeting for the inhabitants of the Borough to consider and decide upon the best way of raising a fund for the purpose of placing an illuminated clock in the Centennial Monument now being erected by the Borough Council.13
The motion was carried, and a public meeting was called for Friday 25 May 1888. Unlike the public meeting convened to plan the centennial celebrations, this meeting appears to have been poorly attended, with Alderman Beames claiming at the Council meeting on 1 August 1888 that “only two or three people attended the meeting”.14 At this same meeting a motion by Alderman Taylor to authorise the Mayor to call for tenders for a clock was defeated. This was despite Alderman Taylor’s argument that Council’s failure to expedite the completion of the memorial by the installation of the clock would result in “the finger of scorn” being pointed at Council.
Work continued on the construction of the memorial, despite the arguments about the installation of the clock. In the “Local and General” news column in the local paper of Saturday 25 August 1888 it was reported that
A very handsome marble tablet has been inserted in one of the recesses of the Centennial Memorial Parramatta. It bears the following inscription: – Centennial Memorial, 1888, Borough of Parramatta. Mayor: Charles J. Byrnes, J.P. Aldermen: Hugh Taylor, M.L.A., Joseph Booth, Fred. C. Cox, J.P., Frank Beames, J.P., W. J. Ferris, William Drew, Thomas Dixon, William A. Brodie, Lawrence Tiernan, William Moxham, James Dellow. Edward J. Love, Town Surveyor. Sydney Wickham, Town Clerk.15
By 12 September 1888, it appears that work on the memorial was complete, as the Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette reported that
..it has been decided to take over formally and dedicate to public use the Centennial Memorial…on Saturday next, the 15th instant….It is understood that the contractors, Messrs. Stenhouse and Mack, have given complete satisfaction in the execution of their work ..16
Completion of the work, however, does not appear to have extended to connecting the plumbing, as the local paper reported on 15 December that
It is to be hoped that ere long steps will be taken to provide means whereby the hot and thirsty and dusty pedestrian may be enabled to obtain an occasional drink of water at the Centennial Fountain. ..17
Despite the controversy surrounding its funding, and the occasional jibe directed at it in the local press, the Centennial Memorial Fountain was accepted as a worthy monument to the centenary of the colony. The editorial in the Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Saturday 29 December 1888 described it as “worthy of the occasion and worthy of the oldest town in the colony” and the design as “extremely chaste and handsome”.18 It remained, however, unfinished.
On Saturday 13 June 1908, the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers’ Advocate, the successor to the defunct Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette as the local newspaper of Parramatta, carried the following letter to the Editor, simply signed “Citizen”:
While the Fountain is being beautified by the council, why may not the Progress Association of Parramatta initiate a public subscription of small sums, say 6d or 1s per week for a few weeks, to raise sufficient to place a good clock in the place which is now gaping to be filled?19
The beautification works referred to included the installation of a garden plot around the Centennial Memorial and the illumination of the fountain. The Mayor, Alderman W. P. Noller, devoted the mayoral salary to the beautification project.20
Twenty years after Alderman Hugh Taylor tried unsuccessfully to initiate a public subscription fund for the purpose of installing a clock in the Centennial Memorial, the call was made again. This time, a subscription list was opened by the Argus, and the first subscriptions were recorded in the columns of that paper on Saturday 20 June 1908. It was estimated that the cost of a suitable clock would be £50-60, although this was soon revised to £80. Subscriptions to the Parramatta Town Clock Fund were published regularly in the Argus, together with letters of support and opposition to the proposal to install a clock in the memorial. By far, however, the support outweighed the opposition.
On Tuesday 30 June 1908 a meeting at the Parramatta Town Hall appointed a committee to oversee the completion of the Centennial Fountain with a clock.21 This committee, chaired by Mayor Noller, was charged with the task of securing the necessary funds to pay for the installation of a clock. That there was considerable community support for the project is evidenced by the fact that sufficient funds were in hand by September 1908 to allow the Committee to seek tenders for the clock’s installation.
At a meeting held at the Council Chamber on Friday 2 October it was decided to accept the tender of the firm Fairfax and Roberts of £82 10s for the installation of a four-dial turret striking clock with 2 foot luminous dials.22 The long awaited installation of the clock was reported in the Argus on Saturday 4 December 1909 after “delays of months succeeding months”.23
The installation of the clock had a tragic postscript. On Wednesday 12 January 1910, the Argus reported the death, on Monday 10 January, of Henry Coughlan of the firm Fairfax and Roberts. Coughlan was an “horological expert” with the firm, and had been working on some finishing touches to the clock on the evening of Friday 7 January. The following morning, Constable Harrison of Parramatta discovered the unconscious Coughlan inside the clock tower. The clock maker was conveyed to Parramatta Hospital, but did not regain consciousness and died in the evening of Monday 10 January. A magisterial enquiry, conducted on Tuesday 11 January heard that the cause of death was “cerebral hemorrhage and cerebral congestion, resulting, probably from an epileptic seizure overtaking him whilst he was at work on the clock in the Fountain, Parramatta”.24
On 23 May 1910, the aldermen of Parramatta Municipal Council considered a letter received from R. S. Richardson, Honorary Secretary of the Town Clock Fund Committee, handing over the clock and the relevant documents as a present to the Council from the subscribers. This gesture was acknowledged with a “hearty vote of thanks”.25
Following the installation of the clock and the hand over to Council, Fairfax and Roberts continued to be involved in the maintenance and winding of the clock. In a letter to Council dated 6 April 1916, the company provided a quotation for the conversion of clock from a mechanical mechanism to an electric non-striking clock to be driven off the Master Clock being installed in the Town Hall.26 The quote for £60, which included the installation of a Master Clock and three additional 12″ dial clocks in the Town Hall, was accepted by Council. The intention behind the conversion of the clock in the Centennial Memorial appears to have been to reduce the amount and cost of maintenance required. Correspondence between Fairfax and Roberts and the Council suggests, however that this outcome did not eventuate. In the years 1916 to 1920, a continuous stream of letters between the two indicates that the clock consistently kept poor time. In response to Council’s increasingly scathing complaints about the quality of the clock and its time-keeping abilities, Fairfax and Roberts consistently defended their workmanship, claiming that the fault lay with the irregularity of the electric current supply to the clock and the resetting of the clock by employees of the Parramatta Electric Supply Company after a supply interruption had occurred.27
In an effort to rectify the problems with the clock, Fairfax and Roberts submitted a proposal to Council on 15 January 1920 recommending the installation of four new dial movements with bezels and glasses to protect from wind and dust.28 After protracted negotiations over the cost of this work, it appears to have been carried out with the desired result being achieved. A letter from Fairfax and Roberts to the Council indicates that “the clock is now giving satisfaction and has done so for the past three (3) years”.29 The absence of subsequent references in the indexes to Council correspondence suggests this is the case.
The erection of the Centennial Memorial Fountain in 1888 and the installation of the clock therein over twenty years later generated much interest and some degree of controversy, after which the following years saw very little change to the status quo. The next significant period in the memorial’s history was the mid-1980s, when the long proposed Church Street pedestrian mall became a reality. Church Street between George and Darcy Streets was closed to traffic in September 1985 and work commenced on the construction of the mall.
Prior to the construction of the mall, the Centennial Memorial stood as an island in the middle of the intersection of Church and Macquarie Streets. With the closure of Church Street and the construction of the mall, the Memorial took on a new aspect, and came to be seen as an even more essential feature of the whole streetscape.
During the period of the mall’s construction, the clock was removed from the Memorial and sent away for repairs. Its re-installation was reported in the Parramatta Advertiser on 26 November 1986. It was also reported at the time that major restoration work on the structure was being considered as a Bicentennial project, although the present condition of the Memorial is evidence that this did not occur.
The Church Street Mall was officially opened on 6 December 1986.
Extracted from a paper prepared by Tracy Bradford, former Parramatta City Council Archivist
Centennial Memorial – Timeline
19 October 1887 Parramatta Borough Council voted to allocated £600 for the purpose of erecting a memorial to mark the centenary of the colony.
30 November 1887 Parramatta Borough Council accepted the recommendation of the Memorial Committee that the design for the Centennial Memorial submitted by H. H. Hollamby be accepted.
1888 Centenary of the European settlement of New South Wales and Parramatta.
27 January 1888 Foundation stone of the Centennial Memorial Fountain and Tower laid by C. J. Byrnes, Mayor of Parramatta.
30 June 1908 Committee formed to raise money for the installation of a clock in the Centennial Memorial Fountain.
November 1909 Installation of the four-dial clock into the Centennial Memorial Fountain, by Fairfax and Roberts, jewellers of Hunter Street, Sydney.
1. Parramatta Borough Council, Minutes of Meeting 19 October 1887, p.452 (PCC Archives).
2. Parramatta Borough Council, Minutes of Meeting 30 November 1887, pp.468; 473 (PCC Archives).
3. Parramatta Borough Council, Minutes of Meeting 19 January 1888, pp.482-3 (PCC Archives)
4. The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Saturday, 21 January 1888, p.2 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
5. Parramatta Borough Council, Minutes of Meeting 11 January 1888 (PCC Archives).
6. Kass, Liston & McClymont, op. cit., p.183
7. Letter from S. Wickham, Council Clerk on behalf of Mayor Byrnes to Stenhouse and Mack, date 20 Jan. 1888, Parramatta Borough Council Letter Books (PCC Archives ref: PRS 06/2).
8. “Centenary Supplement” to The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette Saturday 28 January1888, p.S (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
9. op. cit.,p.4.
10. op. cit.,p .5.
11. The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Wednesday, 11 January 1888, p.2 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
12. “Centenary Supplement” to The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette Saturday 28 January1888, pp.7-8 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
13. Parramatta Borough Council, Minutes of Meeting 30 April 1888, p.539 (PCC Archives).
14. Report of Council meeting 1 August 1888 in The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette Saturday, 4 August 1888, p.2 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
15. The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Saturday, 25 August 1888, p.4 (Parramatta CityLibrary Local Studies Collection).
16. The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Wednesday, 12 September 1888, p.2 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
17. The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Saturday, 15 December 1888, p.4 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
18. The Cumberland Mercury and Parramatta Gazette of Saturday, 29 December 1888, p.6 (Parramatta CityLibrary Local Studies Collection).
19. Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, Saturday 13 June 1908, p.4 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
20. Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, Saturday 20 June 1908, p.4 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
21. Reported in the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, Saturday 4 July 1908, p.12 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
22. Reported in the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, Wednesday 7 October 1908, p.2 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
23. Reported in the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, Saturday 4 December 1909, p.6 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
24. Finding of Magistrate Mr. M. S. Love, Magisterial Enquiry into the death of Henry Joseph Coughlan, reported in the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, Saturday 15 January 1910, p.10 (Parramatta City Library Local Studies Collection).
25. Parramatta Municipal Council,Minutes of Meeting 23 May 1910, pp .257-58 (PCC Archives).
26. Letter dated 6 April1916 (Reg. No. 1210) from Fairfax and Roberts to Town Clerk, Parramatta (PCC Archives ref: A93/07).
27. For example, see letters dated 6 May 1919 (Reg. No. 429a) and 9 July 1919 (Reg. No. 635a) from Fairfax and Roberts to Town Clerk, Parramatta (PCC Archives ref: A93/07).
28. Letter dated 15 January 1920 (Reg. No. 1269a) from Fairfax and Roberts to Town Clerk, Parramatta (PCC Archives ref: A93/07).
29. Letter dated 23 march 1923 (Reg. No. 860b) from Fairfax and Roberts to Town Clerk, Parramatta (PCC Archives ref: A93/07).