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New Zealand Sculptures
Designed to Please Children
Dorothy - 15/03/02

The statues featured in this article were sculpted at the wish of adults who gave the funds to give enjoyment to children as well as adding interest to the parks where they are a feature. My interest in the topic was generated by a conversation with Myk Davis of Hawera who has spent much time researching the history of these sculptures.

Peter Pan and Wendy favourites with children since 1904
Many people who grew up in the twentieth century revelled in J. M. Barrie's story of Peter Pan and Wendy, especially those who grew up in the earlier years and the statues reflect that interest.

Peter Pan first appeared in 1902 in Barrie's story, The Little White Bird set in Kensington Gardens. However, it was from 1904 onwards that he became widely known when he and Wendy were the central characters in Barrie's play, Peter Pan or the Boy who wouldn't grow up, a dramatic fantasy first staged in 1904. In 1911 the story of the play was published as Peter and Wendy.

For anyone not brought up on Peter Pan here is a summary of the story. Wendy, John and Michael are the children of Mr and Mrs Darling and their nurse is a Newfoundland dog called Nana. Peter Pan teaches them to fly, and with the fairy Tinker Bell the children fly to Never-Never land, the home of the lost boys. There they have adventures with pirates. The best-known pirate is the vicious Captain Hook who wears a steel hook to replace his right hand which was bitten off by a crocodile. The pirates are not all vicious, and Smee is on the children's side and helps them to escape from Hook who is eaten by the Crocodile.

Statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
Many thousands of children who read the book or saw the play were so captivated by the characters of Peter and Wendy that in 1912 a statue of Peter Pan appeared in London's Kensington Gardens. This was erected at Barrie's expense and sculpted by Sir George Frampton. Peter is standing on a tree stump with birds, animals and fairies around it.

Statues in New Zealand
South Island statues

Perhaps the fact that Barrie was a Scot increased the interest in his work in the southern South Island.

The Oamaru Wonderland statue

Wonderland Statue
Wonderland statue in the Oamaru Gardens
Robert Milligan, a mayor of Oamaru in north Otago, had seen the children enjoying the statue in the Kensington Gardens and commissioned a statue on the theme of the Never-Never land for the Oamaru Public Gardens. The sculptor was Thomas Clapperton, a pupil of Sir George Frampton. The statue was unveiled in 1927.

As a child I remember our family stopping at the Oamaru Gardens when travelling between Dunedin and Christchurch. There was a shelter where by putting a coin in the gas meter we could boil the kettle for a cup of tea. My interest, however, was to race through the Gardens to see Peter Pan and Wendy - or so I thought. My incorrect idea about the statue persisted until I talked to Myk Davis.

The Wonderland statue depicts two children, not intended to be Peter Pan and Wendy, standing on a base like a tree stump and looking down at the fairies, elves, birds, squirrels, and other small animals sculpted on the base.

Statues in Invercargill

Peter and Tinker Bell
Peter Pan with Tinker Bell
on his shoulder

Photo source Alister Hunt

Southland boy
Invercargill statue of a
typical Southland boy

Photo source Alister Hunt
In 1949 Miss E. W. Bellamy left money for a statue for Invercargill children to enjoy. The statue of Peter Pan with Tinker Bell on his shoulder was sculpted by New Zealander Doreen Bricknell and placed in Queens Park in 1968.

Another statue was commissioned in Invercargill by the Invercargill Licensing Trust in 1956 to mark Southland's centenary. The statue shows a boy described as "a typical Southland boy" kneeling and looking down at the fairies, birds and animals on the base. This time the creatures include New Zealand fantails, a tuatara (a New Zealand lizard), the New Zealand tree the kowhai, and New Zealand ferns. There is little known about the sculptor, but the name on the base is M. Painter.

The children of Invercargill were to receive another gift - from a bequest from a well-known local business man, J. B. Thomson. The requirement was that something be created 'for the enjoyment of children' and this was certainly achieved. Sir Charles Wheeler created a bronze figure of Peter Pan, one metre high. He is standing on tip-toe in the middle of a pool, and six small animals are on the rim. Beside the path around the pool are sculptures of lions, seals and an eagle, big enough for children to climb over. The Queen Mother unveiled these in 1966.

Statues in Dunedin
Harold Richmond grew up in Oamaru and as a child enjoyed the Wonderland statue. He gave two statues to the Dunedin Botanic Gardens, The first was of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys, unveiled in 1965. It includes New Zealand plants and animals around the base.

The second statue is of Wendy and her brother flying to Never-Never land, with Nana, their dog, at their feet. It was unveiled in 1968. The sculptor for both these statues was Cecil Thomas.

North Island statues
Hawera's Wendy statue

Wendy statue
Wendy statue in Hawera
This statue was commissioned in 1944 by the trustees of Marion Campbell who wanted a sculpture to honour the memory of her late husband, James Campbell who had been a dedicated and popular mayor of Hawera. Ferdinand Victor Blundstone was commissioned to produce the statue. He was well-known for his animal sculptures. He sent photographs of suggested sculptures to Hawera and the statue of Wendy in the style of the statue of Peter Pan in the Kensington Gardens was selected. Blundstone had barely started the work when his studio was destroyed in an air raid. It was completed by Gilbert Baynes and reached New Zealand during the waterfront strike.

It was finally unveiled on 9 July 1951 in King Edward Park. Wendy is holding a lantern. She stands on a tree stump with two gnomes, four fairies, a raven, an owl, two hares, a rooster, squirrels, rabbits, mice, hedgehogs, toads and a fox. No New Zealand animals or birds feature in this northern hemisphere design.

Statue in Wanganui
Cecil Thomas also sculpted the statue of Peter Pan with Tinker Bell on the base, near Virginia Lake in Wanganui. It was unveiled in 1967, two years after the Dunedin statue of Peter Pan and is similar to it. It was the gift of Frank and Eleanor Burnet. Peter stands in a defiant attitude with his hands on his hips, again on a tree stump, and around the stump are the Lost Boys, the northern hemisphere creatures of the earlier statues, but also from New Zealand a tuatara, a morepork, a fantail, a limpet, a kinks, snails and penguins.

Defiant Peter Detail on Wanganui statue
A defiant Peter Pan
near Virginia Lake in Wanganui

Detail of the base
of the Wanganui statue

A source of interest to children and to adults
These sculptures were erected primarily to please children, but they are interesting as works of art and an evocative reminder of childhood reading for many adults.

When you visit the cities where these statues are do put on your itinerary a visit to the park or gardens where they are such an interesting feature.

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