Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Time Lord

As the media scrabbles round for good news stories from Christchurch, the visual arts came to the rescue yesterday. As we have already mentioned, most (if not all) the statues in Christchurch have been toppled and many of them damaged, but spare a special thought for Mr Godley who stood guard over the Cathedral Square for well over a century as the founder of Canterbury.

Getting John Robert Godley up onto his podium in the first place was struggle enough. The commissioning process began in October 1861, not long after Godley died in the UK, but it was quickly decided that no NZer could do the man justice. The job was given to Thomas Woolner, a Pre Raphaelite brother conveniently living in Australia, and by 1863 he was hard at work. Now settled back in the UK, Woolner started off with photographs and finished his clay model the following year. The casting was shown at the South Kensington Museum and then Godley (the bronze version) landed in Christchurch in July 1866.

Unfortunately the plinth, constructed in Christchurch, turned out to be too small and had to be rejigged. The statue was eventually put in place but a further delay of nine months meant it remained shrouded until 6 August 1867, six years after commissioning.

Godley left his plinth on 22 February 2011 revealing not one but two time capsules hidden under his feet. They have been sent to the Canterbury Museum for safekeeping and, with a bit of luck, contain a much-needed message of good hope to the people of Christchurch from the mid-nineteenth century. 

Source: Neil Roberts in A concise history of art in Canterbury 1850-2000 and the
Images: Top left, the unveiling of the Godley statue in 1867 (photo: A C Baker / Canterbury Museum). Bottom left Godley today and right Godley two weeks ago