Sunday, 29 March 2020

The "Old Mill Dam" at Woodhaugh Gardens

For as long as I can remember, there has been a narrow stone causeway or dam in the Woodhaugh Gardens in Dunedin.  It used to be on a track but now needs to be looked for if you want to see it.  I recall cycling over it - narrow and slippery - in my teens.  I also recall cycling off it.

But why is it there?  As well as the dam, there are stone walls encircling an area of mud, fallen branches and some plant life.  Apparently, it was a swimming pool. A series of recent photos can be found at the bottom of this story.

The pool is quite appropriate for an area called a "haugh."  The name Woodhaugh was apparently coined by W H Valpy for the area, where he owned a sawmill.  A haugh is defined as a piece of flat, alluvial land beside a river.

In 1895, after some discussion, the area including the pool and now known as Woodhaugh Gardens was made a public recreation area.  A few years later, in 1902, the course of the Leith was straightened and the bed deepened.  Some of the old river bed was then used as a rubbish dump, but only for a few years.  Public reaction might have had something to do with the dump's short life.

The old bed of the Leith, and a dam which was described as "old" in 1902, had their possibilities:

The City Engineer reported that he had examined the lake in Woodhaugh Gardens in connection with the proposal to utilise it for bathing purposes. The mud and weeds would have to be taken out, a fence would be required to ensure privacy, the native bush would probably suffer, and to make the lake safe it should be filled with gravel to a uniform depth. He thought that in the interests of public health and safety the Council should refuse to recognise or allow the lake to be used for bathing. Cr McDonald hoped the Council would not take too much notice of the report. With a little expenditure a good bathing ground for lads could be provided, and the wishes of the north end people met. Cr Carroll said be had visited the place, and found the pond full of decaying vegetable matter. He doubted if if could be made a good swimming place. Youngsters there would have to wash themselves when they came out of it. Cr Maitland said if they made up their minds to supply the north end with ponds for swimming they could do so. If was easy to raise difficulties, but they should endeavor to overcome them.
The report was referred to the Reserve Committee,
Mr Rogers further reported advising that it was necessary and desirable that an early decision be arrived at in connection with the proposal to divert the Water of Leith through the Woodhaugh Reserve, as its permanent route affected the site and design of the proposed bridge at the northern end of George street. The city engineer further pointed out that the by-wash must either be opened up permanently for the Water of Leith channel or filled in; otherwise, if the Water of Leith and by-wash remain as at present the proposed bridge would be of unnecessary length and consequently very costly. He was also of opinion that the bridge should be erected over the channel of the Water of Leith; consequently, the proposal to improve the reserve by filling up the Leith should preferably be abandoned in favor of filling up the bywash. 
The report was referred to the Works Committee.   -Evening Star, 23/1/1902.

TO THE EDITOR. Sir, —Now that our City Council have fairly discussed he question of forming the old dam in the Woodhaugh Gardens into a swimming bath for the north end boys, it will not be amiss on my part to write a few words in favor of what so much has been written against. Cr Braithwaite says that “when he visited the spot he saw nothing but a mud pool.” Well, I would like to take him back thirty-five years — the time I have known him — and ask him what he saw when he looked at the place where the block of buildings now stands between Crawford and Vogel streets. His reply would be “nothing but a mud hole.” Cr Carroll and he should remember that a place is not what it is, but what it can be converted into. Cr Park and others will remember in their young days what a glorious thing it was to strip off in the bush on a hot summer’s day and enjoy themselves for an hour by jumping into a pool in the Wakari, the Leith, or the Silverstream. It is not a question of cleanliness— they can get that at home — although if our councillors will go as far as the first Woodhaugh Bridge, where the water for the dam is turned off, they will see that the quality of the water is all that is to be desired.
But, sir, the most important question is teaching our boys and young men the noble art of swimming, in order that they may be able, should the occasion arise, to save not only their own life, but the lives of others. The lamentable array of bathing fatalities this summer warrants us in taking a keener interest in this subject than we have hitherto done, and I maintain that this bathing place would prove an inestimable boon to the youth and school children of the north end, as Black Jack Point is just a “leetle” too far, even if it is to get a swim, and the quality of the water is not what it ought to be. 
— I am, etc., Alex. Black. February 8.  -Evening Star, 8/2/1902.

TO THE EDITOR. Sir, —In Saturday night's issue Mr Alex. Black advocates the dam in Woodhaugh Gardens as an ideal site for a bathing spot for the boys of the north end. He refers to the mud flats of the south of thirtyfive years ago. If he will confine himself strictly to the north end, and go back only a matter of twenty-five years, he will find that at that time there was a much greater body of water in the Leith. He also refers to the Wakari and Silverstream. These being a much greater distance from Dunedin than Black Jack Point, could only be used on a holiday, and may therefore be dismissed as out of the question. As for Woodhaugh, it is only within the last eight or nine years that these gardens have been formed, and the public subscribed heavily to them. Their beauty could be much enhanced by planting native bush here and there on the grass in Woodhaugh Park, which could be converted into Corporation tea gardens, thus adding a valuable asset to the City.
I am sorry to see anyone advocating the destruction of any part of what is undoubtedly the beauty spot of Dunedin. In making this spot even more attractive, the expenditure would bring back a number of tourists to Dunedin. I learnt swimming twenty years ago in the Leith; but when I went to bathe in salt water I had to learn the art again, as the salt water made your feet go up and your head go down, being much more buoyant than fresh water. As for the drainage or Leith affecting the far side of Black Jack Point, if the objectors on these grounds will visit this spot they will find out their error. But if fresh-water baths are required, I would have no objections to them being erected in the Leith itself, a little below Woodhaugh bridge, which would not interfere with the gardens. But it must be borne in mind that the drainage from Woodhaugh and other places flows into the Leith, which is much shallower than it was twenty years ago. As to quoting the bathing fatalities this year as owing to the boys not being taught to swim, if Mr Alex. Black will carefully read the reports in your back files he will see that most of the bathing fatalities have occurred through daring on the part of people who have just learned the art of swimming. No one regrets these sad fatalities more than I do. I may point out that in two or three years all drainage must be taken out of the harbour.
— I am, etc., C. A. Beal. February 10.  -Evening Star, 11/2/1902.

"Boys Bathing in Woodhaugh Gardens" was the subject of many an incredulous smile when the subject was brought up a few months ago, but its possibility is amply demonstrated by a couple of capital little pictures in this week's Witness. This issue is full of charming pictures, town and country alike coming in for a full share.  -Otago Daily Times, 6/8/1902.

TO THE EDITOR. Sir. —As one who has enjoyed a number of good swims in the swimming pool in the Woodhaugh Reserve, I write to publicly thank Cr Gilkinson for his generosity in providing the funds to form this bathing place. It is on fine days patronised by dozens of boys and men, who one and all have greatly benefited by the exercise and the freshness and the enjoyment of a good dip.
May I suggest that the old mill dam in the Reserve be fenced in and made suitable for girls and women? It is not much to ask the City Council to do for the north end of the City, seeing that they are getting £l30 a year from the Water of Leith city bath reserves, and it would be conferring a boon and a blessing on hundreds, to say nothing of the gain to the community in healthy, well-developed lives.— I am, etc., Valleyite. February 3.  -Evening Star, 5/2/1908.

TO THE EDITOR. Our City Fathers went to some trouble and expense setting in order what is known as the “old mill dam” for the purpose of a swimming bath, one councillor generously giving £20 out of his own private purse. Had some of these gentlemen been at the bath yesterday morning they would have been disgusted at the sight witnessed. A number of young fellows, old enough to know better, had taken charge of the bath, and were indulging in what they termed a mud fight, nothing being too dirty for them to throw at each other. In a short time the bath was a mud puddle, quite unfit for anyone to bathe in. Several people who had gone up for a morning “dip” were prevented from doing so on account of the mud-slinging of these larrikins — I can’t term them anything else. You will agree with me, I think, that the bath is a great boon to the people of the northend of the City. Hosts of youngsters have already learned to swim there. Trusting that those in authority will take steps towards putting a stop to such horseplay and mischief (which are mild terms to use) — I am etc., J. M. Muir. February 10. 
TO THE EDITOR. Sir,— I have been for a swim in the pool so kindly provided by Cr Gilkinson. I very much regret to find that it is composed of sewage, filth, and water — about equal parts. It appears that the whole sewage of Woodhaugh flows into or through it without restriction. At the same time, it is a good deal better than nothing; but I would like to suggest that the City Council have a  shower fixed, so that the bathers can have a bit of a wash after their swim. If the water at present running into it were diverted down the other channel, and the supply taken through a pipe from the main (which passes close by), the pool could be made passable. I do not think this is too much to ask from the Council, as the revenue from the baths reserve would not only be sufficient for the purpose, but would, if properly contrived, be sufficient to pay interest on the amount required to build a proper baths, suitable for the north end of the City. 
Should you think I am not stating the exact facts re sewage, you might find it convenient to send a reporter along some warm evening, when it is well stirred up, and see what he has to say. I am sure I would like to be proved wrong, as I can’t help going for a dip, sewage or no sewage; but my mind is not quite comfortable afterwards. Trusting you will see your way clear to ventilate this matter, and that it may lead to some little reform — I am, etc., Clean Wash. February 10. 
[We have inquired into this matter, and learn that the water is clear as it enters the pool, and free from sewage. The boys certainly stir up a bit of mud on the bottom, but our information is to the effect that this is simply honest dirt.—Ed. E.S.]  -Evening Star, 11/2/1908.

The swimming pool at the Woodhaugh reserve is recommended to be put in order by rebuilding the dam, cleaning out the gravel and silt, building the wall, and enlarging the pond, at an estimated cost of £25.  -Evening Star, 17/10/1908.

Letters to the Editor
Sir,—Just a few words about the swimming pool in Woodhaugh. Last swimming season the corporation was so kind as to make a swimming pool in Woodhaugh for the boys. This season it blocked the water above the pool, thus causing it to become stagnant. A large number of boys are sending a petition to his Worship the Mayor to see if he can do anything. What is the use of making a swimming pool without water? It is a very good place for bathing in. The drop of water that is in it now has been in it since last Sunday week.
— I am, etc., Buss. Dunedin, March 1.   -Otago Daily Times, 2/3/1911.

The tongue of land running down to the George street bridge is too narrow to be of use, and that at the back of the houses is not much better, so that we are reduced to that portion lying to the west of a line in continuation of the back boundary of the Queen street properties; but in that direction we are soon obstructed by the mill dam, with the Woodhaugh pond on the south, and the creek flowing out of the dam on the north. The most that can be got out of this is about 3 acres, hardly sufficient for such an ambitious scheme as that proposed. There are 5 acres in the reserve at the foot of the Pine Hill road, and cricket is not played there, because it is not large enough.  -Evening Star, 28/8/1911.

The following tragedy did not occur in the "old mill dam" pool but is included for its interest.

A sad drowning accident occurred in the Woodhaugh Gardens at about 5 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, resulting in the death of William Vincent Payne, aged 11 years. Deceased, in company with two other boys named Ward and Davis, were tempted to have a dip in the pool at the rear of the Gardens. After being in the water for some time Payne said he would have another dive, but after taking his header he did not reappear, and the two boys becoming alarmed ran to the father’s fish shop, at the corner of King and St. David streets. Mrs Payne made for the Gardens in all haste, and there sought the assistance of two corporation employees named Breen and McFarlane. The two men at once proceeded to the pool and recovered the body, but the unfortunate boy had been in the water more than an hour, and life was extinct. The pool in which the boys were bathing is portion of the Water of Leith, and is about 4ft deep.
Mr Coroner Graham held an inquest on the body this morning. Albert Payne, father of deceased, said that his son was in the habit of going to the Woodhaugh Gardens to play. —George Christopher Ward, aged eight years, said that he was playing with deceased and Edward Davis in the Gardens. They were all bathing in one of the ponds. Witness could not swim, and only went in a little way, Payne could swam a little bit. He dived from a rock, and started to swim out too far. He sank, but came up and called out something. He went down again, and came up and tried to speak, but could not. Then he sank for the last time. There were two men working in the Gardens, but when witness went to look for them he could not find them. He told another boy named Hutchison that Willie Payne was drowned, and he told Mrs Payne. Witness was frightened, and told Hutchison not to tell anyone else. He met Hutchison in the North Ground in King street. —Edward Davis, aged nine years, said when Ward ran away to look for the men, he remained behind to see if deceased would rise again. Witness was frightened, and did not think of telling anyone.—Joseph Breen, gardener, in the employ of the City Corporation, said that he was employed in the Gardens on the afternoon in question, when he noticed Mrs Payne and two small boys running towards the pond. About five minutes later one of the lads came back and told him that a boy was drowned in the dam. Witness got a rake and got the body out. The water would be about four to five feet deep where the body was found. Life was extinct, and the body quite cold. It was a place often used for bathing. It was only a few yards wide. A man was always employed in the Gardens during the summer months. The Coroner returned a verdict of “Accidentally drowned.” The great regret, he said, was that deceased’s two companions were so young, and that they got frightened and did not look for the nearest person. He could quite understand young children like them getting into a state of terror, and thinking they would he blamed.  -Evening Star, 26/12/1913.

William Payne's grave, Northern Cemetery, Dunedin.

While walking towards the swimming pool in the Woodhaugh Gardens on Saturday afternoon, a resident of North-East Valley heard a shout from a man on the bank, and on running to where the latter was standing, he found that he was pointing down into the water and crying out that he could not swim. The former saw that a child about five years of age was fast sinking in the water. Before he could plunge in a young man suddenly appeared on the opposite bank and, taking in the situation at a glance, dived in, swam across the pool, and quickly landed the child in safety. In the ensuing excitement the rescuer disappeared without leaving his name or waiting for so much as a word of thanks. It is stated, however, that the youth’s name is Leslie Henderson, who effected another rescue under similar circumstances at the same spot about a year ago.  -Otago Daily Times, 9/1/1923.

SWIMMER INJURED. Charles William Chapman, aged twenty-three years, a son of Constable Chapman, of North-east Valley, was admitted to the hospital at 8.15 last evening in an unconscious condition, suffering from a severe cut on the top of the head, received while he was diving at the bathing pool in Woodhaugh Gardens. The unfortunate young man struck a rock on the bottom of the pool with some force. He was operated on last evening, and although he showed a slight improvement this morning his condition is still serious.   -Evening Star, 3/2/1928.

From this date, the history of the old dam is obscure and my story is currently incomplete.  A visit to Council Archives and perhaps the local library might be in order.  At some stage, of course, it became unused and uncared-for.  But why was it built there in the first place?


I returned to the Gardens, after a visit to the Northern Cemetery to find the grave of William Payne, with a hunch as to what the dam was built for.  On my phone I activated an app I rarely use - one which shows altitude using the phone's GPS.  Between the dam in the Gardens and Great King Street there is a drop of about ten metres.  My guess is that the dam was at the top end of the flume which was built in the 1850s to deliver water to a wheel which powered a flour mill built for a Mr Duncan.

Mr. Duncan's Flour Mill, erected at the North end of Dunedin, on the Water of Leith, has been sufficiently completed to allow of his at once commencing operations. The Mill is three stories high, built of wood, with a stone foundation, and is a very substantial building, with ample space for storing grain. The machinery is of home manufacture, and was imported from Melbourne. There are three pair of stones, which work upon cast metal frames. The wheel, with the exception of the centre shaft, which is of iron, was manufactured in the colony by Mr. H. Thomas. It is 16 feet in diameter, 8 feet broad, and is said to be equal to between 10 and 11 horse power. It is calculated, with a full supply of water, that the Mill will grind 8 1/2 bushels per hour, which, as Mr. Duncan proposes to work night and day, will give a rate of 1200 bushels per week, or half the quantity working 12 hours daily. 
The Mill, as a whole, is the best in the Province, and will bear comparison, we believe, with any mill in the colony. 
The energy with which Mr. Duncan has carried out this spirited undertaking is worthy of commendation. We have no doubt that such spirited conduct will meet with its due reward; and that with the able assistance of Mr. Richardson, whose experience as a miller in the home country fully qualifies him to undertake the charge of the practical part of the business, and for which he has been engaged. The Mill will be a valuable aid in the development of the resources of the Province, and be a great benefit to the agricultural portion of our population.  -Otago Witness, 13/8/1859.
View of George St from the road to Pine Hill. The flume supplying water to the mill can be easily seen. Photo is from the late 1860, courtesy of the Hocken Library.
Dunedin, Oct. 1. At 1.30 this morning a fire broke out in a granary at Duncan's flour mill, Water of Leith, which wholly destroyed it, and the Well Park Brewery adjoining; the mill proper was saved. The mill was covered by insurance — £500 in the Royal and £750 in the Liverpool and London. The stock was uninsured. The loss is considerable. The brewery was insured for £750 in the Liverpool and London and £500 in the New Zealand. Wilson and Maddox lose £1500, which is uncovered. The origin of the fire is unknown.  -Star, 2/10/1872.

The "Daily Times" of October 1st, gives the following particulars of a fire, an account of which was forwarded to us by telegraph: -At twenty-six minutes to two o'clock this morning the fire-bell rang out with alarm and vigour, and on our going into the street, the cause was only too plainly apparent. A large body of flame and dense volumes of smoke were seen rising beyond the Octagon. At first it was thought that the fire was in George street, not far beyond the Octagon, but on the rise in the Cutting being surmounted, it was at once seen that it was much further off. At this time the fire burned with great fury, the flames rising in a broad clear sheet to a great height above the burning building, illuminating Pine Hill and the North-East Valley, and in the opposite direction even lighting up with lurid brightness the fronts of the new First Church and the Masonic Hall. Above the flames, the smoke rose in a massive cloud and floated off in heavy volumes before a light north-west breeze. The lateness of the hour, and the distance of the fire from the office of the "Daily Times," prevented our getting particulars in time for publication in our present issue. We learn, however, that the buildings burned were Messrs Wilson and Maddox's brewery, and half of Duncan's flour mill. The water-wheel of the latter was kept going all the time, and this saved a large portion of the mill. Both divisions of the Fire Brigade were promptly on the spot, and worked with great energy. The barrels in the brewery were tossed in large numbers into the Leith, to prevent them from adding to the conflagration. An immense crowd of people assembled from all parts of the town, being attracted by the glare. The cause of the fire has not yet been ascertained, nor can we state what the insurances, if any, amount to. Those and other particulars we will give in our next issue.  -Press, 5/10/1872.

The Well Park Brewery was rebuilt in stone and is best known in recent years as Wilsons/Maltexo, producing malt extract and then whisky.

The wall of the swimming pool, far end from the dam

Wall and access steps, about one third of the distance from the far end to the dam

The dam, seen from the upstream end, with pool full of mud and vegetation.

The dam from above.

At the bottom of the downstream side of the "Old Mill Dam."

Downstream from the dam, the empty stream bed.

Drain connecting the empty stream bed to the current course of the Leith.

Upstream from the old pool, what seems to be a dam or weir.

Leading from the dam or weir towards the pool, a line of stones.  It is at 90 degrees to the dam or weir.  My guess is that it was a short water race to supply the dam.

Upstream on the dry stream bed, a path through the gardens over the stream bed.

Looking upstream from the path, the dry bed continues.

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