20th Century

Inexplicable public sculptures: Auckland Style

I was up in Auckland last week, for almost the first-time ever.  I’ve been in NZ for over a decade, but other than my first three days in NZ and one business trip, I’ve never spent any time in Auckland.

So it was wonderful to spend a little time, explore the city, and get shown around the museums by someone who really knows the art scene (Oh, and we went to a Bruce Springsteen concert, which was amazing, and means I can cross that off my ‘if I ever remotely get the chance to do X’ list).

In addition to the biggies, like the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and the Auckland Art Gallery, I spend a lovely hour just exploring Albert Park, which the AAG is set in.  In doing so, I came across this statue:

CM Reed statue, Albert Park, Auckland NZ, thedreamstress.com


OK, late Victorian, early Edwarian in style, little girl on a pedestal, what’s it for?

GM Reed statue, Albert Park, Auckland NZ, thedreamstress.com


Hmmm…a memorial to G.M Reed, BA – a journalist.  OK.

Let’s take a closer look at the statue:

GM Reed statue, Albert Park, Auckland NZ, thedreamstress.com


OK, so we’ve got a little girl in a funny hat clutching…a bundle of cobwebs and a fish?

Yes, definitely a fish, so the cobwebs must be a net or seaweed?

And what the heck is she wearing?

GM Reed statue, Albert Park, Auckland NZ, thedreamstress.com


It’s like a little ribbed knit onsie, or a bathing costume, with ruffles on round the hem and little bows fastening the side.

Plus, is she wearing a tam-o-shanter?

Let’s have a look around the back:

GM Reed statue, Albert Park, Auckland NZ, thedreamstress.com


Well.  Ummm…well.

GM Reed statue, Albert Park, Auckland NZ, thedreamstress.com


She’s technically not naked, but that’s not actually making it any better at all.

So what the heck is this statue about?  Is there some reference here that I’m missing?  Some story about a little girl who frolicked on beaches in her knickers and tam-o-shanter, clutching fish to her bosom and holding a net to hide her tum (seriously, scroll back up three pictures and check out that stomach – fabulous Victorian figure going on there!).  What does it mean!

George M Reed was apparently part owner of the Auckland Star prior to the late 1870s, and then part owner of the Otago Times.  He was once sued for the cost of a belltopper hat, burnt in a effigy burning demonstration (which is quite beside the point, but interesting nonetheless).  For a journalist, he makes surprisingly few appearances in New Zealand newspapers.  As a newspaper owner, having a statue is a bit impressive, but not too unusual.

But this statue.  Well.  It’s a bit unusual!

And as a bonus, here is a 1920s view of the park with the statue.


  1. Beatrix says

    nzherald.co.nzTrivia : In 1883, Reed, as an April Fool’s joke, reported that Noah’s Ark had been discovered intact in a glacier on Mt Ararat. Needless to say his story was picked up and reprinted by newspapers all over the world.

    Other than that, as to why a chaste Timaru limestone fishermaiden was chosen to represent this departed journalist there are no clues.
    ” Rudman: Saga of the journo and the fisher girl”


  2. She doesn’t look like such a little girl to me, more like a young woman, but I think that style of bathing costume makes anyone look childish…sort of like the baby-doll maternity designs I remember from the 1960s! But as far as the fish and the net go, I have no clue whatsoever. Just think, not so very long ago it must have been fairly common (if local) knowledge what this statue was meant to represent. Now it’s as mysterious as an ancient relic!

  3. That’s a lot of fun reading!
    And a very puzzling statue. Thank you both, Leimomi and Beatrix, for sharing these tidbits!

  4. The statue on top is baffling, but I can’t get by the stand, which looks like a 1950s sofa with a fire place surround standing on it!

  5. Kristina says

    Record ID 42754
    Source New Zealand herald, 8 February 1901; 22 March 1901
    Location ARC Microfilm ASK AT DESK,

    Abstract Mr. W. Parkinson, of Victoria Street West, offered to city, through the Scenery Conservation Society, small marble statue of a fisher maiden, on condition that it be erected in Albert Park. Suggested that it should be erected on a pedestal, which should form a drinking fountain. Gift accepted with thanks.
    Event date: 1901
    Notes Ordinary meeting of Auckland City Council

    Also: The Reed Memorial Fountain. Unveiling ceremony. New Zealand Herald, Volume XXXVIII, Issue 11672, 6 June 1901, Page 3

  6. Lynne says

    Thank you, everyone, for a fascinating story! The poor man’s fountain is sadly gone, it seems, but the wet woolly undies linger on.

  7. It’s certainly an interesting statue. I’m not sure that the fishing net translates well into marble though. I would have had real trouble figuring out what it was meant to be if you hadn’t told me.

  8. Crowdsourcing works! The mystery is solved.

    I can’t help but wonder if Mrs. Parkinson hadn’t originally suggested to Mr. Parkinson that the statue be made a gift to the city, as a means of removing its self-evident shapeliness from the garden and the immediate view of her spouse.

    Very best,


    • Perhaps she was a more generous nature than that and simply wanted it gone because it’s rather horrible! Or it was donated to the city as it was the only way the artist would ever see their work on public display? I know of a number of museums that are still dealing with the unhappy fallout of early 20th-century bequests that were given with the proviso that along with the amazing artwork or huge quantities of money that were being donated, the museum would have to have a piece of art by the donors ‘incredibly talented and artistic’ nephew/daughter etc on display for 80% of the year, forever…etc!

      • Eve says

        This has been such fun! Apparently, the Queen’s statue in Albert Park is by the same William Parkinson, so he must have been pretty well-known sculptor in Auckland at that time.

        From what I could piece together from newspaper articles, the Reed memorial (in the form of a drinking fountain) was commissioned by an appointed committee and then handed over to the city council. However, there are no pointers as to why a fisher girl was chosen for the subject matter, or if the statue just happened to be suitably available from Parkinson and the council decided to put the two ideas together (the sources contradict each other a bit, so it’s hard to tell). But since no comment is made on the choice of subject matter, it seems that the statue was considered just charming and decorative, not weird, like we might see it now. 🙂

        Here’s a description of the fountain (extremely detailed!) mentioning some architects, one of whom may have been a member of the memorial committee – maybe we should blame them for the design, not the poor Parkinson who may have just carried out the work:

        (And hey, greetings from Finland – here I am, doing research on some tiny statue in a park on the other side of the world where I’ve never set my foot! What the internet does to our lives…)

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