Historian pushing for William Cargill statue

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INVERCARGILL historian Lloyd Esler is calling for expressions of interest to commission a statue of William Cargill, after whom the city is named.

Last year, a statue of composer Alex Lithgow, who wrote the Invercargill March which was still played by throughout the world by brass bands, was unveiled beside the Civic Theatre after $50,000 was raised.

Now it was William Cargill’s turn, Mr Esler said.

“I’m confident that with a small and keen group we can get things under way.”

Mr Cargill was the leader of the Free Church settlement which became Dunedin in 1848, and it was the spill-over from this settlement which gave rise to Invercargill a few years later, Mr Esler said.

“He was a powerful leader, but he was irascible and very much opposed to Invercargill’s attempt to break free from the Otago province.”

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1784, he became a soldier, later a bank manager and a wine merchant.

As plans for the settlement of Edinburgh’ (Dunedin) took shape, he was an enthusiastic supporter, eminently suited to leadership of the small colony, Mr Esler said.

“Prior to departing from Scotland, Cargill had the job of acquiring all the stores that would be needed by the emigrants. The cargo included bricks, slates and tools, muskets, bibles, school books and three months’ supply of food to sustain the settlement until it became self-sufficient.”

The Cargill Monument in Dunedin, which honours the first superintendent of the province William Cargill, was put up in 1864, four years after his death.  Photo: Supplied

The two ships carrying settlers and provision, John Wickliffe and Philip Laing, departed for New Edinburgh in November 1847, arriving in Port Chalmers on April, 1848.

In 1853, Mr Cargill was elected superintendent of Otago.

“By 1859, the population of the future Southland had reached the requisite number for staring a new province, and there was a clear mood for independence.

“In his first and only visit to the town bearing his name, Cargill addressed a meeting on June 4, 1859, pointing out the folly of separation, but to no avail.”

In the mid-1800s, being 158 miles by land, an arduous overland trek, and 140 by water, an uncomfortable boat trip, Dunedin was considered too remote a seat of government for efficient administration.

“Hostility towards Otago [at the time] was such, that it was even suggested the name of the town be changed because of William Cargill’s opposition to separation.”

He died in 1860 and was regarded with affection as the patriarch of the Otago settlement, Mr Esler said.

Although Dunedin had “a splendid Cargill Monument in The Exchange, Invercargill had none”, Mr Esler said.

“I can picture a grumpy Cargill, fist raised, berating Invercargill from a pedestal in Wachner Place.”Anyone interested was invited to a meeting being held at the Invercargill Historical Society meeting on Thursday, March 19, 7pm, at the Hearing Association Room, 126 Leet St, to discuss the future statue. For more details, phone Lloyd Esler on 03 213 0404 or email esler@southnet.co.nz

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