Dunedin’s Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Vauxhall Pleasure Garden Steps Buy or view the Ōtepoti | Dunedin gallery

There really was only one way to get across to Dunedin’s Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the 1860’s and that was to catch the ferry “The Nugget” across the harbour. Once across, visitors found themselves with two ways to get up to the gardens. One was to get the tram which regularly ascended and descended the steep hill and the second was by using a set of stone stairs carved out of the rocky cliff face. Owing to the fact that most of the visitors to the gardens at night were highly intoxicated, it is hard not to think that the rather steep and narrow steps would have been the scene of a great many many falls. 

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were a wonderful idea. The brainchild of Henry Farley, the gardens were designed to provide amusement and entertainment for the newly rich miners and families returning from the Otago gold fields. Spanning across almost 20 acres of land the gardens were a place where families could enjoy al fresco amusement while taking in the commanding and magnificent views of the surrounding country. Unfortunately, as reported in the Lyttelton Times in November, 1863, when the sober citizens, with their wives, daughters, sisters or sweethearts, returned to their houses at the end of the day, the place became overrun at night with “loose women” and “fast young men.” To help solve this problem and to encourage more patronage during the day, swings, a gymnasium, skittle and long pin alleys, quoits, a racing ground, a shooting gallery, archery for ladies, and a private picnic ground (fenced off with music) was added. Further to this, arrangements were made for pigeon shooting in a field near the gardens and new walking tracks were laid out for those that crossed the harbour and ascended the steps to the grounds. 

However, due to the fact that the ladies of easy virtue, and gentlemen without domestic ties continued to assemble in the evening, the place never really recovered from its reputation as a night time al fresco resort for the worst characters of both sexes.

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