The Cyclorama

The Cyclorama was a picture show which featured at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch from 1906-1907.

N.Z International Exhibition 1906-7. No. 9 - Wonderland from Water Chute
N.Z International Exhibition 1906-7. No. 9 - Wonderland from Water Chute. Creator (cre): FW Dutch, Contributor (ctb): Photo Hunt contributor. No known copyright

The Cyclorama was a popular feature at the 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition which was held in North Hagley Park. In order for it to be displayed, a special corrugated iron building, circular in shape, was built near the Armagh Street bridge entrance to the exhibition grounds. The structure measured 126 feet in diameter and 54 feet in height. It was one of the largest structures built for the exhibition, and because of its location it was criticised for obstructing visitors’ initial view of the attractions surrounding Victoria Lake.

The Cyclorama opened on 8 November 1906 with a speech given by Joseph Ward. Over 3000 patrons attended the opening day.

Patrons would enter the Cyclorama and find themselves in a large, circular room. Proceeding via a passageway, they would ascend to a stage in the middle of the room. Surrounding them would be a foreground, designed by artist W.J. Beck, to look like a hill on a battlefield.

Set around the walls of the room was a painted canvas, measuring 375 feet by 45 feet. The canvas depicted the Battle of Gettysburg and had been painted by eighteen different artists over a period of two years at the studios of Reed and Gross in Chicago. The New Zealand Exhibition inherited the painting from the Sydney Cyclorama which, after being open for eighteen years, closed on 18 August 1906.

Visual effects, including the flash of guns, and sound effects, such as the explosion of canons and gunfire, accompanied the picture. The music was provided by Dwan Brothers and McGrath. During intervals lectures were given on the history of the battle.

The noise from the gramophone which accompanied the show was said to have disturbed Sir John Hall, a former politician, who was living near to the Exhibition. After writing to complain about this, the gramophone was turned to face in the direction away from his house.

The show remained popular throughout the Exhibition and school children also took class trips to see the show. One of those who saw the show as a youth was Leslie Cecil Lloyd Averill. It is believed that the depiction of an amputee inspired him to pursue a medical career. The popularity of the show led to the production of postcards which depicted scenes in the painting.

The Christchurch International Exhibition closed on 15 April 1907. In May, tenders were offered for the purchase of the Cyclorama building and the actual picture itself.

In June, the picture was removed by a group of workers who, using a truck, encircled the interior of the room, wrapping the picture around a giant pin.

Because the picture was brought into New Zealand under the customs department’s classification of “pictures, paintings, drawings, engravings and photographs” a duty tax of twenty percent of the picture’s worth needed to be paid for it to remain. The building was locked up by the Customs Department as a bond.

By August workmen started to deconstruct the Cyclorama building. An auction was held for the material, with potential buyers coming from as far away as Oamaru. The building which housed the Cyclorama was finally demolished by September 1907.

The picture was removed to Wellington in August 1907 where it was intended to be shipped back to Australia. However, by 1921, it was still in storage in Wellington where it was put up for auction by Dwan Brothers.