Time capsule found in Hyde Park fountain

A piece of Sydney’s history

Stonemasons restoring Hyde Park’s Frazer Fountain have discovered a piece of Sydney’s history.

Stonemason Daniel Lukic wasn’t overly surprised when he uncovered a message in a bottle. He has found, and left, things in buildings and monuments.

“It’s a bit of a tradition,” he said. “I might leave silly things just to be a bit quirky… just plastic toy soldiers or matchbox cars.”

The message, wrapped in newspaper, found in 2016.

This was different. The message Daniel found was rolled up and placed in a glass bottle along with a piece of newspaper. Whoever wrote it had cut a piece out of the stonework and laid the bottle within it.

“It was quite secretive and spiteful,” Daniel said.

When Daniel and his team uncovered the message, it was too damp to properly read. However, it seemed like a disgruntled stonemason had written the letter.

“It seemed like council and potential other political people were involved in the politics of moving it [the fountain] from wherever it was to here… somebody got their nose out of joint.”

The full transcript of the letter read:

Frazer Fountain was re-erected in this position in November 1934 and is part of the remodelling scheme for Hyde Park which is being rushed to completion in anticipation of the Visit of HRH. the Duke of Gloucester.

Its former position was slightly [illegible] of the [illegible] of the [illegible]. It was re-designed from plans supplied by Mr EY Mills Architect on the staff of the City Council with the object of confining its use in future to the purpose for which it was intended.

The structure now overlooks the rockwork, a conception of Mr Godby another member of the Council Staff. It is proposed at a later date to recognise the magnificence of this work, performed under the difficulty of extreme opposition by the more inexperienced members of the staff, by placing a bronze bas-relief plaque on the eastern face of the fountain depicting the Supervisor of Construction making a gift of fruit to Mr Godby

The following gentlemen will share the insults attached to this and other of the tragedies enacted within the Park Messrs. Dunlop, Ross, Mills, Bromley, Clark and Kelly.

Date of this inscription 5th Nov. 1934

5th Nov. 1935 (Guy Fawkes day) may see the end of this fountain

It seems that the group of stonemasons, labourers and park workers who signed the letter resented the fountain being moved – and not for the first time.

Hand-carved detail on Frazer Fountain.

At a time when clean drinking water was scarce, the fountain was a focal point in Hyde Park. It is 1 of 2 that local entrepreneur John Frazer donated in 1881. One remains on Prince Albert Road, while its counterpart enjoyed a more noteworthy history. City Architect Thomas Sapsford designed the fountain’s intricate detail, including taps in the shape of dolphins. Local sculptor Lawrence Beveridge carved the fountain out of stone from Pyrmont.

“It’s a crazy amount of work, the design behind it,” Daniel said. “The stone’s only about 200 millimetres thick. You get the illusion of this wanting to fall, but it’s just supporting itself. It’s pretty amazing.”

Frazer Fountain in its original location. Image: City of Sydney Archives

Frazer Fountain was originally installed at the Hyde Park entrance opposite Oxford Street. The fountain was moved to the centre of the park in 1917 to make way for the Emden Gun, an artefact of World War I. In 1934, Hyde Park underwent a major transformation project, including the installation of the Anzac Memorial Pool of Reflection, which saw Frazer Fountain shifted to its current location near College Street.

Frazer Fountain (visible to the right of the image) in its second location. Image: City of Sydney Archives

Daniel explains that to complete the current restoration, the fountain will need to be lifted by crane. It took 2 engineers to determine the best way to approach it. Thinking about shifting the fountain in 1934 was a whole other predicament.

Frazer Fountain, 1935. Image: City of Sydney Archives

There was one more major change that occurred during the fountain’s 1934 move: the communal cups and basin were replaced by a more hygienic bubbler system. This seems to be what is meant by “confining its use in future to the purpose for which it was intended” in the note.

“Whoever the author of the note was hoping for a Guy Fawkes scenario to be the demise of the fountain, which is very interesting,” Daniel said.

Today, the fountain stands proud as ever. The current works will see the bubbler restored and the intricate stonework repaired. Will the current workers leave any surprises for future masons?

“I was thinking of leaving a couple of coins this year,” Daniel said. “It’ll be a secret for future generations. It’ll be something weird, that’s for sure. But I won’t leave a note.”

Posted . Last updated .

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