Clement L Wragge
No. 8 Awanui Street, Birkenhead was once the home of a celebrated eccentric scientist of considerable renown in the twenties, named Clement Lindley Wragge. Born on September 19th 1852, in England, Wragge had, while still quite young, begun his travels around the world. He first reached Sydney when only 22 and altogether made eight voyages to Australia. Once he went on to San Francisco, interviewed Brigham Young at Salt Lake City, nearly became a Mormon, and then carried on across the United States back to London. By 1883 he had set up a remarkable weather station at the 4500 foot summit of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. In 1881 he climbed the peak every day for almost a year, making weather observations regardless of bad storms that would have deterred a lesser person, and which on one occasion almost cost him his life.
During these travels he became an authority on Eastern countries, like India also the Pacific Islands, including Easter Island. In 1884 he was appointed chief meteorologist in Queensland, where he became renowned for his long-range weather predictions, especially of droughts. He also founded a weather observatory at the top of Mt. Kosciusko, the highest mountain in Australia. After further travels, in 1900 he came to Dunedin, but it was 1910 before he finally settled in Birkenhead, which he described in these words:-
"I who have travelled in all divisions of the world, chose to settle in 'God's Own Country' and picked the shores of Little Shoal Bay, the sweetest nook in Maoridom, for my home."
In 1910 he brought his Indian wife to 8 Awanui Street, Birkenhead. He founded the Wragge Institute & Museum, also the Waiata Tropical gardens, in which he grew tamarisks and ginger, bananas and forty varieties of palms, 'in imitation of the jungles of India and some tropical isles'. From his Waiata Observatory he provided professional weather forecasting services to North Island farmers and shippers, also for the main news page of the Herald. Wragge loved public lecturing, and was an accomplished and fervent speaker, with a gift for graphic description of the universe around us and for dramatising his topics. In the few years of travel between his Queensland position and his arrival in Birkenhead, he gave over 2000 lectures 'from the Imperial Institute to the Maharaja's palace'. In Birkenhead alone he provided hours of entertainment and education for children, with his astronomical telescope and lanternslides. He earned his living from tourists who paid to visit his gardens, tearooms, his fortune-telling wife, and his museum, to hear his lectures, join his guided tour and hear his commentary.
Wragge was generally believed to be an Anglo-Indian. His wife came from India. Both dressed in Indian style apparel. He was always regarded as an eccentric, a self-taught philosopher, meteorologist, geographer and showman. He dressed like a tall turbaned scarecrow with a beard, and added a quirky colourfulness to the sedate streets of Birkenhead Point. His reputation attracted tourists from many other parts of New Zealand, to cross by ferry from the city to Birkenhead wharf, and then go up the hill to Awanui Street.
He made many requests to the Council for financial and labouring assistance in planting and fencing his park, and although he was usually refused, he gained a promise from the Department of Internal Affairs for a pound for pound subsidy when the war ended, to assist in financing a museum to house his curios. He enlisted the help of local children to drag stones from the shore of Little Shoal Bay up the hill, for the pathways and the lover's lanes, to which he always gave Latin names. He gave palm seedlings to his neighbours, but they often found tourists encroaching on their property, after Wragge's expansive gestures: "Wander at your will." He stated
This enterprise deserves every support by an intellectual and intelligent community, and the Founder trusts that he has made this place absolutely unique in every respect, the most delightful resort in all the Dominion. - Clement Wragge, Founder President and Director
Regrettably this view was not always shared by the Borough Council of the day! In 1922 when his gardens were famous worldwide, Wragge offered seedlings to the Council, with a vision of transforming the streets of Birkenhead into palm-lined avenues, with an undergrowth of flowers, 'suggestive of the glens in charming Tahiti.' Regrettably he died before he had planted many palms, other than those near his home. He also planned to redesign the colour scheme of all Birkenhead's houses, using reds and blues of the East.
Through his lectures and newspaper articles, Wragge expounded his theosophical beliefs and displayed his extensive scientific knowledge and inventiveness. His frequent use of hyperbole often led to ridicule from orthodox scientific circles. In addition his knowledge of "Natural History", plus his entire lack of feeling for social distinctions, led to misunderstandings and jealousy. People expected from him behaviour that he could not conform to.
Wragge died in 1922 at the age of seventy. His son Kismet K. Wragge, 'First Officer' of the Institute, stayed on to keep the house and gardens open. Wragge is buried in the old Birkenhead cemetery.
K.D.Adams September 1993
MR. CLEMENT L. WRAGGE
Departed this life at 5 a.m. on Sunday, December 10th, 1922, Clement Linley Wragge, F.R.G.S., having reached the allotted span of three score years and ten.
Mr. Wragge, a citizen of the world, was a most enthusiastic admirer of the natural beauties of New Zealand, particularly of the Waitemata Harbour, and of Birkenhead especially. Having spent the major portion of his days voyaging through the wonderlands of the globe, the deceased scientist was a remarkably entertaining lecturer on travel subjects. He was a very reliable authority upon Australia, India, and the Pacific Islands. Just prior to his demise, Mr Wragge was engaged upon a work of great value concerning the petroglyphs of Easter Island, and it is to be feared that death has intervened before his enthusiastic labours were completed. The deceased was always an enthusiast, and never more so than when he lectured or chatted upon the Infinite Glory of the Mighty Universe. Our readers, especially the youngsters, have enjoyed to the full Mr. Clement Wragg’s enthralling articles in this paper, written to arouse an oft-neglected interest in things beyond this earth. Mr. Wragg’s contributions were quite voluntarily offered to our publication, and primarily intended to grip the young folks of the district. Perhaps no one in this part of the globe could have succeeded so well in transfusing his enthusiasm in matters astronomical as the late Mr. Wragge. Fired by a zeal that few of us can realise, it is an inestimable loss to the world that Mr. Wragge was stricken down before his labours on numerous subjects had been completed; but luckily his valuable records and accumulated data are well preserved, and may yet form the basis of works of great historic value. As a worshipper of things infinite, no better evidence
could be recorded than that written by Mr. Clement Wragge in our last issue. It stands as a worthy epitaph to the man and his lifelong labours:
"And yet how lovely is Nature everywhere around us! But there are some people with eyes that cannot see, and ears that will not catch the music all around us. You are told to ‘Prepare for Eternity,’ and you are in Eternity this very minute, and always have been; and God, the Master Dynamo, is in you and in all things."
Our deepest sympathy is extended to the bereaved relatives of our learned and beloved friend.
The Tatler, December 29th 1922
(By CLEMENT L. WRAGGE, F.R.G.S.)
Now, all you young people! Don’t lose your TATLER, but refer to it about November 25th. I am doing my best to interest you in the grandest of all the sciences, noble Astronomy. Our sister world Venus in all her glory, is the Evening Star, and close to it will be seen the ancient sun Antares, looking to your sight as a reddish star in the great constellation of the Scorpion, the "tail" of which, sticking up above the South-western horizon, is formed of suns (stars, as you call them), like the loop of the letter S. And just survey the sky about 8 o’clock. The Southern Cross ( and "Pointers") will be found nearly inverted above the Southern horizon. Remember that the brightest of the "Pointers" is our next nearest sun, Alpha Centauri. It is really a double sun, and is seen beautifully as such in the Observatory. The giant sun, Canopus, will be seen high in the South-eastern sky, and in line with Canopus are the great suns, Achernar and Formalhaut, the former being opposite to the foot of the Cross and about four spans higher up. Midway between the Cross and Achernar is the South Pole of the heavens, which is 36 degrees 48 minutes above the Southern horizon, corresponding, of course, to the geographical latitude of Birkenhead. Thus, if you were lost in the bush, you could at once get your compass-points by halving the distance between the Southern Cross and Achernar. Low down, and close to the North-western horizon, is the sun Altair, the middle star of three in a line. It is 94,000,000,000,000 miles distant, and the light from it left 16 years ago. Low on the Eastern sky the grand constellation of Orion will be rising, followed later by the mighty sun Sirius, the brightest of all the so-called "fixed stars." But recollect that there is no such thing as a fixed star, that force and motion are everywhere, and that the speed of the supposed "fixed stars," every one of which is a huge sun, on their appalling orbits is terrific – beyond words to express.
You know it makes one think a bit as you survey the Eternal Heavens; and one begins to perceive what a funny little world this Earth is, so far as the human kind are concerned. And yet how lovely is Nature everywhere around us! But there are some people with eyes that cannot see, and ears that will not catch the music all around us. You are told to ‘Prepare for Eternity,’ and you are in Eternity this very minute, and always have been; and God, the Master Dynamo, is in you and in all things.
To some people (nobody in Birkenhead and Northcote) money is the "be all and end all of everything"; and so long as one can beat one’s neighbour by a paltry "bob," Canopus can "go to blazes."
The Tatler, November 24, 1922
Waiata Observatory, Birkenhead.
For month ending July 12th, 1922, by standard instruments:- Maximum shade temperature, 65.4, June 30th; minimum shade temperature, 39, June 23rd; extreme range, 26.4. Total rainfall, 2.043, or about 207 tons per acre.
The Sun’s minimum condition is steadily developing. This means, so far as science yet knows, a gradually decreasing rainfall, and greater extremes of temperature as between Winter and Summer; also an increase in Earthquake action in New Zealand. But there is no need for any scare; "God’s Own Country" is not going to be blown up.
CLEMENT L. WRAGGE
The Tatler, July 21, 1922
THE TROPICS IN NEW ZEALAND
Residents, know your own district.
See the lovely Waiata Gardens.
Astronomical Observatory and Radium
CLEMENT L. WRAGGE