Labour of love to return plaque to rightful owner

26 March 2018

Samuel Parnell may not be a household name, but the man who was instrumental in introducing the 8-hour working day will be remembered at an event tomorrow – with a plaque designed to honour him being returned to its rightful owner, the Wellington Trades Hall.

Samuel Parnell Plaque

The plaque was commissioned and designed as a memorial in 1893, originally as part of a drinking fountain in what is now Civic Square. Since then it has been on display in a number of other places, including Trades Hall, and most recently, the Bolton Street Cemetery.

Trades Hall will reopen tomorrow following earthquake strengthening, coinciding with the 1984 bombing anniversary commemorations. Mayor Justin Lester says it’s an opportune time to unveil the recently installed Samuel Parnell plaque in its new/old home.

“Samuel Parnell was integral in the move to an 8-hour work day around 1840 in New Zealand, so it’s significant and fitting that his plaque is going back to be on display at Trades Hall as it opens its doors again,” says the Mayor. “We can largely attribute the current 40-hour week practices and Labour Day to his efforts.”

Councillor Nicola Young, who started the search in earnest after a conversation with members at Trades Hall, is happy with the result.

“This was a cross-Council operation, working collaboratively with Heritage New Zealand and Friends of Bolton Street Cemetery to ensure everyone was well-informed about the project.”

Trades Hall was built on its Vivian Street site in 1927 as a base to house private sector unions. The founding stone was laid by the then leader of the Labour Party, Harry Holland.

Trades Hall President Graeme Clarke says the Samuel Parnell plaque will be on display for all to view.

“With the renovations done, there is now a place dedicated to union history and memorabilia, of which the foundation stone and the Parnell plaque are a valuable part. This will be open to the public during business hours.

“A missing bronze bust of Samuel Parnell is next on the agenda to find, retrieve, and put on display,” Mr Clarke adds.

On 27 March 1984, Trades Hall building’s caretaker Ernie Abbott was killed when he moved a suitcase containing a bomb that exploded. The perpetrator and motive are still unknown.

The Wellington Trades Hall Incorporated was granted $15,000 in 2015 and $50,000 in 2017 for seismic strengthening to 34% National Building Standards through the Council’s Built Heritage Incentive Fund.