Photo Of The Day

Photograph by Frederick Nelson Jones.

Photograph by Frederick Nelson Jones.

Demonstration of Hypnotism, [circa 1914]

But is it Really, the First Un-Documented Appearance of Planking?

Frederick Nelson Jones could not stand to remain idle, whether photographing life in Nelson, restoring music boxes or creating Pixie towns, he was?always finding something to do. It is easy to see why Fred Jones was known as “one of Nelson’s most colourful citizens”

Fred Jones, or ?Pompy’, as he was known by his friends and family, was born on 4 May 1881. His father was a saddler, also named Frederick Nelson Jones, and his mother was Emeline Sophia Jones (nee Intermann).

Frederick Jones Senior owned a livery stable called Tattersall’s Stables on Trafalgar Street. He also raced horses and operated one of the first totalisators in New Zealand. Coming from a line of saddlers – his grandfather, Evan Jones, was also a saddler – Fred Jones became a saddler after he had finished school. For eleven years, Jones worked alongside his father in the saddlery business. At this time, photography was a hobby of Jones’, but this would soon change.

One day in December 1904, a?fire?started at Nelson College. Upon hearing of the fire, Fred Jones later stated, “I packed three plates and my camera and raced to the college on my bike.? Three weeks later, Jones had already sold over 1500 mounted photographs of the dramatic fire.

These three photographs established Jones’ career as a professional photographer. He bought a piece of land with the proceeds of the sales and built a photographic studio. From then on, Jones photographed all aspects of Nelson life. With his bulky reflex camera, he captured the first?aeroplane?landing in?Nelson, market days, car accidents, and hypnotists at work, funeral processions, and crowds? farewelling the Prince of Wales.

In 1910, Fred Jones married Ivy Adelaide Florence Dougan, the daughter of the Nelson Sergeant of Police. The two bore no children, but together opened an amusement park on Haven road called?Coney Park?in 1921. Coney Park brought?excitement to the children of Nelson during the years of the Depression.

The amusement park included many attractions, such as a merry-go-round, a miniature theatre, swing boats and a miniature train called ?The Flying Scotsman’. The park also hosted the travelling Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. Coney Park moved to a section facing Halifax Street in 1926, and then closed in 1933 after “some minor acts of vandalism”

That same year, Jones retired from photography. He found there was little to do in retirement and hastily engaged himself in a new project to entertain the children of Nelson.

Jones was an inventive man. He created a cuckoo clock made with a fretwork saw constructed from his grandmother’s sewing machine and a three-legged ladder used to elevate himself above crowds when photographing. This new project was the creation of?Magic Caves and Pixie towns.? Inspired by the “long-nosed little men and women from a book he had as a child”, Jones cut wooden pixies with a fretsaw and placed them in elaborate sets. Rods, pulleys and motors were?carefully hidden from view and controlled the pixies’ movements. The pixies could be made to dance in tune with the music, to play the piano or to swing fire hoses around erratically.

The first Magic Cave was displayed in Trathen and Co.’s Department Store in 1933. So enchanted were the children of Nelson by the display, the Magic Cave quickly became a tradition during the Christmas season. Soon after, stores all across New Zealand requested more Pixie towns.? Seven different towns were created and began touring the country. By 1950 a factory dedicated to the production of Pixietowns was opened in Nelson. Women sewed the miniature costumes for the pixies and men hand carved the pixies’ bodies. Pixietowns were staged internationally in Australia, England and the U.S.A, while requests for showings were even received from Pakistan. By the time the factory had closed down, a total of nine Pixietowns had been made.

After the death of his wife in 1947, Fred Jones remained in Nelson amongst the assortment of odd and seemingly magical knick-knacks that filled his home. He collected rare musical instruments, beautiful musical boxes and was said to have once owned the loudest gramophone in Nelson. Innocent objects came to life, tinkling with whimsical music or dancing at the “turn of a key”. Jones also owned a troupe of monkeys named Mutt, Jeff, Fits and Starts as well as a donkey that captivated the attention of children during the galas and parades he organised.

At age 76, Jones married Nina Leighton in Wanganui. Just six years later on 29 August, 1962, “Nelson’s youngest old man”?passed away.

However, the spirit of Fred Jones lives on. An era is forever preserved in his photographs which are held by the?Nelson Provincial Museum?and the?Alexander Turnbull Library?in Wellington. In his now rare music machines, managed by the Nelson Provincial Museum, history is awakened by the old- fashioned music. Surviving units of?Pixietowns, which were shown recently in the?Otago Settlers’ Museum?in Dunedin, commanded much attention. Jones’ quirky sense of humour and imagination still attract both children and adults alike.

Many people in the Nelson community are unaware of the extraordinary and eccentric Frederick Nelson Jones. He spent a lifetime filling others with joy and colour, sometimes in the darkest of times. Jumping between a number of occupations: a saddler, an inventor, a photojournalist and an amusement park owner, Fred Jones led a varied and interesting life. It is both surprising and unfortunate that such a character in Nelson’s history should be so little known.