Frederick Nelson Jones
Frederick Nelson Jones could not stand to remain idle, whether photographing life in Nelson, restoring music boxes or creating Pixietowns, 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."1
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."2 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, hypnotists at work, funeral processions and crowds farewelling the Prince of Wales.
Click image to enlarge
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"3
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 Pixietowns. Inspired by the "long-nosed little men and women from a book he had as a child,"4 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 Pixietowns. 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 handcarved 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"5 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 photo-journalist 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.
Violetta Manetto Quick, Nelson College for Girls, 2011. Updated May 2020
Sources used in this story
- Death of Mr. F. N. (Pixietown) Jones (1962, August 29) The Nelson Evening Mail, 29 August, p. 2.
- Freddie Jones - photojournalist and entertainer (1999). New Zealand Memories, 19(3), pp. 260-262.
- Markwell, C. (2010) Jones, Frederick Nelson - Biography. Retrieved 20 May 2011 from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/4j9/1
- Death of Mr. F. N. (Pixietown) Jones
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Further sources - Frederick Nelson Jones
- Lash, M. D., (1992) Nelson Notables 1840-1940, Nelson Historical Society: Nelson.
- Mr. Fred Jones has "music wherever he goes" (1959, December 21),The New Zealand Woman's Weekly pp. 56-57.
- An Outstanding Personality (1962, January 22) The New Zealand Woman's Weekly
- Freddie Jones - photojournalist and entertainer (1992) New Zealand Memories, 19(3), pp. 260-262.
- Gibb J. (2009, January 5), ‘More than ever away with pixies', Otago Daily Times, [accessed 03/06/2011, 14/06/2011]
- Gibb, J. (2010, December 4) ‘Yay! The Pixies are back in Town', Otago Daily Times, [accessed 03/06/2011].
- Deaths (1873, November 14) Colonist, p. 3.
- Marriage (1879, March 25) Nelson Evening Mail, .p. 2,.
- Deaths (1886, February 27) Colonist, p. 3,.
- Deaths (1888, February 15) Nelson Evening Mail, p. 2.
- Deaths (1894, August 13) Nelson Evening Mail, .p. 2.
- Advertisements Column (1896, April 18) Colonist .p. 2.
- Wedding Bells (1906, December 20) Colonist, p. 2
- Marriage (1906, December 22) in Colonist, p. 2
- Weddings. Jones - Dougan (1910, January 12) Colonist, p. 1.
- Advertisements Column (1912, September 21) Colonist, .p. 6.
- Death of Mr. F. N. (Pixietown) Jones (1962, August 29) The Nelson Evening Mail p. 2.
- Essay by Markwell, C., ‘Frederick Nelson Jones', for Dictionary of New Zealand Biographies, Volume 4, p.p. 1-3, from Nelson Provincial Museum Archives.
- Letter from Eva N. Brown to Maurice Brown, 27/1/1981, from the Nelson Provincial Museum Archives.
- Levin Industries Fair Official Programme, author name unavailable (1960), 12-19 March, Levin Printing Works Ltd, p.p. 28, p.p. 30, from
Genealogical information [births, deaths, marriages]
- Ancestry, www.ancestry.com, date accessed 15/06/2011.
- Births, Deaths & Marriages, www.dia.govt.nz/Births-deaths-and-marriages, date accessed 23/05/2011, 16/06/2011.
- Cemeteries database Nelson City Council, http://www.nelsoncitycouncil.co.nz/cemeteries-database-2/, date accessed 23/05/2011.
- F.N. Jones: Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum. Retrieved May 14 2020
- Markwell, C. (2010) Jones, Frederick Nelson - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
- Postcard Views of Early Nelson and District. Retrieved 30/05/2011 from Auckland Philatelic Society
- An Old Identity Passes (1962, September 15) Nelson Photo News, 23, p. 52.
- In Earlier Days (1970, July 25). Nelson Photo News, 117, .p. 32.