The Early Days Of Canterbury: 2. Port Lyttelton and our Infant Town of Christchurch

CHRISTCHURCH,  2009

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CHAPTER 2

 

 

Port Lyttelton and our Infant Town of Christchurch

 

 

The Colonists' Council, as the pioneer settlers styled themselves before the granting of representative institutions, met on December 20, 1850, only four days after the arrival of three of the first four ships, the Cressy not having then reached Lyttelton. The meeting was held in the immigration barracks at Lyttelton, and William Guise Brittan presided. This gathering had actually been authorised in London, the stipula­tion being that at least two-thirds of the land purchasers must have reached their destination. It was apparent to all that actual visualisation of the settlement showed clearly that Lyttelton was geographically unsuited to be the capital of the province, and the meeting unanimously decided that Christchurch be declared the chief town, carrying also a special vote of thanks to Captain Joseph Thomas for the judgment, energy, skill and perseverance which he had shown under great difficulties, in selecting and preparing the first site of the settlement for the occupation of the colonists. The three islands of New Zealand were then known as New Ulster, New Munster and the South Island.

 

As early as January 28, 1851, Riccarton Bush lost a portion of its area by a disastrous fire.

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The first Ball held in the new settlement was given by Mr and Mrs Godley in the barracks, on February 4, 1851, the building having been cleared out and prepared for the anticipated arrival of the fifth ship - the Castle Eden.

 

"All the beauty and fashion of Lyttelton, and Christchurch were present on the occasion," says the chronicler of the day. The ball commenced at the fashionable hour of 10 p.m. and continued until 3 a.m. - a tribute surely to the agility of the guests. Referring to the Ball, the local newspaper of that early period remarked upon the surprise with which the surrounding hills must have listened to the polkas, waltzes and quadrilles for the first time. Courtly gallantry doubtless prompted the reporter to conclude his account in the following terms: "Courageous daughters of England, our ornaments and aids in ballroom and bivouac, it is good for you to be here"!

 

The Bridle Path from Lyttelton to Heathcote Valley was commenced in February, 1851, and was finished by the middle of April, sixty Britons and forty Maoris being employed upon the work. Dr. Barker had the honour of being the first gazetted legally qualified medical practitioner, on January 27, 1851.

 

Christchurch developed apace during the month of February, V huts and sod whares being erected here and there, and tracks which after­wards became roads, were cut through the fern and tutu. Mr Godley had erected a Raupo house at Christchurch, but this, unfortunately, was destroyed by fire on the first of March, 1851, the

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day on which the Isabella Hercus (the sixth of the first charter of eight ships from London) arrived at Lyttelton.

 

The first school holiday gathering in the new settlement took place at the residence of Mr Godley in Lyttelton on, March 11 (this historic old house still stands on its original site as erected by Captain Thomas). The port was en fete, and in the evening fire balloons were released in large numbers, some of which travelled over the hills in the direction of Heathcote.

 

Public reading rooms had been established at the barracks in Lyttelton, and also at the land office in Oxford Terrace, Christchurch, both being converted into public libraries in the following year, 1852. More than one thousand volumes were available, the annual fee of one guinea entitling members to the full use of both libraries. The means of communication between Lyttelton and the plains were of a primitive nature, and the Land Society requested Mr Godley to con­struct a track for foot passengers and horses from Heathcote Valley to the land office in Christ­church.

 

Christ's College was opened in Lyttelton early in 1851, by Rev. Henry Jacobs, with Mr Holmes and Mr Calvert as assistants, scholarships at its disposal being from Mrs Maria Somes, endowed with fifty acres of rural land and a quarter acre section in Lyttelton; the Rowley Scholarship, endowed with fifty acres of rural land and a quarter acre section in Christchurch; the Charles Buller Scholarship, endowed with one hundred

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acres rural land and two quarter acre sections in Christchurch; and the Hulsean Chichele Pro­fessorship of History, endowed by Charles Hulse, M.A., of All Souls' College, with fifty acres of rural land and a quarter acre of town land.

 

Bishop Selwyn conducted the first confirma­tion service on March 18, 1851, when twelve candidates were received into the Church.

 

On, March 26, Edward Wright was gazetted as sheriff, Dr. Donald as coroner, and William Howard as deputy postmaster at Lyttelton, while Mr R. Wormald and Mr Joshua Porter were admitted as the new settlement's first solicitors.

 

An auction sale of seventeen sections, picturesquely described by the auctioneer as "situated near the town styled the capital of the vast domains belonging to the Canterbury Association," realised £8 per quarter acre - a figure considered at the time to be highly satis­factory. At the first sale in Lyttelton by auction, sections realised as much as £40 per quarter acre.

 

On May 24, 1851, Queen Victoria's birthday, the first regatta was held at Lyttelton, the races including whaleboats, four-oared boats and dinghy contests. A dead calm prevented the carrying out of the sailing races until sometime later.

 

The Randolph, one of the pioneer ships, was wrecked on June 25, 1851, when en route from Madras to London.

 

On arrival of the Castle Eden in February, 1851, her crew were imprisoned. They had been signed on at Cape Town to replace a mutinous staff which had caused much alarm among the

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passengers during the earlier part of the journey by refusing to work the ship and were sent to Gaol at Cape Town. The second crew also refused to work the ship at Lyttelton and were handed over to the Gaoler. The "Stone Jug," as the Gaol is called colloquially in North Britain, consisted of a V hut of little real value in the event of in­subordination. Lord Montagu, one of the Castle Eden's passengers, had produced his army sword on the outbreak of mutinous conduct and had threatened to put it through any sailor who refused to obey the captain - a threat which of course did not conduce to amelioration of the trouble, which had been caused largely by the crew's over-indulgence in rum.

 

The prisoners at Lyttelton were placed upon their honour not to attempt to escape, and as there was nowhere to escape to, their promise was kept. In connection with the first building which served as a Gaol, it is on record that the Gaoler gave the prisoners half a crown each to go to the races, stipulating that they must return by closing, hour, failing which they would be locked out for the night!

 

Owing to there being no Supreme Court in the settlement, indictable cases had to be heard at Wellington, the prosecutor in each case having to pay his own expenses in connection with the journey, with the result that many offenders were allowed to go without a trial. On one occasion a Christchurch publican had been robbed of £20, and the thief had been caught though the money had not been recovered. As the expense of going

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to Wellington and probably wasting three or four weeks in, the process meant a loss of his own trade during that period, he decided to surrender the amount of the recognisance he had been called upon to enter into and abandon the prosecution.

 

Up to December, 1851, nineteen ships under the aegis of the Canterbury Association had arrived in Lyttelton, with more than three thousand passengers, while twenty-five thousand acres of freehold land had been purchased by resident owners, who were all in possession of their holdings. No less than four hundred thousand acres of pasture land had been taken up by the rights annexed to the freeholders.

 

The erection of Canterbury into a separate province apart from the middle island, was petitioned for in a memorial to Sir George Grey towards the close of the year 1851. This was signed by 343 male adults, nearly all the settlers unequivocally supporting the petition.

 

In March, 1852, the Governor paid his first visit to Canterbury since the arrival of the pilgrim ships and was accompanied by the Lieutenant Governor of New Ulster as the North Island was then known, Colonel Wynyard. Christchurch at this early date had no lock-up, and as there was only a weekly sitting of the Magistrate's Court at the Land Office, prisoners under arrest were allowed on parole on their undertaking to present themselves when the day of sitting arrived.

 

As showing the assiduity with which the early settlers tackled their problems, it is interest­ing to learn that by the end of 1851 the Ferry

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Road had been formed from the quay at Woolston up to the Caversham Hotel corner. Small craft plied up the Heathcote River to Christchurch quay - the boats' discharging point for heavy goods consigned to Christchurch - and the last portion of the delivery was made by dray. The quay was just above the site of the present Radley bridge.

 

Ferry Road, therefore, was a most important traffic highway at that time. The metal used in its formation was excavated from the Market Place (now Victoria Square) the result being a source of danger to pedestrians wending their way homewards in, the "wee sma' 'oors ayont the twal," without the aid of street lighting of any description.

 

The Colonists' Society applied to Mr Godley to have this danger spot filled up, and Crosbie Ward, in his typically witty style, published a characteristic effusion in the Lyttelton Times headed "An elaboration of the information desired respecting the restoration of the excavation in the Market Place at Christchurch to its original elevation":-

 

In the Market Place at Christchurch was made an excavation,

The gravel taken thence being used for reparation

Of the Heathcote Ferry Road, then in great dilapidation.

The Colonists' Society desiring information,

Resolved on Tuesday last, after due deliberation,

That the secretary do put himself into communication

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 With Mr Godley, resident agent of the association,

And request of him to answer without prevarica­tion,

If he at present purposes to effect a. restoration

Of the Market Place at Christchurch to its original elevation.

It was strongly represented that the preservation

Of the people's lives and limbs from such a situation

As that in Christchurch they find themselves, if through precipitation

They tumbled into, head o'er heels, said recited excavation,

Was a question which wanted their first con­sideration;

That dirty roads and dark nights were sufficient botheration

(When moon and stars were clouded o'er and no illumination

Appeared in neighbouring cottages to afford an intimation

To the luckless traveller) without this infernal excavation

For these and other reasons then, of which the enumeration

Would swell to inconvenience the secretary's communication.

The Colonists' Society would be glad of informa­tion

As to what's intended to be done about the restoration

Of the Market Place at Christchurch to its original elevation.


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The footbridge at Barbadoes Street was opened on June 23, 1852, the terrace we now call Cambridge Terrace East being then known as Waterloo Terrace. Early settlers will recall the names of Whish and Goodacre. Mr Whish was in later years Usher of the Black Rod in our Provincial Parliament, and Mr Goodacre opened a drapery and general store in Gloucester Street just west of the present Chancery Lane, his neighbours on the east side being Mr Papprill, the tailor, and Mrs John Coe, the milliner. Whish and Goodacre in 1852 comprised the entire police force for the protection of the infant town of Christchurch.

 

Our settlement in this same year boasted two medical practitioners in regular practice, and two solicitors, while there were two butchers, two tailors, two carpenters, three hotel-keepers, two shoemakers, one saddler, one wheelwright, and one lime burner. The general stocks kept by the storekeeper comprised every variety of goods from a needle to an anchor.

 

A road was formed towards Riccarton in 1852, which made practicable the utilisation of the thirty acres of Riccarton lush on the east side of the present valuable remnant, for the erection of buildings in the town of Christchurch, while the track simultaneously formed towards Papanui Bush enabled a large traffic to be carried on in timber, shingles for roofing, and firewood. Quite a small colony of sawyer and bullock team owners took up residence in this little neighbour­hood.


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Colonists who remember Papanui Bush described it as "a charmingly pretty spot, full of dells and shady vales, where many a picnic party spent a truly delightful day." Some idea of the scale of operation in these two tracts of forest land may be gathered from the fact that by March of 1852 the town of Christchurch boasted of 150 buildings, the large majority of which were built of timber, the rest being of clay sods, Raupo, and wattle and dab, and very few tent residences were to be seen.

 

Christchurch at this early stage boasted some quite good buildings, prominent among which were the Land Office, the Church of England on Oxford Terrace west, used as the first school, the Royal hotel, White Hart hotel, The Golden Fleece hotel, and a large boarding house on the present site of the Caversham hotel in Ferry Road, the residences of Dr. Barker in Worcester Street, Guise Brittan on Oxford Terrace, Conway Lucas Rose in Manchester Street (occupied in later years successively by Cresson, Coker and T. M. Gee), and Captain Westenra in Hereford Street, where Tattersall's stands today.

 

Christchurch already was supplied with fruit and vegetables from the market gardens of George Allen in St. Asaph Street, and William Wilson, whose original gardens were where the Star and Garter hotel now is, embracing an area of some twenty acres, extending to the present East Belt bridge, which Mr Wilson called "The Botanical Gardens." He raised the first Australian gum and wattle trees grown in Canterbury

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as well as many varieties of fruit trees and shrubs. The only hive of bees in the province at this date was owned by Mr Wilson.

 

Probably very few people know why the park reserve of some 500 acres was placed where it is when Captain Thomas might just as easily have reserved the area elsewhere. Its location is accounted for by the special request of the Deans brothers that the town should not be too close to their Riccarton farm, and Captain Thomas, in deference to their wish, carried the reserve for the park from north to south on the west boundary of the town - a most valuable asset both to the Deans brothers and the citizens of Christchurch for all time.