The Early Days Of Canterbury: 6. Sumner and Lyttelton

CHRISTCHURCH,  2009

61

 

CHAPTER 6

 

 

Sumner and Lyttelton

 

 

I propose devoting this chapter to some records of Sumner and Lyttelton, which I think will be scanned with more than casual interest by early inhabitants of those two important centres.

 

Dealing first with the popular seaside suburb, there are probably many people living in Sumner today who have no idea whence it received its name. As a matter of fact, and history, Captain Joseph Thomas, the chief surveyor for the Canterbury Association (who, with his efficient staff, composed of Cass, Jollie, Torlesse, Cridland, Boys and others, performed record tasks in con­nection with the survey of the Canterbury Settlement) named it after Archbishop Sumner, the Primate of England in 1849, who was presi­dent of the Association in London.

 

As early as 1849, Jollie laid out Sumner Town­ship, but this was not carried any further by the Association, and the land became rural section number two, with an, area of one hundred acres, and was selected by Felix Wakefield, an engineer, and a younger brother of Edward Gibbon Wake­field, the man responsible for the colonisation of our Dominion.

 

Felix Wakefield settled in Sumner in 1851, but returned to England the following year. In 1854 he returned to the colony and settled in

62

 

Nelson, having brought out with him fauna com­prising pheasants and other birds and a number of animals, which he liberated in Nelson Province.

 

He was an enthusiastic botanist, and was responsible for the free distribution of seeds and plants in Canterbury, which in later days con­tributed to the shelter enjoyed by the dwellers on the plains which suffered from the blast of the gales which continually swept down from either the north-west or the south-west ranges. Wake­field again journeyed to the Homeland, and returned in 1863 and took up residence with his family in Sumner, using his knowledge and skill as an engineer in planning harbour facilities and providing for water supply. It was the common belief that Christchurch and Lyttelton would be connected by road or rail via Sumner, and Captain Thomas had already spent a considerable sum of money on the Lyttelton side of the hills in development of this idea.

 

The action of Godley, when he first arrived at Lyttelton in the Lady Nugent in April, 1850, in stopping this work, was greatly resented by Wakefield, for by it his dreams of prosperity as the scheme developed did not materialise, and his opposition to Godley became quite an obsession, he never losing any opportunity of condemning the mismanagement of the settlement by the Canterbury Association.

 

Wakefield called his selection of one hundred acres "Wakefield Town," cutting it up and selling it in 1864, but the original name designated by Thomas, survived, and the official and recognised

63

 name, "Sumner," was finally adopted as covering the whole valley as well as the township by the sea. Captain Thomas in a letter to Godley, referred to Sumner as "certain to be of impor­tance, and of picturesque beauty."

 

Wakefield's vision of Sumner becoming the geographical connecting link between, Lyttelton and Christchurch, received a set-back when the tunnel scheme was mooted and promulgated by Moorhouse, who advocated the abandonment of the highway via Sumner, which had already cost some eighteen thousand pounds, in favour of a direct railway line by tunnel from the port to Heathcote Valley. In his opposition to Moorhouse's scheme, Wakefield had the assistance of J. E. Fitzgerald (later the Province's first super­intendent) who was bitterly antagonistic to the tunnel scheme; and, enlisting the support of those who saw eye to eye with him, Fitzgerald started the "Christchurch Press" in May, 1861, in order that his views and the views of his friends who supported him might receive the fullest publicity. The wisdom and foresight of Moorhouse, and his dogged tenacity of purpose, were fully vindicated in the light of after developments, and Sumner has settled down into what Captain Thomas pre­dicted - a seaside resort of picturesque beauty, unique surely among the many health resorts of the Dominion today for its salubrity of climate. Wakefield was not destined to see the result of his labours, as he died suddenly on December 24, 1875. Up to that period, however, Sumner had proved of great value to Christchurch

64

 

by providing the only direct access by water to the infant city of the plains. It is worthy of note that some four thousand tons of merchandise were brought into Christchurch over Sumner Bar during 1851, and of this quantity only about twenty-five tons had been actually lost. A reference to records of wrecks that have occurred in the vicinity of Cave Rock when cross­ing the bar, reveals a long list of disasters, the only material evidence of which after all these years is buried deep in the sand alongside the Cave Rock, being the remains of a boat carrying timber from the bays on account of J. Thacker of Okains Bay.

 

Cave Rock was originally designated "Cass Rock," but lost this name by popular vote soon after the cutting up of the township by Felix Wakefield.

 

Between the years 1854 and 1886 some two dozen boats were wrecked in negotiating the Sumner Bar, among them being Emerald Isle, Annie, Julia Ann, Palmer, Cordelia, Auckland, Rifleman, Ocean Queen, Maria, Fawn, Augusta, Hannah, Gazelle, Volunteer, Jupiter and Alma. The old Mullogh, familiar for so many years in Lyttelton Harbour, where she performed valuable service, struck on the south spit of the bar in August, 1865, when trying to negotiate the breakers, eventually sinking in deep water on the north spit. She was refloated and purchased by Holmes and Co., who refitted and traded her in and out of the bays for many years.

 

Sumner's first appointed pilot was W. H. Turner,

65

 

who commenced his duties in 1864, his successor being Pilot Day, who filled the position until circumstances rendered the continuation of the service unnecessary.

 

The first building erected in Sumner was the Canterbury Association's storeroom, erected by Captain Thomas at the entrance to Sumner, and in 1859 the first hotel was opened by George Day on the section adjoining the Association's store, which he conducted until 1862, when the license was taken over by L. R. Raddon, and in later years Mrs Schulter became the licensee, the house being ultimately destroyed by fire in. 1892.

 

The Association's old storeroom was trans­formed into stables, and during the coaching days between Christchurch and Sumner was the property of Chris Dalwood, the well known coach and cab owner of the early days. Dalwood had a formidable rival in Phil Ball, whose Sumner headquarters were in the old stables on Wakefield Avenue behind the large rock at the Marine hotel corner. The rivalry between these two knights of the whip was very pronounced - so much so that on one occasion, at least, there was a collision in the neighbourhood of Monck's Bay, one of the coaches being capsized. However, the journey on the top of one of these old buses was well worth the hour it occupied and the half crown it cost, apart from the free entertainment pro­vided by the rival Jehus when they tried to pass each other on the none too  wide road! The Ostler's bell, which hung outside the door of Phil Ball's stables will be remembered by old-timers,

66

and I regret to record that some mean thief annexed this interesting link with early times, not very long ago.

 

McCormack's Bay (now called Monck's Bay) was so named by William McCormack, who arrived December 17, 1850, by the Sir George Seymour, and who met a tragic death by being thrown from his horse and striking his head against a tree. The Bay on the Christchurch side of the cutting called McCormack's Bay, was called after William McCormack's brother, and was owned in the earliest days by Moses Cryer, the butcher, of Lyttelton, who in the sixties moved to a run on the plains, which he called "Water­ford."

 

One of the earliest general stores in Sumner was opened by Mrs Terry. All Saints' Anglican Church in Wakefield Avenue was built and consecrated in 1876, and the first marriage solemnised here was that of Mr Weedon to a daughter of Edward Dobson, our earliest civil engineer.

 

Wakefield's attempts to obtain a water supply by means of sinking bricked wells did not prove successful, the rock formation on the Sumner side of the estuary preventing the water from flowing south of the confluence of the Avon and Heatheote rivers. The trial well, which stood near the Clifton tram stop, has long since dis­appeared.

 

Readers will doubtless recall the quaint little

67

 

hut beyond the Anglican Church, built against the hillside, and occupied for many years by Alf Day, a brother of Pilot Joe Day.

 

Donkeys were a great source of pleasure to old and young, the earliest lot being owned by Jim Williams, a rather eccentric old fellow of many parts, who, previously, had been a dealer in shorthorn cattle, of which he was considered an expert judge. Williams was succeeded as donkey owner by Bob Spiers, of Colenso Street, who plied his trade for a number of years with more or less financial success.

 

One of the earliest residences in Sumner was known as "Beach Glen." It was owned and occupied by W. H. Lane, the miller of Cashel Street. The property later on passed into the hands of C. L. Wiggins, and for long years Wiggins's Boys' hoarding School was well known throughout the colony. In still more recent years it became the home of Mr Van Asch, who started the teaching of lip reading to deaf mute children - the foundation of the present Government School for Deaf Mutes, where results are achieved which are almost uncanny to the casual visitor. It is an institution of which we are justifiably proud.

 

The pioneers were extremely fortunate in having been preceded by so competent a surveyor as Captain Thomas, who, as I have mentioned elsewhere, had the town of Lyttelton looking some years old when they arrived in the pilgrim ships in December, 1850. Being associated on

68

 

arrival in a communal life, they evinced the fraternal characteristics inseparable from such a fine body of British colonisers.

 

The fact that Godley's home, erected by Thomas in 1850, still stands in our port on its original site, attests the skill shown by the builders. It is a pity that unavoidable exigencies necessitated the removal of the great historic link with the infant settlement, namely the immigra­tion barracks, which served so many useful purposes in the first years of our colonial history.

 

We, who are the children and grandchildren of those pioneers, owe a debt of gratitude to them for the "atmosphere" which they infused into everything associated with the founding of the province. No colony of Britain was ever developed in a happier set of circumstances than our own, and our forebears brought with them the best traditions of the "Home Land" in the mid-Victorian days. This was reflected in the ecclesiastical edifices which were erected in Lyttelton so soon after its settlement, the Anglican members dedicating their first church to the Holy Trinity, and ranking as the cathedral church of the diocese. The original building unfortunately proved unequal to the strains of the southerly gales and seismic disturbances with which the infant town was visited, and in 1860, it was replaced by the present Holy Trinity Church, a handsome little Gothic stone structure of which the parishioners are so justifiably proud, standing, after seventy years' buffeting by the elements, a monument to the stonemason's craft. The original church was attended regularly by

69

Mr Godley, who, with Mr Fitzgerald, rendered service as its first wardens, the Rev. B. W. Dudley being the first incumbent in charge, and his immediate successor, Rev. Francis Knowles.

 

The schoolroom connected with Holy Trinity Church was between the Presbyterian and Wesleyan Churches. St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church opposite the Anglican Church in Win­chester Street, dates back to the early sixties, having been erected on the site presented by Sir Frederick Weld.

 

The Presbyterian Church - a typically ecclesiastical stone structure with tower and spire, at the west end of Winchester Street, was built in 1865, to replace the original wooden church which had dated back to 1859, this latter edifice having been removed bodily to the section, immediately opposite, to be used as the Presby­terian High School, under the direction of Mr Ross and Miss Stout.

 

The Oddfellows' Hall, hard by, was erected through the enthusiastic efforts of Mr Thomas Abrahams, the bricklayer and stonemason of Winchester Street, whose memory is revered by the fraternity as the father, in New Zealand, of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity. Mr Abrahams' daughter, who afterwards became the wife of Mr Henry Sawtell, one of Christchurch's early councillors and mayors, kept a boys' school in Winchester Street in the early days.

 

The Wesleyan Church, on the east side of the Presbyterian Church, originally occupied the hillside site at the west end of Norwich Quay,

70

 

and was moved to Winchester Street in 1866. The Rev. John Aldred, whose memory is revered among the families of the pioneer Wesleyan settlers, was the first regular minister in that denomination, he having landed at Lyttelton in 1854.

 

The Masonic Craft was introduced in 1851, and a charter was granted by the Grand Lodge of England for Lodge Unanimity No. 879, the present stone Lodge room being erected some time after the brethren had conducted their cere­monial in the upper room of one of the business premises. Most of Lyttelton's prominent towns­men became associated with the craft, freemasonry numbering among its Most Worshipful and Very Worshipful brethren such names as Watts Russell, Archdeacon Mathias, Dr. Donald, Guise Brittan, John Ollivier, Charles Wellington Bishop, A. J. Alport, H. E. Alport, Crosbie Ward, W. S. Moorhouse, Dr. Turnbull, Lancelot Walker, Thomas Cass, A. F. N. Blakiston and C. E. Fooks. Brother A. J. Alport was the first installed Wor­shipful Master of Unanimity Lodge, and was succeeded by many of the prominent business and professional men of Lyttelton.

 

From the inception of the settlement, it became more and more apparent that the range of hills cutting off direct access to the Canter­bury Plains was going to militate against the successful development of both Lyttelton and the rich agricultural and pastoral country in the vicinity of which Christchurch town had been placed, and it was a day joyfully acclaimed - September 29, 1862 - when Mrs Moorhouse laid

71

 

the first stone of the tunnel front in Heathcote Valley, the contract for which had been com­menced in July of the previous year.

 

Canterbury owes a debt of gratitude to W. S. Moorhouse for his dogged pertinacity in convincing the taxpayers that their destiny was indissolubly bound up in the gigantic task of blasting a means of communication from the port to Heathcote Valley, and it is to be hoped that his memory will always remain enshrined in the title assigned to the work at its inception, as the "Moorhouse Tunnel."

 

Lyttelton was also en fete when, in July, 1862, the port and Christchurch telegraph line - the first electric telegraphic connection in the colony - was opened. The records of that day refer to "this event of great importance in the annals of Canterbury, the benefits of which are becoming more apparent every day to the mer­cantile community." "It is proposed to extend the telegraph line to the Nelson and Otago frontiers," writes a correspondent of the early sixties, "when we shall see Christchurch en rap­port with Nelson and Dunedin."

 

The material prosperity which has character­ised the province since its foundation, has been due in no small degree to the facilities afforded by Lyttelton in handling the enormous import and export trade, and we sons and daughter of the pioneer settlers realise the debt of gratitude we owe to them for the solid basis upon which their hopes and aspirations were built.

 

The disastrous fire which swept across a large portion of Lyttelton in 1870, destroyed

72

 

many of the earliest business premises and homes. There is still in existence a sketch of Canterbury Street before the fire occurred, showing the old Mitre hotel, opened by Major Hornbrook, on the corner of Norwich Quay, the point at which the fire was arrested. Next to the Mitre were the livery stables of Bruce and Coe, and Mrs Coe had a drapery shop next door. Mr S. Gundry's hard­ware store came next and Wm. Pratt's drapery and general store adjoined Gundry's. Pratt was succeeded by Thomas Gee, and his son, T. M. Gee, carried on the business in later years, ulti­mately selling out and starting his profession of schoolmaster in Christchurch, where he conducted one of the best known boys' schools in the build­ing and grounds of J. E. Coker, bounded by Worcester, Manchester and Gloucester Streets. Mr Reid lived in the house next to Gee's store, and H. N. Nalder, the solicitor, purchased this home from Reid and lived there. The corner adjoining and facing London Street was the residence and butcher's shop of Armitage.

 

Occupiers of premises on the opposite side of Canterbury Street were Palmer, who was licensee of the Railway hotel, his successors being Schmidt and Gilmour and Smyth. John Smith Willcox the cabinetmaker, Chillingworth the draper, James Young the bootmaker (who was drowned in the wreck of the Tararua), Mrs Collins's fancy goods shop, Sheppard the grocer, Bayfield the chemist, Heslop the draper, Hildyard the boot-maker, Calloway the tailor, and the Robin, Hood hotel on Norwich Quay.

 

The Maoris had a Pa on the Norwich Quay

73

 

waterfront opposite the Mitre hotel, Collier and Mason had a general store and bakery in London Street, Collier being in later life a farmer at Moeraki Downs and then following the calling of hotel-keeper. Lyttelton's first blacksmith was Mr Childs, and among the earliest storekeepers were Tippetts, Silk and Heywood, and the first butcher was Moses Cryer. The earliest medicos were Dr. McCheyne (who lost his life by falling down the entrance steps at the gate of Mr Reid in Canterbury Street), Dr. Donald and Dr. Rouse, and the earliest printer was Mr Shrimpton, of Oxford Street, who printed the first copy of the "Lyttelton Times" in January, 1851.

 

Lyttelton still boasts of a number of very old premises, among the earliest being the store used' by Macpherson, which is opposite the rail­way station and is used as railway offices. Nor­wich Quay was an important thoroughfare, its most outstanding stores being occupied by Dalgety, Buckley and Co., Robert Forbes, Garforth and Lee, E. C. Latter, F. G. Wright, George Tayler, Alexander Herron and E. H. Hargreaves.

 

The Bridle Path, the only direct route to the plains, was well defined in Lyttelton's early days, and was covered daily by men and women whose occupations necessitated their making the long, weary journey, heedless of south-westerly gales which often continued for three days before sub­siding. On the Christchurch side of the hills the track to what is now the province's garden city was more or less of a marsh, as, owing to the shallow decline to the estuary there was little natural surface drainage.

74

 

Lyttelton Harbour had no lighthouse at Godley Head until March, 1865, when the present structure, 426 feet above the sea, was built at a total cost of £3,000.

 

Its geographical situation precludes the possibility of Lyttelton ever developing into more than a circumscribed sea port - a fact clear to the mind of Moorhouse when he conceived and carried out the only practical alternative communication inland - the stupendous engineering feat which has for more than sixty years served as the road by which practically all the imports and exports from the vast plains of fertile Canterbury have been conveyed. We take off our hats to William Sefton Moorhouse.

 

I have omitted reference to Dr. Mottley, one of Lyttelton's earliest medicos. He had served in the Indian Mutiny, being attached as surgeon to the Bengal Cavalry, and while attending the wounded in one of the engagements, he was ridden over by a troop of Native Horse, rendering him a cripple for life, his legs being crooked.

 

Old Lytteltonians will recall Mrs Card's boarding house on the hillside up from Norwich Quay, Parkinson the butcher being on the adjoin­ing quay frontage. The "Lyttelton Times"' original office was in Oxford Street, next to Reece's hardware shop.

 

A. J. Alport, who came from Nova Scotia in the fifties, left again early in the sixties. He was colloquially referred to as "Bumblefoot" on account of his having a deformed foot.