About Christchurch
The Town Imagined

Frontier Town - 1853-1876

Godley's departure left many of the Canterbury Pilgrims in low spirits. They had no bishop, and now they had no leader. It was little wonder that new arrivals felt disheartened, standing among the tussock on the site of the future cathedral. There were far more open spaces than buildings; plenty of street names but no proper streets; plenty of clergy but not enough churches. In short, everything had been started but nothing finished. Lyttelton was still the largest town, with about eight hundred inhabitants in 1852, but the demographic balance then changed rapidly. By 1854 Christchurch had a population of 924 (in 183 houses) and Lyttelton only 548 (in 109 houses). Christchurch was still confined within the boundaries of Barbadoes, St Asaph, Salisbury and Antigua Streets, but Godley's 'town reserves' began to be sold in 1855, and had all been snapped up by 1858. Christchurch's further growth depended on the province's economic prospects.

These were not very bright in 183. The last of the Canterbury Association's immigrants arrived that year, and some of the single men took one look and sailed off to the Victorian goldfields. The province's economy stagnated in the early 1850s. Lack of labour delayed building, and lack of roads hampered exports. There was even some serious talk of importing Chinese labourers on contract, but this did not win general approval. At least by 1854 the settlement was feeding itself, from a green belt of surrounding small farms, and producing a modest surplus. Now that they were properly settled, the Pilgrims could think about such things as government and politics.


New Zealand had a split-level system of government during the provincial period (1853-76). The governor and General assembly comprised the central government, responsible to the colonial Office in London for legislation, defence, native affairs, harbours, coinage and suchlike, while everything else was left to six provincial governments, each with an elected superintendent and council. It was not meant to be a federal system, but difficult communications between widely scattered settlements made it quasi-federal in practice. Governor Grey saw fit to introduce the provincial level first, which gave Canterbury the chance to set up a miniature parliament rather than just a glorified municipality. Provincial governments were keen to control as much of their own business as they could, especially in the key area of land policy.

Christchurch clock tower.

Only four superintendent held office in Canterbury during the provincial period - FitzGerald, Moorhouse, Bealey and Rolleston - and their names were later given to the four wide avenues of 'belts' that enclosed the original town. The Provincial council initially had twelve members, but later grew to thirty-nine, and a total of 166 men served at various times on the council. Most of Christchurch's nascent elite took their turn at provincial politics, and took themselves very seriously as they did so. Yet this was no gathering of greybeards. Most were young men or in the prime of their thirties and forties. Many of them lived in Christchurch, but the executive tended to be dominated by runholders and farmers. Their priorities were immigration, roads, bridges and (later) railways, to develop t he province as a whole, which often gave grounds for complaint that the Provincial council did too little for the growing city.

Christchurch was controlled by the Canterbury Provincial council until a town board was set up in 1862 (which became the Christchurch city council six years later), so there was intense public interest in the early elections for the superintendent and council. James Edward FitzGerald was Canterbury's first superintendent (1853-57). More a visionary than a practical administrator, he nevertheless had abundant energy and an Irishman's gift for oratory.

Part of Dr Barker's 1860 panorama of Christchurch, taken from the tower of the Provincial Council Buildings.
The view is south-east across Oxford Terrace and Gloucester Street. The foreground is now occupied by the
Canterbury Public Library. In the middle distance, part of Cathedral Square has been fenced and planted to form a public garden.

In his speech opening the first session of the Provincial council on 27 September 1853 (in the empty printing office in the middle of a potato patch), FitzGerald reminded the Canterbury Pilgrims of the high ideals behind their settlement and the principles that should guide its government. Even though the council took all of the first session to settle the machinery of government, this was no small achievement, for it then worked well with little alteration until 1876.

Christchurch, Corner High Colombo Street.

The big issue facing the new Provincial council was land policy, especially control of the so-called 'waste lands' outside the original Canterbury Association block. Godley had feared that if they were sold cheaply this would only encouraged sheep farming and disperse settlement, thus undermining Wakefield's ideal of a compact agricultural colony. FitzGeralsd saw early on that sheep farming was the only way to make money quickly in Canterbury, and he was not the only one. Experienced Australian pastoralists, nicknamed 'Shagroons' by he Pilgrims, were eyeing the Canterbury back country as ideal for sheep. At the time much was said about the conflict between the Pilgrims and the Shagroons, though this was more literary than actual. There was plenty of land for all, but governor Grey's 1853 waste-land regulations set a price that Canterbury leaders thought far too low. and they won a court injunction to get them suspended. Grey ignored the ruling and was never gain trusted by Cantabrians. However, the rapid sale of back-country runs gave the Provincial council its first steady revenue, and the sheep were soon to save the province's economy.

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Christchurch was an important social centre for the pastoral runholders, as well as a source of supplies and a place to find banks and lawyers. In the same month that Joseph Palmer opened the Union Bank, March 1856, a group of runholders formed the Christchurch club, to provide congenial accommodation along the lines of an English gentleman's club. Many of the early runholders were university graduates, and some came from titled English families. This led outsiders to label Canterbury 'that aristocratic province', and one historian to write of 'a southern gentry'. Nut the runholders had to be practical and work hard to succeed, and most of them did. Their sheep certainly saved the Canterbury settlement in economic terms. Wool exports doubled in value to 90,134 pounds by 1858, and more than doubled again to 189,498 pounds by 1860, providing the Provincial council with revenue to spend on public works.

Christchurch was New Zealand's first city. Although it must have amused overseas visitors to be told that this scattered village of wooden shops and houses was a city, it was indeed so, from 1856, by virtue of a royal charter. This was achieved simply because it became the seat of an Anglican bishop. Canterbury's first bishop-designate, Dr Jackson, had arrived soon after the first main body of settlers, but returned to England after only six weeks.

Detail from Dr Barker's 1860 panorama.
View towards the west, with Christ's College in the middle distance and Deans bush on the horizon to the right.

After some unseemly wrangling, the Reverend Henry John chitty Harper was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and arrived at Lyttelton with his growing family on 23 December 1856. He was an ideal choice for anew colony: practical, energetic, sincere and steadfast. The provincial period in Christchurch is hard to imagine without bishop Harper, who consolidated the Anglican church on a sound financial basis and succeeded in getting the Cathedral built. The biggest issue of the early 1850s in Christchurch was how to get better access to Lyttelton.

All heavy goods still had to risk the Sumner bar before coming up the Avon or Heathcote Rivers, and many smaller boats overturned in the surf. The lawyer Henry Gresson lost all his luggage and family silver in a wreck in 1854. FitzGerald pushed for the completion of the Sumner Road via Evans Pass, started by Captain Thomas but still unfinished. Another faction urged a canal from the Estuary. (this idea had a remarkably long life in Christchurch.) After receiving two reports rejecting all other options, the Provincial council in 1854 voted 10,000 pounds to continue work on the Sumner Road.

Christchurch 1931 Old Postcard Bridge of Remembrance.

Rocky cliffs near the summit proved an expensive obstacle, however, and various solutions were suggested, including a tunnel near the top. The cheapest compromise won: a lower road-line and a zig-zag instead of a tunnel. On 24 August 1857 Fitzgerald drove his dog-cart over the new road and all the way to Lyttelton, just before he ended his term as superintendent and set off for London as the province's immigration agent. Next month the first daily postal service commenced between Lyttelton and Christchurch, but the hazardous zig-zag deterred all except the bravest of carriers. The access problem between the city and its port remained acute.

Industrial development was slow before the advent of the railways in the 1860s and the surge in demand for agricultural machinery of the 1870s. Apart from Anderson's forge, Christchurch in 1857 could boast only a windmill, two watermills, three breweries, a printing office and a tree nursery. Over the next decade, however, small-scale workshops proliferated, making boots, wheels, barrels, rope, harnesses, and all the other hand-made local products of a typical mid-Victorian town. Aulsebrook's biscuit factory was established in 1863. Brick kilns made use of abundant clay deposits at the foot of the Port Hills, and the lower Heathcote River became a favoured site for tanneries and glue factories.

On the left of this Dr Barker photograph, entitled 'The Argument', is James Edward FitzGerald (1853-96). Emigration agent, journalist and founding editor of the Lyttelton Times, he was Canterbury's
first superintendent (1853-57). He also founded The Press in 1861, but moved to Wellington in 1867 as Comptroller of Public Accounts. He was a brilliant speaker and a talented artist. His statue is at the hospital end of Rolleston Avenue.
At right is William Rolleston (1831-1903), Canterbury's fourth superintendent (1868-76), who arrived at Lyttelton in 1858 and worked as a cadet at Lake Coleridge before buying his own sheep station at Rakaia forks. His statue stands in front of the Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Avenue.

Assisted Immigration had halted in 1853, but resumed in 1855 with financial assistance from Godley and Henry Selfe. Now the Canterbury Provincial council could afford to assist immigrants and employ an agent in England. The peak of this first phase came in 1863-64, when over 6,000 new settlers came to Canterbury. The population of Christchurch accordingly more than doubled from about 3,000 in 1862 to 6,500 in 1866, perhaps the fastest period of growth in the city's entire history. It took another ten years to reach 12,000 in 1876.

Christchurch - Lichfield Street

FitzGerald's successor as superintendent was William Sefton  Moorhouse (1857-63 and 1866-68), a charming man with progressive ideas who was sometimes as careless with public money as he was with his own. In a long and colourful career, his outstanding achievement was the construction of the rail tunnel linking Lyttelton to Christchurch. The Canterbury Pilgrims had left England during the great period of railway expansion, and some would have seen a tunnel as the obvious solution of the transport problem but far too expensive for such a small community. Yet the problem of access was desperate, and the sudden increase in value of Canterbury's exports between 1856 and 1858 convinced the Provincial council that it could finance the work.

In October 1858 Moorhouse announced the decision to build a tunnel. The cost was set at 235,000 pounds and preliminary work started in 1860, but the English contractors gave up when they struck harder rock than expected. FitzGerald returned from London to become the most outspoken critic of Moorhouse's rail-tunnel project, and what he called the 'Yankeeism' of the Provincial council's public works progamme. But FitzGerald's doubts were shared only by some runholders; for once, most of Christchurch was united behind Moorhouse. As a mouthpiece for his views and a rival to his former employer the Littelton Times, FitzGerald founded The Press in May 1861. Thus Christchurch acquired its two major newspapers.  

Moorhouse soon fond another tunnel contractor in Australia, whose men started work on the Heathcote portal in July 1861. Edward Dobson was the provincial engineer who supervised the work, and his skill was demonstrated when the two drives met exactly as planned in May 1867. The opening of the Lyttelton tunnel on 9 December 1867 was rightly celebrated as the Canterbury settlement's greatest achievement thus far. This was the first tunnel in the world to be driven through the wall of an extinct volcano. It was New Zealand's first rail tunnel, and remained for many years its longest. It is indicative of the Provincial council's optimism that work started on the tunnel before Canterbury even had a railway.

Christchurch's first town halls, on High Street between Cashel and Lichfield Streets, shown here in 1865.
The smaller wooden hall was opened on 1 October 1857, but soon proved far too small. The much larger stone hall was completed in 1863,
but was so badly damaged by an earthquake on 5 June 1869 that it was condemned. Strange's department store was later built on this site.

This lack was remedied in April 1863 with the arrival of Pilgrim, a broad-gauge locomotive from Melburne. After helping to build the line from Ferrymead wharf to Christchurch, Pilgrim hauled New Zealand's first public passenger train on 1 December 1863. By the time this line was connected to the Lyttelton tunnel, railway construction  had reached the Selwyn River, south of Christchurch, and a northern line to Rangiora was being surveyed. Christchurch now had to spare land at the centre, so the railway station had to be located alongside the south Belt (Moorhouse Avenue). Several major consequences flowed from this decision. The newly formed (May 1863) Christchurch Gas and coal company promptly bought land for its gasworks virtually next door on Waltham road. As the railway expanded, its workers settled south of the station to form the district (and later borough) of Sydenham. Proximity to the railway ensured that Christchurch's next phase of industrial development would take place in Woolston and Addington, and that Moorhouse Avenue would become lined with large stores for wool and grain.

Christchurch, Scott's Memorial (1946).

Christchurch was gazetted a municipal district in February 1862, and at the first meeting of the Municipal council next month John Hall was elected its first chairman. Besides approving Christchurch's first street lighting )sixty-two kerosene lamps in June 1862), this first council authorised the sinking of the city's first water well in February 1864; it gushed to a height of nearly four metres, demonstrating the existence of ample supplies of pure artesian water. The city's first meeting of ratepayers took place in February 1863. Thus the Provincial council gradually began to yield the functions of local government to an elected borough council. But the town's revenue from rates was meagre compared with the province's large income from land sales, so development of civic amenities was painfully slow at first.

Christchurch, Aerial View (1930s)

Steady growth of business in Christchurch during the boom years of 1857 - 64 was reflected in the appearance of yet more banks. The Bank of New south Wales opened its first Christchurch branch in 1861, and the Bank of New Zealand in 1862. They were followed by the Bank of Australasia in 1864. Two years later the BNZ moved to an impressive new classical building on the corner of Hereford and Colombo Streets, at the entrance to the square, where it remained for nearly a century as one of the city's best-known landmarks. Another symptom of growth was the opening of New Zealand's first telegraph, between Christchurch and Lyttelton, in July 1863. Christchurch's early newspapers aspired to high literary standards, and in April 1865 the first issue appeared of Punchin Canterbury, modelled on the famous English journal. While it lasted, this taught the Pilgrims to laugh at themselves in verse and cartoons.

John Hall (1824-1907), sheep farmer, politician and Premier of New Zealand 1879-82.
He was resident magistrate and first chairman of Christchurch's Town Board (1862-63).
As Sir John Hall, he was again Mayor of Christchurch in 1906.

It was edited by a talented Rhymster, Crosbie Ward, a wealthy young Anglo-Irishman who came out in 1852 after his two elder brothers were drowned near Quail Island in Lyttleton Harbour. With Christopher Bowen, he bought the Lyttelton Times in 1856 for 5,000 pounds. Crosbie's 1858 'Song of the squattlers', a witty comment on the land-regulations debate, became a Canterbury classic. One of the Christchurch club's visitors in the 1860s was the English novelist Samuel butler, who wrote for The Press while farming at Mesopotamia in the upper Rangitata Valley. His New Zealand experiences formed part of the inspiration for his novel Erewhon. With the likes of butler and Crosbie Ward, Canterbury was a literary as well as aristocratic province in the 1860s.   

Christchurch in the 1850s and 1860s was a frontier town in more than just appearance. Crime was not a serious problem, apart from petty theft, but the clergy denounced drunkenness and prostitution as major social evils. Christchurch had numerous grog shops and no fewer than twenty-eight known brothels in 1869. The city was scandalised to discover that one of its police constables, martin cash, was running a bevy of brothels. He was in fact a Tasmanian bush-ranger on the run, and now fled to Otago. Canterbury's seven fat years were followed by six years of lean stagnation (1865-71), during which trade declined, wool prices fell and newly arrived immigrants found it hard to get work.

Christchurch hospital

The discovery of gold on the west coast in 1865 was partly to blame, as it caused another exodus of young males. Yet the city was steadily acquiring the amenities of civilised society. Christchurch Hospital opened in 1862, and the city's doctors formed New Zealand's first medical association in 1865. The first horticultural society was formed in 1861, and the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral association held its first show in 1863. John Robert Godley died in England on 28 October 1861. The news of his death caused much sadness in Christchurch, as many of the Pilgrims still regarded him fondly as the leader and founder of the Canterbury settlement. A year later, a citizen's meeting decided to erect a statue of him in Cathedral Square. The unveiling of the Godley statue (new Zealand's first public statue) in August 1867 was a great occasion in Christchurch, and a reunion for those who had arrived on the first four ships. On the plinth Godley was described as 'founder of Canterbury', though this title ought really to be shared with Edward gibbon Wakefield, who had died in Wellington in May 1862. 

Christchurch - Manchester Street Bridge

Soon after the opening of the rail tunnel, Lord Lyttelton arrived in January 1868 to inspect the colony he had helped to launch. He was taken by special train to Christchurch, where a civic reception and dinner awaited him. (this was the first sign that the tunnel had made Lyttelton a suburb of Christchurch. Even the customs department moved to Christchurch in 1869.) Lord Lyttelton declared himself suitably impressed by the colonists' efforts but was sorry that the cathedral had not progressed beyond the level of its foundations. Of Christchurch, he declared that he 'had seen a town, certainly the most curious he had ever seen, a town and not a town, which had been laid out on so large a scale, that it held out a prospect of being of considerable magnitude ...' the banquet for Lord Lyttelton took place in the town's worst week so far. Early in February Canterbury was visited by its most severe storm since the start of European settlement.

Christchurch, New Zealand

Ships were wrecked in Lyttelton Harbour, and the heavy rain caused surface flooding in many places. Most serious of all, the Waimakariri River burst its banks and flowed into its ancient channels on the northwest side of Christchurch. Much of the water came down the Avon, and flowed a metre deep across the Market Place (now Victoria Square). Many shops and houses were damaged by floodwaters and silt deposits. In February 1869 the south Waimakariri River board was set up to devise the best means to protect Christchurch against further serious flooding, the first of many efforts in this direction. but it took another sixty years to bring the river under effective control.

William Rolleston became Canterbury's last superintendent in May 1868. )Samuel Bealey had served one term from 1863, and William Moorhouse had been returned in 1866 for a fourth term. Although Moorhouse is remembered as the superintendent who got things done, Rolleston was the more admired in his day as the reliable administrator; honest, prudent and 'sound'. As other provinces declined in the 1870s, 'Canterbury stood out as the model province and Rolleston as the model superintendent'. His early interest in education never waned, and with his friend Christopher Bowen he made the 1864 Canterbury system of public schools the model for the whole of New Zealand in the 1877 Education Act. Economic prospects in the late 1860s, stimulated by the opening of the Lyttelton tunnel and improvements at the port.

Christchurch Royal Exchange.

Then the recover turned into a boom in the early 1870s. Wool prices improved and the spread of small farming on the plains dramatically increased grain production. The railway now gave farmers easy access to Lyttelton, where clipper ships called in ever-increasing numbers to carry away Canterbury's wool and wheat. In 1877 one of these, the Crusader, reduced the voyage between New Zealand and England to sixty-five days. Rather than be at the behest of British shippers, a group of leading Christchurch businessmen launched the New Zealand hipping company in 1873. Provincial council revenue, which had slumped since 1868, now rebounded and exceeded 1 million pounds for the first time in 1874. Flushed with prosperity, the city's lawyers and businessmen founded their own Canterbury Club in 1874, to rival the runholders' Christchurch club, and built on the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Worcester Street.

Helping to turn recovery into boom were the expansionist policies of central government announced by Julius Vogel in 1870. Massive loans financed a rapid expansion in public works, especially railways, while government-assisted immigration provided the necessary labour force. This scheme brought a flood of new immigrants to Canterbury, nearly twenty thousand between 1871 and 1876. Over a third of the single women were Irish, and one ship in 1872 brought several hundred Germans, Poles and Scandinavians. Land sales boomed, as many of the new arrivals intended to become farmers. speculators made fortunes from the subdivision of cheap rural land, until the boom collapsed in 1878.

Christchurch Railway Station.

The immigrants of the seventies changed the composition of Christchurch's population decisively, ending its early, mainly English and Anglican, character. Yet this more cosmopolitan population also enhanced the pride of the pioneers, especially those who had climbed the Bridle Path before the rail tunnel was opened. These new arrivals found Christchurch a small town that was at long last beginning to shake off the raw. 'Wild West' look of its early days, with many new buildings in brick or stone as well as wood. The Canterbury Museum (1870) was the first significant public building in what became the city's cultural and educational precinct, near Christ's College. Canterbury (university) College moved into its first permanent buildings opposite the Museum in 1877, sharing the block with the new Christchurch boys' High School, designed in a similar gothic revival style. Not far way, at the northern end of Granmer Square, the Normal School (opened in April 1876) became new Zealand's first teachers' training college in 1877.

Another sign of increasing maturity and prosperity was the rebuilding of earlier wooden churches in stone during the early 1870s. Visitors remarked on the prominence of churches in the townscape, and for a while Christchurch was known as the 'Cit of churches'. The first stone churches were St John the Baptist's, in Latimer Square, and the Durham Street Methodist Church, both completed in 1864. Benjamin Mountfort was the architect for the Trinity Congregational Church (1874) and Holy Trinity, Avonside (1876), which bear strong resemblances to his Canterbury Museum and college buildings. St Peter's, upper Riccarton, began its long rebuilding in stone in the 1870s. But some significant wooden churches in Christchurch also date from this period, such as St Michael and All Angels' (1872) and St Paul's, Papanui (1876-77).

Christchurch, New Zealand - Anglican Cathedral

The roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral, built in Barbadoes Street in 1864 with lower walls of stone and wood above, was now enlarged with the addition of gabled side aisles. Yet Canterbury's capital still lacked its cathedral. The foundation stone had been laid in December 1864 and the foundations completed by the end of 1865, but then funds ran out and work was suspended. Some thought the diocese had more urgent things to spend its money on, and a proposal to sell the cathedral site was only narrowly defeated in the 1869 Anglican Synod. The novelist Anthony Trollope, visiting Christchurch in 1872, was saddened by the sight of the weed-infested foundations. He was told the Cathedral might never be built.

Christchurch Public Library.

It was Bishop Harper's fine example in pledging 50 pounds a year from his modest salary which finally prodded the Anglican elite of Canterbury to get on with building the Christchurch Cathedral. Several leading citizens pledged substantial support, and building resumed in 1873, with Mountfort as supervising architect. He proposed extensive alterations to Sir Gilbert Scott's plans, but the Rhodes family (who donated the tower, spire and most of the bells) insisted on the original design. The nave and tower were finished by 1881. The chancel and transepts were not completed until 1904 (by which time Mountfort had added a west porch of his own design in 1894), but from the 1880s Christchurch at last had its architectural centrepiece, and was known thereafter as New Zealand's 'Cathedral City'. From the early 1850s a significant number of Pilgrims chose to live on their rural sections rather than in town. Successful businessmen and a few professionals built large wooden houses where they could enjoy a gentlemanly lifestyle. These were the precursors of Christchurch's residential suburbs. By the late 1870s there were almost as many people living in the suburbs as resided within the inner city.

St Albans took its name from George Dickinson's farm (his actress cousin had become the Duchess of Albans). Although much of the land was peat or swamp, dairy farms and market gardens did well here. Many of the early householders were Wesleyans, and the Methodist church in St Albans Lane (1859) was the district's first public building. Papanui was one of Christchurch's earliest suburbs because of its patch of forest, which soon disappeared to build the city. Merivale became a fashionable suburb from the 1860s, but Fendalton was much slower to develop. (Its original name, Fendall's town, must have been a joke, for there was no sign of any town, just fields and deep creeks.)

Christchurch Old RP Postcard Canoeing on Avon Bridge.

Upper Riccarton grew quickly around St Peter's (1858), a little wooden church located in the fork between the main roads south and west, where blacksmiths and harness-makers served Riccarton Racecourse. On the eastern side of town, Avonside and Linwood attracted early settlers, mainly because so many of the Pilgrims liked the look of the land as they came up the Avon river towards Christchurch. Ferry road was a major artery of the city's transport pattern throughout the nineteenth century, with shops and houses dotted along its entire length. The wharf at Radley on the Heathcote River was a busy spot for early shipping. Woolston also developed quickly around the cob church of St John (1857) on ferry road. Nearby, tanneries and wool-scouring industries lined the Heathcote River, but the southern residential suburbs of Opawa, St Martins and beckienham remained largely rural in appearance until the 1900s.  

Christchurch, New Zealand.

Sydenham was originally part of W.S. Moorhouse's farm 'Spreydon', but it was very swampy in the 1850s, with sheets of surface water after rain. Its earliest settlers in the 1860s were Lancashire immigrants, so that the district was at first known as 'Lanky-town'. Most were labourers or small tradesmen who worked in the city but could not afford city land prices. The 1860s saw rapid subdivision and the growth of a railway town, called Syndenham after a south London suburb. Little wooden cottages clustered more densely here than in any other part of Christchurch. A large school was built in 1873 in semi-ecclesiastical style, with a tower and steeple that still outdid St Saviour's church when it was built opposite.

Christchurch, New Zealand postcard, Looking West.

Sydenham was Christchurch's first borough (1877) outside the inner city. By then it had a population of 6,500 - half the size of Christchurch city, and equal to all the other suburbs combined. it was already developing its own distinctive character: radical, dissenting and working class, a heartland of left-wing politics in New Zealand. Christchurch grew rapidly in the early 1870s, perhaps too rapidly for its own good as the provincial era ended with serous public health problems. Epidemics of diphtheria and whooping cough were annual events from 1872 to 1875, and the typhoid epidemic of 1875-76 claimed the lives of 152 citizens. Christchurch had become notorious as New Zealand's 'fever capital', with much higher mortality rates from diphtheria, typhoid and scarlet fever than the other main centres. Citizens wondered why the city was so unhealthy.

Christchurch, High & Colombo Streets 1950s.

The answer lay at their feet. Despite the abundance of pure artesian water, Christchurch in 1876 was a remarkably smelly city, and this was not just from the polluted Avon river into which the hospital and assorted breweries discharged their waste. The side channels of many inner-city streets were choked with 'slops', which in those days included the contents of chamber pots as well as kitchen waste. Wells for drinking water were frequently contaminated by nearby cesspits. The unpaved streets were always littered with manure from horses and, from 1874, animals being driven to the saleyards in Deans Avenue.

Christchurch, New Zealand postcard, Lyttleton Port.

The city council had seen the need for proper drainage in the early sixties, and ordered a large shipment of iron pipes from England, but by the time they arrived the council was nearly bankrupt and had to sell them off, so the city stayed soggy. The provincial period came to an end in November 1876, with the abolition of the provincial councils and their replacement by numerous town boards, boroughs, road boards and harbour boards throughout New Zealand. Canterbury had been one of the most successful of the provinces, prospering from wool and wheat, and spared the disruption caused in the North Island by the land Wars, or New Zealand Wars, of the 1860s. Indeed, Maori faces were rarely seen in Christchurch in the late nineteenth century. Loss of land, and the scourge of European diseases, had marginalised Ngai Tahu.

Christchurch, General View.

Canterbury's capital and its immediate suburbs now contained nearly half of the province's people. By 1876 here were 12,815 people living in the central city, and an estimated ten thousand in the surrounding suburbs. Lyttelton, with just 3,224 inhabitants, had long since been overshadowed by the sprawling cathedral city on the plains. Apart from its death rate, Christchurch was no longer a frontier town.


VICTORIAN CITY 1877 - 1902
In part, extracted from:
Christchurch Changing - An Illustrated History by Geoffrey W. Rice, published by Canterbury University Press, New Zealand, 1999

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An extract from IN THE STRANGE SOUTH SEAS by BEATRICE GRIMSHAW, published in London by Hutchinson & Co., 1908. 

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