Botany, Physics Department and Observatory, Canterbury College 1919

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Botany, Physics Department and Observatory, Canterbury College 1919
Canterbury College, looking towards Observatory and Physics building 1919. Source: University of Canterbury photo album. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0031

The most beautiful quadrangles lead to the Botany and Physics Department and Observatory of the Canterbury College, University of New Zealand in 1919.

In 1873 the Provincial Council passed the Canterbury College ordinance to provide higher education in buildings adjacent to Boys High School on the corner of Worcester and Antigua Streets. Three professors of classics and English literature, chemistry and physics, and mathematics were selected and brought out from England. They arrived in Christchurch to commence their duties in 1875.

By 1878 there were seventy seven students enrolled in the one building campus studying classics; English language, literature, and history; mathematics and natural philosophy; chemistry and physics; geology and palæontology; Biology, French and German; and Jurisprudence.

On the right, the Observatory Tower, designed by Benjamin Mountfort (1825 – 1898) was completed in 1896.

The Physics Building which was built in 1917 and the Botany extension built in 1918 were both designed by the architects, Collins and Harman. The building was supervised by Samuel Hurst Seagar.

The Botany and Physics buildings and the Observatory of Canterbury College
The Botany and Physics buildings and the Observatory of Canterbury College ca. 1919. Source: University of Canterbury photo album. Image: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0033. Click to enlarge.

In January 1891 the Astronomical Society of Christchurch announced that Christchurch resident and philanthropist, Mr James Townsend had gifted to the Canterbury College ‘a munificent gift’ in the form of a ‘splendidly constructed equatorial telescope, with all the many and costly optical and mechanical fittings connected therewith.’

Townsend was an early colonist who had arrived in Christchurch on the Cressy with his family. He had been a sheep farmer, Clerk of the Magistrates Court and worked in the Customs Office. He had never married but had followed his passion for astronomy by building an observatory in his home on Park Terrace. It had a dome shaped revolving roof with a shutter opening skyward.

Townsend gifted the telescope and equipment under the proviso that  ‘sufficient provision was made to maintain and utilise them’.  The Council of the Society recommended to Townsend that the Astronomical Observation Society co-operate with him to establish an Observatory.

Unfortunately James Townsend did not live long enough to see the completion of the Observatory. He died in November, 1894 at the age of seventy nine years.

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