In early October 1889, my 2 x great aunt, Clara Wright leaves her family home in Thames and travels on the steamer, ‘Tarawera’ to start a new life with her estranged father in Christchurch.
The passengers constantly battle seasickness as the steamer travels south down the coast via Gisborne, Napier and Wellington. At day break on October 5th they steam into Wellington Harbour and catch sight of the Barque William McLaren which has just been wrecked after striking a rock and sinking a few hours earlier. All that can be seen of the submerged ship are the tops of its three masts.
Clara recounts in a letter to her sister that “many of the passengers were very frightened when they saw it, (and) one of them began to cry.”
On 8th October they arrive in Lyttelton. Clara leaves the ‘Tarawera’ with mixed feelings – sadness in parting from the new friends she has made on the journey, and excitement for her new life, living in the “very nice and very clean” six roomed house she will share with her father at 33 Walker Street, Christchurch.
Clara’s first impressions of Christchurch are favourable. A few weeks after her arrival, she writes to one of her sisters:
“Christchurch is such a pretty place. When I was leaving the Thames I did not expect I was coming to such a place as it is; every thing looks beautiful – the gardens and pleasure grounds are lovely, the Museum is very grand and it takes nearly a day to go through it. When I went to see the Museum, I thought to myself how it would make you open your eyes to go through it and see all the beautiful things that there are in it. I hope some day you will have the pleasure of seeing it and the beautiful gardens that are in Christchurch.”
She attends the opening of the Rowing Club which she later described to her sister as “a pretty sight, there were fifty eight boats took part in it and they were beautifully decorated.”
The Inglis’s Building
Clara’s first letter from Christchurch to her sister carries a second address:- Inglis’s Buildings, Cashel & High Streets, Christchurch.
This attractive building has an interesting social history. In 1905, it was raided by police and nineteen young men were arrested. One man was charged with “having used certain premises in Inglis’s Buildings as a common gaming-house”.
A more respectable tenant was Miss Harriett Coupland, who taught voice production, singing, and piano in her teaching studio at number 16 Inglis’s Building.
Young ladies could attend “La Moderne School of Miliinery” at number 18 to learn the latest fashions and skills vital to “become their own milliner”. Twelve lessons were available for 7s 6d.
Rooms in the Inglis’s Building were also used for union meetings for grocer assistants, carpenters, tramway and coach employees, tailoresses and pressors. It was also used by the New Zealand Socialist Party and in 1902 it held the Office of the Registrar of Electorates of Christchurch City, Avon, and Riccarton.
I don’t know what Clara’s connection to this building was. Perhaps her father had an office there, as he had worked as a commission agent or, as an accomplished organist, he may had a teaching studio to teach music as he had done before coming to Christchurch.
Sydenham Wesley Church
At some stage in the 1890s another daughter, Louisa (known to her family as ‘Louie’) also joins her father, Henry and sister, Clara in Christchurch. They live on Matson Road, Sydenham.
Louie attends services at the Sydenham Wesleyan Church on the corner of Colombo and Brougham Streets, conducted by Reverend Joseph Buttle.
This austere stone Gothic church, which dates back to 1877 was until recently one of the oldest surviving churches in Christchurch. It served its purpose up until the late 1990s, when several demolition orders were placed on it. Opposition from locals managed to save it and pass into the care of the Sydenham Heritage Trust.
As many of us in Christchurch know, despite the Trust’s work restoring and earthquake strengthening the church, it’s final demise came at the hands of a demolition company, who brought the building down without the knowledge or consent of the owners after the February 22nd quake.
In August 1891 Louisa Wright’s life is cut short at the age of twenty four, when she dies of consumption after an eight month illness. She is laid to rest in an unmarked grave at Addington Cemetery.
Four years later, after fighting the same disease for two years, sister Clara joins her in the same plot. After a visit from a family friend named Mr Adcock, Henry writes to another daughter:
“that morning, he was looking over the papers in the (Christchurch) library when he saw the notice of Clara’s death, he stayed and had tea with me and we had a long talk of old times, he then asked how Louie was and where she was and I told him she was dead also, he was quite broken down.
On the following day, Henry and Mr Adcock make a pilgrimage to Addington Cemetery. They stand at the foot of the girls’ grave in silent mourning as tears of grief roll down the face of Mr Adcock.
For Henry, my 3 x Great Grandfather, the shine has gone from his life in Christchurch. He writes to daughter Lucy:
“I am thinking of leaving Ch Ch for Wellington as I am tired of the place having lost two daughters here and not making a living, times are so bad.”
However with no change in fortune and in failing health, he is admitted to the Ashburton Men’s Home in June 1900. He describes life in this benevolent institution as,
“…horrid to be company with men who use horrid language…”
Petitions from friends succeed in his removal back to Christchurch and into Queen’s Jubilee Memorial Home in Woolston.
When Henry dies on 20 July 1905 this chapter of my first family’s colonial life in Christchurch ends. However in the early 1920s Henry’s grandson, Reg, my grandfather, is transferred to Christchurch as a clerk in the Magistrate’s Court.
In his lodgings at 867 Colombo Street, Reg meets a vivacious young woman who would become his wife, and later my grandmother. Gladys Giles has come to Christchurch from Dunedin to manage the office at Bing Harris department store. The Public Service soon transfers the young married couple, next to Greymouth, then Whakatane and finally Kaitaia, however Christchurch remains a significant place in their lives.
Written by Wendy Riley, with the help of family letters written to my 2 x great aunt, Lucy Wright.
- Private family collection.
- Burton Brothers, Archive 343, page 25. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Ref. CCL PhotoCD1, IMG0052.
- Source: http://www.earlycanterbury.blogspot.com
- File Reference CCL PhotoCD 12, IMG0042.