A Lady’s Impressions of Christchurch, 1909

“Of all the beautiful places in New Zealand – Christchurch is one of the prettiest.  As the metropolis of the Canterbury province, the city has been built in the old Elizabethan style, an imitation of old Canterbury of England.  It is a garden city, with groves of trees, parks and flower gardens in the very midst of it.

The fine Anglican Cathedral occupies a prominent place in a central square, and has a very lofty spire, and there are many other beautiful churches and stately public buildings. But the pride of Christchurch is the Avon River (the Maori Otakaro) – a clear, glassy stream, winding between its green banks and shaded by splendid old weeping willow trees.  It flows through the heart of the city, and is spanned by numerous picturesque bridges, and it seems to impart an air of peaceful quiet to the town that is not to be found as a rule in Australian cities.”

Another visitor smitten with the city was Britain’s Government’s envoy, Sir John Gorst, who visited the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch in 1906,  was very taken with the city,

Sir John Gorst
“I wish that I could have a cottage here, and spend the rest of my days in this charming spot.  I feel that I have been in England all the time. It is the loveliest town I have ever seen.And if it is any satisfaction to Sir John to know of it, I may say that I quite agree with him.“I will leave your city to-night with great regret. It is a ‘Garden City’ and to my mind, Christchurch is exactly what we are trying to make our ‘Garden Cities’ in England.  It has the same broad streets, open spaces and beautiful gardens.  There is a ‘ Garden City ‘ at Letchworth that reminds me specially of Christchurch.  The plan has provided for plenty of air spaces, such as you have here.”

Sir John Gorst speaking to a reporter. [3]

She carries on to describe her accommodation,

Royal Hotel Advertisement
“We stayed in the Federal Hotel, which, like many other hotels in New Zealand, is a temperance hotel, and we found ourselves very comfortable there.  Indeed, it was the best place we have had to stay in so far being very well furnished and every thing kept up to date. The proprietress told me that she started then with 6d, borrowed £2000, and built the hotel where she has done remarkably well.  She appears to be a very clever woman, and I think she must be to have financed herself so well.

Federal Hotel, Christchurch
Looking across a corner of Victoria Square from the vicinity of the Victoria Street and Colombo Street intersection (the south east edge of Victoria Square) at the Federal Hotel showing people in the square, cyclists and cars, the Market Hotel (extreme right), Bowkers, land agents and the premises of the Bradley Brothers, plumbers, obscured by a tree [5].

The day after our arrival we took the tram and saw what we could.  Compared with most other places in New Zealand, Christchurch is very flat, and for this reason it is sometimes called the ‘City of the Plains.’

We also took the tram to Sumner, a suburb about three miles on, where there is a splendid ocean beach along the side of which the electric cars run.  We nearly had our heads blown off as we rode on top of the car along the beach, for this is a great place for wind.  They have a fancy here for building their houses on the side of a hill, which makes it a lovely climb to get to some of them.   Sumner is a very pretty place, and we could have spent some days at the seaside very pleasantly but time waits for no one, so we were obliged to continue our journey to Lyttelton.

On the way to Lyttelton, for which place we left by the evening train there is a succession of tunnels, one of which took seven minutes to pass through, and then, as soon as we get out of it, we found ourselves right in the heart of the town, which was quite a striking contrast after boring through the earth with all the windows of the carriage shut to keep out the smoke from the engine for such a long while.  I wish we could have seen the town in a good light.  It looked very picturesque at dusk, clustered at the foot and on the sides of steep hills but our boat, the Maori,  left soon after we arrived, and once more we found ourselves. [6]


  1. Featured image: Looking south south east down Colombo Street, Christchurch, towards Christchurch Cathedral (centre right, distance) from the vicinity of Victoria Square (right) showing the premises of, from left to right the Bradley Brothers, plumbers, (with cast-iron balustrade above verandah) the Federal Hotel, Armstrong and Co Ltd, importers and drapers on the corner on Armagh Street. Photographer Frederick George Radcliffe. Image: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R33.
  2. The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (August 1, 1933). Image: New Zealand Electronic Text Centre.
  3. His Farewell to the “Garden City”. Star , Issue 8777, 14 November 1906, Page 3.
  4. Evening Post, Volume LXXIV, Issue 25, 29 July 1907, Page 7. Image: Papers Past.
  5. Photographer Frederick George Radcliffe. Image: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R358.
  6. Woman’s World. By Our Lady Representative. A Lady’s Holiday Trip to New Zealand’ No. III. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW), Saturday 13 March 1909.

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