‘The Bricks’ and Shipping on the Avon

When Christchurch was Young

Written for Ellesmere Guardian by Mr W. A. Taylor, 1944

The Avon river (Otakaro) predates its sister stream the Heathcote (Opawaho) as a navigable course to Christchurch. The first person of European blood of whom we have knowledge, to take a boat up the Avon river, was a pakeha Maori from Akaroa harbour named James Robinson Clough.

Clough arrived in Akaroa in 1837, in an American whaling ship named the Roslyn Castle. The story was that he had run away to sea as a boy, leaving his home in Bristol for the East Indies, America and Australia. This seems only partially true. Records show that ‘Robinson Clough’ had ‘run away to sea’ as a 15 year old convict, transported on board the ‘Manlius’ to serve a seven year sentence for shop lifting. He gained his certificate of Freedom in 1834, worked in a store in Sydney, fall in love with his boss’ daughter, married her, argued with her then ‘cleared out’ and made his way to Akaroa, when, in 1840, the French arrived to take possession of the place. The Britomart, Captain Owen Stanley, had arrived a few days before and hoisted the British flag; in this he took a prominent part, boarding the ship in his whaleboat, with his Maori wife (Puai Makarena Tuhaewa, the daughter of the Chief Iwikau, and widow of Reka of Onawe) and eldest son Abner. Jimmy Robinson, by which name he was known to Pakeha (Rapahina in Maori), was appointed interpreter by Captain Stanley, and it was he who read to the natives the proclamation taking possession of the islands in the name of the Queen of England. At that time there was only one other white man there, known as ‘Holy Joe’ Angus, who according to Clough was an escaped convict from Van Diemen’s Land.

Eventually Robinson found Akaroa too solitary and ,after the death of this wife, accompanied by his three young sons (he left his two daughters ‘with their friends’), he spent time in Motonau and Alford Forest, where he spent the best part of two decades establishing one of he best orchards in the Province. In 1852, employed as stockman on Deans’s sheep farm, Clough discovered a bed of coal on his property in Homebush in the Malvern Hills. After a rather dissipated life (he was prone to drink), he was found on the roadside frozen to death in 1874. [1]

He travelled up the Avon to see his Maori friends at the small Maori pa of Puta ringa motu (now Lower Riccarton). At South New Brighton, where the Jellicoe Street reserve is now, was another pa called Te Kai o te Karoro. The Scottish family of the Deans followed on his trail in February, 1843. They leased Putaririgamotu and a large area from the Maoris, at what can be considered, compared with all other European land deals with the natives of that time and later, an honest and generous price. Governor Sir George Grey saved the Deans family from being ousted by John Robert Godley, the agent of the Canterbury Association.

“I went right up the river Avon, and can say that my boat was the first ever taken up that river by a white man. We stopped at a small pah near the month of the river for a couple of days, and then proceeded right up as far as Riccarton, which took three days, as the boat was heavy and the river ran with great force. Shortly after this I met Mr John Deans, who had come to settle on the plains, and took him up the river to the place where he is now living, and afterwards conveyed his family and goods the same way.” James Robinson Clough, “Stories of the Peninsula” [2]

Unveiling the bricks memorial
The Mayor of Christchurch, John Kendrick Archer, speaking at the unveiling ceremony of the Bricks memorial. One of the surviving colonists from the Charlotte Jane stands alongside. The memorial cairn is near the Barbadoes Street bridge. [3]
The Deans brothers could only negotiate a ship’s boat as far as the site of the Barbadoes street bridge. A Maori canoe was used for the further journey to Riccarton. A boat load of bricks was taken ashore at the “Bricks” near the present Barbadoes, street bridge. The site has been known from 1843 to the present time as “The Bricks.” On January 5th, 1926, the Christchurch Beautifying Society applied for permission to the Christchurch Drainage Board to erect a memorial constructed of the original bricks and flagstones which had arrived as ballast in the “Charlotte Jane.” The request was granted on February 9, 1926. On December 17, 1926, Mr J. K. Archer, Mayor of Christchurch, and Mr Arthur Dudley Dobson placed the story of the “Bricks” in a box within the cairn, which was unveiled the following day by Mr John Deans.

The Origin of “The Bricks”

John Thacker on May 15, 1851, commenced the building of the “Bricks” wharf, a structure 200 feet long, with its flooring two feet above normal water level. Captain Day, with a small cutter, had for some, time previously been conveying goods to the “Bricks” from Lyttelton. Indeed, Doctor A. C. Barker complained to the Canterbury Association, on March 2, 1851, of the rough handling of goods. As late as November 28, 1855, Mr J. E. Thacker was paying £50 per annum for the “Bricks” site.

John Thacker Commission Agent
Lyttelton Times, Volume I, Issue 14, 12 April 1851, Page 1.

The channel of the Avon was staked through the estuary in 1851, re-staked in 1856. Both the Avon and Heathcote rivers were often blocked with water cress, and the clearing of 20 miles of channels in 1857 was estimated to cost £10,000. In November, 1858, Mr Edward Dobson, provincial engineer, was called upon to have shoals removed from the Avon three miles above the junction of the Heathcote. The two cuts were of 32 chains and 10 chains in length through clay resting on sand. The “Bricks” wharf was sold to Messrs Aikman and Wilson on January 19, 1864. Boatsheds were later erected at the “Bricks” and no doubt a few readers of the Ellesmere Guardian, like the writer, have boated down the river to Wainoni.

Freight and Pleasure Cruises

The schooners “Fanny” 10 tons, Captain J. Foster, during 1856 and 1857 was running regular trips from Lyttelton to the “Bricks.” On February 28, 1860, the paddle steamer “Avon” commenced on the same run. In 1862 the Stanmore bridge was erected and it has played a notable part in navigation laws applied to rivers. In 1866 the steamer “Maid of the Avon,” was placed on the Avon service. As the Stanmore bridge formed an obstruction, Captain Mills, in October, 1866, removed the centre of the bridge to allow his vessel a clear run to the “Bricks.” Naturally a deputation of Avonside residents waited on his Honour the Superintendent of Canterbury, to have the bridge re-opened amicably. An understanding was come to, for the “Maid of the Avon” conveyed the Christchurch City Council picnic to New Brighton from the “Bricks” on October 23, 1867. The vessel carried the Licensed Victuallers picnic to the same destination a few days later.

The S.S. Brighton was christened at the “Bricks” by Mrs M. B. Hart, Mayoress of Christchurch, on January 27, 1874, and was sailed to New Brighton by Mr De Troy. The vessel ran regular trips until February 8, 1875, when she was placed in the Westland trade. Early in the nineties the S.S. Avonia was placed on the river trade, but was not a financial success and Messrs Brightling used her on river clearing. Until a few years ago her hulk with willows growing through lay on the river bank below Wainoni.

The Bricks 1935
This memorial marks the spot where the Avon River shoaled too much to accommodate the whaleboats that brought bricks for William and John Deans to build chimneys for their house at Riccarton. The cargo was landed on the south bank of the Avon and taken by carts to the homestead. At one stage there was a small wharf for unloading goods. [4]
On February 23, 1889, the channel of the Avon was once more re-staked. The ketch “Alice Jara” conveyed timber to the New Brighton wharf from Lyttelton on March 2, 1892, and the ketch “Catlin,” on July 5, 1893. With the ever-decreasing volume of water feeding the Avon consequent on the drying up by drainage of the 2000 acre bog of St. Albans, and other swamps of the early days, boating in the near future will be confined to the more tidal section of the Avon’s course. Between the Bower bridge and the Tramway bridge at New Brighton exists one of the best boating courses in New Zealand. No resident of Avonside could truthfully say the weir opened for rowing enthusiasts at Medway street on February 13, 1932, has been an unqualified success. The short stretch above the weir is used by a few rowing club followers during a week-end. Where one a dozen years ago could see as many as 60 pleasure parties on the river, one sees now (even in the height of the season) only one or two. Ichabod, glory truly departed.

Source: Ellesmere Guardian, Volume 66, Issue 41, 26 May 1944, Page 3

  1. Sources:
    • Death of Mr. Clough” Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, Volume XLIX, Issue 5064, 1 May 1925, Page 2.
    • Annexation of the South Island” Press, Volume LXIV, Issue 13202, 24 August 1908, Page 8;
    • Old Shore Whaling Stations” Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, Volume LI, Issue 5218, 21 September 1926, Page 12;
    • The Centenary in 1940“. Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, Volume LXI, Issue 6376, 4 February 1938, Page 3;
    • Coal in the Malvern Hills” Lyttelton Times, 28 February 1852; “Stories of the Peninsula” Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, Volume VI, Issue 581, 7 February 1882, Page 2.
  2. Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, Volume VI, Issue 581, 7 February 1882, Page 2.
  3. Source: The Weekly Press, 23 Dec. 1926, p. 26. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0068.
  4. Source: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 8, IMG0021. Image: The city beautiful: official organ of the Christchurch Beautifying Association, v. 11, no. 8, p. 8.

One Comment Add yours

  1. David Sissons says:

    Interesting article, thank you, Wendy.

    If you want to find out more of the history of the Bricks, I suggest you call into the public library and ask to look at this conservation plan.

    Your story about the surveyor’s house in Hagley Park is even more interesting. I wonder why it wasn’t used by the Canterbury Association’s survey teams in 1849-50.


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