The Oldest Building in Canterbury

Built Sixty Years Ago – Now Used as a Laundry

To settle what seems to be a somewhat vexed question, a representative of the Lyttelton Times yesterday made inquiries among a number of the Pilgrims with regard to the authenticity, or otherwise, of the statement that the building now being used as a residence on the South Belt, near the Southern Cross Hotel, was the earliest of the dwellings occupied by the dwellers on the plains. The representative interviewed many persons, and, towards evening, met Mr Edmund Smart, who resides at No. 55, Cashel Street, Linwood, and who kindly gave him the particulars he was seeking.

Mr Smart is the eldest son of a family of ten, who arrived with their parents (long since dead) in the ship Randolph, on Dec. 16, 1850. Their father had been engaged in England as a farm servant, but on arrival here found that no such employment was available. He and his family therefore entered into what occupations they could find. Edmund became an employee of Mr William Todd, a carrier and contractor, and carted the first half-ton. of coal used by the late Mr John Anderson in his smithy in Cashel Street (now well known as the Canterbury Foundry), from the Christchurch Wharf at Woolston, to its destination. It may be mentioned that the half-ton cost Mr Anderson £4 10s, and the carriage 12s.

Aboriginal cottages in Cathedral Square Christchurch, N.Z. Oct. 29, 1862 6:30 a.m. [1]
While engaged by Mr Todd, Mr Smart assisted in the removal of a building from Hagley Park into Christchurch, and that building, it is claimed, has the honour of being the oldest of the buildings still standing, in the province of Canterbury. It was a two-roomed dwelling-place, and was built in 1840 for Mr Pollard, who was engaged in surveying under the New Zealand Government, and who had taken up his quarters in Hagley Park on account of its proximity to what everyone then thought must in time become a centre of population. From this hut, or shanty, all exploring parties started, and to it all returned. The timbers of which it was constructed had been cut from the Riccarton bush, now known as Deans’, and consisted of black pine and totara. There was plenty of it available as Bob Kerr and Harry Royal, two runaway sailors, had occupied their spare time in cutting out the best timber they could lay their hands on without much trouble, till it became a drug on the market. Mr Smart, when he arrived in 1860, and became attached to the contracting staff of Mr Todd, had, in the course of a year or so, to remove this building from its site in Hagley Park, just above the Townsend Falls, to a place where it was of more use. Dr Chapman had by that time installed himself in practice in Christchurch, and, having purchased this two-roomed building, agreed with Mr Todd to remove it into a central position. This was done, E. Smart, J. Sales and W. Prebble assisting, and for some years it stood at the back of the old Gaiety Theatre. To-day it is used as a laundry of Warner’s Hotel, and it is stated that the timbers in it are in as good, if not a better, condition than that of many buildings of a much more recent date. It is known that Mr Pollard  was here in 1840, and that, before making a start on his survey, he fixed his headquarters in Hagley Park, and it was in 1852 that Mr Smart, in the employ of Mr Todd, assisted in the removal of the building and saw it re-erected for Dr Chapman, so that fully, ten years must have elapsed between the erection of this building and of the one imported and erected by the late Mr George Gould in Armagh Street. [2]

More Historical Recollections

Mr Edmund Smart, whose remarks have given rise to the discussion, on the question, of which is the oldest building in Canterbury, has been for several days invalided through an attack of blood poisoning. He has read with a good deal of interest the remarks of Mrs Deans and those appearing above the initials of “G.J.B.” Neither of these, however, shake his opinion that Mr Pollard’s two-roomed shanty, which he and others removed from Hagley Park in 1852, to the order of Dr Chapman, is the very first of all buildings erected in Canterbury now in existence. It is urged that Mrs Deans herself admits that the first building erected on the Riccarton property was recently demolished, and that she will mot be surprised to hear that a Mr Pollard, surveyor, worked on the Canterbury Plains as a surveyor in 1842. It is further stated that when the Dean Brothers arrived, and made, their home at Riccarton, they saw little or nothing of him, as he was more frequently engaged in his professional work on the Peninsula, but that, all the same, he made his headquarters in Hagley Park, and, having done so, engaged Robert Kerr and Harry Royal to make his home there. Mr C. Hood-Williams distinctly, recollects the building occupied by Mr Pollard, but, being then only a lad of seven years of age, he cannot, of course, say what the age of the building might be. He was in the habit of’ passing backwards and forwards on his way to Christ’s College, where Mr Williams was one of the first four pupils. Mr Smart, however, contends that from the evidences of the state of the building when he, James Sales and William Prebble removed it to its central position near Cathedral Square, it must have been erected some ten or twelve years previously. It was during the month, of September, 1852, that the building was removed. It may be added that Mr Smart has no interest whatever in the matter, and only gave his version of the affair by request. As for wishing to deprive Mrs Deans of any priority of claim, nothing, he says, could be further from his thoughts.

The following corrections and addenda on the article in Saturday’s Lyttelton Times on the subject of the oldest house in Canterbury are made at the request of Mrs John Deans, sen., who, as was stated in the article, dislikes any removing or confusion of landmarks. She apologises for troubling “about such seeming trifles, but it is better to be correct at this time.” In this Mrs Deans is perfectly right, as the Jubilee Year is one during which many ‘dates and facts will be recalled for verification of the “ancient history” of the province Mr John Deans, Mrs Deans’s late husband, came to New Zealand in 1842, not 1841. When Mrs Deans was claiming her buildings to be the oldest, she meant the oldest on the Canterbury Plains; she did not include the Peninsula. The Christian name of Mr Manson, who assisted in the erection of the houses, was Samuel, not William. Mr Tuckett did not belong to the Canterbury staff of surveyors he was on the Otago staff. The extracts from letters given were from letters written by the brothers Deans to their father (they had no sister), and the one explaining their reasons for naming the Avon and Riccarton was from their brother, Mr James Deans, to herself. Riccarton was named after their native parish in Ayrshire, not the adjoining county of Lanark. Both the brothers took part in the planting of the first oak trees. [3]

Pilgrim’s Corner
Where the Canterbury Pioneers Camped

Some little time ago Mr H. G. Ell, M.H.R., conceived the idea of locating the historic spots in. Hagley Park. With this end in view heo invited the Hon. C. C. Bowen, Messrs C. Hood Williams and G. R. Hart, as representatives of the pioneer families arriving in the first four ships, to accompany him to Hagley Park, and point out, as near as their recollection would allow, the spots where the whares were built which were occupied by the Bowen and Williams families in 1851, the year after the arrival of the Charlotte Jane, Randolph, Sir George Seymour, and Cressy.

Accordingly, yesterday the party set out on their mission, Mr Ell taking with him pegs, which, after being numbered in order of the places visited, were driven into the ground to mark the spots. This was with a view of a map being prepared, to be placed in tho Museum for the benefit of future generations of Canterburians.

The first spot located was the position of the oven, cut into the clay bank, where Mr Inwood first baked bread for the hardy pioneers who had crossed the hills from Lyttelton to the Plains. There were then no bakers’ shops or ovens, and this was the only way in which bread could be baked. The only other means of supply was by obtaining it from Lyttelton, where the late Mr W. Pratt had established a bakery to meet the demands of the large number of settlers arriving by the first four ships. The banks of the Avon were then high, the river not being able to be seen from the track across the tussock-covered plain. The spot where the oven was placed is about hall-way along the bend of the river, above the bridge, in a line nearly opposite the Midland Cricket ground. Mr Ell having dully driven his first peg, a move was made to the next spot.

This was where Mr Pollard, an Irish barrister, who came out in the first four ships for his health, lived in a raupo whare. Mr Pollard had known Mr Godley in Ireland, and it was due to his enthusiasm on the part of Canterbury that Mr Pollard was induced to come out. Old identities will remember Mr Pollard as a tall, thin, somewhat gaunt figure, always walking with a taiaha, or Maori staff. He was also a friend of the Bowen family, whose location was somewhat further westward. The position of the hut is just above the south bridge, near the College bathing place. Here, as with regard to the other spots visited, the banks have been cut away. At the time the hut was built it was on a high bank, the river being fringed with flax, toi, koromiko, and ferns.

Christchurch’s Inception
V-huts at Milford, Canterbury, 30th November 1864. [4]
The peg marking the spot was driven in, and the party then retraced their steps along the river bank to the location of the Bowen family. Their camp comprised three huts, of the shape known, as V, from their resemblance to an inverted V. They were of wood, thatched with raupo, and were afterwards removed to Milford, Upper Riccarton, where the family built their house, and took up their permanent residence. In addition there was a sod whare built by a Maori, which was used as a cooking place. Mr Bowen at first thought the location was a few yards to the town side of the pavilion recently erected by the United Bowling, Tennis, and Croquet Club. After a careful consideration of’ the locality, and comparing of notes with the other two Pilgrim members of the party, however, he came to the conclusion that a spot on higher ground just post the pavilion end opposite the tennis court, was the place. “I know,” said he, “that my father selected the highest ground, and this is, I think the place.” What Mr Chas. Bowen, senr., designated a circumvallation, or in other words a ditch surrounded the little encampment to take off storm water. Here the family camped for some little time until, their house at Milford was ready for occupation. It will be perhaps strange to those of the present day to know that a ridge of sandhills stretched all across the other side of the river from the camp shutting out the view of the infant city of Christchurch.

Mr Ell’s services in the driving of a peg having been called into requisition again, the party proceeded still further northward to the location of the huts of the Williams family. Mr Hood Williams was able to fix the spot with a degree of certainty, as he had retained the memory of the island in the river which is now there, and which was right opposite the whare where they lived. Here in 1851 Mr Hood Williams’s father, Mr D. Theodore Williams, erected a sod whare thatched with raupo reeds. This comprised two rooms, and was built with the door facing towards Riccarton Bush. Just in front of the whare ran a gully into the river, and the indentation is still to be seen. Out into the river a few boards, placed on four piles driven into the river, furnished a jetty at which the boats which used to ascend the river from the bays and Lyttelton left stores for the Riccarton homestead. Mr Theodore Williams subsequently had charge of Riccarton whilst Mr Deans went to England. [5]


  1. Photo by Alfred Charles Barker. Image: Canterbury Museum 1944.78.110.
  2. Star, Issue 6898, 12 September 1900, Page 1.
  3. Star, Issue 6903, 18 September 1900, Page 1
  4. The original glass plate of this image is held at Canterbury Museum. Dr Barker etched on it: V-huts at Milford, Canterbury, NZ, Nov. 30th, 5 p.m.1864. Image: Christchurch City Libraries PhotoCD 4, IMG0082 from Canterbury Times, 16 Dec. 1900, p. 11.
  5. Press, Volume LXII, Issue 12408, 23 January 1906, Page 2.
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