Port Lyttelton – ‘a mean, insignificant little place’

This land-locked port of Lyttelton – called occasionally Port Cooper and sometimes Port Victoria – is the main, or rather the only, entrance to the Province of Canterbury. The surrounding hills, which are entirely volcanic, vary in height from 2000 ft, to 6000 ft, and bear, on close inspection, very palpable marks of calcination. The port itself is interesting only from the fact of its being the door to the settlement. It is a mean, insignificant little place, inhabited by persons whom business, and not choice, chains to the spot. There are only 2000 inhabitants living there altogether; and it has its own police, gaol, hospital, and three places of worship – all, of course, on a very miniature scale.

The most interesting point in connection with Lyttelton is the cutting of the railway tunnel through the solid rock, upon which the Artist was standing while drawing the panorama now before our readers.

The first stone of the tunnel front in the Heathcote Valley was laid by Mrs. Moorhouse, on the 29th of September, 1862. More than a thousand yards of this tunnelling is now completed. It is 15 ft. wide and 18 ft. in height from the rails. There are about 200 men employed on the works, and it is hoped that the roads will be ready for the rails in about three weeks, the entire distance being about 2181 yards.

A very wise advantage has been taken of using up the materials blasted out of the rock, by making of the debris a deep water jetty from the mouth of the tunnel into the harbour. This will, of course, provide increased accommodation for the shipping in Lyttelton. Mr. Richardson, of the firm of Holmes and Co., is now expected back from England with machinery for completing the boring of the tunnel, &c., and the ironwork for the drawbridge over the river Heathcote, which runs, however, on the other side of the port hills.

The streets in Lyttelton are pretty fairly metalled, and there is a telegraph laid on between Lyttelton and Christchurch, running across the hills, which has been working now nearly a year, without intermission, and in the most satisfactory manner. The buildings are all wood, and the English church is very pretty, and displays some idea of architectural elegance – a great deal more than can be said of the churches of Christchurch, where the bell-tower of St. Michael’s is nothing better than a lynch-gate on stilts some 60 ft. high.

Water is occasionally very scare in Lyttelton, as much as 8s. being paid for a small keg. People who cannot walk across the port hill (and it is a very steep accent of some 1000 ft. high) can drive round the Sumner-road to Christchurch, and occasionally can get out to sea in a tiny steamer that plies between the Port and the River Heathcote.

There is a Maori village not far from the town, a little to the right ; but the inhabitants are few in number and harmless in manners. All the wood about Lyttelton has been destroyed long ago, and the greater part of the flax bare by the fires that rage during nearly every summer ; so the place is barren enough.

The export of wool alone last year was over 10,000 bales ; and there are some fifty vessels of tonnage varying from 10 to 187 tons, registered in or trading from the port of Lyttelton and other ports in the province of Canterbury.


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