Apr 17, 2009

Early Christchurch Electric Vehicles

The diasporical and widely appreciated The New Zealand Journal has recently featured a short post entitled Christchurch City Council Belt-Tightening?, in which it's wondered if there might be any advantage to the Council ordering up from storage its electric truck fleet from the early 1920s, which could have the advantage of enabling the Council to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The post includes this Alexander Turnbull Library image by The Press newspaper photographer Samuel Heath Head.


By 1915 the Council's Municipal Electricity Department in Armagh Street was charging car batteries overnight, when cheaper off-peak rates were offered between 10 pm and 7 am. The two 100 Kilowatt generators were driven by a pair of steam engines powered by the Council's refuse destructor. In 1921, at the peak of their popularity, the M.E.D. was charging the batteries of 51 vehicles, of which 40 were privately owned, with the other 11 belonging to the Council. The City Council's Municipal Electricity Department even offered hire-purchase agreements to assist companies and individuals to purchase electric vehicles.


In this elevated westerly view of Bealey Avenue near the Carlton Mill Bridge can be seen the city's entire fleet of electric vehicles. The photograph can be dated to 1926 by the construction of the extent Fleming House at the corner of Park Terrace (Left).

Above: photographed on Park Terrace is the circa 1922 American Walker electric lorry of Wardell Brothers, the Cashel Street Grocers. To the Left is the extant 1915 Summers house. Below: also at the same location is the electric lorry of Sharpe Brothers, aerated water and cordial manufacturers. Both of these photographs were also taken by Samuel Heath Head.

Photo credits:

1926 electric vehicle fleet; Municipal Electricity Department archive, Orion New Zealand Ltd

Sharpe Brothers lorry; Alexander Turnbull Library, reference number: 1/1-011062-G

Wardell Brothers lorry; Alexander Turnbull Library, reference number: 1/1-007411-G


Jayne said...

As my mother always said - there's nothing new in this world, it's the same old reinvention with a new name ;)

kuaka said...

And I bet not a single traffic ticket was issued for blocking a public carriage way (were traffic cops council officers by then?)

Jayne's mum & mine must've been sisters. Mine found great amusement in the new fashions in her later years being reincarnations of the fashion of her youth. Wish she hadn't pointed it out to me because now i've grown long enough in the tooth to observe the same phenomenon, eg bell bottom jeans or whatever the called them in most recent incarnation.

Canterbury Heritage said...

It's interesting to note that more than 90 years ago the Christchurch City Council's Municipal Electricity Department (currently renamed Orion NZ Ltd) was offering hire-purchase agreements to assist companies and individuals to purchase electric vehicles. We look forward to the current regime re-introducing that enlightened policy...

Anonymous said...


Canterbury Heritage said...

Electric truck a heritage treasure

Walker Vehicles Electric Truck 1918 Christchurch.
There are many debates in the 21st century about the viability of electric vehicles, but in the early part of the twentieth century they were a common sight on Christchurch streets.

One of the most prized examples of motoring heritage in New Zealand, the Walker half-ton electric truck is still in the ownership of the Christchurch Electricity Network Company, now called Orion NZ.

Custodian Neville Digby, a systems engineer at Orion NZ, says the vehicle, imported in 1918, is a treasure......