Jul 27, 2009

Canterbury's First Fire Station


Photographed in August, 1862, this is a view of the three buildings occupying Lyttelton Town Section 33 to the eastern side of the access to the Canterbury Association's 1850 jetty. In 2009 it is the south-eastern corner of Norwich Quay, where the over-pass to the wharves begins just below the intersection with Oxford Street.

A similar view 147 years later

To the Right in the top photograph, at the south-eastern corner of the intersection is the Lyttelton Fire Station. Built in 1858, it preceeded the formal establishment of the Lyttelton Fire Brigade by four years.

Above the engine shed's front doors is the sign of the Liverpool, London and Globe Fire Insurance Company. That company shipped the engine, and the bell in the belfry above, from England to their Lyttelton agents.

Under the supervision of Thomas James Curtis, the Fire Brigade's Superintendent from 1862, the engine's steam powered pump could lift water, via a hose from the beach, three blocks north to Exeter Street.

From the rear in 1865

Next door, to the centre of the top photograph, is the 1852 premises of Bowler and Company. William Bowler (1803-1863), who lived in Sumer Road (just visible at the top Left of the top photograph), was a General Merchant and Shipping Agent. Bowler sent the first direct shipment of wool from Canterbury to London in 1856 and was subsequently owner of the paddle tug Lyttelton, which began service in the port from January, 1861.

Sketch detail: 1869 Royal Visit

Although the company's sign continues to indicate Bowler and Co., Isaac Thomas Cookson (1817-1881), agent for the Liverpool and London Fire Insurance Company had already entered into partnershp with Bowler, with the company's name becoming known as Cookson, Bowler and Company

The Fire Station and adjacent premises of Bowler and Company were demolished by 1880 to make way for the Lyttelton Harbour Board's extant former offices, currently occupied by The Harbourmaster's Café.

To the Right in the top photograph is the store of James Drummond Macpherson (1829-1894), built in 1859 on piers above the original beach. A Customs Agent, Lloyd's Agent, Ship owner, General Merchant, Coalmonger and Farmer, Macpherson was the first representative of Mathieson's Agency, a London company which shipped merchandise to the colony on consignment.

circa 1863

From 1864, using spoil from the railway tunnel construction, reclamation of the foreshore began. Five years later, with nearby soil quarried by prison labour, the beach in front of Scotsman's store disappeared beneath the site of the Port's first Railway Station.

circa 1908

The 1859 store became the Railway's offices and parcel shed, a role that it would continue to fulfil until 1963.

Overpass construction 1962

Knowing the price of everything, but nothing of heritage value, between 1965 and 1970 the Lyttelton Harbour Board set about the needless destruction of most of the historic buildings along the town's waterfront. James Macpherson's 1859 store was among the first to go. Its site remained vacant for 40 years, eventually succumbing to a nondescript concrete box in the neo-brutalist tradition.

The only surviving relic of Macpherson's ownership is the 1855 steam tug Mullogh, whose rusting bones now rest on Lyttelton Harbour's Quail Island.


Sarndra said...

Another terrifically detailed post! I learnt so much from this one.

As an aside.
The old harbour board building in the second photo used to be a second hand bookstore [The Flying Fish] a few years back, which was owned by David Stove who is a distant cousin [his line going back through to the CREEDS, a long established North Canterbury family]. It appears that the bookshop is now situated in another historic building, 16 London street [http://tinyurl.com/flying-fish-books] but i do not know if David still owns it

David's wife Margaret knitted the shawl especially commissioned for Prince William's birth in 1982. It was made of such fine merino wool that knits up like lace and it could be passed through a wedding ring. Margaret and David still live in Lyttelton.

Canterbury Heritage said...

Thanks Sarndra, the research proved quite a challenge and Mr CH also learnt much from this one, not the least being not to trust photograph annotations and received history as factual. The photo named the building with the verandah as "Fowler & Co." (instead of Bowler), which led down a frustrating blind alley, but thanks to 4 days of perusing The Star on the addictive Papers Past web site the error was finally resolved. That particular building may have begun life as the Harbour Master's offices, as it occupied the same vicinity on which the Canterbury Association's boat sheds and Boat Master's house were originally situated from 1850.

Your aside, with the link to the City Council's heritage web site, led to another factual anomaly. Lisa Rossi states that the Lyttelton Railway Station was built in 1865, but the photographic record clearly indicates that it couldn't have been built until at least five years later.

We're a fairly naïve and gullible lot down under and tend to accept the credence of the published word without question, especially when it comes to the utterances of our historians (Professor Geoffrey Rice at Canterbury University not being among the least of the culprits). But genuine historical research shouldn't be a matter of regurgitating alleged facts just because a previous historian said it was so. Serious research is part doggedly hard work and part inspiration, the latter often the consequence of a good night's sleep.

Here endeth the rave.