Jul 19, 2009

Spirit of Place: Christchurch 1862


It is probable that this simple pencil sketch, the significance of which has long been forgotten, would have struck a deeply meaningful chord amongst our earliest pioneers. Indicating the extant of development a decade after those first settlers landed at this very place, it had been their first view of the swampy plain on which they would build a city.

This a restoration of a panoramic westerly view of the northern half of the city of Christchurch, in late 1861 or early 1862. The artist's vantage point is at the junction of Oxford Terrace and Kilmore Street, to the immediate west of the 1850 Bricks Wharf, which is just out of view to the Right. Here those pioneers arrived from Lyttelton, with their tents, heavy luggage and kitset houses and when the first land sales began on the 16th of April, 1851, this immediate vicinity was the most sought after.

Below top: The artist's position was near to the 1926 Bricks Wharf monument, seen in this 1935 photograph, with the Manchester Street Bridge in the distance. Below bottom: the site is approximately opposite where the Central Fire Station is now situated.

Attributed by us to the renowned architect Benjamin Mountfort (1825-1898), and probably intended as preparatory to a watercolur painting, the pencil sketch can be dated by, among other considerations, the absence of the first Oxford Hotel on the north-east corner of Chester Street East (now part of Oxford Terrace) and Colombo Street. Mountfort lived not far from this vantage point in Gloucester Street from 1860.

Above: to the near Left of the drawing, at what is now the south-west corner of Madras Street and Oxford Terrace is The Hollies, built in 1861 to Mountfort's Gothic design for the eccentric Christ's College Maths Master Christopher Calvert, it was the city's first stone house.

The central part of the panorama includes all of the buildings surrounding Market Place (now Victoria Square).

They are situated along Armagh, Colombo and Durham Streets (above), Chester Street, lower Whatley Road (now Victoria Street) and Cambridge Terrace, where the Town Hall is now sited (below). All of the accurately depicted buildings are identifiable from early photographs.

Below: to the far Right can be seen the 1860 Anglican Chapel of Ease of St Luke the Evangelist at the north-east corner of Kilmore and Manchester Streets. Another aisle was added in 1864, with a tower and spire built a decade later. Now known as St Luke's in the City, the slate roofed wooden church was rebuilt in stone in 1908.
By the time that this view was drawn the Utopian dream had succumbed to utilitarian pragmatism, the population was approaching 2,000, a telegraph line connected the city with its port, Kerosene lamps had been installed as street lighting and the old wharf was still in regular use by small steamers.

But six years later the Waimakariri River would reclaim its flood plain and the Avon rose to the limits of its upper banks as seen in the foregound of the drawing (below). Major civil engineering work ensued and in 1871 the original land contours in this vicinity disappeared beneath a gravelled Oxford Terrace.

The Alexander Turnbull Library reference:
Artist unknown :[Avon River, Provincial Court buildings and houses, Christchurch. 1870-1875?]
Reference number: C-081-006
1 drawing(s). Pencil drawing, 249 x 535 mm.. Horizontal image.
Part of Artist unknown :[Eight pencil sketches of Christchurch buildings and the Avon River. 1870-1875?] (C-081-003/009)
Drawings and Prints Collection.

1 comment:

Sarndra said...

Another quality article Mr CH ... thank you so much once again, I for one appreciate it very much. It makes me miss Chch even more WAHH!