Once upon a time, there was a baker (a pie-maker, even) who left his home in Germany and travelled the length of the world to a small country in the South Pacific. There, in a young city built on a marsh, he made his name offering food, drink and lodging to weary travellers and local settlers alike. From near and far, they came to his hotel, his pie shop and his vault of wine until, eventually, he became so greatly esteemed that the citizens of the city on the marsh put forth his name and elected him to be their mayor. After he had retired, he still could not rest and continued to work tirelessly for the city, never once asking for recognition…
It may seem a little silly, but the life of John George Ruddenklau, one time Mayor of Christchurch and a man involved in so much of Christchurch’s early history, reads a bit like a fairy tale. Or, at least, like the archetypal tale of the man who sets forth to find adventure and make his fortune in the big wide world.
He was born in the town of Hesse Cassel in Germany in 1829, and “brought up in the bakery business” (Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1903: 107) before leaving for London in the early 1850s. There, he continued to work as a baker until he took a berth aboard a ship to New Zealand in 1857, landing in Lyttelton later that same year (Press 16/12/1891: 5).
In Christchurch, he opened a bakery (also referred to as a pie shop and confectioner’s) and a beer shop at either end of a row of four buildings on the corner of High and Colombo streets, in the heart of the business district (Andersen 1949: 270-71; Lyttelton Times 3/4/1861: 1). Initially, he shared the location with two other businesses (a grocery and an eating house), before gradually taking over the whole corner. As well as operating as a “fancy bread and biscuit maker” (Andersen 1949: 270-71; Press 14/09/1861: 7), he had established the City Wine Vaults there by 1861, offering rooms for refreshment as well as supplying alcohol (Lyttelton Times 17/8/1861: 5).
Eventually this part of town came to be known as the City Hotel block, after the hotel that Ruddenklau opened there in 1864. In opening this hotel, Ruddenklau combined his various skills to provide “every comfort and convenience appertaining to a first-class hotel” (Lyttelton Times 12/4/1864: 5). By all accounts the City Hotel was a large, well-furnished establishment, claiming such luxuries as the “best billiard room in New Zealand” (Star 15/6/1868: 1). Its central location must have been great for business, especially after a cab stand, which later grew to include Hansom cabs, set up right outside his front door.
Unfortunately, when we excavated the site of the City Hotel (which later became the Triangle Centre) we found almost nothing in the way of archaeological material, a result of the long history of construction in that location (Hennessey 2012). The wooden City Hotel building that Ruddenklau built in the early 1860s was demolished before 1910 to make way for a stone and brick building known as Mitchell’s City Hotel (Rice 1999: 46).
What we did find, however, through archaeological excavations at other sites in Christchurch’s central business district, were fragments of ceramics printed with a pattern specific to the City Hotel and to Ruddenklau himself. The pattern is a rather garish pink and brown design, but the use of both the City Hotel name and Ruddenklau’s initials provides an interesting example of Victorian personal and commercial branding. It also suggests that Mr Ruddenklau was prosperous enough to warrant his own custom china set (which would have been made elsewhere in the world (probably Staffordshire) and imported into New Zealand).
One of the fragments, found at a site on the corner of Cathedral Square, formed the spout of a ‘mask jug’, a jug decorated with the moulded relief of a face on the spout. Jugs like this are relatively rare archaeologically (although there are a couple of complete ones in the Canterbury Museum), and can feature a variety of different ‘faces’,including the male bearded face depicted here.
The other City Hotel china fragments include pieces of a tea cup and a saucer, also found at the Cathedral Square site, as well as another sherd from a (different) hotel site on Lichfield Street. It’s interesting to consider how, exactly, such distinctively branded tea-wares (which were presumably, part of a much larger set) ended up in the ground at sites with no known connection to either the City Hotel or to J. G. Ruddenklau.
The most likely explanation probably revolves around the fact that Ruddenklau retired from the hotel business in 1869 and was succeeded by J. Oram, who ran the ‘J. Oram Sheppard City Hotel’ until the late 19th century (Hennessey 2012: 3-4). Ruddenklau’s personalised china would have had no place in the new establishment and may have been sold off, probably cheaply, to those who didn’t mind drinking their tea out of cups and saucers decorated with someone else’s name. The appearance of such china, however, is particularly surprising at another – presumably competing – hotel.
Ruddenklau appears to have retired to his home in Addington after he left the City Hotel in 1869, at the relatively young age of 40 (Press 16/12/1891: 5). However, he apparently found retirement “irksome” (Press 16/12/1891: 5), and set himself up into business as a grain merchant, as well as getting involved in local politics.
He was first elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1863, then again in 1873 and 1877 (Press 16/12/1891: 5). He followed this up by running for and being elected as Mayor of Christchurch in 1881 (Press 16/12/1891: 5) and again (unopposed) in 1882 (Star 22/11/1892: 3). During his time in office Christchurch hosted the International Exhibition, a showcase of exhibits from all over the world held in Hagley Park from April to July of 1882 (Christchurch City Libraries 2013). Numerous accounts of his mayoral career mention the success of this event (Evening Post 22/11/1882: 3; Press 16/12/1891: 5). Later, in 1884, he was exhorted to stand as one of the Canterbury members of parliament by the electors of Stanmore, which he then did as part of Sir Julius Vogel’s party (Press 15/07/1884: 4; Star 17/07/1884: 3).
As well as his involvement in local politics, it seems that John Ruddenklau was also a particularly active member of the local Christchurch community, like so many of the early Christchurch figures we’ve featured here on the blog. He served as the treasurer of the Albion Cricket Club (Lyttelton Times 3/10/1868: 1), Chairman of Christchurch Young Men’s Club Committee (Press 20/12/1883: 2), on the Board of Directors for the Canterbury Brewing Malt and Distillery Company (Press 2/07/1867: 3), and as President of the Christchurch German Association (Press 26/5/1863: 3), along with various other roles.
It was in that last role, as President of the German Association, that he was instrumental in procuring the ‘German Bells’ for Christchurch in 1873. These were church bells made for the German Church (Deutsche Kirche) from gun metal taken from the French by Germany during the Franco-Prussian war and gifted to the Association by Kaiser Wilhelm I (Press 26/5/1873: 3). The site of the German Church, on Montreal Street, was excavated as part of the construction of the Christchurch Art Gallery, which now stands in the same location. Interestingly, the church bells were taken down and melted following the end of World War I, seemingly as a result of anti-German and pro-French sentiments (Dominion 9/06/1919: 4).
John George Ruddenklau died in 1891 at the age of 72, following a long illness (Press 16/12/1891: 5). His name is not one that has endured in the public eye since his death, nor is he one of Christchurch’s more well-remembered figures. Yet his contribution to the early prosperity of this city is undeniable, and his tireless work, as a businessman, as a politician, and as an involved member of the 19th century Christchurch community, makes him a man worth remembering. Thankfully, and it’s one of the greatest things about this job, the archaeological work we’re doing here at the moment gives us the chance to do just that.
Andersen, J. C., 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson & Williams Ltd, Christchurch.
Christchurch City Libraries, Digital Collections. [online] Available at: <http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/heritage/photos/disc6/IMG0061.asp>.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]. 1903. [online] Available at <http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/>.
Dominion. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.
Evening Post. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.
Hennessey, M., 2012. High, Colombo and Cashel streets triangle, Christchurch: A report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Mackey Leighs Demolition.
Rice, G. W., 1999. Christchurch Changing An Illustrated History. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.
Press. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.
Star. [online] Available at <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.