Piles, bones and marbles: what was under the Godleys’ house?

Way back in the winter of 2012, at the height of the post-earthquake demolition, I was pretty excited to learn we were going to get the chance to investigate the site of John and Charlotte Godley’s house in Lyttelton. John was a prominent figure in the Canterbury Association, the young settlement’s Chief Agent and is often regarded as one of Canterbury’s founding fathers. Charlotte was his wife and the author of a fantastic volume of letters that record so much detail about life in the new settlement and – importantly for this tale – the house they lived in. And then there was Arthur Godley, their son, born in 1847.

John Robert Godley. Image: Wikipedia.

The house was built for the Godleys in late 1849/early 1850, by the advance party of Canterbury Association surveyors sent to carry out some of the ground work to establish the colony. The house was ready for occupation when the Godleys arrived in Lyttelton in April 1850, although the Godleys only stayed a few days before travelling to Wellington to await the arrival of the first Canterbury Association ships. John Robert Godley later recorded that “after seeing it, we could not help laughing at our own anticipation of a shed on a bare beach with a fire at the door”, while Charlotte thought the house to be “…the best looking house we have yet seen in New Zealand”, and she particularly admired the “… kind of pantry” (Amodeo 2003: 117).

Charlotte Godley, 1877. Image: Wikipedia.

The house might have looked good, but the practicalities of living in it were trying, as Charlotte was to discover when the family returned to the house in December 1850: both dust and rain came in through the walls, depending on the weather. Charlotte records one sleepless night when the wind howled all night and the house creaked like a ship. She rose in the morning to find the inside of the house covered in dust, including all the furniture and all her dresses. The rain that seeped in through the poorly lined walls caused the drawing room wallpaper to come unstuck (Godley 1951: 170, 191). This anecdote’s a great one, because it tells us that (a) the house had wallpaper – in early 1850s Lyttelton! – and (b) that it had a drawing room. Historical records tell us that the house had six rooms (although it’s worth noting that Victorian room counts often didn’t include halls, pantries and/or similar service rooms), but don’t list what these were.

Lyttelton, with Immigrants’ Barracks and settlers’ houses, 1852? Frederick Aloysius Weld, 1823-1891. Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference number: B-139-004. The Godleys’ house is the building with three gables in the middle of the picture.

In spite of the “kind of pantry”, meat did not last well in the house, lasting on average two days before going off (Godley 1951: 155). This wasn’t really anything to do with this particular house, it was more about life in the 19th century… but it is relevant to this story. For John and Charlotte’s position in Canterbury meant that they entertained very regularly, hosting tea parties nearly every evening in December 1850 (Godley 1951: 153, 155, 161). And then there were the guests who stayed the night – or several nights, leading Charlotte to refer to John’s dressing room (yes, a dressing room! More on that in a moment), as “the spare room of Lyttelton” (Godley 1951: 172).

So, the dressing room, which seems fairly extraordinary to me in Lyttelton in the early 1850s. But John was an important man in the colony, and perhaps his status was such that a dressing room may have been required. I also wonder if the dressing room functioned as a study/office for John. When he got the chance to use it. Early in 1851, there was a plan to turn it into a dining room (Godley 1951: 153) – indicating both that the house didn’t already have one (perhaps guests ate in the kitchen or the drawing room?) and that the dressing room was of a decent size. Whether or not it ever became a dining room isn’t clear – there may not have been the opportunity, given how frequently it was used as a bedroom.

The dressing room wasn’t the only room to have been used as a bedroom – in August 1851 the bathroom was converted into a bedroom for a visiting Canterbury Association official (Godley 1951: 226). Perhaps John had finally put his foot down about the use of dressing room as a bedroom? The presence of a bathroom is also intriguing. Clearly the house didn’t have any running water, although a well was dug specially for it (Amodeo 2003: 116). The bathroom may have contained a bath or even a commode.

In terms of the other rooms in the house, Charlotte records the presence of a kitchen in the house, although the initial one must have been somewhat unsatisfactory, as Charlotte referred to a new kitchen in March 1851, complete with stove and “refractory chimney” (Godley 1951: 184). We know, too, that Charlotte and John had a bedroom in the house, as did young Arthur – the three seemed to alternate between sleeping up and downstairs. We know the Godleys had servants, and it’s possible that a servant may have lived in too. But perhaps the most interesting use of a room in the house was as the Lyttelton library, which started operation here in June 1851 (Burgess 2009: Appendix 4).

When it came time to do the archaeological work on the site, I really wasn’t sure what we’d find. Or, indeed, if we’d find anything related to the c.1850 building. But we did! Lots and lots of piles, and some pile holes: brick piles, timber piles and stone piles, specifically. The house sat on timber piles (identified as mātai and kōwhai) and its verandahs – on the north and west elevations – sat on stone piles. This is interesting, because it wasn’t long before houses in Christchurch and Lyttelton were supported by stone piles, stone being a much more readily available material than timber. The other intriguing feature found under the house was a mysterious brick pit…

Underneath the Godleys’ house. Image: G. Gedson.

We’ve no idea what this was used for, or even how old it was – it certainly predated the 1943 building constructed where the Godleys’ house had stood, but this feature was able to remain in situ and so we didn’t get to look at the bricks it was made from. One of the notable things about this feature was that it contained lots of animal bones, almost all of which was bird bone and all of which is likely to have been food waste. The bones were from at least two domestic ducks and at least one brown teal duck. The brown teal duck must pre-date the 1900s, as it gradually disappeared from the South Island prior to this date (Williams and Dumbell 1996). So, perhaps food from the Godleys’ table? There’s no way of knowing.

The mysterious brick pit, found at the rear of the house. Image: G. Gedson.

Amongst the other intriguing artefacts from under the house were several marbles, which were found scattered on the ground surface, and in some of the pile holes. Marbles aren’t uncommon on archaeological sites (see here for more information), but finding eight is. Half of these were lying on the surface under the 1943 building and the other half were in the piles holes. Realistically, given the nature of marbles – small round things designed to roll – these could have been deposited at any time from the house’s construction until the site was built on again following its demolition. So, sadly, we can’t say that young Arthur Godley was playing with these marbles, but nor can we entirely discount the possibility (although some of the types found date to the later part of the 19th century, so he definitely wasn’t playing with those ones).

Marbles! Image: J. Garland & L. Dawson.

We found a range of other artefacts at the site, too, most of which was the normal detritus of mid-late 19th century European life in Canterbury. Nothing, regrettably, that could be associated directly with the Godleys. But we only looked at part of the site, and it is possible that more remains outside the footprint of the area we excavated. And possibly the best outcome of this project is that the piles – and the mystery brick feature – have been preserved in situ for the future. And for me, the site provided a great opportunity to explore the lives of John and Charlotte Godley, leading me to Charlotte’s wonderful letters and to a wealth of information about life in Lyttelton at the beginning of the European settlement.

Katharine Watson & Kirsa Webb

References

Amodeo, C., 2003. Forgotten Forty-Niners: being an account of the men & women who paved the way in 1849 for the Canterbury Pilgrims in 1850. The Caxton Press, Christchurch.

Burgess, R., 2009. Lyttelton Township Historic Area. Registration report for a historic area (Volume 2). Unpublished report for the New Zealand Historic Places Pouhere Taonga.

Godley, C., 1951. Letters from Early New Zealand. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Christchurch.

Williams, M. and Dumbell, G. 1996. Brown teal (pateke) Anas chlorotis recovery plan. Threatened Species Recovery Plan No 19. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

A man & his dream

Today I’m going to tell you about what is possibly my all-time favourite archaeological site (there is another contender, but it doesn’t have any connection to Christchurch or Canterbury so is unlikely to feature here). I reckon this site has pretty well everything going for it: a spectacular location, cool archaeology just lying around waiting to be explored and an excellent story. You see, it’s the story of a person (a man, as it happens, but that’s not that relevant) with a passion, who was determined to pursue their dream. And all of those things come together to form a place and story I love.

The site’s on the true right of the Rangitata River, in the lee of Mt Harper. It’s rugged country, made famous recently by a certain movie trilogy, and made famous in the 19th century by Samuel Butler, although he was on the other side of the river. It’s mountainous, there is a river (obviously) and there are lakes. And lots and lots of tussock. Not so much bush. It’s my kind of place. And there’s snow on the tops. And in winter there’ll be ice. Which is the crucial detail for this story.

Yes, ice.

The Mt Harper ice rink, from the slopes of Mt Harper. Image: K. Watson

The Mt Harper ice rink, from the slopes of Mt Harper. The trees were planted to provide shelter for both the rink and the Barkers. Image: K. Watson

You see, this was also Wyndham Barker’s kind of place (that’s a Barker of the Barkers of jam-making and photography fame). Barker was a man who loved ice skating. Not too much is known about his early life, but his first wife was a Dutch woman and the couple and their children lived in the Netherlands for a time in the 1910s, and the story goes that this is where Barker learned to ice skate. Certainly, there wouldn’t have been a whole lot of places he could have learnt to ice skate in New Zealand.

By the early 1930s, Barker and his second wife were back in New Zealand, and Barker and his two brothers had taken up the Ben McLeod run, on the true left of the Rangitata, just opposite Mt Harper. And Wyndham set about building an ice rink. Not just any ice rink, mind: an outdoor rink, with natural ice (to be fair, this would be the easiest sort of ice rink to build at the time).

Barker strikes me as the sort of person who’d have put a fair amount of thought into just where he was going to build his rink. This was no casual, carefree enterprise. This was a man on a mission, determined to bring the sport he loved to New Zealand. The site he chose was by no means easy to access – today, from Geraldine (the nearest settlement), it still takes over an hour (and a boat ride) to get there. And once you got over the river, there was quite a bit of swampy ground to cover before reaching Barker’s site (just perfect for getting a 4WD stuck in. It’s not an adventure if you don’t get stuck, right?). So the first thing Barker did in the summer of 1931-32 was build a causeway across the swampy ground to his proposed ice rink. And then work got underway on a house for himself and Brenda, his second wife.

The Barkers' house, which lies between the rink and the river, and looks out over the rink (albeit at a distance). The Barkers lived here year round, growing all their own vegetables, in what would have been a particularly harsh environment. Image: K. Watson.

The Barkers’ house, which lies between the rink and the river, and looks out over the rink (albeit at a distance). The Barkers lived here year round, growing all their own vegetables, in what would have been a particularly harsh environment. Image: K. Watson.

In spite of Barker’s careful approach, he got one thing wrong: the site of the first rink he built, in that summer of 1931-32. This site was some 300 m from the base of Mt Harper, and too exposed to the nor’west, which howls down the Rangitata – and rippled the ice. The first rink was prepared by ploughing and working the ground to level it, and building sod walls to contain the water. The causeway from the river bank connected directly to these walls, ensuring that skaters would not get their feet wet (assuming, of course, that they hadn’t got wet feet crossing the river). The great thing is you can still walk across this causeway, should your boat happen to land you in the right place. But it wouldn’t be fieldwork if you didn’t get your feet wet.

The plough used to form the first rink? Who knows, but it was undoubtedly used to form an ice rink. And the roller in the background was no doubt used to level the ground. Image: K. Watson.

The plough used to form the first rink? Who knows, but it was undoubtedly used to form an ice rink. And the roller in the background was no doubt used to level the ground. Image: K. Watson.

From the archaeology (the sod walls survive), we know that the first rink was triangular, and it was fed by a water race that took water from a nearby stream. The flow of water into the rink was controlled by a timber and concrete gate. Getting the flow just right was critical: too much water and it might not freeze. Too little and, well, there wouldn’t be enough ice. Barker was later to perfect a system of getting the ice in just the right condition by slowly building up layers of ice over a number of nights, and keeping it smooth with a Model-T Ford (known as Matilda. Or maybe it was Betsy. Sources disagree.) fitted with a grader blade. Cracks and holes were repaired with hot water. And sometimes the ice was sluiced with water from the hydropower scheme. Yep, you read that right, a hydropower scheme. So they could skate under lights at night, of course. See, isn’t this the best story?

The shed that housed the pelton wheel (which remains inside) for the hydropower scheme. This was installed by the 1938 skating season. Image: K Watson.

The shed that housed the pelton wheel (which remains inside) for the hydropower scheme. This was installed by the 1938 skating season. Image: K Watson.

After the failure of the first rink, Barker rethought his approach, and consequently built a new rink closer to Mt Harper. Oh, and by this time Wyndham and Brenda were living there year-round, in their corrugated iron-clad timber-lined house, with central heating. Well, you wouldn’t want to live in the mountains without central heating, would you? And let’s not forget that Wyndham had lived in Europe, and Europeans are so sensible about home heating. Not only was their house warm, it contained a workshop for repairing skates.

Tools for repairing ice skates, in the Barkers' house, with boxes for storing skates on each side. Image: K. Watson.

Tools for repairing ice skates, in the Barkers’ house, with boxes for storing skates on each side. Image: K. Watson.

It’s not entirely clear how the rink complex developed. It seems like the winter of 1933 might have been a bit of a trial run for the Barkers, after the failure of the previous winter, and that 1934 was the first major public season. By 1936, there were at least two rinks. Over the next few years, these rinks would be subdivided into smaller areas, and there may have been as many as seven rinks at one time, one of which was dedicated to ice hockey. One of the reasons for subdividing the large rinks into smaller areas seems to have been that the ice was no longer freezing as well. An early sign of climate change, perhaps? (This was in the 1940s.)

Along with all those rinks, there were also several buildings, including the White hut, a skate shed, men’s toilets, another toilet block (possibly for the women?!) and a ticket office. By the 1940s (after Barker had sold the rink), there was a shelter for the ice hockey rink and a refrigeration unit (to deal with the diminishing ice situation). This last ultimately ended up at the Centaurus rink in Christchurch. And of course there was the shed for the pelton wheel for the hydropower, installed by 1938.

The door to the White hut. Image: K. Watson.

The door to the White hut. Image: K. Watson.

Let’s go back to the White hut (imaginatively named for its white coat of paint…). This was actually built as a cow byre, for Sissy the cow (true story) – perhaps further evidence of the European influence on the Barkers? Not only did the Barkers drink Sissy’s milk, it was also used in drinks for skaters. In the 1940s, after the Barkers left, the hut was used for accommodation. Now it’s the only weather-proof building at the rink (although not possum-proof…).

In 1946, the Barkers left the rink, gifting it to the people of Canterbury. It was not to last much longer, however, with public use of the rink ceasing in the mid-1950s.

And what remains today? Pretty well everything – you can walk along the sod walls that surrounded the rinks, clamber through the remains of the Barkers’ house and, if you’re feeling energetic, scramble up to the water race that supplied the hydropower scheme. It’s easy to conjure up images of groups of people skating under the stars and lights, with the snow- capped peaks glistening in the distance, the laughter, the friendships formed. For me, it’s a magic place. I hope Wyndham Barker felt that he’d succeeded in his ambitions. Certainly, he left something pretty awesome behind.

Katharine Watson

“A healthy mind and human happiness”

Here in New Zealand, we like to think ourselves as a nation of outdoor enthusiasts, always off tramping, kayaking, mountain biking, etc. But it wasn’t always thus. Our love affair with the outdoors began in the mid-late 19th century and was part of a movement seen throughout much of the western world, as people began to use their increased leisure time – and the wonders of the railways – to explore the world around them. This isn’t the time to dwell on the other factors that led to this movement, but there were a number of spurs, including increasing industrialisation and urbanisation (both of which were linked to an increasing awareness that the natural environment was threatened by these processes), and the rise of the middle class.

Locke Stream Hut. Image: K. Watson.

Locke Stream Hut. Image: K. Watson.

This post continues the theme of exploring Christchurch’s hinterland and, somewhat more explicitly than the other posts in the series, documents some of the factors that led to New Zealand’s increasing engagement with the outdoors in the early-mid 20th century. The exploration, development and use of Aoraki and Kura Tāwhiti were both related to this theme but in many ways, Locke Stream Hut epitomises it. It’s also an intriguing example of attempted social engineering, and the development of our network of back country huts and tracks. The hut lies (as its name suggests) on Locke Stream, on the true left of the Taramakau River, just below Harper Pass.

Location map. Image: Google.

Location map. Image: Google.

Like Aoraki and Kura Tāwhiti, Māori were here long before Pākehā. The area was used particularly by Māori from Tai Poutini as a trail when travelling via Harper Pass with pounamu (Brailsford 1996: 99). Well-known 19th century Māori journeys across the pass include parties fleeing up the Hurunui River and over Harper Pass to Tai Poutini following the Ngāti Toa raid on Kaiapoi pā in 1832 (Pascoe 1955). And Māori were instrumental in the Pākehā ‘discovery’ of the route to the West Coast via Harper Pass. Many gold miners would subsequently use this route, until it was superseded by the Arthurs Pass route, after which it seems to have been little used by Pākehā. The route would return to prominence (of a sort) in the early-mid 20th century.

The kitchen/dining area, Locke Stream Hut. Image: K. Watson.

The kitchen/dining area, Locke Stream Hut. Image: K. Watson.

Pākehā exploration of the outdoors was initially led by the elite (as seen at Aoraki), as they had both the time and money to make the long journeys required. By the early-mid 20th century, New Zealand had developed to the point where tourism had spread beyond the preserve of the wealthy few. The development of the railway network had a significant part to play in this, as did legislation enshrining the 40 hour week, passed in 1936. Now not only were people able to reach the outdoors easily, they also had a weekend in which to be able to explore further afield. Histories of outdoor pursuits in New Zealand give a sense of the sheer unbridled joy that the young men and women who took advantage of these opportunities found in them – try the wonderful Shelter from the Storm or any of the histories of club ski-fields (I’m sure Tramping covers this too, but unfortunately I’ve not read it yet).

One of the wonderful spikes used in the construction of the hut. Image: K. Watson.

One of the wonderful spikes used in the construction of the hut. Image: K. Watson.

At the same time that weekends became real and official, one William Parry – known as Bill – was becoming increasingly concerned about the health and fitness of New Zealanders (he was also quite big on vegetarianism, too). Parry was a member of the Labour government during the Depression (as well as being one of the founding members of the Labour Party) and, from 1935, Minister of Internal Affairs (Gustafson 2012). He used this position to tackle his concerns about the nation’s health and well-being, arranging a conference in August 1937 to discuss ways “to judiciously guide the people in the wiser use of the increased leisure time at their disposal.” (AJHR 1938 H22). Amongst other things, the conference concluded that physical fitness and recreation were vital for “a healthy mind and human happiness” (AJHR 1938 H22). As a result, the Physical Welfare and Recreation Act was passed in November 1937, which led to the establishment of the Department of Internal Affairs’ Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch and the National Council of Physical Welfare and Recreation (AJHR 1938 H22).

The hand-adzed timber framework. Image: K. Watson.

The hand-adzed timber framework. Image: K. Watson.

The newly established Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch set about encouraging ‘group travel’ (which sounds a bit like my idea of hell) – which it defined as low-cost and low-stress recreational activity by groups in the natural environment, a policy that had apparently been very successful elsewhere in the world (AJHR 1939 H22). The Branch decided that mountain tracks – “quiet pathways into the country where people could rest from the noise and bustle of the modern city” (EP 28/12/1944) – were the ideal destination for group travel. But many existing tracks were deemed to be unsuitable for this low-cost low-stress travel, being overcrowded, too expensive and/or too arduous (none of which would be good for your stress levels). The Branch felt its duty was to “provide recreation for New Zealand people on the lower levels of income, people who would be pleased with a less luxurious and much less expensive track system that young workers can afford…to reduce the cost while easing the degree of exertion and increasing the comfort.” (EP 28/12/1944). And from this grew the Mountain Huts and Tracks programme, which led to the reopening of the Harper track, and the construction of Locke Stream Hut (along with several other huts). The other track opened up as a result of this programme was the Tararua track.

The Harper Pass track was re-cut in 1939-40, with the plan being that there were would be five huts on it. Huts No. 1 (Lake Taylor Hut) and 2 (Lake Sumner Hut) were extant by early 1940 (AJHR 1940 H22). Hut No. 4 – Locke Stream Hut – was built shortly afterwards, with some of the materials packed in by horse and the timbers cut on site. Which means that the hut has fabulous hand-adzed tōtara floor slabs, which are a thing of beauty. It’s also got a timber framework (kawaka and tōtara) and, respecting the sensibilities of the era, a central common area with two bunkrooms either side, one for men and one for women (no longer enforced!). As is typical of back country huts all over New Zealand, it’s clad in corrugated iron (original) – less typically, it’s lined with ply (not original). All in all, the hut is a wonderful example of the use of traditional construction methods and consequently, full of character. I highly recommend a visit!

The rather fabulous floorboards! Image: K. Watson.

The rather fabulous floorboards! Image: K. Watson.

If you do decide to visit the hut, stop and think for a moment about the social and political processes that led to its construction. And put aside thoughts about a paternalistic government to reflect on the freedom experienced by those who took advantage of these opportunities during the early-mid 20th century. Because, for many of those who did, it wasn’t just an opportunity to escape the city, it was also – in many cases – an opportunity to escape their elders, and some of the social norms of the day. I’m not suggesting that people went completely crazy (although I’m sure some must have), but there’s a wonderful sense of freedom that permeates social histories of outdoor activities during this period.

Katharine Watson & Rosie Geary Nichol

(& with thanks to the Department of Conservation, who funded this work)

References

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives. [online] Available at: www.atojs.natlib.govt.nz.

Brailsford, B., 1996. Greenstone Trails: The Maori and pounamu. Stoneprint Press, Hamilton.

Evening Post. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Gustafson, B., 2012. Parry, William Edward – Parry, William Edward. [online] Available at: www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/3p12/parry-william-edward.

Pascoe, J., 1955. The Maori and the mountains. Te Ao Hou: The New World No.12. Held in DOC file on Locke Stream Hut.

Kura Tāwhiti

Today we’re going back to Christchurch’s hinterland, this time to Kura Tāwhiti/Castle Hill, a place that’s still an important and valued part of the city’s surrounds. But in the interests of full disclosure, I feel like I should let you know that, well, I don’t love it in the way that a lot of people do. I can see that it’s beautiful and those rocks are amazing and the archaeology and history’s pretty cool, too (read on for more of that), but it doesn’t move me in the way that it moves other people. I think it’s the lack of water – I need a lake or, better still, a river, to go with my mountains and tussocks. Now that I’ve got that off my chest…

Kura Tāwhiti. Image: K. Watson.

Kura Tāwhiti. Image: K. Watson.

The occupants of Otautahi/Christchurch have been visiting Kura Tāwhiti/Castle Hill for centuries. In fact, like Aoraki/Mt Cook, Kura Tāwhiti has Tōpuni status under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. Kura Tāwhiti translates as “the treasure from a distant land”, which is a reference to the kumara. For tangata whenua, Kura Tāwhiti was an important mahinga kai, particularly for those living at Kaiapoi. It was a source of kākāpō, kiore (Polynesian rat), kiwi, tuna (eel) and weka. And it was closely associated with the Ngāi Tahu trails through the Southern Alps, because of the kai and the shelter it could provide. Ngāi Tahu left evidence of their presence here in the form of rock art.

Pākehā followed Māori in 1858, when the Porter brothers took up what would become Castle Hill station. The Porter brothers may have lived in a stone hut near the quarry on the road into what is now Porters ski field, and I believe that the remains of this hut can still be seen today. Six years later, some more brothers took over the station – the Enys brothers, who were in this farming business for the long haul (Acland 1975). Shortly after the Enys brothers came the gold miners, seeking a route to the West Coast (some hardy souls travelled over the Coleridge pass trail, at the head of the Porters ski area, following an old Māori trail), but then along came Arthur Dobson and now we have Arthurs Pass. (Side note: one other archaeological site near Porters that you should be aware of is the old coaching stop. There’s very little to see today, just some old fence posts and fencing wire, but it’s nice to know it’s there.)

The remains of the hut near the Porters ski area. Image: K. Watson.

The remains of the hut near the Porters ski area. Image: K. Watson.

So, yes, the Enys brothers. There were two of them, John and Charles, and it was John who had most to do with the station and was a regular Renaissance man, being heavily involved in scientific pursuits. And the science he was particularly interested in was that of butterflies (the name of which I will leave as a challenge for you, dear reader), but was also intrigued by plants and geology. Which was fortuitous for him. He is known to have collected fossils from Kura Tāwhiti (now held at Canterbury Museum and Te Papa Tongarewa). And it is perhaps John Enys who is responsible for having brought Kura Tāwhiti to the attention of the wider scientific world – Julius von Haast (director of the Canterbury Museum) visited in 1865 and 1873 and James Hector (director of the Colonial Museum) visited in 1869 and 1872. Enys’s interest in science led him to be the first to identify Ranunculus paucifolius at Kura Tāwhiti (although someone else may have described it earlier) – this is a rare native buttercup (Richards 1951).

The rocks were not just of interest for scientists – capitalists were interested too, because these rocks are limestone, a stone that’s easy to carve and has a beautiful colour that looks fantastic on Gothic buildings. Builders and the like were interested in the stone from at least 1863 (Press 3/5/1863: 2). Fortunately, transporting this heavy material was just too difficult in the absence of rail. Enys quarried some stone for his station buildings, and the Castle Hill hotel (built in 1871, near the modern Castle Hill village) was built from Castle Hill stone (Richards 1951: 6, Taylor 2005: 39). But perhaps the most prominent use of this stone is in our cathedral, Cathedral Church of Christ, Christchurch, where it was used for the font, in the western entranceway and the finial on the spire (Press 20/4/1877: 3, Star 3/6/1881: 3, 23/12/1881: 3). The stone is believed to have been carved by a mason named Davies (Richards 1951: 29). Frustratingly, this has been impossible to prove.

It is reputed that the stone for the cathedral font was cut from this stone. It's now fenced off to preserve the names carved in it. Image: K. Watson.

It is reputed that the stone for the cathedral font was cut from this stone. It’s now fenced off to preserve the names carved in it. Image: K. Watson.

Davie's signature carved into a shelter at Kura Tāwhiti. Image: K. Watson.

The signature of William Davis, carved into a shelter at Kura Tāwhiti. Image: K. Watson.

Enys used the rocks for another practical purpose, establishing yards on the north side of the rocks. Now, the important thing about these from my point of view is that there’s no direct historical record of them: they only survive in the archaeological record. And you too can go and discover them for yourselves today. Just be careful not to turn your ankle in the giant holes left by the posts that have rotted away. Yes, wooden posts. Who knows where the wood came from, but a good distance away.

The remains of a hopper associated with processing lime at Kura Tāwhiti. Image: K. Watson.

The remains of a hopper associated with processing lime at Kura Tāwhiti. Image: K. Watson.

Good heavens, so many words and we’ve not even reached the tourists. And it’s the tourism I find particularly fascinating – in the 1890s, Kura Tāwhiti was a popular health resort, believed to be very good for you because of that bracing mountain air and the spectacular scenery (Press 19/3/1890: 4, Star 25/6/1894: 4). No mention of the hellish coach ride, which would surely have taken several days to recover from. For a while, Kura Tāwhiti was even touted as the ideal location for a sanatorium. But it was the distance – and no doubt the coach ride – from Christchurch that saw Cashmere selected as a more accessible alternative (Press 22/7/1905: 11, 31/8/1905: 2; Star 5/2/1909: 1). The the idea didn’t go away: in the 1930s, the Sunlight League wanted to establish a solarium for tuberculosis sufferers at Kura Tāwhiti (Press 29/6/1934: 12, 6/4/1935: 2). And then there were just the general visitors, seeking to take in the beauty of the area and – as the outdoor recreation movement grew – the walks and other activities. Which leads us straight to rock climbing, and the somewhat more friendly-to-limestone pursuit of bouldering.

When you think about it, Kura Tāwhiti has a number of elements of the New Zealand story wrapped up in one beautiful package: Māori and Pākehā connections (and very likely, the restriction of Māori access to their mahinga kai following the Pākehā take up of land), pastoralism, science, nature, beauty, intriguing geology, tourism and sport. There’s art, too, which I’ve not had to time to mention. And preserving that story is archaeology. All of what I’ve related here can be seen in the physical fabric of the place – and more besides. We’ve only told you half the story.

Katharine Watson

Acknowledgements

Research by Christine Whybrew, & the Department of Conservation, who commissioned the work that led to this blog.

References

Acland, L. G. D., 1975. The Early Canterbury Runs. 4th ed. Christchurch: Whitcoulls.

Press [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Richards, E. C. (ed.), 1951. Castle Hill. Christchurch: Simpson and Williams Ltd.

Star [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Taylor, I. D., 2005. The Road to the West Coast: A history of the road over Arthur’s Pass. Heritage Press Ltd.

 

 

Majestical mountains

In the beginning there was no Te Wai Pounamu or Aotearoa. The waters of Kiwa rolled over the place now occupied by the South Island, the North Island and Stewart Island. No sign of land existed.

Before Raki (the Sky Father) wedded Papatūānuku (the Earth Mother), each of them already had children by other unions. After the marriage, some of the Sky Children came down to greet their father’s new wife and some even married Earth Daughters.

Among the celestial visitors were four sons of Raki who were named Aoraki (Cloud in the Sky), Rakiroa (Long Raki), Rakirua (Raki the Second), and Rārakiroa (Long Unbroken Line). They came down in a canoe which was known as Te Waka o Aoraki. They cruised around Papatūānuku who lay as one body in a huge continent known as Hawaiiki.

Then, keen to explore, the voyagers set out to sea, but no matter how far they travelled, they could not find land. They decided to return to their celestial home but the karakia (incantation) which should have lifted the waka (canoe) back to the heavens failed and their craft ran aground on a hidden reef, turning to stone and earth in the process.

The waka listed and settled with the west side much higher out of the water than the east. Thus the whole waka formed the South Island, hence the name: Te Waka o Aoraki. Aoraki and his brothers clambered on to the high side and were turned to stone. They are still there today. Aoraki is the mountain known to Pākehā as Mount Cook, and his brothers are the next highest peaks near him. The form of the island as it now is owes much to the subsequent deeds of Tū Te Rakiwhānoa, who took on the job of shaping the land to make it fit for human habitation.

Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1988: Schedule 80: Tōpuni for Aoraki/Mt Cook

 

Welcome to Aoraki Mt/Cook, a place of breath-taking beauty and – as with any landscape – many layers of human history, the imprint of which is present in both tangible and intangible ways.

Surprisingly, I've no (digital) photographs of Aoraki/Mt Cook. Instead, I offer you the De La Beche Ridge, with the Tasman glacier in the foreground. Image: K. Watson.

Surprisingly, I’ve no (digital) photographs of Aoraki/Mt Cook. Instead, I offer you the De La Beche Ridge, with the Tasman glacier in the foreground, taken from the Ball track. Image: K. Watson.

This is the first in an occasional series of posts about places Christchurch residents would have holidayed in the past – and still do today. They also happen to be places I’ve been lucky enough to visit while doing work for the Department of Conservation (sometimes people forget that DOC is as much about protecting and preserving our cultural heritage as our natural heritage). These places tell us about the outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities available to Christchurch residents, and about the development of these spheres, because outdoor recreation and tourism weren’t really a particularly big deal when New Zealand was settled by Pākehā.

Let’s start at the beginning (from a human point of view, at least – I’m not getting into the geology). Aoraki/Mount Cook is so significant to Ngāi Tahu it is recognised with Tōpuni status under the Ngai Tahu Settlement Claims Act. For Ngāi Tahu, Aoraki/Mount Cook is the most sacred of their ancestors and is critical to their identity. There are no recorded Māori archaeological sites in the immediate vicinity of the mountain, there are further afield in the Mackenzie country, and these are a tribute to the resources of the area, particularly the stone and the food. Ngāi Tahu’s associations with the area also survive in the names used for landmarks in the area, from the lakes to the mountain itself.

The early European history of the area is a seemingly romantic one, with tales of rugged, intrepid men and women exploring and marvelling at the wilderness, with seemingly endless time to explore, retiring at night to the warmth and conviviality of either the Hermitage or Ball hut (or, later, Malte Brun hut), with the Hermitage in particular renowned for its egalitarian atmosphere (McClure 2004: 79-80). Glorious black and white photographs capture this era.

This was the first Hermitage, built in 1884 and destroyed by floods in 1913. You can still see the building site today and there was an excavation there in the early 1980s. In the early 2000s, I excavated the remains of the Hermitage stables. Unsurprisingly, we found a lot of horseshoes - as well as building remains. The Hermitage, Mount Cook. Ross, Malcolm 1862-1930 :Photographs by Malcolm Ross of New Zealanders in the Great War, Maori, mountaineering, New Zealand scenery, etc. Ref: 1/2-022364-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23121689

This was the first Hermitage, built in 1884 and destroyed by floods in 1913. You can still see the building site today and there was an excavation there in the early 1980s. In the early 2000s, I excavated the remains of the Hermitage stables. Unsurprisingly, we found a lot of horseshoes – as well as building remains.
Inage: The Hermitage, Mount Cook. Ross, Malcolm 1862-1930 :Photographs by Malcolm Ross of New Zealanders in the Great War, Maori, mountaineering, New Zealand scenery, etc. Ref: 1/2-022364-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23121689

Ball hut, 1907. Earlier photographs indicate that it was built without a fireplace, or the capacity to capture rainwater. The archaeological remains indicate that the hut expanded a lot before being destroyed by an avalanche in 1925. Image: Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948. Gifford tramping party at Ball Hut, Mt Cook. Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948 : Albums and photographs. Ref: 1/2-060503-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22583972

Ball hut, 1907. Earlier photographs indicate that it was built without a fireplace, or the capacity to capture rainwater. The archaeological remains indicate that the hut expanded a lot before being destroyed by an avalanche in 1925.
Image: Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948. Gifford tramping party at Ball Hut, Mt Cook. Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948 : Albums and photographs. Ref: 1/2-060503-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22583972

What this romantic vision ignores is the exclusion of Ngāi Tahu from the area and the literal walking on their most sacred ancestor, the disadvantaged position of women in this world (climb and explore they did, but in voluminous skirts or culotte-type garments and they had to battle against the social norms of the day, which frowned on the relationship between women and their male guides) and the fact that tourism in this period was the preserve of the wealthy. The rest of society simply did not have the time or money to travel in this way: initially, the journey from Fairlie to the Hermitage took three days by coach, with the horses having to be changed five times. The wheel ruts from this original dray track survive in parts of the Mackenzie country (and are difficult to photograph!) and are testament to what must have been a bone-shaking journey (and they used pigeons – yes, pigeons! – to send information to the Hermitage about the number of guests on the way). More to the point, however, if the journey took at least three days in each direction, you were going to want to spend a decent amount of time at the destination. And then there was the matter of hiring guides and/or horses, and the cost of the accommodation itself. Nonetheless, what was noteworthy about the Hermitage was that the guides were required to divide their attention equally between regular tourists and serious mountaineers (McClure 2004: 79-80).

This is just possibly the remains of Mannering and Dixon's camp on Ball Flat, to the north of the remains of the first Ball hut, described by Mannering (2000: 72) as their "well-known Ball Glacier camp" and built c.1886. Image: K. Watson.

This is just possibly the remains of Mannering and Dixon’s camp on Ball Flat, to the north of the remains of the first Ball hut, described by Mannering (2000: 72) as their “well-known Ball Glacier camp” and built c.1886. Image: K. Watson.

The government spent a lot on this elite tourist venture, helping to fund the construction of the road from Glentanner station to Aoraki/Mt Cook, financially supporting the operation of the Hermitage and constructing roads, huts and tracks in the area, including Ball hut and Ball track, which ran above the Tasman glacier from the Hooker River to Ball glacier. It was not until the involvement of one Rodolph Wigley, however, that the area became a serious tourist destination.

On the old road to Aoraki/Mt Cook. This road, built in partnership by the government of the day and the Mt Cook Road Board in late 1883, remained in use until the mid-late 20th century. Image: K. Watson.

On the old road to Aoraki/Mt Cook. This road, built in partnership by the government of the day and the Mt Cook Road Board in late 1883, remained in use until the mid-late 20th century. Image: K. Watson.

The Ball track, 1907. Image: On the track to Ball Hut, Mt Cook. Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948 : Albums and photographs. Ref: PA1-o-186-07. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22916634

The Ball track, 1907. Image: On the track to Ball Hut, Mt Cook. Gifford, Algernon Charles, 1862-1948 : Albums and photographs. Ref: PA1-o-186-07. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22916634

Scrabbling along the remains of the Ball track today (well, actually, in 2010). Image: I. Hill.

Scrabbling along the remains of the Ball track today (well, actually, in 2010). I’m standing on that track, and you can make out the line of towards the centre left. Image: I. Hill.

It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation with Wigley and Aoraki Mt Cook: was he the catalyst that drove the development, or was he just the right man at the right time? Or a bit of both? Whatever the case, it is impossible to separate him from the story of Aoraki Mt Cook. Wigley was the man behind the Mt Cook Motor Company, which took over the lease of the (second) Hermitage in 1922, and set about opening up the area to a much broader sector of (Pākehā) society, by reducing costs, improving access and improving facilities. Wigley offered wooden floored tents as a cheaper form of accommodation and set out to offer a range of attractions beyond just the scenery, including golf. One of the key factors underlying Wigley’s success was the increasing popularity of exploring the outdoors, and the increasing availability of leisure time for the middle and working classes, a theme that will be returned to in another of these posts. The other was the motor car, and this underlay one of the key components of Wigley’s vision: the Ball Road.

The fantastic stone work that remains in situ along sections of the Ball Road. Image: K. Watson.

The fantastic stone work that remains in situ along sections of the Ball Road. Image: K. Watson.

The Ball Road was an ambitious plan to connect the Hermitage to (the second) Ball hut by motor car, enabling less mobile/athletic visitors the opportunity to get up close and personal with the alpine region, and also to promote the skifield he established on the Ball glacier. Nature, however, had other ideas and today the remains of the road are a testament to the power of Wigley’s vision, and to his ambition to make Aoraki/Mt Cook the site of domestic tourism for the masses. Not for any altruistic reason, one assumes, but very much driven by the profit motive – the two, of course, do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Ball Road, disappearing under collapsing moraine. Image: K. Watson.

Ball Road, disappearing under collapsing moraine. Image: K. Watson.

By the 1970s, keeping the road open was becoming increasingly difficult and by 1989 it had been closed for good. You can still walk the road today but one day the glacier will claim it for good, if the avalanches don’t get it first. I can’t urge you strongly enough to do so – it’s an easy walk, and a beautiful one. As you walk it, think of all those who have gone before you: Ngāi Tahu; Green, Emil Boss and Ulrich Kaufmass (who, in the first attempt on the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook, came within 60 m – an amazing feat); Mannering and Dixon; Peter Graham; Freda du Faur; Hillary; and the thousands of others who’ve travelled this route to appreciate the beauty that is Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Ball Road, with the lateral moraine from the Tasman glacier looming above it, perilously close to collapsing into the glacier itself. Image: K. Watson.

Ball Road, with the lateral moraine from the Tasman glacier looming above it, perilously close to collapsing into the glacier itself. Walk it now, while it’s still there. Image: K. Watson.

Katharine Watson

References

Mannering, G., 2000. The Hermitage Years of Mannering and Dixon. GM Publication, Geraldine.

McClure, M., 2004. The Wonder Country: Making New Zealand tourism. Auckland University Press, Auckland.