As a researcher for Underground Overground Archaeology, I spend my time searching written and visual sources for historical information on the sites the archaeologists are working on. The newspapers available on Papers Past are some of the best sources for rediscovering nineteenth-century Christchurch. Photographs, where they are available, offer additional layers of information not available in the written sources. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Christchurch City Libraries, Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Library of New Zealand have many photographs of early Christchurch online. The website Early New Zealand Photographers and their Successors offers information on photographers and examples of their work.
We are indebted to amateur photographer Dr Alfred Charles Barker, immigrant on the Charlotte Jane in 1850 and the settlement’s doctor, for many of the views of the growing city. He photographed early buildings, local residents and Christchurch city streets. The Canterbury Museum holds a collection of his glass plate negatives, many of which are available to view online.
A number of professional photographers set up businesses in Christchurch during the nineteenth century, producing views of the city and as well as portraits of its inhabitants. The first professional photographer, John Crombie, arrived in 1857 from Auckland. In that year the Lyttelton Times announced that “Photography has broken out like an epidemic amongst us”:
Crombie only stayed for a few months, but by 1865 there were seven photographers operating in the city (The Southern Provinces Almanac, 1865). Over the next 25 years, Christchurch would be home to over 40 studios. Last year Christchurch Uncovered looked at Charles Lawrence who had a photography studio on Oxford Terrace.
There was a thriving market in the sale of photographic views of the new settlement. These were often posted to friends and relatives overseas to show the “improvements” of Christchurch. In 1880 the studio of Edmund Wheeler and his son Edmund Richard Wheeler advertised that they would mount photographs purchased from them into an album and send it free of charge (Star 12/4/1880: 1). Wheeler and Son was one of the longest-lived of Christchurch’s nineteenth-century establishments, operating for nearly 50 years. They set up on Colombo Street in 1865 and moved into Cathedral Square in 1880 where the business remained until 1914 when it went bankrupt (The Southern Provinces Almanac 1865; Star 12/4/1880: 1 and 9/6/1914: 5). Like other photographers, the studio’s main activity was taking portraits, and they produced thousands.
During the 1870s they issued an album of photographs of Christchurch and other locations around the country, which they described as “one of the most complete yet made of New Zealand Views”:
Nearly 20 years later in 1896, Wheeler and Son, in partnership with the New Zealand Scenery Publishing & Co., issued “The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery,” another compilation of photographs taken around the country:
Other Christchurch photographers also produced images of the city. John Gaul, who set up on Colombo Street in 1872, advertised in 1873 that he had in stock over 100 views of Christchurch and vicinity taken by William Sherlock, who was working in Gaul’s studio at the time (H. Wise & Co. 1872-73: 230):
Sherlock’s Christchurch photographs had been described in glowing terms in the Star newspaper in 1872. His views of the Avon were touted as “perfect gems” and Sherlock’s talent as a photographer commended:
Christchurch’s bridges proved to be popular subjects for photographers, partly due to their scenic nature but also because they were a symbol of engineering and progress. The studio of Thomas Easter and Frank Wallis produced a carte de visite (small photograph mounted on card measuring 6.5 cm x 10 cm) of the Victoria Bridge:
Photographs of public buildings and churches like this one taken by Peter Niels Schourup were likewise very marketable:
Photographers from outside of Christchurch also produced views of the city. The Dunedin studio Burton Brothers visited Christchurch in the 1880s and took a number of photographs of the city’s buildings and streets:
A photograph they took of the intersection of Hereford Street and High Street features the Fisher building prominently in the centre. Christchurch Uncovered looked at the Reverend Thomas Richard Fisher several years ago.
Streetscapes such as this one of Oxford Terrace are valuable for researching nineteenth-century Christchurch buildings. The photograph shows Oram’s Royal Hotel in a high degree of detail, and even the hotel’s sign is clearly shown:
In addition to buildings, we do a lot of research on Christchurch’s nineteenth-century roads and drainage. A photograph of “Colombo Road” in Sydenham, shows one of the channels that ran along the roadside to help combat the city’s drainage problems:
Unfortunately, only a small number of Christchurch’s streets and buildings were photographed during the nineteenth century, and thousands of the glass plate negatives from photography studios were lost during the First World War when glass was in short supply. Australian companies purchased them for as little as 3 pence per dozen, and one Auckland studio sold 6,000 of their negatives for the war effort (Press 29/5/1916: 6). A Sydney company visited Christchurch photography studios in 1916 and purchased a number of negatives of the old Canterbury identities.
H. Wise & Co., 1878‐1979. Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Dunedin: H. Wise & Co.
Lyttelton Times [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed September 2016].
Press [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed September 2016].
Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed September 2016].