Few would suspect that the now empty lot on the corner of Worcester, Gloucester and Manchester streets was once home to the famous Waverley Wine Vaults.
Previously known as the Australasian Wine Vaults, the business was established in the late 1870s by New Zealand pioneer Edwin Coxhead Mouldey (Press 22/5/1897: 5). Mouldey, along with parents Moses and Eleanor, siblings Moses, Mary-Ann, William, Phoebe, Eleanor and relatives Henry and Sophia, were one of the pioneer families who emigrated to New Zealand on The Cressy in 1850.
In 1869, leaving the confectionery business he had established in Lyttelton to his eldest son Walter, Mouldey purchased 4 ha of land in the Heathcote valley. Here, Edwin established his vineyard, featuring plum, apricot, pear, peach and tomato plants. Mouldey also built a homestead on the site, where he, his wife Jessie Landers and their five children Ethel, Walter-Edwin, Frederick, Amy-Eleanor and Eva-Rebecca resided (Ogilvie 2009: 134-135).
While life in the valley may have seemed oh-so-sweet, it was not without tragedy for the Mouldey family. Frederick Mouldey, who was a keen rabbit hunter on the Heathcote hills, was found dead after failing to meet his father at the family bach in Sumner in 1914. His death was listed as accidental, as it appeared his shotgun had mistakenly gone off and the shell had lodged in Frederick’s throat (Press 09/03/1914: 9).
Walter Mouldey, the eldest of Edwin’s sons, became well known in the community for his strength and as an amateur sportsman. At just 19, Mouldey’s chest measures a staggering 43 inches and he was ranked among the 10 strongest men in the world. In the early 20th century Walter added a gymnasium to the Mouldey homestead, where notable visiting boxers were often invited for a round or two in the ring. One of the more prestigious visitors was Bob Fitzsimmons, who held three boxing world titles between 1891 and 1905 (Ogilvie 2009: 134-135).
In 1914 when war broke out and New Zealand didn’t immediately join the war efforts, Walter (who had previously fought in the Boer War) purchased a ticket to England and joined the Lancashire Fusiliers. During his time in the Fusiliers, Walter rose to the rank of lieutenant, but was severely gassed in France and sustained a leg injury from a splintering shell. His outstanding physique was thought to be the only thing that saved him from death (Ogilvie 2009: 134-135).
The Mouldeys most prosperous venture was the Waverley Wine Vaults. Originally named the Australasian Wine Vaults, Edwin began his wine making at his Heathcote Valley property in 1869. While the fruit trees prevailed, grapes were not as easy to procure as Edwin had hoped, and so he was limited to making fruit wines (Press 22/5/1897: 5).
In 1888, Edwin moved his business into what was formerly Gee’s school room, on Town Sections 688, 689, 690 and 691. With this move, the wine vaults grew both in size, and success (Press 22/5/1897: 5). The vineyards achieved their peak in 1907, when they produced 1,150 gallons of wine, 105 gallons of spirits, 1,413 gallons of sherry and a staggering 162 gallons of fortifying fruit spirits (Ogilvie 2009: 134-135).
Advertisements from the period promote the sale of port wine, sherry, verdeilho, red and white constantia and other light wines (Press 27/11/1901: 12).
In 1913 after the death of his wife, Edwin sold the Heathcote Valley vineyard to the Booth family, stepping down to allow eldest son Walter to carry on the lease and management of the Worcester Street winery until 1939 (Ogilvie 2009: 134-135).
Advertisements and articles from the period are a stark difference to the way in which we advertise alcohol today. In an article about Mouldey and the wine business, the industry is described as “commendable” and Edwin describes the need for “encouragement” for people (referring in particular to families) to consume more alcohol, by way of lower prices and a license to retail his wines (Press 22/5/1897: 5)
The wine business didn’t come without its bumps along the way, however, and the Mouldey family experienced some significant challenges. In 1888, Edwin Mouldey was declared bankrupt just 5 years after he originally leased and mortgaged the town sections on which he situated the Waverley Wine Vaults (Star 7/1/1888: 2). A vesting order was taken out on all the sites in the same year, which is believed to have been the reason Mouldey was able to stay in business.
In 1907, Walter Mouldey was caught delivering a package of unlabelled port wine to George Bales in Ashburton, which was at the time a no-license district. Walter was charged with making the delivery, and further charged with failing to send the requisite notice to the Clerk of the Court (Ashburton Guardian 15/2/1907: 3).
Despite these indiscretions, the Mouldey family were held in high respect within the community. Eva-Rebecca took her love for art and made a distinguished career for herself, under her married name of Mewton. She exhibited some of her water colour drawings in London, which featured scenery from Switzerland, Austria and Bombay, showing the distance of her travels (Ogilvie 2009: 134-135).
Amy-Eleanor succeeded in a ‘first aid to the injured’ course, passing in the Medallion section, and received many awards during her school days (Ogilvie 2009: 134-135).
Edwin lived to be 83, and maintained a distinguished reputation within the Canterbury community. The Waverley Wine Vaults was the first distillery in the South Island, and although after 1939 the distillery was re-purposed into a packing facility, several other wine merchants came into business in Christchurch during the middle of the 20th century, following in Mouldey’s footsteps (Ogilvie 2009: 134-135).
From 1959 the Heathcote valley property was farmed by Jack and Lucy Labuddle and Rolfe Bond, after Walter officially retired from the business in 1939 and moved into the seafaring business, followed by his two sons Andrew and David.
Olgivie, G., 2009. The Port Hills of Christchurch. Phillips and King Publishers, Christchurch.