Baker, hotel-keeper, confectioner, merchant…..mayor.

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…

Photograph of John George Ruddenklau, taken c. 1892. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, file reference CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0097.

John George Ruddenklau, taken c. 1892. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, file reference CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0097.

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).

An advertisement for the City Wine Vaults (left) and a drawing of what became the City Hotel block, with Ruddenklau's pie shop and beer store visible at either end (right). Image: Lyttelton Times 17/8/1861: 5; Andersen, 1949: 270.

Left: An advertisement for the City Wine Vaults (Lyttelton Times 17/8/1861: 5). Right: The corner of Colombo & High streets before the establishment of the City Hotel, with Ruddenklau’s pie shop and beer store visible at either end (Andersen 1949: 270).

An 1864 advertisement for the opening of J. G. Ruddenklau's City Hotel. Image: Lyttelton Times 12/4/1864: 5

An 1864 advertisement for the opening of J. G. Ruddenklau’s City Hotel. Image: Lyttelton Times 12/4/1864: 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).

A photograph of the City Hotel building on the corner of High Street and Colombo Street. This was taken in 1880s, after Ruddenklau's retirement, by E. Wheeler & Son. Image:  Rice 1999: 46

The City Hotel building on the corner of High Street and Colombo Street. This was taken in 1880s, after Ruddenklau’s retirement, by E. Wheeler & Son. Image: 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).

Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug, decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R.

Fragments of a saucer, teacup and mask jug, decorated with the City Hotel pattern and the initials J. G. R. Image: J. Garland.


The spout from a mask jug decorated with the City Hotel pattern and found in a site at the corner of Cathedral Square. Image: J. Garland

A closeup of the spout of the City Hotel mask jug found in a site at the corner of Cathedral Square. Image: J. Garland

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.

Details of a testimonial presented to J. G. Ruddenklau for his efforts as Mayor during the International Exhibition hosted in Christchurch in 1882. Image: The Evening Post 22/11/1882: 3

Details of a testimonial presented to J. G. Ruddenklau for his efforts as Mayor during the International Exhibition hosted in Christchurch in 1882. Image: Evening Post 22/11/1882: 3

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).

A photograph of the temporary buildings constructed to house the New Zealand International Exhibition,  hosted in Hagley Park in 1882.

The temporary buildings constructed to house the New Zealand International Exhibition, hosted in Hagley Park in 1882, during Ruddenklau’s tenure as mayor. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, file reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0008.

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.

Jessie Garland


Andersen, J. C., 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson & Williams Ltd, Christchurch.

Christchurch City Libraries, Digital Collections. [online] Available at: <>.

Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]. 1903. [online] Available at <>.

Dominion. [online] Available at <>.

Evening Post. [online] Available at <>.

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 <>.

Star. [online] Available at <>.

‘It isn’t all beer and skittles’

– Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days, 1857

It’s hard to picture what many of Christchurch’s buildings looked like before the earthquake. For many locals the torn down remains of a building or an empty lot remind them of a favourite hangout, a birthday or even the best burgers in town. The archaeology that has been excavated and collected from these sites and buildings provides evidence of earlier and equally personal stories and events, proving these buildings were full of life for over a century. One example of this is the Oxford Hotel, also known as the Oxford Family Hotel, the Oxford Victualling Co. and latterly as the Oxford on Avon.


The Oxford on Avon Hotel post-earthquake, 8 November 2011. Photo: M. Hennessey.

The Oxford Hotel was located on the corner of Oxford Terrace and Colombo Street and was one of the city’s older hotels. Originally established as a boarding house by Antill and Sarah Adley in 1860 or 1861, the hotel gained a licence to sell alcohol in 1862 and began operating as a pub as well as a boarding house. It was at this time that the establishment was renamed the Oxford Family Hotel (Greenaway 2007: 14). Adley had proprietorship of the hotel until his retirement in 1873 (The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1903) and continued to own the land and lease it out until 1903 (Christchurch Deeds Index C1 c.1853: 616). The hotel lease was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Dann in 1875, who transferred the lease to Mr. Bately, who rebuilt the building in 1883 (this was the building that stood until the earthquake; Star 5/6/1883: 3). What we found from the archaeological data and historical records is that this building not only acted as a hotel but as a central hub for the wider community, which was not uncommon for 19th century hotels in New Zealand.

market place

View from the Colombo Street bridge looking south to the Cathedral: at left is the Oxford Hotel and at right is Market (Victoria) Square, c. 1885. Image: Christchurch City Library, File Reference CCL Photo CD 02 IMG0020.


Image: Star 22/4/1878: 4.

The hotel was nice and close to Victoria Square, first known as Market Square and a centre of activity in early Christchurch. This must have been good for business and it allowed the hotel to cater to the wider community, hosting meetings and events, acting as a morgue or emergency room in some cases (Press 15/4/1879: 2; Star 4/2/1890: 3), and all the while supplying cheap alcohol from the pub. During Dann’s operation of the hotel he offered membership to a skittle alley and often hosted skittle and quoit tournaments. Mail and messages could be left at the Oxford by or for patrons (Star 28/4/1869: 3), so it functioned as a post office too. Most importantly, though, the Oxford Hotel was a pub: Dann’s advertisements in the local newspapers constantly mentioned the array of spirits available, with an emphasis on the cheap prices.

Of the 925 glass artefacts recovered from the site, 395 were black beer bottles, 196 were wine bottles and another 99 were other liquor or spirit bottles. There were also 52 porter or stout bottles. Sounds like a lot of alcohol, right? Think again. To put it into context, even if only one bottle of alcohol were drunk a day, this would represent little more than two year’s drinking. So where did all the other bottles go, then? Well, the Avon River was conveniently close…

Adley advertisement. Image: Lyttelton Times 23/8/1862: 3.



Sample of black beer and wine bottle bases from the site. The black beer bottles that make up the bulk of this assemblage become less common after 1880. As such, it is likely that these bottles were associated with either Adley or Dann’s period at the hotel. Image: K. Webb.

A number of smoking pipes were also found, confirming that the combination of alcohol and tobacco was just as common in the 19th century as it is today. Many of the pipes were made by Charles Crop, a manufacturer from London whose pipes have been found on hotel and residential sites in both New Zealand and Australia (Brassey 1991: 30; Macready et al. 1990: 57). Tantalisingly, the embossing on some of the pipe stems hints at the origins of some of the smokers: “QUEENSLANDER” and “LACHLANDER”. Perhaps the smoker purchased these as a reminder of home.

‘Crop’ smoking pipes. Image: K. Webb.