Twelve years in Canterbury: Hidden treasure #2

My second visit to ANZC, and I have unearthed this wee gem, with possibly the longest title in the world:  Twelve years in Canterbury, New Zealand, with visits to the other provinces, and reminiscences of the route home through Australia, etc. (from a lady’s journal), by Mrs. Charles Thomson.

I have fallen deeply in love with this book, and have a strong desire to take it home and sleep with it under my pillow, but alas, it too is part of our heritage and reference collection and can only be read here at Tuam Street.  So I will continue to sit and read in the ANZC area, and use words like alas! a lot.

In early December, 1852, Mrs Thomson tells us that she boarded “the good ship Hampshire at Gravesend, bound direct for the Canterbury settlement.”  Her journal goes on to describe the sea voyage (noting that although there are many fine people aboard, with good hearts and minds, there are also – !!! – many opportunities for sin!)

There are charming anecdotes – she tells the story of a family who brought out an English carriage:  “It was of course utterly useless, and served only for a laughing-stock, so ridiculously out of place did it appear”.  In attempting to land the carriage safely on shore, it instead ended up sunk in the harbour, and after the unfortunate vehicle had been fished up, it was promptly sent off to Sydney instead.

And some references to the early pilgrims’ reaction to what we see as our beautiful landscape:

It is not easy for the early Canterbury pilgrims to forget the desolate appearance presented to their gaze by the plains, when … they stood on top of the hill and looked down and beyond in the distance upon the site of their intended city. Few spots in nature could look more dreary or ugly; they could only comfort themselves by the assurance that it was healthy, and the hope that they might in time become accustomed to its ugliness; and then they looked upon the ever-grand and majestic mountains that bounded the view, and felt that in them, there was a magnificence that could never fail, and that in beholding them, the eye could never tire.

This book is a true treasure, and I can only urge you to go find it yourselves, and perhaps at the same time find your own Canterbury treasures to explore.  I will leave you with Mrs Thompson’s own words

[The author] trusts that the information she has been able to collect may prove useful to those who contemplate a visit to the Antipodes, interesting to those who stay at home, and may, perhaps, tend to open the eyes of all to the many advantages and blessings to be reaped by those who, with strong hearts and willing minds, seek distant shores, to create for themselves, under God’s favour, new homes, new fortunes and new health.

Christchurch 1869: Picturing Canterbury


Christchurch in 1869, nineteen years after its foundation. This view of Gloucester Street gives an excellent idea of what the capital of Canterbury looked like in the very early days.