Richard Greenaway is an expert on the local history of Christchurch. Some of you might have been on one of his fascinating cemetery tours. He has an eye for a good story and the skill and patience to check and cross check all kinds of references. He has compiled a wonderful array of New Brighton stories. This one concerns Bligh’s Gardens which operated in New Brighton from the 1880s.
Bligh’s Gardens were established at an area on the Avon below Withell’s Island and on Evans Avenue. They were established as pleasure grounds by John Bligh (1838-96). John was a cook, restaurant owner and temperance hotel keeper. His hotel was near the Salvation Army citadel site in town. He also owned a large property at Blighs Road. When he decided to create the gardens, he brought plants and soil down the Avon in small craft. More detail of John’s enterprises can be read in the story of his hardworking wife Susannah an unsung heroine whose life was recorded by Richard.
Conifers were planted, garden walks laid out, a playing field formed, and house erected. Sailing clubs, families and business groups picnicked at Bligh’s Gardens, while conservationists enthused about how John had made the desert ‘blossom as the rose’.
Susannah was briefly involved in John’s apparent success. In 1885 picnic parties were encouraged to camp at Bligh’s Gardens where ‘Mr Bligh’s family will hospitably provide hot water &c’.
John Bligh had the picnic grounds in 1880s-90s but they were not a financial success. Later owners included the Suckling and Straw families. The land was broken up 1923. A remnant of land, still referred to as Bligh’s Gardens, was in the news last year as the site of the removal of 60 earthquake damaged trees.
NZ truth described John Bligh and his activities.
But it was at Bligh’s genteel boarding house that the corner house and adjoining premises passed through their roaring days. Jack Bligh was an American and one of the best cooks that ever put a pie in an oven; also his first missus was a splendid business manager, a circumstance that had a marked influence on the Bligh fortunes which rose as the years fluttered past.
The reign of the Blighs must have been somewhere between 1862 and ’84 and the name was a household word throughout the length and breadth of New Zealand …. It was the ideal hash house … and was the resort of honeymoon couples for whose convenience special bridal chambers were provided ….
… Poor old Bligh speculated not wisely and with disaster. He bought a fine property at Papanui and Blighs Road perpetuates his memory in that district …. A magnificent scheme of gardens at New Brighton cost him upwards of three thousand pounds. He even carted soil from the city to make these handsome grounds and the venture about settled him financially. [The second] Mrs. Bligh struggled along after her husband’s failure and death but evil times fell upon her and she … left the historic buildings.
Church register transcript material on the Blighs:
This traces the sad history of John and Laetitia’s children.
Bligh, Susannah Letitia, b 18 March 1871, baptised 18 May 1871, daughter of John, cook, and Susannah nee Owens of St. Luke’s; the parents were the godparents. The Rev. E. A. Lingard of St. Luke’s Anglican church, officiated.
Susannah Laetitia Bligh, 10 months, daughter of John, cook, and Susannah Bligh of St. Luke’s, Christchurch, buried 1 February 1872 in the Anglican section of the Barbadoes Street Cemetery. The Rev. Edward Atherton Lingard officiated.
Theodore Rupert Bligh, born 17 August 1873, baptised 26 December 1873, son of John, lodging-house keeper, and Susannah nee Owens of Whately Road. The Rev. Edward Atherton Lingard officiated. Child died.
Theodore Rupert Bligh, 10 weeks, son of John, restaurant keeper, and Susanna Bligh of Whately Road, buried 6 January 1874 in the Anglican section of the Barbadoes Street Cemetery. The Rev. Edward Atherton Lingard officiated.
Susanna Bligh, 41, residence New Brighton, wife of John Bligh, was buried on 9 February 1888 at All Saints’ churchyard, Burwood.
Bligh, John, 45, widower, gentleman, b Liverpool, residence New Brighton, usual residence New Brighton, son of John, farmer, and Julia nee Donley married 23 May 1888, Holy Trinity, Avonside
Williamson, Kate, 25, spinster, – , b Shetland, residence Christchurch, usual residence – , daughter of John, farmer, and Andriana nee Williamson; witnesses, John Williamson, Olliviers Road, Linwood, farmer; Mary E. Williamson. The Rev. W. A. Pascoe officiated.
Louisa Mary Bligh, b 10 October 1893, baptised 3 December 1893, daughter of John, restaurant keeper, and Kate nee Williamson of Victoria Street. The parents, Florrie Bligh and Mary L. Pursey were the godparents. The Rev. Edward Atherton Lingard officiated at St. Luke’s.
John Bligh, 58, boarding house proprietor, residence Christchurch, was buried on 27 December 1896 at All Saints’ churchyard, Burwood.
- Brighton standard
- Church register transcripts, Christchurch City Libraries
- Greenaway, Richard, Unsung heroines, 1994
- Mosley, M., Illustrated guide to Christchurch and neighbourhood, 1891
- Murphy, Michael, ‘Possibilities of New Brighton’, New Zealand country journal, 1891
- NZ truth, 1 August 1908 p 5
- Strongman, Thelma, Gardens of Canterbury : a history, 1984
The library has some great photographs of New Brighton capturing its life as one of New Zealand’s premier seaside suburbs, full of life and character. New Brighton residents have been good at recording their local history and the place has inspired novels and biographies.