Gas Mask: Picturing Canterbury

Gas mask. Kete Christchurch. Pearce_family_photos_06.jpg. Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt, CC-BY-NA-SA-3.0 NZ.

One of the Pearce family wearing a WWI gas mask at the Pearce family home on Aikmans Road, Merivale, about 1919.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch & Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Holi – The Festival of Colours – Saturday 4 March 2017

Holi Hai!

With the Holi festival approaching its fourth year of being held in Christchurch, people should no longer be surprised by the sight of respectable adults running around, throwing coloured powder and water at each other in the first week of March.

The first Holi festival held in the Garden City was organised by Hitesh Sharma and Sandeep Khanna of Revel Events, and took place at the Pallet Pavilion on 23 March 2014. The festival has grown in size and popularity since and is now one of the many Indian cultural events which are becoming commonplace on the Christchurch social calendar.

There are food stalls, games and dance performances, all the while coloured powder is continuously being thrown around. Those who are attending are encouraged to wear clothing and shoes which are old (as the colour might not wash out). Sunglasses can help keep the powder out of your eyes. The coloured powder supplied at the event is corn based and non-toxic.

This year the festival will be held on the grass space at 221 Gloucester Street. Entry to the festival is free (though bring money to purchase coloured powder and food!)

Holi

The festival is traditionally celebrated throughout the Indian subcontinent on the last full moon of the Hindu month of Phalgun.

Holi derives its name and origins from a narrative found in the Hindu scripture, Bhāgavata Purāṇa, which tells of the sinful king, Hiranyakashipu. Believing himself to be more powerful than the gods, Hiranyakashipu was angered that his son, Prince Prahlad, who was a devotee of the god Viṣṇu, refused to worship him. Holika, the demoness sister of Hiranyakashipu, who was immune to fire, tried to kill Prahlad by leading him into the flames of a pyre. In order to save his devotee, Viṣṇu manifested in the world as the lion faced avatar, Narasiṃha, and saved Prahlad. This symbolises the victory of good over evil.

Narasimha defeating Hiranyakashipu, as Prahlada watches at the left. Wikimedia Commons.

To celebrate the defeat of Holika, a holika dahan, a bonfire with an effigy of the demoness, is burned on the night before the festival. On the next day, the streets are awash with colour as people of all different ages and communities bombard their friends and strangers with coloured powder and water. People are encouraged to lose their inhibitions. Anyone, at anytime, can suddenly find themselves surrounded and doused with colour. In this way, the festival also represents the putting aside of grievances and the celebration of community.

One game, which is commonly played, involves teams forming a human pyramid to reach a pot of butter which hangs high above the street, while bystanders throw coloured water on them. The game has its origins in the story of Krishna (another avatar of Viṣṇu), who tried to steal butter from Radha and the gopis (female cowherders). The game has featured at previous Holi events in Christchurch.

To prepare yourself for the fun of Holi, watch this scene from the Bollywood film, Mangal Pandey, based on the historical events of 1857.

Also make sure to check out Christchurch City Libraries’ collection of India related material.

The Thug hunter of Cashmere

The back roads of North India’s mofussil in the first half of the nineteenth century were not a place where you would wish to find yourself alone. Not only had the decline of the once mighty Mughal Empire led to instability, but the region had also suffered from the wars between the Marathas and the British East India Company. Poorly maintained, the roads were the haunts of dacoits (robbers) and wild animals.

Yet every year, once the monsoon rains had passed, many were forced to traverse these lonesome highways. Merchants and farmers left their homes to trade in nearby villages. Others departed to undertake pilgrimages to a distant shrines. Sepoys, who had spent the rainy season on leave, would hasten to return to their barracks.

Many never returned home. Having vanished without a trace, their families would spend the rest of their lives wondering what had happened to their loved ones.

John Cracroft Wilson

There are seven witnesses to his good character, and did I not know the loose manner in which all depositions are taken in almost every court…I should be inclined to think him an innocent man.

So wrote John Cracroft Wilson when faced with a prisoner who, by all appearances, seemed an ordinary man. Decades later, while living out his retirement by farming the land which would later become the Christchurch suburb of Cashmere, it is possible that he often reflected on such encounters. For unlike many of his social peers in colonial Christchurch, he had started his career by assisting in the eradication of a murderous practice which had brought misery and devastation to untold Indian families.

Seated portrait of John Cracroft Wilson. Rolleston album 2. Ref: PA1-q-197-22-4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22831683
Seated portrait of John Cracroft Wilson. Rolleston album 2. Ref: PA1-q-197-22-4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22831683

John Cracroft Wilson was born in Madras Presidency, India, in 1802. The son of a British judge, Alexander Wilson, and his wife, Elizabeth, he was later sent to England for his education. There he was schooled at the East India Company College at Haileybury where he would have learned the skills required for a colonial servant in India. In 1826 he furthered his education at Brasenose College, Oxford. He does not appear to have completed his studies, for two years later he married Elizabeth Wall.

Following this he returned to India where he entered into the Bengal Civil Service. It was in this capacity that he was eventually appointed as assistant commissioner to William Sleeman (1788-1856), the district officer in Jubbulpore, and, as a result, drawn into the sinister world of thuggee.

Thug life

Throughout history, the threat of being attacked by bandits has often led to travellers joining together for protection. In India it was no different. Upon arriving at rest houses, travellers would seek out the company of those whose destination also lay along their route. Most often such unions resulted in the traveller safely reaching their journey’s end.

But for the unlucky few, they were marked for death the moment they accepted the offer to join a company of travellers. Confident that there was safety in numbers, they would spend weeks, sometimes even months, sharing the hardships of the road with their newly found companions.

To the unassuming traveller there was nothing extraordinary about their companions. Hindu or Muslim, they appeared no different from the usual farmers, merchants or priests that one might encounter on the road. Yet these men were in fact, thugs, practitioners of a particular form of highway murder known as thuggee.

Thugs differed from regular bandits in that they followed a strict code which regulated how the murder was to be carried out. Thugs would always lure their victim into a false sense of security and then, at a prearranged moment, strangle the victim with a cord. The body was then either buried or disposed of in a well. Anyone could be a victim: man, woman or child, Hindu or Muslim – they did not discriminate.

A groups of Thugs about to strangle a traveller on a highway in India in the early 19th century. Anonymous Indian artist. Made for Capt. James Paton, Assistant to the British Resident at Lucknow, 1829-1840. Wikimedia Commons.
A groups of Thugs about to strangle a traveller on a highway in India in the early 19th century. Anonymous Indian artist. Made for Capt. James Paton, Assistant to the British Resident at Lucknow, 1829-1840. Wikimedia Commons.

Hunting the stranglers

In 1830, it was the regular discovery of these bodies that caused William Sleeman to realise that something more than random highway murder was taking place. He saw these unsolved murders as a chance to raise his profile in the eyes of his superiors. Through methodical investigation, interrogation and meticulous record keeping, he created a policing system that was effective enough to track down the gangs of thugs which were operating in or, at the edge of, British territory in India.

In 1832 Sleeman put Cracroft Wilson in charge of operations in the doab region and made him his representative at Etwah. The role required Cracroft Wilson to carefully investigate those men who were brought before him on charges of thuggee, especially since those who were accused often appeared to be respectable family men and contributing members of society.

Those thugs who were found guilty of murder were summarily executed, while others were transported to the Andaman Islands. Some turned against their fellow thugs by becoming informers. In return for assisting British officials in tracking down their former colleagues, these men escaped the death penalty but would spend the remainder of their lives in prison.

Although they found the crimes of these reformed thugs abhorrent, working in such close capacity with the informers, and recognising that they behaved no different than ordinary men in their daily lives, caused some British officials to develop a strange sense of respect for the former thugs. Cracroft Wilson even commented that one of his informers, Makeen Lodhee, was “one of the best men I have known!”’

Thug prisoners. Wikimedia Commons.
Thug prisoners. Wikimedia Commons.

It was the publication of Sleeman’s report on these criminals and their methods which led to thuggee entering the Western imagination. The thugs were portrayed as a highly organised secret cult, fanatical worshippers of the Hindu goddess Kālī, to whom they sacrificed their victims. Post-colonial scholarship has sought to undo some of these misconceptions but they still remain, as can be found in the ridiculous portrayal of thuggee in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. However, Sleeman’s work on thuggee remains with us today in that the ruthlessness and lack of remorse which these criminals possessed caused the word thug to enter the English language.

By 1840 Sleeman was able to proclaim that thuggee had been removed from Indian society.

John Cracroft Wilson continued to work as a magistrate before taking leave in 1854 to visit Australia and then New Zealand, where he purchased land which would later become the suburb of Cashmere. He would later settle permanently in Christchurch, accompanied by his Indian servants, for whom he built Old Stone House.

Cracroft Wilson was certainly a man with personality flaws. Many in colonial Christchurch considered him to be rude, abrupt, and arrogant. Yet his role in the eradication of thuggee, and thus bringing to justice those men who murdered without any regard for their victims, should not be overlooked.

Find out more

The Victoria Street Ghost

If you were out taking an evening stroll along the streets of north central Christchurch in March 1894 then there is a good chance that you may have seen a ghost.

For that is what a young man named Cunningham initially thought that he had encountered on the night of March 9.

At 11pm Constable Isherwood was performing his evening rounds north of Cathedral Square. Being a Friday, the policeman was no doubt anticipating a night of drunken brawls and other misdemeanours. Yet when he was approached by a panic stricken Cunningham he could not have imagined that the young man would tell him such a bizarre tale.

Shortly before, Cunningham had learned from some children that something frightening was lurking in the grounds of St Matthew’s Church. As he approached the church, a figure clothed in white had suddenly leapt over the fence. At first the figure had proceeded to leap up the street towards a group of people. Then, to Cunningham’s dismay, it turned and bore down on him. His courage failing him, Cunningham did not stay to confront the figure but instead ran in the direction of Cathedral Square.

After telling Isherwood, he was directed by the policeman to give a statement at the nearest station. At first the police may have been sceptical of his claims. Only a week earlier there had been reports of women and children in Opawa being frightened by what they had believed was a ghost but which the local police insisted was simply a case of a girl in a white apron being misidentified. Yet as the police were soon to learn, Cunningham was not the only person to have encountered the strange figure that evening.

Provincial Government Buildings, corner of Durham and Armagh Streets, Christchurch [ca. 1885]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 12, IMG0084.
Earlier, at 9pm, two women had been returning home from a visit to Papanui. Making their way towards the provincial buildings on Durham Street, they had been startled by the appearance of a figure in white. When the figure started to follow them they ran screaming towards Gloucester Street Bridge. There the figure overtook them and blocked their path before escaping into the grounds of the provincial buildings.

An hour later, a number of distressed children residing in Victoria Street had told their mothers that they had seen a ghost. Although these reports were initially dismissed, their mothers were surprised to later learn that there had been some truth to their children’s stories.

The police step in as attacks increase

The matter soon caught the attention of Inspector Thomas Broham. Recognising that someone was purposefully making an effort to disturb the peace, he ordered his men to apprehend the individual.

Inspector Broham, from the Hall-Huston murder case, Timaru. Ref: 1/2-027927-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22721260

The next recorded sighting occurred on March 12. At 8pm two girls, Lizzie Smith and Bella Leith, were sent to deliver a message. As they passed a side street on Papanui Road the figure, now known as “the ghost”, jumped out at them.

On the following evening, at 11pm, Alfred James DeMaus, a machinist who lived on Montreal Street, was walking with several women near the vicinity of today’s Knox Church. DeMaus was already aware of the supposed ghost and after one of the ladies caught sight of a white cloth beneath a nearby tree, he went over to investigate. There he found two young men hiding. DeMaus reprimanded them for their behaviour and in response one of them struck him on the head, knocking him to the ground. His attackers quickly ran off when the women came to his aid.

Corner, Bealey Avenue and Papanui Road, Christchurch [ca. 1915] Muir & Moodie. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0100.
The confrontation with DeMaus did not deter the perpetrator, as the next evening the ghost struck again.

This time the victim was Albert Bellamin, a compositor who lived on Armagh Street. That night, as he walked home, his route took him past a paddock on the corner of Armagh and Madras streets. Nearing the paddock, he saw a figure dressed in white tights and wearing a mask illuminated by phosphorous (a chemical which glows when exposed to oxygen) which, was behaving erratically. Unsettled by the sight, Bellamin crossed the street. The figure, however, leapt out at him and proceed to dance around him in an attempt to prevent him from going on his way. Bellamin tried to force the figure aside but as he did so it grabbed him by the arm and kicked him into a gorse fence. By the time Bellamin had pulled himself out of the hedge the strange figure had vanished.

Hysteria grips the city

The threatening behaviour of the ghost worried Inspector Broham. People were afraid to go out for evening walks. Reports of the attacks were printed in The Press, and with each repetition the stories became ever more fanciful. The ghost was credited with the ability to make unnatural leaps and was said to have been seen in various locations at once. Some of these sightings, which ranged from Opawa to Addington, could no doubt be attributed to nervous people assuming that any figure they saw at night who happened to be wearing an item of white clothing was the ghost.

Another location for sightings of the ghost was Hagley Park. There its victims were often nursemaids and unattended ladies. A pair of lovers, who had met in the park, were also subjected to a terrifying experience. While they had been sitting on a bench the ghost had crept up behind them and thrust its face, with its fiery eyes, between theirs.

The Avon, Christchurch [ca. 1900]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0087.
The pretence of apprehending the ghost was even used by some citizens to commit crime. On March 17, after going home with Annie Davis, Andrew Galletly found that his money was missing. Upon leaving her house, he encountered a man who told him that he was a detective hunting for the ghost. The supposed detective warned him not to lay a complaint against Annie and took Galletly drinking at a hotel on Cashel Street. It was later discovered that the “detective” was a local rogue, John Carey Dudfield, who worked with Annie Davis to commit crime.

By the beginning of April the hunt was for the ghost was still continuing, as Inspector Broham had issued orders for his officers to collect legitimate claims of sightings in order to differentiate them from the embellished tales.

Ghostbusted

After a month of suspense the reports of the ghost suddenly disappeared from the newspapers. People assumed that the police had made an arrest but were puzzled as to why it had not been announced. Then, in a column of the Observer on 28 April 1894, it was revealed the reason for the sudden silence. As well as being the son of a well-known local doctor, the culprit was also a mental patient who had escaped from his carers. The fiery eyes which had given him a supernatural appearance were attributed to the use of rings made out of phosphorous material.

Sunnyside Asylum, Christchurch [1896?]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0095.
We may never know the identity of the perpetrator. It is possible that he was committed to Sunnyside Asylum to prevent any further escapes. Although a few similar ghost scare cases appeared in other South Island towns in the months that followed, the disturbance was not repeated in Christchurch by any imitators. With months of dark winter evenings on the approach, this must have brought relief to both Inspector Broham and the people of Christchurch.

Further reading

The Cashmere Caverns

Imagine a concrete lined room, hazy with cigarette smoke and lit only by a few shaded lamps which hang from the ceiling. In the centre, women in uniform surround a large table, atop of which a map of the Canterbury region is spread. Occasionally one of the women might adjust her headset and then, using a stick similar those wielded by croupiers at gambling tables, move a marker into a new position on the map. From a gallery above, officers look down in silent concentration. A runner enters the room and wordlessly passes a note to one of the officers. Then, from over the radio, a frantic voice breaks the tense atmosphere.

“Godley Battery has fallen. Japanese troops have taken Lyttelton.”

Defence of the South Island

Christchurch. 1942.

For many nights the residents of the hillside suburb of Cashmere had been woken by the sound of blasting accompanied by ground tremors. The war was in its third year and New Zealand was under the threat of an invasion from the Empire of Japan. Throughout most of 1942 black out practices had become a common occurrence in Christchurch. Those living on the hill simply assumed that the military was conducting yet another clandestine operation.

The New Zealand military already had a presence in Cashmere. In July of that year the Government had commandeered Cashmere House, the property of John Frederick Cracroft Wilson, to act as Combined Headquarters Southern Command.

Wilson family house, Cashmere House, exterior, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-004979-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22772645

Built in 1909 to designs by Samuel Hurst Seager, Cashmere House was set in a depression atop the Cashmere Hills. Reached via a long driveway which wound its way up the hill, the house overlooked an expanse of trees, lawns and gardens. Within, the house contained more than thirty rooms, enough to accommodate the different departments of the Air Force, Navy and Army that were required to oversee the defence of the South Island. Yet while it provided adequate office space, a civilian house was not designed to withstand the threat of aerial bombardment, nor was a house of that size likely to remain unnoticed by any invading troops.

In preparation for its war with Germany, Britain had established subterranean control stations so that the nation’s defence could be coordinated during aerial bombardments by the Luftwaffe. Anticipating the Japanese invasion, Southern Command adopted the same approach. No sooner had the military taken over Cashmere House than it started the construction of what was intended to be a secret, underground command bunker.

Construction begins

To the northeast of the house two separate adits (passage tunnels) were dug into the hillside. Throughout the excavation, the soil and rock was taken via a purpose built rail and disposed of in a nearby valley. Initially proceeding southward, the adits then curved westward, so as to offer protection against external explosions. From there the adits opened into a large U shaped chamber which had been excavated from the bedrock.

Entrance to Cracroft caverns, Cashmere by SueC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

Pre-stressed concrete ribs, constructed at a Public Works Department factory at the Birches near McLean’s Island, were used to brace the chamber. To set them in place a specially designed machine was manufactured at a workshop in Temuka. It was not necessary to set all the ribs in place, only those that were needed to stabilise the caverns. As a result most of the walls remained natural rock

Example of concrete ribs used to frame the chambers. Archway and Tunnel Interior, Cracroft Caverns by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

A communications tunnel, intended only for the use of officers, was built to connect the chambers to Cashmere House. The tunnel was accessed from the basement in the house and descended on a slight gradient to the chambers. A ventilation shaft set at the midway point in the tunnel provided fresh air to the chambers. 

Stairs accessed from the inside of Cashmere House. Stairs down into the Cracroft Caverns by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

Grand designs

Initial plans drawn up by the Public Works Department show the extent of the military’s aspirations. The plans show that the northern wing of the chamber was to house an office and separate rooms for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, along with a telephone exchange and cypher room. The southern chamber wing was to house another cypher room and a room for teleprinters. The two wings were connected by a western chamber and a further corridor.

Inside Cracroft Caverns by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

The western chamber was intended to consist of two levels. The northern end would be the combined operations room. The southern end was the plotting room. Ladders would provide access to the upper floor. There, a gallery would allow observers to watch the movement of air force units being co-ordinated on the plotting table. It was proposed that the bunker would also contain kitchens, bedrooms and toilet facilities.

Work on the chambers continued until April 1943 when the war in the Pacific turned against the Japanese and the threat of an invasion was no longer considered a possibility.

Fire and concealment

By the end of 1944 the Army and Navy services had already vacated Cashmere House, leaving only the Air Force to occupy it. In November, plans were arranged for the Air Force to hand the building and its grounds back to the trustees of the Sir J.C. Wilson estate by the start of December. Yet before this could take place, on 12 November 1944 at 11:40pm, the building caught on fire. Although the fire was eventually brought under control, by 2am much of the building had been lost. The cause of the fire was never discovered.

By January 1945 details of the caverns had been leaked to The Press. The resulting article was accompanied by photographs which showed not only the district engineer of the Public Works Department inspecting the interior of the chambers but also the machines used to construct them. As it was still wartime, the defence force refused to discuss the existence of the caverns and no further information was made public. The tunnels were sealed and the owner of the property bulldozed the entrances to discourage any members of the public from attempting to enter them.

Following the conclusion of the war in September 1945 the existence of the caverns soon faded from public memory. Sworn to secrecy, those who had assisted with the construction or who had served as guards at the Cashmere property never spoke openly about what lay hidden beneath the grounds of the former house. As generations passed, even incoming members of the military seem to have remained unaware that such a project had ever been undertaken.

Tunnel in Cracroft caverns by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

A chance discovery

The caverns may have remained hidden from the public for longer were it not for the retirement of a nurse at Princess Margaret Hospital. In 1987, while attending a farewell function being held for his mother, TVNZ reporter Jeff Field was told of the caverns by the hospital gardener.

Intrigued, he visited the Ministry of Defence library where he found the aforementioned Press article. Since he was due to take up a new role, Jeff assigned the investigation to another reporter, Bill Cockram. Following the 1944 fire, a new house had been erected on the site of Cashmere House. Upon visiting the owner, Bill Cockram learned that the building was experiencing problems with drainage. As such, the owner was interested to discover what lay beneath his house and gave Bill permission to proceed with his investigation.

Given that the former grounds of Cashmere House had been redeveloped, the only sign that anything lay hidden beneath was the protruding end of a pipe which marked the location of the ventilation shaft. After breaking the seal with a jackhammer, Bill next contacted Tim Williams of the Canterbury Caving Group. Together, with fellow caver, Bud Chapman, a television crew, and the property owner, they abseiled down the ventilation shaft and entered the caverns.

It was the first time that anyone had done so since they were sealed.

The television crew filmed the experience and the resulting documentary was screened as part of The Mainland Touch. Bill Cockram’s discovery, coupled with the release of the documentary, led to renewed public interest in the caverns. In December 1987 the Heathcote County Council’s planning committee even considered listing the bunker as a historic place.

The university moves in

The University of Canterbury, however, already had a vision for the caverns. Initially their ring laser laboratory which measured variations in the earth’s rotation was set on the top floor of a building on the Ilam campus. Yet such a location meant that the experiments were constantly being disturbed by wind, heat, and the movement of people. After considering the military tunnels in Lyttelton and a seismological station at Gebbies Pass, it was eventually proposed to make use of the caverns.

So it was, for the first time since they were excavated from the earth, the caverns came to be formally occupied. Yet rather than being used to co-ordinate a desperate defence against an enemy invasion, the caverns became a temporary home for numerous PhD students and international scientists who joined together to perform research that might benefit humanity.

University of Canterbury ring laser laboratory. Inside the Cracroft Caverns, November 2002 by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License
Members of the public tour the caverns. Group on a guided tour of the Cracroft Caverns, 2002 by CCCArch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

In 1995 the Christchurch City Council took ownership of the caverns and in the following year the university installed the CII ring laser. The university continued to use the caverns as their laboratory, installing new equipment, and producing new results. Open days were also held for those members of the public who were curious.

Although they were built to withstand the impact of an enemy bombardment, the facility was rendered unsafe by the Canterbury Earthquakes. They have remained closed to the public ever since.

Find out more

110 years ago: The 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition

Today, when you stand at the intersection of Kilmore Street and Park Terrace and look westward across the Avon River you are greeted with the expanse of North Hagley Park. Designated as an arena for special events, the grounds usually remain empty save for the occasional cyclist or runner who might pass by. The only disruption to this tranquil scene is the traffic of Park Terrace.

Yet if you were to have stood in the same location over a hundred years ago, you would have been met by a very different sight. Set before the length of Park Terrace you would have found a gleaming white building styled in the manner of the French Renaissance with towers topped by golden cupolas. From across the river there would have drifted a mixture of noise; music, children shouting, camels growling and even the sounds of an American Civil War battle.

This was the 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition.

An artist's impression of the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-07
An artist’s impression of the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-07, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 8, IMG0093

Opening on 1 November 1906, the exhibition was an opportunity for the Liberal Government, led by Premier Richard Seddon, to proclaim to the world the technological and social achievements that had been developed in New Zealand. By the time the exhibition closed on 15 April 1907 up to two million people had visited, almost twice the population of the entire country.

Welcome to the Exhibition

In a city devoid of high rise buildings, the towers of the exhibition could be seen from across Christchurch, drawing people to its main gate at the end of Kilmore Street. After paying for a ticket and passing beneath a sign which proclaimed “Haere Mai”, visitors would cross a bridge spanning the Avon River. There they would find themselves standing amid carefully planned lawn gardens where they would decide whether to venture into the impressive building before them, or, perhaps if they were accompanied by children, to proceed to the various forms of entertainment that were to be found in the surrounding grounds.

If the grand Italianate façade proved too alluring, then visitors could ascend the front steps to discover what lay within. There, in the foyer, they could ride an electric elevator to the balcony of the southern tower where they were presented with a view of the city. Proceeding through to the Grand Hall, with its domed ceiling set at a height of 90 feet, visitors would enter the main exhibition hall. Here they would find the multitude of exhibits to which the building was dedicated.

The world in Hagley Park

In the machinery hall they could find examples of industrial progress ranging from motor vehicles to ice making machines. The Railway Department exhibit even housed a locomotive engine which had recently been built at the workshops in Addington. In the Department of Tourists and Health Resorts Court, visitors could explore a recreated Rotorua complete with a working geyser, a hot pool and children who would dive for pennies.

Rotorua at the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906/7, Hagley Park, Christchurch [1906?]
Rotorua at the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906/7, Hagley Park, Christchurch
[1906?] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0037
The courts dedicated to other imperial colonies allowed visitors to look upon minerals from Canada or purchase table grapes from Australia. In the Art Gallery they could view an extensive collection of British art or find the inspiration to participate in the Arts and Crafts movement. For those whose interest lay in native flora there was the fernery, a circular room with a green tinted glass ceiling where visitors could stroll amidst eighty different species of New Zealand ferns accompanied by waterfalls and pools of trout.

At the concert hall visitors could listen to performances by an orchestra under the direction of conductor Alfred Francis Hill, while moving pictures, a new form of entertainment, could be viewed in the neighbouring Castle Theatre.

Wonderland on Victoria Lake

Despite the exhibition’s emphasis on trade, industry and social development, the draw card for many visitors was not the exhibits but the amusements that were to be found in the grounds outside the main building. Scattered around the southern and eastern shores of Lake Victoria was a range of side shows and rides collectively called Wonderland.

Victoria Lake and “Wonderland” by night
Victoria Lake and “Wonderland” by night , New Zealand International Exhibition Souvenir, [1906]
The rides included the water chute, a toboggan course, a train designed to look like a dragon, the helter-skelter, a merry-go-round and a gondola which travelled on a pulley rope system. Entering The Pike, visitors were treated to a variety of amusements from penny in the slot machines, the House of Trouble maze, the Rocky Road to Dublin, the Laughing Gallery, to Professor Renno and his Palace of Illusions.

If the visitors were prepared to brave the smell which emanated from a fenced off section of Lake Victoria then there was the opportunity to see seals and penguins which had been imported from Macquarie Island.

Intriguing buildings and structures

One of the largest freestanding buildings constructed for the exhibition, and perhaps the most intriguing, was the Cyclorama. Circular in shape, it featured a 360 degree panoramic painting of the Battle of Gettysburg. Patrons would stand on a display, designed to look like a Civil War battlefield, set in the middle of the room, where they would listen to lectures on the history of the battle, accompanied by visual and sound effects.

Another structure of note was the replica pā, Te Āraiteuru, at the north-western end of Lake Victoria. Surrounded by a palisade, the pā consisted of a wharenui named Ōhinemutu, twenty whare puni, a set of pātaka and a tohunga’s whare. The idea was to convey to visitors a romantic recreation of a ‘lost’ Māori past. Performers were encouraged to wear ‘authentic’ Māori clothing and to cook their food over open fires. In addition to Māori, there were also performers from Fiji (who put on a display of fire walking), Cook Island Māori, and Niueans.

The Maori residents of Te Araiteuru Pa, [1906]
New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-1907 : the Maori residents of Te Araiteuru Pa, with Mr G McGregor of Maxwelltown, Wanganui [1906] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 12, IMG0008
For all their grandeur the buildings were never intended for permanent use. Their deconstruction commenced following the closure of the exhibition in April 1907. Throughout the year the site of the former exhibition still continued to attract visitors as much of the building material retrieved was either sold as firewood or auctioned for reuse. In another instance, crowds gathered to watch as the towers from which they had once looked out over their city were brought crashing to the ground.

One of the few buildings left intact was a prefabricated two storey workers’ cottage, designed by Samuel Hurst Seager and Cecil Wood to showcase the improvements in living and working conditions for workers that had been made by the Department of Labour. Since it was ready for inhabitation, the cottage was relocated and today it now stands at 52 Longfellow Street.

Elements of Te Āraiteuru also managed to survive. The meeting house is now on display at the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, while the carvings, after spending years in storage at Canterbury Museum, were eventually returned to their region of origin, Taranaki. The waharoa or carved gateway now resides at Te Papa Tongarewa.

Wonderland
Wonderland, showing the Water Chute, the Toboggan Slide, the Katzenjammer Castle and the Helter Skelter, Canterbury Times 7 Nov. 1906

Although nothing now remains of the former exhibition, the next time you find yourself standing on the shores of Victoria Lake, pause for a moment to imagine the sights you may have encountered had you stood in the same location on a summer’s afternoon in 1906.

Find out more

Diwali – The Festival of Lights

Do you wish to extend your appetite beyond your usual Indian takeaway order? Perhaps you are intrigued by the rhythmic dance moves which so often feature in Bollywood movies? Or maybe you need to learn some basic Hindi for a friend’s wedding in Mumbai? This week marks the celebration of Diwali. Here at Christchurch City Libraries we have many resources on offer to help you learn more about this auspicious occasion and displays and crafts on at libraries.

Diwali

Diwali or dīpāvali, the festival of lights, is traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs with the rising of the new moon at the end of the month, Ashvin. However, in a country as diverse as India, where people from many different faiths live side by side, the festival is not limited to one particular faith for it represents the victory of light over darkness and the triumph of wisdom over ignorance. Throughout cities and villages the darkness will be symbolically turned back. Clay lamps (diya) will be lit in homes and shops, fireworks will be released into the sky and the streets will be filled with music.

As a result of the Indian diaspora, the festival is now celebrated worldwide. The first Indians to settle in Christchurch arrived in the 1850s with Sir John Cracroft Wilson (though it is possible that Indians working on whaling ships may have visited the region at an earlier date). Although the number of migrants started to grow in the first half of the twentieth century, Diwali celebrations in Christchurch initially remained limited to small community and family events.

In recent years the Indian Social and Cultural Club (ISCC) has been responsible for bringing Diwali to the wider Christchurch community with their Diwali – Indian Festival of Lights event. The first public celebration was held in 2010 at Victoria Square. Since then the festival has been held at Horncastle Arena. Sponsored by Singapore Airlines, it has grown in size and variety. This year’s event is on Saturday 22 October, from 3 to 9pm.

Diwali

For many, a highlight of the Christchurch event are the dance performances. Various local groups, from university student dance clubs to dance companies, whose performances range from traditional to Bollywood fusion, take part. Many of these groups spend months preparing their routines for the event.

Another draw card is the variety of food available. Tired of tikka masala? Then try street stall food such as pav bhaji and aloo chaat. Sweets are also an important part of Diwali. Make an effort to track down gulab jamun (dumplings soaked in a sugary rose water syrup), or barfi (sweetened milk mixed with pistachios and left to set).

While at the festival you will hear many different languages being spoken. In fact, there are 122 major languages and 1599 minor languages to be found in India. However, Christchurch City Libraries can prepare you for this challenge. All Christchurch City Libraries users are free to use Mango Languages to learn a range of Indian languages including Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

Diwali Festival 2015
Diwali Festival, Horncastle Arena, 24 October 2015. Flickr Diwali-2015-IMG_0873.jpg

Christchurch City Libraries has prepared a list of selected titles, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as a selection of movies and audio CDs, which can offer an introduction to the vibrant cultures of India.

  • Find resources about Diwali in our collection
  • Read about Diwali in the World Book Reference Centre
  • View Diwali photos in our Flickr collection.