In June 1917, the new tea house at the summit of Dyer’s Pass was officially opened.
“The new house at Dyer’s Pass, now half an hour’s walk from the tram terminus, appears destined to be known just as the Rest House, although in some quarters it is called the Toll House. It is a tea house unique in New Zealand.” (Star, 9 June 1917)
The building, designed by Samuel Hurst Seager, was described in the Star as “An inviting flight of red stone steps leads to the entrance, an open porch, with big plate-glass windows at each end. Across the porch is a deep jarrah beam, bearing the quaint carved inscription:-”
Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,
And merrily hent the stile-a,
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a
The Sign of the Kiwi, as it would later be known, was the third of four rest-houses that had been envisaged by Harry Ell as part of the Summit Road Scenic Reserve scheme. Unlike the other rest-houses, the Sign of the Kiwi, was planned to include a toll-house with the collected tolls going towards the construction of the remainder of the road. The Kiwi also provided tearooms, which Harry’s wife, Ada, took over managing in 1920. The collection of tolls and the management of the tearoom attracted some controversy and Harry would often write to the local papers letting his feelings be known about this subject.
In the 1940s the building was closed by the Department of Lands and Survey with responsibility for it being handed over to the Christchurch City Council after 1948. The building was then used as a custodian’s house and modified so that the only public access was to the porch. In 1989 the council began restoration of the Sign of the Kiwi to its original state and it was opened again as a refreshment and information centre.
The building was damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake but after undergoing repairs it was reopened in January 2017.
Read more about the Sign of the Kiwi, Harry Ell and the Summit Road.
Christchurch has been making news recently for its fantastic street art, but our city holds many more artistic treasures that are not so easily seen by the majority of our residents.
This week this will change! South Library is privileged to be hosting Multicultural Expressions of Islamic Art, an exhibition of items and images that belong to the multicultural Muslim community in Christchurch. The exhibition will be running from Sunday 2 April to Sunday 9 April.
Ruqayya and Nick, a couple of the trustees from CMCT, kindly answered a few questions about the display.
How does Islamic art differ from the art forms normally seen in Christchurch?
Islamic arts are quite distinctive and they are not restricted to paintings, sculptures or even religious objects as you would expect in other traditions. The idea is that art should be incorporated into everyday life.
There is a quote that sums up this concept, basically that as ‘Islam is integral to every part of a Muslim’s life and makes it beautiful, so [too] Islamic art should be used to make the things of everyday life beautiful’ (Z. Hussain). So most of the objects we’ve included in this exhibit are items that we use to decorate our homes.
What are some of the basic concepts of Islamic art?
The basic concepts of Islamic art transcend time and space, as well as differences in language and culture, but there are also regional differences in interpretation. The Muslim community in Christchurch includes over 40 different ethnic groups so we hope to show some of that difference in diversity.
We have grouped items into four broad categories: Architectural Arts, Calligraphy and Written Arts, Textile Arts, and Decorative Arts.
Calligraphy is a major art form that is used to decorate buildings and everyday objects, but geometry and vegetal or floral patterns are also common themes. These are represented in all four of the categories.
[images supplied, copyright CMCT)
What are some of the items that will be on display? How were they selected?
To start with we didn’t really know what items people would have, so we put out a general request for anything that had special meaning for them or represented traditional arts encompassing an Islamic aesthetic. It has been really interesting to see what turned up!
We will be showcasing displays of calligraphy. We have several examples of a verse from the Qur’an produced in embroidery, wood carving, carpet and papyrus painting. There are also photographs showing Islamic designs in architecture and henna art as well as modern art.
In the display cabinets, we will group items according to their use so there will be a section on textiles with examples from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Maldives. Also, beautifully decorated metalwork, traditional jewellery and even examples of incense burners and Arabic coffee pots, as well as many other items.
What motivated CMCT to put on this display?
Muslims are often in the news for all the wrong reasons so one of our motivations was to show a different side to Islam. We want to emphasise some of the beauty and diversity in Islam. It is also a fantastic opportunity to educate the wider public about some of the items that have meaning to us. We have prepared some posters and short descriptions to help people understand more about the objects on display.
CMCT were fortunate to obtain some funding from the Creative Communities grant which is covering the costs of setting up the exhibition. It has helped to bring the community together to collect and produce some of the items on display. We have some very talented people out there and we’ve had a lot of fun putting it all together.
The items will be on display in three main areas of South Library. Photos, paintings, calligraphy and wall hangings will be displayed along the far wall; household objects including metalwork, ceramics, textiles, personal items and religious items will be housed in the glass display window. Check out the foyer display for posters explaining more about the different categories.
The queue had started long before the official opening at 8pm and while they waited the crowd was entertained by musical selections from the Lyttelton Marine Band. The Deputy Mayor, J.T. Morton, started the official proceedings, apologising for the absence of the Mayor, Mr Radcliffe, who had been unable to be present due to illness. Mr O.T.J Alpers on behalf of the directors, spoke next, remarking on moving pictures being a great source of education, especially in war-time.
And then the films began rolling…a wild life film, followed by a humorous study entitled “When in Rome” and then the main attraction, a drama, “The Deep Purple”.
So began the life of the Harbour Lights Picture Theatre when it was officially opened on 20th March 1917.
Situated at 24 London Street it was built in 1916, reputedly designed by John and Maurice Guthrie. Arthur William Lane had purchased the land in June 1916, transferring the title to Lyttelton Pictures Ltd in September. Mr Lane would be the theatre’s first manager.
Two storeys high, with a mezzanine floor, the theatre could seat 550 people in both stalls and circle. Initially just films were screened but in 1920 the building was extended and a stage erected to accommodate theatre performances, the first one “The N.Z. Diggers” opening on the 4th December. The theatre was now able to be used for performances, concerts, public talks and other social events as well as screening films.
Over the years the Harbour Lights went through a number of changes including building damage when the clay bank at the rear of the theatre collapsed into the stage extension in 1925. The main building escaped unscathed so film screenings continued but the stage was out of action for some time. Talking pictures arrived in April 1930, and attendance at the theatre continued to be a regular social activity for the townspeople. In the 1940s the theatre was advertised for sale or lease but ownership only changed in the 1960s when Lang Masters took over running the cinema and again in 1972 when Leo Quinlivan took over the building and after a major refurbishment reopened it as a theatre. In 1980 it was once again a cinema when Frederick E. Read, a film librarian, took over ownership.
The 1980s saw a squash court added, the auditorium stripped, the building turned into a restaurant, and then a night club. By 1992 it had evolved into a licensed entertainment and function venue and it continued to operate as such until the earthquake in February 2011.
In April 2011 the Harbour Light Theatre was demolished.
To be known as a graduate of Canterbury College was a mark of prestige for many a young Cantabrian in the first half of the twentieth century. The respect that came with a degree awarded by the institution meant that many could look forward to future filled with social and career progress.
However, for some of their contemporaries, there was another form of institutional graduation, one that often condemned them to a life of social exclusion and failure to gain employment. Known as ‘graduates of the hill’, they still considered themselves lucky. The less fortunate never graduated.
Tuberculosis (or TB) is a disease caused by bacteria which attacks the lungs. Transmitted from victim to victim via droplets, it is often dispersed through coughing. Today, the disease is treated through antibiotics, a process which takes six to nine months. However, before the 1960s the main form of treatment was rest and exposure to sunlight and fresh air. In addition to this, patients also underwent operations where the diseased lung was temporarily or permanently collapsed. The latter, thoracoplasty, was greatly feared by patients, as it often resulted in deformities and mutilation. Such surgeries were eventually succeeded by anti-tuberculosis chemotherapy and advances in the development of antibiotics.
Although Nurse Sibylla Maude had initially established a tent based tuberculosis sanatorium in Wainoni in the early years of the twentieth century, the disease was deadly enough to warrant the need for a permanent facility in Christchurch. Eventually a site was chosen on a hillside at the edge of the Cashmere estate, on land that was donated by the Cracroft-Wilson family.
The foundation stone for the first sanatorium building to be constructed was laid on 20 March 1907. Designed by the architectural firm, Hurst, Seager and Wood, the building was built at an elevation which allowed it to escape the pollution of the city. The first patients were admitted as early as 1910. The sanatorium was initially managed by Dr. George Blackmore, who lived in a grand brick house situated on the hillside below the main building. The patients were housed in ‘shelters’, small sheds on the hillside that remained open to the elements in order to maximise air flow. Nearby stood the porter’s hostel and morgue, the latter inspiring a young porter, James K. Baxter, to pen a poem entitled The Morgue.
The next building to be constructed was Coronation Hospital. Situated at the foot of the hill, and named in honour of the coronation of King George V, it was officially opened on 3 June 1914. This section of the complex came to be known as the lower sanatorium, and that of the main building and shelters, came to be called the middle sanatorium.
Further up the hill, overlooking the middle sanatorium, was the nurses’ home. Built in 1917, the building provided the necessary accommodation for the women who diligently cared for the patients. However, it was a cheerless place to reside, consisting of long corridors that echoed ominously and cold rooms with no heating.
At the summit of the hill was the military sanatorium, which opened in 1919 for soldiers who had returned from the war with tuberculosis. In 1925, with many of the soldier’s discharged, this became the civilian men’s sanatorium. However, in 1928 there were still some soldiers left who had spent the last ten years recovering. Known as the upper sanatorium, it closed in 1932.
To the east of the military sanatorium, near where Major Aitken Drive joins Huntsbury Ave, was another facility which consisted of the fresh air home for children of patients, opened in 1923, and a school (1926).
The sanatorium complex was largely avoided by the general public, to the extent that people were unwilling to build houses nearby, or send their children to play with the doctor’s children, for fear of catching the disease.
The life of a patient
Often the first symptom was an irritable cough, followed by weight loss, excessive sweating and exhaustion. After being admitted, a patient would often spend the first six months of their stay at the sanatorium bedridden. Patients had to rest, sitting up only to eat or carry out other daily functions. Regardless of the season or the weather, the rooms in which they were housed were kept open to the elements. If progression was made, the patient was then allowed to spend half an hour out of their bed. The amount of time they could spend outside of their bed would increase, until a patient may be allowed to visit their home once a fortnight. Eventually they would be allowed to return home.
However, like a prisoner on probation, the patient was still required to undergo regular check-ins and assessments. They were expected to live a quiet and restful life. The fear of relapse and return to the sanatorium, or even death, was always present. Many found themselves ostracised by former friends and jobless, with employers unwilling to take them on for fear of them still being contagious. The longest resident patient at the sanatorium had a stay of twenty one years (1937 to 1958).
As the 1950s drew to a close, the sanatorium was rendered obsolete. The development of new drugs and vaccines meant that the number of patients had been on the decline for the past decade. The last patient to recover was discharged in 1960. Following this, the open air shelters where the patients had lived were removed and many found a new purpose as garden sheds or sleep outs in the backyards of Christchurch. The fresh air home and school was renamed the Huntsbury Children’s Home, and continued to operate until 1971. Coronation Hospital was converted into a hospital for geriatrics until 1991, when the age of the building and health care budgets forced it to close.
Following the closure of Coronation Hospital, the construction company, Fulton Hogan, demolished the last of the sanatorium buildings and started the development of what was to become the Broad Oaks subdivision.
Although the sanatorium was seen by the general public as a place of death and despair, Dr. Blackmore was adamant that the sanatorium would be ‘an atmosphere of cheerfulness and hope’. Despite his stern and reserved demeanour, he cared strongly for his patients, and was an advocate for their right return to society as contributing members, not outcasts.
At a time when there was no proven cure for tuberculosis, hope was all the patients had.
Find out more
Photograph albums with 70 assorted photographs of the Cashmere Sanatorium, Fresh Air School, Fresh Air Home and Coronation Hospital taken between 1913 and 1933.
Located near Palm Springs, Sunnylands was the palatial home of philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Created out of barren desert, Sunnylands is now a huge, palatial masterpiece of over the top opulence. No detail was too small – carpets, furniture, and china were all specially made, luscious gardens formed, and a golf course created.
Luckily for us all, aspects of the house and grounds are beautifully represented in this sumptuous book. But along with the fabulousness of the place was also the fabulousness of the people who visited. Guests were carefully chosen for each weekend. Once they arrived and were housed in the various rooms in the guest wing, where they would be provided with a written potted history of the other guests’ achievements and interests. Seating arrangements for the lavish dinners were carefully chosen so that conversation would flow smoothly. Activities for the weekend were outlined and a jolly time was had by all.
A magnificent book if you like to delve into life as you will never know it, beautifully photographed and enough written material and social history to make you feel a little less voyeuristic.
Edward Bawden was an English painter, illustrator and graphic artist, known for his prints, book covers, posters, and garden metalwork furniture.
Scrapbooks – by the delightfully named Peyton Skipwith – is a compendium of ephemera that Bawden has collected for more than 55 years. There seems little rhyme or reason to most of it, drawings of stage design are interspersed with Christmas cards, newpaper cuttings, invitations and cigarette cards. The colour reproductions are quite beautiful, especially the drawings and graphic works of Bawden, and most pages have interesting notes about where the particular pieces may have originated and some background information to try and make sense of the seeming randomness of it all. The is a lovely book to dip into and gives you a great insight into the life and times of a prolific and talented artist.
We received some outstanding entries – images of street scenes, family occasions, old buildings and homes, and Cantabrians living everyday life. Submitted photographs covered a range of eras from the 19th century all the way up to post-quake Christchurch. These are now available for all to enjoy as part of Kete Christchurch.
The Judges, local photographer Doc Ross and Tim Veling Senior Lecturer in Photography at the School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury, have chosen the winners in three categories ‘Your People – How we lived’, ‘Places – Your landmarks in time’ and an overall winner. They also selected several entries as Highly commended. The prize for overall winner is a Samsung tablet. The People and Places winners each receive a Kobo eReader.
Library staff from the Digital Content team also selected two Staff Pick winners.
Both judges, in selecting the winners, reflected on the poignancy that older photos of Christchurch now carry, as Doc Ross explains, “Looking through the photographs and knowing from first-hand experience that the city has to a great degree disappeared the photographs were a pleasing reminder that whilst a physical city may change the social city always remains. Looking at a series of photographs like those entered into the competition reminds us how important documenting society and our personal history is. As is the case now in Christchurch with much of the city gone it is only retrospectively that we realise this.”
Tim Veling also found much that was recognisable in the submitted photos – “…looking through the entries of the Photo Hunt competition I saw aspects of myself reflected back at me. The photographs submitted depicted people I didn’t know personally and places I might not have had the privilege of seeing with my own eyes, but they all looked familiar. I guess it was a moment of recognition that we are all shaped by the culture and community that surrounds us. In a broad sense, we are all family.”
Entry by Isabel Tweedy – Victoria Square by Night, 1959.
Judge’s comments: “…photographically it was well seen and composed, an aesthetically pleasing picture to look at, but when seen now many years later it becomes a stark reminder of what we once had and perhaps also an indicator of where we can go. Seeing what is now vacant land as it once was, vibrant and life filled, that will eventually be a convention centre, should remind us how important the decisions we make now are. Obviously this was not in the mind of the photographer at the time but this is the ongoing often unrecognised power of the photograph.” Doc Ross
“…I couldn’t help but think of how much has changed in Christchurch since the quakes; what is still changing and the public backlash against a proposed redevelopment of the square gardens and convention centre.” Tim Veling
Entry by Jill Hodgkinson, Holt family Home, 48 Horotane Valley.
Judges’ comment: “photographs of the Holt Family Home…had me dreaming of summers spent by the pool in my original home of Blenheim, sunbathing and family trips to the beach. As I write this now in the middle of November, rain is pelting down outside and not even a good cup of coffee could warm me up, but looking at these photographs I see some hope for a magical shift in the weather.” Tim Veling
Name withheld, Decorated bikes (1962-1963)
Judges’ comment: “The photograph of children dressed up in costume on the way to a school play – lace curtains carefully tied up in the window behind them – made me think about my own childhood dressing up with my mother and our performing in school plays together.” Tim Veling
Judges’ comment: “A young, newly wed soldier and wife standing on a beach had me thinking about the extraordinary sacrifices ordinary men and women made for the sake of our freedoms, and how these sacrifices continued to shape people’s lives, long after people returned home from war to loved ones and family – the physical gap between the couple is almost painful to look at in this regard.” Tim Veling
Judges’ comment: “The views looking South and North from the Christ Church Cathedral lookout resonated with me for several reasons. For one, each view depicts a Christchurch that I never knew (I moved here in 1991, age 11,) but also because it is a taken from a vantage point that no longer exists, but that rests in the consciousness of all who appreciate Christchurch’s architectural heritage and spiritual heart.”
Staff comments: “There were so many great photographs to choose from this year and we all had our favourites – because the photograph evoked memories of places no longer here, or memories of childhood, or showed people at work and play – great photographs of people on trips, at the beach, at the speedway, sunbathers, good friends, lost homes, family visits, bands and parades.
Our team chose the following images as our Staff Picks because they capture a glimpse of industrial Christchurch in the post war era, and Christchurch was a manufacturing city.”
Name withheld, Beadweld Engineering, 20 Welles Street 
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.