Johnson’s Fishponds, the Aquarium at 105 Clarendon Terrace, Opawa: Picturing Canterbury

Johnson’s Fishponds, the Aquarium at 105 Clarendon Terrace, Opawa [ca. 1900]. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0038.
Johnson’s Fishponds, the Aquarium at 105 Clarendon Terrace, Opawa [ca. 1900].

In 1875 Andrew Mensal Johnson (d. 1916) established a fish hatchery and aquarium at Opawa, on the south bank of the Heathcote River, calling it Troutdale Farm. It became popular as a picnic grounds until it closed in the early 1930s. For further information about Johnson and his work see:

Do you have any photographs of Opawa? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.

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

Johnson’s Fishponds, The Aquarium At 105 Clarendon Terrace, Opawa

Christmas in the backyard, 1958: Picturing Canterbury

Christmas in the backyard, 1958. Kete Christchurch. PH13-410. Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

“A family Christmas in our back yard in Opawa. I am showing off my new scooter, my sister Jenny has a cane dolls pram and my cousin Wayne has a carpentry set. I can’t see what his brother Chris has. My dad has obviously just painted the shed as I can see the ‘wet paint’ sign propped against it.”

Date: 1958

Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt.

Do you have any photographs of Christmas in Canterbury? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.

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

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

Photo Hunt October: Interior of Terminus Convenience Store, Opawa, 1980s

Interior of Terminus Convenience Store
Entry in the 2012 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt. PH12, img104, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Interior of Terminus Convenience Store, 134 Opawa Road, sometime between April 1986 and April 1989. Italian owner behind counter.

Christchurch City Libraries has been running an annual Photo Hunt in conjunction with the city’s Heritage Week since 2008.  The 2016 Photo Hunt is running again from 1 – 31 October. During the month of October we will be posting a series of images from earlier Photo Hunts.

Enter the 2016 hunt online or at your local library.

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

Photo Hunt October: Excello Service Station, 1930

 Excello Service Station..
Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt. Kete Christchurch PH13-344. CC-BY-ND-SA CC3.0 NZ.

Excello Service Station, 1930, corner Wilsons Road and Shakespeare Road, Opawa. Now a car sales.

Today is the 100th anniversary of Opawa becoming part of Christchurch City.

Christchurch City Libraries has been running an annual Photo Hunt in conjunction with the city’s Heritage Week since 2008.  The 2016 Photo Hunt is running again from 1 – 31 October. During the month of October we will be posting a series of images from earlier Photo Hunts.

Enter the 2016 hunt online or at your local library.

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