Home > The Fabric of Christchurch 1850 - 1880
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The various authorities governing Christchurch from its first settlement in 1850 until 1880 spent a good deal of time considering how to facilitate proper communications within the boundaries of the city, and reaching out to its provincial hinterland, including West Canterbury, and to the outside world.

Drainage, Water Supply & Waste Disposal:

As Christchurch was built on low-lying swampy land crossed by a river and numerous creeks and menaced by a larger river to the north, it was no wonder that drainage and waste disposal was seen as a major function of the provincial and municipal governments.

Street Lighting:

The first official street lighting in Christchurch came after the establishment of the Municipal Council, with the placing of a kerosene lamp by Market Place (Victoria Square) bridge.

Public Spaces:

The first city planners had made provision for a number of squares and parks, but these only gradually became the city amenities we know today.


A Planting Committee was set up almost immediately by the new Municipal Council and delivered recommendations on how the public spaces of the city should be planted.

Public Buildings:

The Provincial Government was responsible for the construction, alteration and maintenance of a significant number of public buildings ranging from the impressive Government Buildings with their stone council chamber to the Christchurch Hospital and Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum.

The Fabric of Christchurch 1850 - 1880

The Canterbury settlers chose to try and establish an English city on what was regarded as a swampy wilderness, and to impose an English townscape on an alien landscape. Through the agents of the Canterbury Association, and then through the work of their elected Provincial Government and City Council, they set about trying to provide those things necessary wherever any large group of people choose to live together: not simply government, law, and order, but also roads and bridges, drainage, waste disposal, lighting, public spaces, and public amenities such as might be found in any British community of the same period. To bring the order of a distant Home out of the 'chaos' of their immediate colonial reality, the governing authorities and private individuals or groups worked to re-create a European town.

Colonial necessity ensured that those authorities played a larger role than they would have at Home. First came the Canterbury Association, which administered the area containing Christchurch as a kind of fiefdom under the distant colonial government based in Auckland. Then came the Canterbury Provincial Government 1853 - 1877, and from 1862, municipal local government under the Christchurch City Council ('Municipal Council' until 1868) whose responsibilities reached only as far as the Town Belts (today's four avenues). Their extant archives, held at the Christchurch Office of Archives New Zealand, provide glimpses of the early development of the city through the largely unglamorous but essential work of forming the roads, providing street lighting, setting down rules for the disposal of waste, building bridges, building public buildings, ensuring a clean water supply and so on.

By the end of this period their work had settled communications with the port of Lyttelton and throughout the province through the construction of railway and tunnel, provided instantaneous communications within the Province and to the North Island through telegraph lines, set aside large areas of land for public recreation, changed the course of the lower reaches of the Avon, instituted the beginnings of a proper drainage and waste disposal system, lit the central city, provided public hospitals and schools, planted the open spaces with trees and generally established Christchurch as a regional centre.