Home > The Fabric of Christchurch 1850 - 1880 > Drainage, Water Supply & Waste Disposal
Go to home page - Christchurch Online.
Skip navigation

In February 1857 Archdeacon Octavius Mathias writes to the Provincial Secretary complaining that inadequate drainage by the Bricks is impeding burial parties at the Barbadoes Street cemetery.

Archives Reference

CH 287 CP11 ICPW, item 144/1857

1859 Petition and plan from residents with properties adjacent to Frees Creek complaining about drainage.

Archives Reference

CH 287 CP20 ICPW, item 938/1859

Specifications for contract for clearing the Avon of watercress. Letter from Secretary of Public Works to contractor requesting report on progress.

Archives Reference

CH 287 CP21 ICPW, item 44/1860

Report of committee of Municipal Council on the introduction of swans to control watercress on the Avon, October 1864.

Archives Reference

CH 343/48a item 109. Committee Reports, Christchurch City Council

Letter from Provincial Secretary to Town Clerk offering assistance of the Provincial Geologist, on the matter of artesian wells, November 1862.

Archives Reference

CH 343/6a item 97. Inward Letters, Christchurch Municipal Council

Excerpts for a report to the Town Clerk from the Geological Survey Office, January 1863.

Archives Reference

CH 343/6c item 1. Inward Letters, Christchurch Municipal Council

Report of the Council Committee on the current system of pan-water closets in use in the City, October 1863.

Archives Reference

CH 343/48a item 88. Committee Reports, Christchurch City Council

Letter from Samuel Collett to the Mayor and Council complaining about the requirement to replace his cesspool with an earth closet.

Archives Reference

CH 343/50a item 12. Committee Reports, Christchurch City Council

Minutes and published report of the Sanitary Commission, April 1864.

Archives Reference

CH 343/61a item 3. Municipal Council. Inspector of Nuisances. Outwards Letters and Reports

Report of Inspector of Nuisances, September 1863.

Archives Reference

CH 343/61a item 37. Municipal Council. Inspector of Nuisances. Outwards Letters and Reports

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. The poor drainage was not simply an inconvenience, it was a public health hazard and a major contributor to the relatively high death figures in the city, in which water-borne diseases were a significant factor. Concerns about the drainage and disposal of waste were a major consideration in the establishment of the Municipal Council in 1862.

The Provincial Government built several large drains to help remove surface water and prevent flooding and when the city council took over responsibility within the Town Belts in 1862 a Sanitary Commission was set up almost immediately to report on the problem and recommend solutions. Although a system of stone channels to carry surface water into the Avon and underground pipes to remove household slops was recommended, a lack of money meant that little real progress was made beyond the levelling of streets and construction of side channels.

Lack of cooperation between the City Council and the Roads Boards responsible for the areas outside of the Town Belts made it clear that no solution to the city's drainage problems could be found until a common plan was adopted for the whole of what is now the Greater Christchurch area. A Christchurch District Drainage Board was established by an act of Parliament in 1875 to deal with the disposal of surface water, waste water and sewage for that land draining toward the Estuary.

The various responsible authorities also fought a continuous struggle to keep the Avon river clear for both navigation and for drainage purposes.

With so much water about, the acquisition of an assured supply of potable water was still an issue for early residents. The Avon and various pools were used by the townspeople to supplement rainwater and soon wells were dug to tap into underground supplies. The Council experimented with deeper artesian wells from 1863 and public wells complete with troughs, drinking fountains and pumps were set up within the city. Windmills appeared in nearly every property's yard as private wells were sunk. The reticulation of high pressure water from Council wells and pumping station, although proposed in the 1870s, did not arrive until the early 20th century.

The disposal of sewage was another problem tackled by the new City Council. Unlined cesspools in such swampy land were a recipe for a public health disaster and the uncontrolled disposal of household slops only added to the problems. The Council attempted to ease the problem by implementing the use of closet pans within an area of the central city (the 'cess-pan district') and appointing a night-soil collector who collected the pans fortnightly and dumped the contents outside of the city boundary (the cause of continuing complaint from the residents and Roads Boards controlling the areas concerned). The Council also permitted within the area the use of water-tight cesspools. In 1864 the Council placed an order for 1,000 night-soil pans and sold them to residents. Night soil was to be carried to the area of sandhills later occupied by the sewage treatment plant. The Drainage Board's plan for the underground piping of both sewage and stormwater was not implemented until the late 1870s.