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As products and exponents of the Wakefield theory of planned settlement, it is little wonder that the Canterbury Association, and later the Canterbury Provincial Government, spent a lot of effort on screening and documenting prospective immigrants to Canterbury.

Planning Canterbury

The planning and organising of the Canterbury Provincial Government helped to establish in the region the infrastructure that is still clearly visible today. The images that follow come predominantly from the Office of Public Works of the Provincial Government.


When gold was discovered on that part of the west coast of the Middle Island controlled by the Canterbury Provincial Government - known then as West Canterbury - the authorities in Christchurch had to find a safe route to the Coast and establish civil administration on the goldfields.

The Telegraph

The spread of the telegraph resulted in new government development programmes. New buildings, infrastructure and staff were needed to run the telegraph system. More than that though, and just like email over a 100 years later, the telegraph brought with it new modes of administration, record keeping and government process.


The Christchurch office of Archives New Zealand holds the archives of many local educational institutions, including the Provincial Board and Department of Education, the Canterbury Education Board, the Department and the Ministry of Education and many individual primary schools. Within those archives is information relating to many other schools and institutions throughout the South Island.

Cracroft Caverns

In the early months of 1942 the Cracroft-Wilson homestead on Cashmere Hills was taken over and adapted for use as a combined military headquarters and a series of large chambers excavated underground to provide protection for headquarters staff for extended periods.

Ballantynes Fire

The Ballantynes Department Store has been a Christchurch shopping institution for generations. Even in today's world of malls and ebay, it retains its reputation and prestige as the quality store of the city. For this reason, the Ballantynes fire on 18 November 1947 was all the more shocking.

Nuclear New Zealand

New Zealand has not always been nuclear free. Not only was nuclear material regularly transported through Lyttelton from Antarctica, but during the 1960s plans were well advanced for the construction of a nuclear power station just outside Auckland.

Erebus: Flight TE 901

At 12.49 pm on 28 November 1979 Flight TE901, a McDonnell Douglas DC10 carrying 20 crew and 237 passengers, crashed on the slopes of Mt Erebus. There were no survivors.

A Class of their Own

While the great bulk of the archives held in the Christchurch Office consist of text written in ink on paper, we also hold many maps and plans, photographic prints and negatives, and other forms of record. Few archives, however, could be more 'non-standard' than the examples shown here.

Past Caring

Past Caring is a virtual exhibition: it has no existence beyond the images and text on these website pages. Although Archives New Zealand Christchurch office has held many physical exhibitions at its site in Peterborough Street Christchurch, this is the first purely 'digital' display of our records. For this introductory virtual exhibition we have chosen items that are broadly representative of our holdings. Because it exists only in cyberspace, we plan to modify and augment the exhibition over time, perhaps even developing certain themes into separate exhibitions. We also plan to provide alternative access routes to the exhibits through a variety of entry points. This is a work in progress and feedback is appreciated.

Archives are the result of documented business transactions. The great bulk of our records consist of text on paper: thousands of metres of plain standardised Government paper files. They are not visually exciting on their own - their content and context are what make them interesting. They were usually not written with an eye to future generations but for the prosecution of daily administrative business. This is what gives them value.

This first exhibition has been designed around eight themes, shown on the left: Immigration, Planning Canterbury, Gold, The Telegraph, Education, Cracroft Caverns, Ballantynes Fire, Nuclear New Zealand, Erebus: TE 901 and A Class of Their Own. Each theme contains a number of interesting and indicative archives from our holdings. Although the themes stand by themselves, they are organised here in a roughly chronological order. Click through the thumbnails shown on the left to enter each theme. A further click through the thumbnails displayed for each theme will take visitors to the full and expanded image. In some instances, particularly maps and plans, a second level of magnification has been provided to allow viewers a closer look at the detail on these archives.