City Morgue Opened – July 1901

In July 1901, after a forty year argument between the Christchurch City Council, the Police, the Canterbury Hospital Board, the city’s doctors and yes, even our publicans – the Christchurch City Morgue was opened.

As Christchurch rolled along during its first ten years of settlement, the highest death rate was people tumbling into the Avon drunk and drowning. And here began an unpleasant era for our publicans. Those hotels that sat along beside the Avon were asked to care take these corpses as they were the only buildings in the city with the necessary facilities – usually in the form of a cellar that was used to keep meat cool. The hotels also offered the space for coroner’s hearings too.

Dr. A. C. Barker, one of the city’s first doctors and ‘Charlotte Jane’ settler, was called to perform many of these post mortems. To the relief of the publicans concerned, the good doctor would relieve them of the body so he could work from his surgery at home which sat on the North West corner of Cathedral Square (the Chancery Lane starting as a track from outside his front door).

Understandably, some pubs would put up a fight, refusing to take the city’s dead. The Coroner Act of 1867 soon meant a £5 fine for those businesses that wouldn’t assist. The fight was in no way over though. The topic was passed around like a hot potato between in the aforementioned city political and medical leaders.

In 1875, the Christchurch City Hospital put their hand up for taking the dead but just a few years later, they closed their doors, complaining that could no longer cope with the demand on their space. Hotels were again expected to help with some post mortems taking place at the Central Police Station in Hereford Street. The doctors there complained of cramped rooms and less than satisfactory conditions.

In 1896, the New Zealand Government stepped in and declared that if a city had over a thousand people in population, the City Council MUST built a city morgue. The Gladstone Hotel (later known as the Durham Arms and situated on the corner of Peterborough and Durham Streets) was the last hotel where a post mortem was conducted by a Dr. William Diamond.  That same day, the keys of the city morgue were handed over to the C.C.C. It was located on the corner of Manchester and Armagh Streets.

Please note the attached photo is not of Christchurch.

*Image courtesy of Victorian Era Grief – http://www.avictorian.com*

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