Debate Arises Over Deans’ Claim To Have Christchurch’s Oldest Building – 1900

One can easily imagine the hard decision it was for Jane Deans to approve the demolition of the old Deans/Manson/Gebbie’s barn at Riccarton in 1897. It was after all the city’s oldest building – erected by Samuel Manson in 1843 – seven years before the Canterbury Association’s First Four Ships! The historic barn was now dangerous, old and near collapse, it needed to be demolished.  Jane decided to plant an Oak on the site – on Kahu Road – as a memorial, so the Christchurch people would always remember where the first house in Christchurch sat.  After all, Riccarton still had the Deans’ Cottage, which was the same age and had remained nice and strong.

But just three years later – as Christchurch was gripped in the festivities of its Golden Jubilee – people began to dig deep back over the previous 50 years and Jane Deans was asked by reporters about an old surveyor that went by the name of Richard Pollard and how his old shanty that sat on the South Belt (Moorhouse Ave) should rightly hold the historic title of being the oldest building in Christchurch – not Deans’ Cottage.

With her quiet but strong way, she listened and responded. She had not heard of Richard Pollard nor his surveyor’s hut.  Her Late husband John Deans had never mentioned him before his early death in 1854. She had, after all, only arrived in Christchurch in 1853 – 10 years into the established Riccarton Estate; and by then, Richard Pollard’s survey work – which was done even before the New Zealand Company and the Canterbury Association era began – was a distant memory to most.  Apparently no one could even say who Richard worked for but three years before the Deans’ brothers made Putaringamotu (Riccarton) their home, Richard Pollard was making his in what we now know as Hagley Park – as far back as 1840.

William and John Deans did know of Richard Pollard but had hardly laid eyes on him. He spent most of his career on Banks Peninsula and hardly returned home to Hagley Park. So maybe no surprises that he wasn’t mentioned…out of mind, out of sight…almost forgotten.

Richard Pollard’s two bed-roomed cottage had been built from Matai and Totara felled from the [Deans] bush of Putaringamotu (Riccarton), put together by two runaway sailors, Bob Kerr and Harry Royal.  From its position in Hagley Park, Richard lived at Settler’s Corner – near the Tennis Courts off Riccarton Ave – as a natural spring was situated close by.  This was the same reason some of our First Four Ships settlers chose the site to erect tents and V-huts in 1851. This natural spring is now known today as the Pilgrim’s Well, now a part of the Kate Sheppard Memorial Walk.

In September 1852, the cottage was purchased with conditions by a Doctor William Chapman: as long as he moved it out of Hagley Park.  No one can say whether he bought it off Richard Pollard directly or whether the cottage had been empty for a while but it was moved to Cathedral Square (pictured), near Press Lane – where The Press and Warner buildings sat before the quakes of 2011. William had been the ship’s doctor aboard the Canterbury Association’s 10th ship, the ‘Labuan’ and wished to open his own surgery in Christchurch.  And that he did – in Pollard’s surveyor cottage.

In an unrecorded year Dr. Chapman moved down south to Waikouaiti in Otago.  After 1863, the Pollard Cottage was being used as a laundry for the Warner’s Hotel.  Here it remained until 1900 when it was moved on to the South Belt (Moorhouse Ave) where it began to get attention as the oldest abode in the city.

The time it seems last mentioned, was in 1906 when the first site in Hagley Park was pegged by Harry Ell, Christopher Charles Bowen and C. Hood-Williams during a walkabout with reporters.  As far as I know, there is no memorial in place today where this peg was placed.

Today, no one can say what happened to it but it is gone and some historians (well, one historian actually) doubt that it even existed, this hut and the man who lived in it. One thing for sure, with it now gone, the Deans’ Cottage is definitely the oldest building in Christchurch.

*Image courtesy of Cantage – Canterbury Heritage – https://cantage.wordpress.com

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