Fred Hobbs was just 13 years old when his family arrived in Christchurch, from England, in 1855. His father, a tailor by trade, had decided to make the move to Canterbury as a manual labourer given this profession was high in demand. They were also encouraged to immigrate by family friend, George Gould, who had been the first to erect a building in Christchurch city in 1851. This was the humble beginning of today’s Pyne Gould Corporation and PPG Wrightson – opening as a General Store, facing onto Market Place (Victoria Square) from Colombo Street. But upon settling down in Christchurch, William Hobbs soon realised that his preferred trade was also much needed so he started his own clothing business instead – Hobbs & Son.
Business must have really taken off as little Fred began working beside William, instead of finishing school. They leased the second story of a timber building that sat on the northeast corner of Cathedral Square – their front door opening onto Colombo Street. They were a well-liked and popular family/business and although they were only leasing their working space, the building soon took on their name and this corner of Cathedral Square was known as ‘Hobbs Corner’.
By the early 1870’s, Fred began to dabble in local government, being elected into the Christchurch City Council. Known as blunt, out spoken and fearless – in 1874, he was elected as Christchurch’s 8th Mayor. He would be the first Mayor to serve two terms and would be the last to be elected solely just by those of the Christchurch City Council.
He tackled one of the worst problems plaguing Christchurch and its boroughs at that time. He passed the Christchurch District Drainage Act 1875 and was the Chairman of the newly formed Christchurch Drainage Board. He personally overlooked the construction of the city’s first sewers, finally introducing hygiene and sanitation to what was considered New Zealand’s unhealthiest city. He also had many of Christchurch’s dirt footpaths asphalted.
Although encouraged by many to stay on, Hobbs decided to retire from politics in September 1877. He then pursued his personal love for singing, co-founding the ‘St John’s the Baptist Choir’ and the ‘Christchurch Liedertafel’ – the latter still existing today. He also oversaw the demolition of the wooden building that once housed his father’s business. The brick structure that took its place was known as the ‘Cathedral Chambers’. This was demolished during the 1970’s and replaced with earthquake survivor, the CML Building.
After 1885, Hobbs disappeared from public life and recorded history. He died on 13th May 1920 at Dunedin and is buried in an unmarked grave.