On the 27th September 1851, the first drowning in Christchurch’s Avon River was reported. The victim had been drunk and had obviously tumbled down the river bank. This would be the beginning of what would be reported as the highest cause of death in those early years of settlement.
Christchurch’s rivers weren’t only the cause of death for those intoxicated but also the scene of suicide attempts and even murder.
A prostitute only listed as ‘Minnie’ drank poison and then threw herself into the Avon. She not only failed at the attempt on her life but faced fines when she was later brought before the law courts.
Mrs. Annie Roil, a mother of four, drowned two of her children in the Heathcote in 1884. The decline in her mental health had been of concern since the birth of her youngest that was just 6 months old at the time of the drowning. She had become quite ‘…broken-down…’ and complained of ‘…pains in her head…” her family reported. Like her parents before her, sadly, she lived out the rest of life at the Sunnyside Asylum.
The Avon of today is very different from the Avon that once existed in the mid 1800’s – a boggy, ‘deep in places’ river that snaked its way through a marshy wetland. As Christchurch was drained and tamed, the Avon was starved into what we know today. It is amazing to read how even horses attempting to have a drink in those early days could slip in and drown.
One of the most famous drownings was of Rev. Joseph Twigger in 1855. A Reverend, not by choice, it seemed that he preferred to place bets on boxing matches rather than open his bible. He had been missing for a fortnight, after farewelling a friend around midnight at the corner of Cashel and Durham Streets – where the Bridge of Remembrance is situated. The pair had spent the evening at the White Hart Hotel on Lichfield Street (where the Westpac Building stood before demolition) and the very drunk Rev. had a very long stroll home to his farm on Lincoln Road. But he gave his friend a big smile and said, “Alright my boy, God bless.” And the two parted company.
The Rev. was discovered by Stephen Brooker and examined by Dr. A.C. Barker, Christchurch’s first doctor and photographer. Noting that the Rev.’s clothes showed no signs of a struggle, it was concluded that he had simply fallen down the bank and drowned. The river current had caused his remains to drift and the weeds had kept him hidden quite effectively.
If the name Twigger rings any bells, the Twiggers are remembered today in the naming of Twigger Street (which leads into the Addington raceway grounds car park from Lincoln Road), the Twigger Stand and the Twigger’s Cabaret Restaurant. The land that now makes up the Sunnyside Hospital, the old Addington Showgrounds and the Addington Raceway was once the Twigger farm.
For a more in depth look at the Twigger family, please check out the attached link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/addington-raceway-the-twiggers/
*This image was courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – http://christchurchcitylibraries.com – File Reference CCL Photo CD 6, IMG0048 *