“It appears that, as usual, these settlers have been deluded by having had their expectations raised to an unreasonable pitch. They appear very well pleased with the country, but evidently had been lead to expect comfortable dwelling houses and every other accommodation prepared for them”.
Charles O. Torlesse (Canterbury Association Surveyor) – 5th January 1851
It was no secret that many –not all – of the settlers were disappointed with what met them upon arrival in Canterbury. One settler took to the Bridle Path – which was under a month old – the very day of his arrival and made his way onto the plains. Coming across other settlers, he stopped them to ask directions to the city of Christchurch. He was actually standing where Ridley Square (Cathedral Square) had been pegged for future development. I’m sure his heart broke right where he stood.
It may have not helped with all the misleading correspondence making it into the news and journals. Henry Cridland wrote a letter to W.H. Burnand praising the future settlement of Canterbury. This letter found its way into THE NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL dated the 30th June 1849 and also the HANDBOOK FOR INTENDING EMIGRANTS TO THE SOUTHERN SETTLEMENTS OF NEW ZEALAND. He boasts of the following (and excuse me while I punch holes right through it):
• No natives ‘to disturb occupations or interrupt progress a single day’.
Mostly true – the massacres of the Ngai Tahu by the Ngai Toa plus white man diseases such as measles lowered Maori numbers greatly in Canterbury – less than 500 in 1850.
• Christchurch had a ‘splendid port, free from the slightest danger’.
The highest death rate back in 1851 was drowning with ‘deep water in every part of the harbour’.
• There was ‘an immense tract of level country…within six miles of the port, easy access by several routes’ – there was just the Bridle Path.
• The soil was ‘ready for the plough’.
Christchurch was swamp and stubborn tussock.
• There would be ‘no struggle here to conquer the dense forest’.
There was only Riccarton, Papanui and Rangiora Bush.
• The Avon or the ‘Puta-rikamut (I think he is meaning Putaringamotu – the Maori name for Riccarton) or Serpentine River is navigable for boats of eight tons to end of the plains (ah, no, I don’t think so), and empties itself into the open sea at Port Rigamont (likely to be Clifton Bay-Sumner), clear of any bar or shingle (there’s the very dangerous Sumner bar)’.
Inaccurate and exaggerated is an understatement!
These tiles can be found at the beginning of the Bridle Path, the Lyttelton side acknowledging our first four ships.
*photo taken by Annette Bulovic