The Maori Oven At The Avon

When the Deans’ original run of 33,000 acres were taken down to 400 acres in 1850 – to make way for the city of Christchurch to be built – the Deans’ ended up sitting snug between Clyde Road, Deans Ave, Blenheim Road and Fendalton Ave.

In 1851 as well as Riccarton Bush (which swept across Riccarton Road at that time), there was the Deans Cottage, other farm buildings including a milking shed, kitchen, staff whares, a paddock for the rams (Mona Vale), a paddock for the bulls (corner of Clyde and Riccarton Roads), an orchard, a garden, and fields of barley, wheat (cnr of Deans Ave and Riccarton Road) and potatoes. There was also what the Deans called “The Island”.

In the north east corner of the property – where Deans Ave meets with Fendalton Ave – the Avon River seems to split with an island in the middle. This is untrue as the land the makes up the island actually leads to Mona Vale. Christchurch Girls High now occupies the Hagley Park end of this “island”, classrooms now present on it with a foot bridge so the students can get across to class.

The first time we read about “the island” is from Jane Deans in 1885 when she recalls the 4th February 1852, her second day in Christchurch as the new Mrs. Deans.

“I could only walk with the assistance of your Grandfather [John Deans I] and only as far as the island.”

In those days, “the island” was used as a camp site for the Maori hired by the Deans’ to help out at harvest time.  Adams House is the boarding hostel for students going to Christchurch Boys High School, situated in Harakeke Street in Riccarton. In the year 2000 a new hostel for the boys was built but in 1899, the first Adams House was erected. During construction, a Maori oven was discovered in the bank of the nearby Avon River.  The oven was linked to this era of use of the island, you can imagine with a couple of hundred Maori camping there, the camp would have been quite a size.

Similar ovens were also discovered on Quail Island with the broken bird egg shells still sitting in the ashes.  Baked bird eggs were considered quite the treat!

Jane writes about a situation that happened early 1856.

“A few months before the [Riccarton] house was to be finished, but after it was roofed, they set fire to their huts (then on the island) in the hope that they would be allowed to occupy the new house. I stood firm in resisting their petition to do so, but allowed them to use the old barn [the first home build by Samuel Manson in 1843] till they erected huts down the riverbank, near the railway bridge.”

After the Maori moved on, the area was used for making lucerne and the farm’s stables were built close by.  During the 1860’s, “the island” was leased to W.D. Woods who built a mill there. The foundation stones and the weir still remains on site today and acknowledged by the Christchurch Girls High School.  The Christchurch Girls High School moved to the site in 1986.

Please note that the attached photo is of a Maori oven used to cook Moa discovered at Waitaki

*image courtesy of http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz*

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