As the Bridle Path was being sliced into the side of the Port Hills in 1849 – above Lyttelton which was well under construction – at the path’s foot, another structure was rising, under the watchful eye of its owner – Major Alfred Hornbrook. It was to be Canterbury’s first commercial enterprise, hotel and humble grog stop – to be known as the ‘Mitre’.
The Major – who had served both in the English Army and Royal Marines – first arrived in New Zealand aboard the ‘Oriental’ – one of Wellington’s First Four Ships in 1840. There are few clues as to what brought Alfred down to Canterbury in 1849. He soon became a business partner of George Rhodes of Purau and took over the ownership of the Mt Pleasant Station, which stretched around the top of Sumner to the Scarborough Heads. Amongst his farming duties, he also found the time to have the ‘Mitre’ designed and built and it was established as part of the Port by the time the First Four Ships arrived a year later. The place was soon famous for its great food and service – even praised by Canterbury Founder, John Robert Godley!
The Mitre was not to stay in the ownership of the Major long though. He sold it in 1851 to purchase land further down south. In 1870, the hotel narrowly escaped the Lyttelton Fire that destroyed many of the Mitre’s main competitors. As lucky as the hotel had been that day, just five years later, it was gutted by fire anyway. Rebuilt in New Zealand’s finest timbers, it was to be destroyed by fire again in 1926. The Mitre we know today was then built and constructed with concrete – this is believed to be the main reason the hotel wasn’t lost completely to the quakes of 2010/2011.
Alfred is still remembered in Christchurch today by the naming of not only Major Hornbrook Road but also the old Mayor Hornbrook track that still marks the slope of Mt Pleasant down to Lyttelton. This was once used to transport wool down to Lyttelton. It was also the location of one of the recaptures of the infamous sheep stealer (James McKenzie) who, still in leg irons, was making a dash for freedom from the Lyttelton Gaol in 1855.
For a more in depth look at the story of the Hornbrooks, please check out the following link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/the-hornbrooks/
*Image courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library Blog – https://cclblog.wordpress.com