Captain James Penfold first took to the sea at the age of fifteen. As owner of the schooner ‘Excelsior’, Penfold took on contracts for the delivery of goods between New Zealand and Australia.
In 1862, he sailed to Christchurch, with a cargo of hardwood sleepers for Ferrymead and became shipwrecked on the infamous Sumner Bar.
Seeing the lighter side of this tragedy, he decided to settle in Christchurch, saving what timber he could from the ‘Excelsior’ to build himself a hut, also using mud taken from the Heathcote River banks. It only him a week to make himself a home and it was situated on Ferry Road, near the roundabout with Tunnel Road. He found work with the construction of New Zealand’s first railway line which was between Ferrymead and Christchurch city.
He eventually fathered eight children and moved on to land of his own up country. He died in 1905.
The Sod Hut continued to be a refuge to those settlers who arrived with no permanent arrangement made for housing. By 1908, the old place was in ruins.
Ernest S. Parish, with the help of the Mount Pleasant Burgesses’ Association and the Mount Pleasant Yacht Club, largely restored (using cob instead of sod) and relocated the hut to its current site (on Main Road) as a memorial to Canterbury’s first settlers. It then moved into the care of the C.C.C who opened it to the public on 16th December 1944. Sadly, in 1948, a fire gutted the little place and it had to be rebuilt again.
Badly damaged by the earthquakes of 2011, this much loved Sumner icon is currently being braced and supported until its future is determined (2015).
*Image courtesy of the Christchurch Public Libraries – http://christchurchcitylibraries.com – File Reference CCL Photo CD 7, IMG0044