What’s In A Name?

Over the years of 1848 to 1851, the poor old Canterbury Plains and the Harbour of Lyttelton seemed to hop from one foot to the other as the Chief Surveyor Captain Joseph Thomas amongst others scratched their heads over a few name options.

When Captain Thomas arrived on our shores, Lyttelton was known as Port Cooper and the plains as the Port Cooper Plains. The Ngai Tahu had called Lyttelton Harbour, Ōhinehou and the Canterbury Plains, Ngā Pākihi whakatekateka a Waitaha.

When the Deans brothers wrote home to Scotland from Putaringamotu (Riccarton) starting in 1843, they mostly used the term Port Cooper Plains but at least once, referred to it as Cook’s Mistake…and yes, they meant the plains, I read the letter more than once to make sure I had gotten it right.

While Lyttelton was nothing more than another bay in the harbour in the 1840’s, the most populated area on Te Pataka O Rakaihoutu (Banks Peninsula) was Kaukourata (Port Levy) and this was where the first Europeans would land and make camp.

The first Europeans in the area were whalers, sealers and merchants looking for new trading contacts. In 1836, an ‘Australian’ whaling ship by the same name sailed into Ohinehou. At the wheel was Captain William B. Rhodes who renamed the area Port Cooper and Kaukourata, Port Levey – now spelt Port Levy – in honour of his employers, Daniel Cooper and Solomon Levey.

Jumping ahead to 1849, while Lyttelton, Sumner and Christchurch were being surveyed for settlement, Captain Thomas knew all about Daniel Cooper and Solomon Levey and didn’t want their influence over his new city. Both Cooper and Levey were ex-convicts turned successful merchants. With the first robbery happening in Purau just 4 years previous, Captain Thomas did not want the settlement to take its first steps in the wrong direction. He didn’t want to encourage a flood of ex-convicts from Australia coming to Canterbury when they were freed.

So he renamed Port Cooper to Port Victoria and Port Levey to Port Albert – in honour of his young Queen and her Prince – and so deleting all previous unclean ties. The bay in which Port Victoria sat was named Cavendish Bay, after the Honourable Richard Cavendish MP but the name was soon discarded. It became known as Erskine Bay, named after Captain Erskine of the 36 gun frigate HMS Havannah flagship that was in port during March 1851. Captain Erskine must of have made quite an impression.

Then Captain Thomas played around with calling Port Victoria, Port Lincoln instead. Maybe Port Lyttelton was better, maybe not.
Victoria and Lyttelton were equally used over the next few years but as we know, Lyttelton won the final round.

Purau wasn’t to escape this uncertain time as it was renamed Acherson Bay after the HMS Acherson. For a while, it was called Rhodes Bay but the former Ngai Tahu name of Purau survived – much to the joy of the Rhodes Brothers who were the main supporters of the Maori name.

As much as Captain Thomas tried to keep his new settlement starting on a clean slate, it was soon obvious that Lyttelton would not be ready for the Pilgrims without the ex-convict work force desperate for a second chance in the new colony. Many of the carpenters, road-makers and stone masons kept their past to themselves and Captain Thomas was the first to say how well the team worked.

Here are some honourable mentions:
• Edward Arnett – worked at Lyttelton Jan – April 1850 – convicted of ‘coining’ in 1837
• Martin Birmingham – worked at Lyttelton Jan – May 1850 – convicted of stealing in 1844
• Daniel Charleton – convicted of stealing, a silver plate amongst other articles in 1835
• Donald Twaddle – worked at Lyttelton Jan to June 1850 – convicted of stealing in 1824
• Thomas Medis – convicted of stealing in 1830
• George Morelle – worked at Lyttelton Jan – Feb 1850 – convicted of stealing clothes in 1842
• Thomas Skillett – worked at Lyttelton Jan – March 1850 – convicted of poaching

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