WOOLSTON – Joseph Harry Hopkins (1837 – 1910)

In spite of the traffic that began to use the Heathcote River from the arrival of the first four ships in 1850, Woolston did not show real signs of life until the building of its church – St John the Evangelist – in 1857. Just a little cob building, a community began to settle in its parish.

Known to the Ngai Tahu as ‘Ohika Paruparu’, Woolston were the mudflats used to collect food. The meaning behind this Maori name explains perfectly how hard that task actually was. Ohika Paruparu means ‘Woman who was collecting seashells sunk up to her thighs in the mud’. I would guess no one was ever keen to be chosen for that particular job!

By the time the Europeans arrived, the area had adopted the name of ‘Roimata’ – meaning ‘teardrop’ and this name still appears on some legal documents concerning Woolston today. I love it!!!

From the arrival of the ‘Charlotte Jane’ – our first Canterbury Association ship – there was cargo to be moved into Christchurch. Three – the Union, Stream and Christchurch – wharves appeared along the Heathcote River by the early 1850’s. Shockingly, the fee to have your goods taken around the heads from Lyttelton to Sumner and up the Heathcote was the same as the price of the sea voyage from England! Hence the image we have always had of those settlers carrying everything they owned over the Bridle Path, and now we know why!

These wharves saw less and less business when the Lyttelton Railway Tunnel (or the Moorhouse Tunnel) opened in 1867. Cargo was now riding the rails rather than riding the waves. These wharves still pose beside the Heathcote in more of a memorial state now, each with their own plaques – always reminding us of how easy we have things these days.

Before 1870, Woolston was referred to the Lower Heathcote but it was because of the naming of a new post office that the option of a new name became a heated discussion.

Joseph Harry Hopkins was the chairman of the Heathcote Road Drainage Board when he suggested the name of Woolston, his hometown back in Southampton, England. Seeing that he was also the postmaster, the name was taken, at least for the new post office.

By 1882, Woolston was not only the spoken name for the area but also in the written word. Hopkins Street is named in Joseph’s memory – a man who was proud of the strong working man’s suburb where he worked, lived and played!

St John the Evangelist also got a timber-based upgrade around this time. The concrete church that we know today was the last upgrade to date, taking place in 1960. It is now one of the oldest churches in New Zealand.

With the lack of traffic on the Heathcote, it could have easily crippled Woolston, but a whole new life began to spring up – Wool Fellers, Carpet Makers and Tanneries, just to name a few of the working man industries that made the district their homes. And still do.

Pictured here is the memorial of when Woolston became a borough on the 27th July 1893.  On the plaque, it mentions the name of Woolston Borough’s first Mayor, John Richardson.  John is buried at Woolston Cemetery.

*image courtesy of Paul Willyams*

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