Automobile Import A South Island First – 1899

In 1899, Charles Nicholas Oates, a Christchurch business owner, imported the first automobile to the South Island. It had solid tyres, two gears and the top speed of 14kmph. At the time of this import, seven other automobiles were already turning heads in the North Island.

Oates was the founder of the ‘Zealandia Cycle Works’ that sat at 82 Manchester Street. By the time partner Alexander Lowry came aboard, the business was the largest bicycle factory in Australasia and employed over forty workers – with repair services stationed at Timaru, Ashburton and Napier. In 1901, a new shop was opened in Cuba Street, Wellington.

On 15th May 1901, Oates was in front of the courts with Christchurch’s first automobile traffic violation. Witnesses reported that Oates took the intersection of Lower Lincoln Road (now Hagley Ave since 1924), Tuam and Antigua Streets at such a great speed (22kph it was guessed), he frightened the nearby horses stationed outside the Christchurch Public Hospital. He was fined £1 for breaking the speed limit of 6.5 kmph.

Pictured here in the same year is Oates at the automobile’s controls, with two of his daughters and a Mr. P. Denton. Note the name of his business advertised on the front.

*Image courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img00797*

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