Cave Rock’s Flagstaff

It was August 1841 when William Deans, Jimmy Robinson Clough and George Duppa made their way around the Bays of Ohikaparuparu (Sumner) in a Whaler’s boat and crossed the (Sumner) bar into the Waipātiki – the low waters that we know as the Avon Heathcote Estuary.  They sailed north-west and travelled up the Ōtākaro (Avon River) as far as they could before it became too boggy – around the intersection of Barbadoes Street and Oxford Terrace.

It was on this historic day that William Deans first saw his future at Putaringamotu (Riccarton) from the shoulders of his companions.  Less than two years later, he broke the ground there, entwining the Deans’ and Canterbury’s European history together forever. 
He was the first European (along with his brother John and the Gebbie/Manson families) to settle permanently on the Port Cooper (Canterbury) Plains, leading the way for other ambitious settlers who like William, had to survive, intact, the dangerous crossing of the Sumner bar.  This was after all, the only way to get heavy, large cargo from Lyttelton into Christchurch. 

In those real early days, the entry to the Estuary was known as Deans Head.

And not everyone had a smooth sail.  There were stories of families losing everything they owned in the world when the boat hauling their possessions capsized on the bar.  Clothes and even plates, tea pots were quickly scooped off the nearby beaches/rocks following such tragedies.  

Witnessing this historic era was a great rock formation on Sumner Beach, known as Tuawera.  It had been Maori legend that Tuawera (Cave Rock) was a carcass of a dead whale that had brought death to the Maori of Opawaho – by the black magic of Chief Te Ake of Akaroa. 
But to the Europeans it was known as Cass Rock, named after Canterbury Association surveyor Thomas Cass.  As this huge rock mass could be seen from the sea and sat close to the Estuary, it made sense to build a flagstaff that could advise skippers and captains the state of the bar when sailing around the heads with a load of cargo for Christchurch.  And it worked – mostly.

But with the opening of the Lyttelton/Moorhouse Railway Tunnel in 1867, the Cave Rock Flagstaff became redundant and with each new generation, the building on top of the most favourite place for children to play in and on, became a bit of mystery.  What was that little building for?  Now you know 😉

The change of the term from Cass Rock to Cave Rock is unrecorded; I believe it happened very gradually

*image of Cave Rock courtesy of – File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img02346

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