Christchurch’s First Publican Elected As Mayor – 1874

The Hart family are a classic example of what us Cantabs come up with when we think of a Canterbury Association settler and what they must have endured.

Here was a family from the ‘Cressy’ (the Canterbury Association’s 4th ship) that were struggling through the sea of tussock of the Canterbury Plains (after tramping over the Bridle Path and punting across the Heathcote with everything they owned in the world), squinting into the blazing setting sun and their future.

Michael Brannan Hart, his wife Mary Ann and their sons George (9yrs) and Michael Jr. (7yrs) had first settled in Lyttelton as the New Year clicked over to 1851. Michael, who was a plumber by trade, teamed up with fellow ‘Cressy’ passenger Henry Allwright and the two started a small business.

The Hart’s struggled to make ends meet, even though they were living in their V-Hut. The decision was made to move to Christchurch.  Michael went halves on a property that would eventually become the intersection of Cashel and High Streets – where the Westpac building once stood which was later condemned and demolished due to the 2011 earthquakes.

George Hart later remembered:

“All round, except the cleared space in front of the tent, was high fern and tutu, stretching away over the [Canterbury] Plains as far as could be seen…where Lichfield Street now stands, was a large raupo swamp, which was a resort for wild ducks and pukaki [pukeko?]. Tracks here and there had been roughly cut through the fern and tutu by the survey parties of the [Canterbury] Association, who had been engaged in laying out the future city. Streets, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, there were none in our locality”

By November 1851, a wooden building with stables was opened as the first hotel in Christchurch – The White Hart Hotel.

As most of the landowners did in those days, Michael took an interest in local politics.  Even after many failed attempts to be elected into the Canterbury Provincial Council, he was welcomed into the ranks of the Christchurch City Council in 1869 and became Christchurch’s 7th Mayor in 1874.  He served the city in this role for a year before serious illness removed him from public life.

He was the first Mayor to wear regalia robes and wear a mayoral chain, like his counterpart back in London.  He had planned to leave these gifts with the C.C.C. but after a falling out, he was later buried in them.  He had also gifted the land for Christchurch’s first Town Hall could be built (it was subsequently destroyed by fire in 1873).  Today, Strange’s Building now exists on this site on High Street.

In 1878, Michael died in his Lichfield Street property, close to his hotel.  The White Hart Hotel then entered into the control of trustees and underwent further restoration and upgrades, until it destroyed by fire in 1908.  The façade was saved and a new hotel was built behind it (pictured).  The White Hart Hotel finally disappeared from Christchurch sometime during the 1940’s.

Michael Brannan Hart is buried at Barbadoes Street Cemetery, Christchurch.

*Image courtesy of Kete Christchurch –*

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