Lyttelton’s Immigration Barracks

In January 1850, a shipment of wood from Tasmania arrives at Lyttelton. A jetty and 4 immigration barracks are built – ready for the arrival of the first ships due later that same year. One of the builders was Joseph Johnston who went on to build the first school house that became Christ College and the first stage of Riccarton House under the direction of Jane Deans. His shop was on Cashel Street, close to the Bridge of Remembrance. He is buried at Addington Cemetery.

The barracks could hold 300 people so you can imagine when 700 or so settlers piled off the first four ships, a lot of tents and A-frame housing suddenly appeared to help with the overflow. By the end of 1851, 15 more ships carrying pilgrims had docked at Lyttelton.

The first land meeting was held at the barracks on the 20th Dec 1850, led by William Guise Brittan, who was in charge of the land office. He had only arrived himself 3 days earlier on the Sir George Seymour.

On 4th February, the Godley’s hosted a ball at the barracks that started at 10pm and went on to 3am. One settler took the time to reflect at the Port Hills around him in the darkness, acknowledging the fact that the hills had never heard the Polkas, Waltzels and Quadrilles tunes before! The books that arrived with the ships began to be stored at the barracks – a library forming where people could issue out books.

With the opening of immigration barracks at Market Square (now Victoria Square) and also at Addington – the Lyttelton barracks became unused and were knocked down in 1876, just 17 years after the arrival of the first first four ships. This plaque that sits in this car park wall, marks the site of the first barracks.

*Photo taken by Annette Bulovic*

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