The Deans’ Cottage vs The Pollard Shanty

One can easily imagine the hard decision it was for Jane Deans to approve the demolition of the old Deans/Manson/Gebbie’s barn in 1897.  It was after all, the very roof where her dearly departed husband and his late brother had laid their heads to rest over 50 years earlier, when the Riccarton she so loved was just a pipe dream.   It was also the city’s oldest building – erected by Samuel Manson in 1843 – seven years before the First Four Ships!

But as her grandchildren ran around her during their play, she knew all too well that the old weary barn was a too strong a magnet for the children and their friends not to explore and this spelt trouble.  The historic barn was dangerous, old and near collapse…it really had to go, and go soon.
She would plant an Oak on the site as a memorial, so the Christchurch people would always remember where the first house in Christchurch sat.  Maybe this gesture settled her mind about it all.  Surely William and her beloved John would approve this hard choice she had to make and the planting would be a fitting memorial in their eyes.  And they still had the Deans’ Cottage, the same age and going nice and strong.

Just three years later, as Christchurch was gripped in the festivities of its Golden Jubilee and people began to dig deep back over the previous 50 years, Jane Deans was asked by reporters about an old surveyor that went by the name of Richard Pollard and how his old shanty that sat on the South Belt (Moorhouse Ave) should rightly hold the historic title of being the oldest building in Christchurch.  I’m sure this did more than just cause her eyebrows to rise.

With her quiet but strong way, she listened and responded.   She had not heard of Richard Pollard nor his surveyor’s hut.  John had never mentioned him to her before his early death in 1854.  She had, after all, only arrived in Christchurch in 1853 – 10 years into the established Riccarton Estate; and by then, Richard Pollard’s survey work – which was done even before the New Zealand Company and the Canterbury Association era began – was a distant memory to most.  Apparently no one could even say who Richard worked for but three years before the Deans’ brothers made Putaringamotu (Riccarton) their home, Richard Pollard was making his in what we now know as Hagley Park – as far back as 1840.

It has been revealed through further study that William and John Deans did know of Richard Pollard but hardly laid eyes on him.  He spent most of his career on Banks Peninsula and hardly returned home to Hagley Park.  So maybe no surprises that he wasn’t mentioned…out of mind, out of sight…almost forgotten.
I did find his name on a Jury List for 1853 and it lists his residence as the Royal Oak Hotel and his profession as a Gentlemen.  I have no idea if this is the same man but the jump of Surveyor to Gentleman seems a huge leap to me.  Here the name disappears into history.

The two bed-roomed cottage was built from Black Pine and Totara felled from the [Deans] bush of Putaringamotu (Riccarton), being put together by two runaway sailors, Bob Kerr and Harry Royal.  From its position in Hagley Park, Richard lived at Settler’s Corner – near the Tennis Courts off Riccarton Ave as a natural spring was situated close by.  I’m sure this was the same reason some of our First Four Ships settlers chose the site to erect tents and V-huts in 1851. This natural spring is now known today as The Pilgrim’s well.

In September 1852, the cottage was purchased with conditions by a Doctor William Chapman: as long as he moved it out of Hagley Park.  No one can say whether he bought it off Richard Pollard directly or whether the cottage had been empty for a while but it was moved to Cathedral Square, near Press Lane – where The Press and Warner buildings sat before the quakes of 2011. Here it is pictured (above) by Dr. A.C. Barker in 1862 in its Cathedral site.  The Pollard Cottage is the nearest abode to you.
William had been the ship’s doctor aboard the Canterbury Association’s 10th ship, the ‘Labuan’ and wished to open his own surgery in Christchurch. And that he did – in Pollard’s surveyor cottage.
The men who moved the cottage are in themselves an interesting list of Christchurch’s history.

* Edmund [Edward on ‘Randolph’ passenger list] Smart – Edmund was just 16 years old when this transfer job was done.  His elder brothers Amos and Amon found work with the Deans’ at Riccarton.

*J. Sales [I believe this could be James Sails] arrived in Christchurch on the ‘Charlotte Jane’ and before settling into a career at J.C. Watts-Russell’s estate of ‘Ilam’, had worked on improvements to the Bridle Path as well as at the ‘Lyttelton Times’.  He lived at his Papanui home for over 50 years and is remembered today in the naming of Sails Street.

*William Prebble – remembered today in the naming of Prebbleton, where the family farmed.  This family had first arrived in Wellington in 1840 (same ship as William Deans) but moved down to Canterbury where they found work with the Deans’ at Riccarton and with the Greenwood’s at Purau before owning their own land.

*William Todd [could be William Tod] – If William Tod, he and his wife Mary had just recently left the employment of the Deans’ and were living at Little Hagley Park, near the intersection of Harper, Fendalton and Deans Aves.  The Tods would soon move on and settle in Lincoln where they run a school and owned their own farm.  He and his wife Mary witnessed over Christmas Dinner (with surveyors) the renaming of Putaringamotu to Riccarton and the Otakaro to the Avon River – by the request of the Deans in 1848.

In an unrecorded year Dr. Chapman moved down south to Waikouaiti in Otago.  After 1863, the Pollard Cottage was being used as a laundry for the Warner’s Hotel.  Here it remained until 1900 when it was moved on to the South Belt (Moorhouse Ave) where it began to get attention as the oldest abode in the city.

The time it seems last mentioned, was in 1906 when the first site in Hagley Park was pegged by Harry Ell (creator the Sign of the Kiwi, Bellbird etc), Christopher Bowen and C. Hood-Williams during a walkabout with reporters.  As far as I know, there is no memorial in place today where this peg was placed.  Sad sad!!!

So, between 1906 and 2014, no one can say what happened to it but it is gone and some historians (well, one historian actually) doubt that it even existed, this hut and the man who lived in it.  One thing for sure, with it now gone, the Deans’ Cottage is definitely the oldest house in Christchurch…but I do like the idea of this old surveyor in Hagley Park, spending his evenings looking at the stars and dreaming amongst the flax.

* image courtesy of*
* all modern photos taken by Chris and Annette Bulovic*

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