Over 700 settlers flooded into Lyttelton between the 16th and the 27th of December 1850 from our First Four Ships. Although many public works had occurred to get the port as ready as it could be, the new immigration barracks would in no way be able to house everybody. It was so bad, some took to sleeping in barrels on the hillside, while their land orders were sorted. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that some took to the Bridle Path immediately, trickling down into Christchurch where most would admit that it was all rather disappointing.
The Deans at Riccarton were also flooded with people from day 1. The brothers wrote home how numerous tents were erected around their small cottage and how up to 4 sheep were killed so they could feed Christchurch’s first weary citizens. 12 people slept across the floor of the Deans Cottage that first night while many others slept in Riccarton’s flax bushes and ferns. All true!
While the Lyttelton Immigration Barracks were splitting at the sides, small tent cities began to spring up in Christchurch. Usually taking place around a natural water spring, many families bunked down together to make the best start of things. Two of the most well recognised sites of these first settlements are Pilgrim’s Corner in Hagley Park and Merivale Reserve on Rugby Street. Soon the tents were replaced with the well known historic V Huts.
Still seeing a great need, other immigration barracks were erected in Christchurch to help with the overflow. One was built in Market Place, known to us today as Victoria Square and one other in Addington, I believe near Church Square on Poulston Street. This area has been known as Addington and St Mary’s Square in the past.
As land orders were sorted, these camp sites dissolved into history. Within a few years even the Lyttelton Immigration Barrack stood empty and unused. The buildings were turned into what could easily be Canterbury’s first public library.
Can you imagine how dark Christchurch would have been those first few evenings, just campfires to light the way. How big the plains must of felt, imagine how big the sky would have seemed – one would have felt that the vast darkness could just sweep down and swallow them whole.
*Current Christchurch photos taken by Chris and Annette Bulovic*
*Image of V Huts courtesy of http://christchurchcitylibraries.com*