The first time I read about the Hart family, my imagination was stirred!
Here was this family fresh off the ‘Cressy’ struggling through the tussock of the Canterbury Plains (after tramping over the Bridle Path and punting across the Heathcote), squinting into the blazing setting sun.
They stop for breath, the father looking at his 7 and 9 year old sons who are hungry and tired. With a deep breath and a nod to himself, he drops his numerous items of luggage (including the family’s pots and pans) in proclamation. This would be their land, their future, their dreams…sounds perfect but not all is as it seems as I was to find out!
Michael, his wife Mary Ann, their sons George (9yrs) and Michael Jnr (7yrs) first settled in Lyttelton as the New Year clicked over to 1851. Michael, who was a plumber by trade, took up with fellow “Cressy’ passenger Henry Allwright and the two started a small business.
The Hart’s struggled to make ends meet, even with 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…was condemned and demolished due to the 2011 earthquakes.
A tent was erected on the site and by November 1851, a wooden building with stables was opened as the first hotel in Christchurch – The White Hart Hotel.
When Robert John Godley left Christchurch for good in December 1852, the White Hart Hotel catered the farewell breakfast that took place in Hagley Park.
As the hotel was receiving a upgrade in 1866, Mary Ann dies. Just a month later the new widower marries Ellen Gardiner. They would go on to have 5 daughters and 1 son. Michael also took an interest in politics but failed to become a member of the Provincial Council. In 1874 he had more success – he became Mayor, which I’m sure was a great personal triumph after previous failures.
In 1878 after a long illness, Michael dies in his Lichfield Street property, close to his hotel. The hotel comes under the control of trustees. The hotel undergoes another upgrade in 1905 but burns down in 1908. The front facade is not damaged and a new hotel is built behind it.
George worked for The Press for 40 years, actually living on site over the turn of the 20th century. He married and had two sons and eight daughters.
Michael Branham Hart is buried at Barbadoes Street Cemetery, Christchurch.
George Robert Hart is buried at Linwood Cemetery, Christchurch.
*Photos of taken by Annette Bulovic*