It’s a very well known feature of Victoria Square but do many people actually know what is was for and how old it is? As a teenager and before my historian gene really exploded, I just presumed it was for boats to be launched into the Avon.
It is really hard to imagine this today but the Avon River was infamous for its depth and deep water holes. Before the Canterbury Plains were drained of its swamps and lagoons, the Ōtākaro (Avon River) was very different character and the place of many drownings.
There is a story of some ‘Charlotte Jane’ (the Canterbury Association’s first ship) male settlers walking to Riccarton that very historic day of the 16th December 1850, reaching the Deans’ farm around twilight. Apparently they stripped down to what God gave them and jumped into the Avon for a swim. Standing outside Riccarton House today, what flows through the property wouldn’t even lap over your feet some days.
I first heard of these infamous deep water holes reading about the McKinnon family who hid their farming equipment in one of these, near where the Christchurch Hospital now sits. This was in 1841. They had been farming at Putaringamotu (Riccarton Bush) when a fire that had been started by the Ngai Tahu at Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) got out of control. They fled on foot, heading to Bank Peninsula for a new start. The farming equipment has never been found. Those working in the Antigua Boats Sheds were amused by the story when I told them about it.
Another one of these water holes sat close to the Hamish Hay Bridge, once known as the Papanui and Victoria Bridge. It was a daily event to lead your hard-working horse into the Avon so it could have a drink,not only in Market Place (Victoria Square) but throughout the city. In 1865, I’m sure after many close calls, a horse drowned when it lost its footing near the Victoria Bridge. After this, the C.C.C. put up fencing and had the ramp made so Christchurch’s horses could safety enter an approved area to have a drink!
*photos taken by Annette Bulovic*