Footpaths, drains, & a drift of pigs: From the CCC Archives

CCC/ARC/343/89 – Christchurch City Council City Surveyor Reports 1862-1863

The CCC Archives are beginning to digitise and make publicly available some of our most vulnerable, fragile and fascinating early records of the Council. Next off the digital press is CCC/ARC/343/89 Christchurch City Council - City Surveyor Reports 1862-1863. With the help of volunteers these reports have also been transcribed which makes the content much more accessible.

The position of ‘Town Surveyor’ which (which was soon to be known as the City Surveyor and then became the City Engineer) was one of the first paid roles established by the Christchurch City Council at their first meeting in 1862. The Council knew a Civil Engineer was required as the most urgent work they needed to focus on was the formation of roads, but the role also involved drainage, street lighting and the sanitary (or unsanitary) conditions within the city. Remember this is 14 years before the forming of the Christchurch Drainage Board and Board of Health (1876), and 19 years before the initial underground sewer lines were put in (1881). This lack of infrastructure had led to the city already become very unhealthy, including the increase in water-borne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, whooping cough, diptheria and that is why the Sanitary Commission and the Inspector of Nuisance positions were established not long after the City Surveyor.

The streets had been laid out by Edward Jollie in 1850 but by 1862 were still only partly formed. Looking through these very first reports from March 1862-June 1863, you can see the huge range of work that had to be completed. All of the roads of the city (at that stage remember the boundaries of CCC were only within the four avenues) needed either completely forming or fixing along with footpaths and drains. During the first year of being formed the City Surveyor was involved with the forming and metalling nearly 11kms of streets (or 546.5 chains as noted in the Annual Report Feb 23rd 1863, p161) not to mention kilometres of wooden footpaths (!) and kerbing and 29.5 chains (.6km) of stone kerbing – all in all a huge achievement.

The first applicant was Rowland Davis and he was a very busy chap noting on 5th May 1862 (p4-5) that he doesn’t have half a day to spare to survey the drainage between Montreal St and Windmill Road (now Antigua St) until he has another pair of hands to help supervise all the work underway – which sounds all too familiar and is a good reminder that the staff of CCC have always had heavy workloads and worked hard for the city since the very beginning! The poor man handed in his resignation on May 26th 1862 (p21) and was replaced by Frederick Moore.

The streets and footpaths were of such concern that often citizens would contribute their own funds to have the work completed. There are many mentions of these subscriptions through this volume but one example can be seen on May 12th 1862 (p7) where the inhabitants of Peterborough Street are willing to pay for the cost of footpaths and drains but not so the residents of Hereford Street who have already spent money on ‘tiles’ for their street.

Drainage, fresh water supplies and the unhealthy state of the city were of huge concern and are frequently mentioned in these reports. One of Frederick Moore’s many suggestions for improving the sanitary condition of the city was to brick over the Avon to form “a sort of Fleet ditch sewer” (13th April 1863, p204) – which just indicates how the Avon was viewed at that time. By 1866 the condition of the water in the Avon was so poor it needed to be boiled to be used.

Also mentioned in the reports are the boring of the first artesian wells (in the Triangle) and the first streetlamps beginning with the kerosene lamp on Papanui Bridge (now the Victoria/Hamish Hay bridge).

There are many illustrations of how things really don’t change all that much – from people riding on the footpaths (page 139), to the removal of road signage in the middle of the night (p125), to endless complaints about rubbish, and the need for more staff. What has changed is losing staff to the Otago goldfields (p66, August 25th 1862), the problem of pigs (too many mentions to list), and protection needed for the newly planted trees in Oxford Terrace so calves can’t get in (p82, Sept 22 1862). Hopefully drunken foreman are also a thing of the past (p53, July 28 1862)!

These reports really do give a strong picture of what it was like building this city out of a swamp, the hard effort and work it took. They link well with the Inwards Correspondence 1862-1863, Inspector of Nuisances 1862-1863 and first minute book 1862 – all digitised and now being hosted by our friends at Christchurch City Libraries via Canterbury Stories with links to it from our CCC Archives webpages:

We have now begun the transcription of the next City Surveyor volume from 1863-1864. The AI transcriptions products currently available only get us so far so if you love to decipher original handwriting and you would like to volunteer your time to transcribe a page or two please get in touch.

If you have any questions or comments we’d love to hear from you!

Christchurch City Council Archives

Annabel Armstrong-Clarke
CCC Archivist