Hagley Park

This page is a history of Hagley Park in Christchurch.

The Avon, Christchurch [ca. 1900]
The Avon, Christchurch [ca. 1900]

The Deans

When the Deans brothers arrived in Christchurch in 1842, they travelled up the Otakaro river (Avon) in a whaler until the shallow water forced them to use a Māori canoe. They landed at a bend in the river, which is now part of Hagley Park, and travelled by foot to the Puturingamotu patch of forest (now Riccarton Bush).

It is thought by some people that the Deans brothers made an agreement with William Fox, agent for the New Zealand Company, that Hagley Park would act as a buffer between their farm and the new township. However Edward Jollie, who drew up the plan for Christchurch which included Hagley Park, did so in 1850, two years after the Deans farm had been set aside.

Town Reserves, Hagley Park and the Government Domain (now the Botanic Gardens) were included as part of the Canterbury Association’s plan for the settlement. Approximately 500 acres on the west of the central town area is shown as the site of Hagley Park in a map of Christchurch dated 1850. It was named after the country estate of Lord Lyttelton, chairman of the Canterbury Association.

In 1855 when the new Provincial Government took over the role of the Canterbury Association, a law was passed which said that the land commonly known as Hagley Park, shall be reserved for ever as a public park, and shall be open for the recreation and enjoyment of the public.1

First plantings

The first European trees on the Canterbury Plains were fruit trees planted by the Deans brothers. The oldest surviving introduced tree in Christchurch today is a pear tree planted by them in 1846 at 'Putaringamotu'  in Riccarton. The tree is identified by a label as No. 19. Three oak trees were presented to the Deans by Governor Grey in 1850.

In the 1850s, the land for Hagley Park was a mixture of scrub and swamp, with creeks feeding to Otakaro river (Avon).

On 9 July 1863 the first tree was planted in the Government Domain (Botanic Gardens). It was known as the Albert Edward oak and was planted to mark the wedding of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, which had taken place on 10 March 1863.

In 1864 the Canterbury Horticultural and Acclimatisation Society was founded and decided to establish a Botanic Garden in Hagley Park. It was agreed that the land known as the Government Domain would be used, and that plants that might be useful in the colony would be introduced and first established there.

When the planting began, native plants such as ferns, tussock, cabbage trees, and flax were replaced by English plants, such as beech, elm, chestnuts, pines and oaks.

The first recorded tree plantings in Hagley Park were the avenue of Oriental plane trees in the North Park in 1870. Pines were also planted in 1870 in the northeast corner of the Park, and near the swamp, which later became Victoria Lake.

From 1870-72 the tree nursery produced 763,034 trees, which were distributed throughout Canterbury, including the thousands of oaks planted by the Railway Department along the south line.

Māori land claims

Under the terms of the agreement signed between the local Ngāi Tahu and Henry Kemp on behalf of the Crown (Kemp’s Deed), reserves of land and food-gathering places (mahinga kai) were supposed to be kept by Māori. This was signed at Akaroa on 12 June 1848 by sixteen Ngāi Tahu chiefs. They sold the greater part of their land for £2,000, but kept their settlements and food-gathering places. They were to be given back larger reserves of land once the surveying had been done.

Commissioner Henry Kemp, acting on behalf of Governor George Grey, was only allowed to offer the £2,000. There was a mix-up over the reserves, partly because the map attached to the deed (the paper which had all the details of the sale) had different information. When Walter Mantell mapped the land in 1848 he deliberately cut down the promised reserves, allowing less than four acres per head instead of the promised ten. He also kept back from Ngāi Tahu some of their cultivated land and food-gathering places.

In 1862 the part of Hagley Park known as Little Hagley Park was set aside by Carlton Mill Bridge for Māori to use as a meeting or resting place when visiting Christchurch.

150 Māori camped in the Little Hagley area in 1868 while they argued their claims in the Native Land Court for the Avon river banks between Barbadoes Street and Madras Street, the (now) Supreme Court site, Horseshoe Lake, Taitapu and Green Park. Their claims were unsuccessful.

In 1872 the Provincial Government suggested that the Māori should give over the Hagley Reserve in exchange for land elsewhere. There is no record of land being given in compensation.

Further developments

The main entrance building to the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906/7, Hagley Park, Christchurch
The main entrance building to the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906/7

In 1873 a Domain Board was appointed to administer Hagley Park. Different attempts were made to make money for running the Park, including a nursery for plants such as olive, tobacco, mulberry and arrowroot and different medicinal plants.

The total area of Hagley Park and the Government Domain was recorded as 495 acres in 1895. Just over 9 acres had been given to Christ’s College in 1855 in exchange for land in Cathedral Square.

Christchurch Hospital held over 13 acres, and roads (Riccarton Road and Harpers Avenue) took up another 11 acres. Other areas were leased for grazing or used for sport or games such as polo, bowling, cricket and golf.

The South Park was used for the Great Industrial Exhibition in 1882.

Victoria Lake was formed in North Hagley Park in 1897 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign. It had been a swamp of over 1 acre in area, and was extended to over 4 acres, destroying numbers of native plants since lost to Christchurch.

116 acres of North Hagley Park was fenced off for the New Zealand International Exhibition in 1906-07. Special buildings were constructed just for the Exhibition, including a Māori pa built next to Lake Victoria. 37,000 people attended the opening of the Exhibition.

The tradition of using North Hagley for public amusements has continued with use by visiting circuses and open-air concerts.


1Ordinances of the Canterbury Provincial Council, October 1855: 2. The Canterbury Association Reserves Ordinance 1855 [49kb PDF]


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