Alexander William Bickerton was Canterbury College’s (the forerunner of the University of Canterbury) first professor of chemistry, and a figure of some notoriety in early Christchurch. He was acknowledged as a brilliant teacher and Ernest Rutherford was his most famous pupil.
Life in Wainoni
He built a large house (long since demolished) called “Wainoni” on 20 to 30 acres of land in what is now the suburb of Wainoni. Initially he tried to establish a new form of society in a “federative home” at Wainoni, but this was not a success. He then turned the gardens of Wainoni into a pleasure garden where thousands came to watch the spectacles he created including naval battles with real explosives, shipwrecks and rescues, which were staged on an artificial lake. In 1904 the Avon Pine Sanitorium for fee-paying tuberculosis patients was opened on the grounds.
Career and later life
Bickerton’s controversial views on many topics including university reform and the institution of marriage finally led to him being sacked from the University. He returned to England in 1910 and died in 1929. The year before his death he was made Professor Emeritus of Canterbury College. One myth about Bickerton is that his ashes are lodged in the wall of the Great Hall of the Arts Centre. There is a bronze plaque for him on the wall but behind this is just a small gap. They may be somewhere else in the Great Hall but this is not recorded.
A. W. Bickerton resources
- Professor Bickerton’s Wainoni by Timothy Baker - book about the history of Professor Bickerton’s home and pleasure gardens in the Wainoni area of Christchurch.
- Alexander William Bickerton - biography from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.
- Alexander William Bickerton - biography from the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.