On 4 September 2010, Canterbury experienced the first of a series of earthquakes that caused widespread damage to the region’s infrastructure and serious disruption to the lives of its people. When a second major earthquake struck on 22 February 2011, causing 185 deaths, Canterbury Museum made a commitment to collect, record and share the stories and objects that related to the destruction, loss, recovery and remembrance of these events. Explore these diverse items, from photographs to books and from uniforms to the tools and equipment used by volunteers, which show how the people of Canterbury responded to these events, the damage they caused and their lasting impact.
Alfred Charles Barker (1819 – 1873) is a well-known figure in Canterbury’s settlement, as ship’s doctor aboard the Charlotte Jane and as a prolific photographer. He, his beloved wife Emma and their eight children left an incredible collection of letters, photographs and personal artefacts that provide a remarkable insight into life in the new colony. They also give an intimate glimpse into Barker family life and Alfred and Emma’s determination to ensure their family’s wellbeing, education and inclusion in the growing Christchurch settlement. Arriving as part of the Canterbury Association settlers in 1850, Barker promptly established the first medical practice beside the Avon River in a tent-like shelter named Studding Sail Hall. From here, he strengthened his networks with the settler and Māori communities. Following a spinal injury and Emma’s death in 1858, he ceased practising medicine. He turned to taking care of their children and developing his skills as a photographer. In his devotion to capturing Canterbury’s landscape, people, architecture and events, he recorded the date, time, place and names on most of his images. In these images and in the wider collection, the Barker family have gifted modern Cantabrians a remarkable view of their beginnings.
Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898) was one of New Zealand’s foremost architects in the nineteenth century. The buildings he designed were primarily in the Gothic Revival style which became distinctive of Christchurch’s architectural character. Mountfort arrived in Canterbury aboard the Charlotte Jane, one of the first four ships sent out by the Canterbury Association to populate the new settlement. The first church he designed here was the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Lyttelton. Mountfort was unfamiliar with local materials and the church had to be demolished 1857 because of structural defects. Despite this by 1857 Mountfort had established himself along with his brother-in-law, Isaac Luck, as the architects for the province of Canterbury. Under this partnership many early designs, such as the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings, were completed. This collection of Mountfort’s plans demonstrates an extraordinary attention to minute detail and exquisite drawings of some of Christchurch’s most renowned buildings. Many of these buildings were severely damaged by the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes and these plans serve as a reminder of Christchurch and Canterbury’s architectural heritage.
An avid photographer, this collection of photographs and negatives taken by Joan Woodward was presented to Canterbury Museum in 1997. Joan was the Curator of Pictorial History at Canterbury Museum between April 1972 and June 1995, after which she continued at the Museum in a voluntary capacity until 1999. These images provide a snapshot of Christchurch in the 1980s that represent public celebrations, architecture and heritage in the city. The collection has gained new significance since the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes altered Christchurch so dramatically. Many of the buildings recorded in these images were demolished due to severe earthquake damage. The images within the collection serve as a tangible reminder of how Christchurch city looked before the earthquakes and the extensive rebuild they necessitated.
In 1952, George Ranald Macdonald volunteered to collect biographical information on early Canterbury settlers for Canterbury Museum. The G R Macdonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biographies, presented in 1964, represents twelve years of his research and is made up of around 12,000 entries on nineteenth century Cantabrians. While it is often relatively easy to locate information on those prominent in public life, it is Macdonald’s inclusion of people from every stratum of Canterbury society that has made this Dictionary such a valuable biographical source. The information included often goes beyond the basic facts and gives a rare insight into the lives of early residents, the businesses they founded, the institutions they were prominent in and the areas in which they lived. It is one of the most valuable and widely used sources of information on Canterbury people.