Before coming to Te Ara I worked as a researcher for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in Christchurch. I’ve been personally saddened by the heritage losses from the earthquake, many of them buildings and structures that I had researched. However, yesterday I heard of an exciting discovery from a friend who had spent a cold day out at Lyttelton with the media and archaeologists looking at the remnants of John Robert Godley’s house from 1850. These were unearthed as a result of the demolition of the earthquake-damaged Lyttelton Plunket building. As a site associated with human activity prior to 1900, the demolition had to take place under an archaeological authority issued by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. What the archaeologists discovered were the pile holes of the original house, post holes with timber, and a drip line (where water has dripped), which shows the outline of the building.
Godley was the founder of the Canterbury settlement and a passionate advocate for colonial self-government. He arrived in Lyttelton with his wife Charlotte and only son John Arthur in April 1850. After only a couple of days the family moved to Wellington until the first four ships of the Canterbury Association arrived at Lyttelton in December 1850.
The artwork above, by William Fox, shows the settlers arriving, with the four ships still in the harbour. The two-storeyed house on the middle left, with the verandah, is said to be Godley’s, and was described by Charlotte as ‘the best looking house we have seen yet in New Zealand; six rooms and a kind of pantry’. More of Charlotte’s letters to her mother, which give an entertaining view of family life and the other Canterbury settlers are now available online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. She also, for example, described Lyttelton as ‘a complete hole and very difficult to get out of’ – although she might have meant physically, as it was before the Lyttelton tunnels were built (rail in 1867 and road in 1964).
The Godleys left Lyttelton at the end of 1852 and returned to England. A statue in John Robert Godley’s memory was unveiled in Christchurch in 1867. Although the statue moved around the square over the years, it survived until the February 2011 earthquake, when it fell off its plinth. Interestingly, as another result of the earthquake damage, two time capsules containing newspapers from 1918 and 1933 were discovered in the aftermath. The statue is now in the Canterbury Museum as part of the Canterbury Quakes exhibition.
These finds cheer me up in an odd way – maybe other buried heritage will be discovered during the Christchurch rebuild and provide a link between past and present.