Coming around the crest of the Christchurch (now Sumner) Road into Cavendish Bay, one would have been greeted by the stony cliffs of Okete Upoko where the hotly contested Port Cooper Deed of Sale was signed just the year before by Ngāi Tahu rangatira and a representative of the British Crown. The ‘Basket of Heads’ overlooks the slopes of the ancient Ngati Mamoe settlement of Ōhinehou where, in Gibb’s painting, John Robert Godley’s Canterbury Association has been busy building a lovely two-storey six bedroom home for his soon to arrive wife Charlotte and family.
Godley’s House stands in that last bend of Christchurch Road before it turns left into Oxford Street and plunges down to the jetty. The house’s foundations were discovered beneath Plunket House at 4 Sumner Road when the latter was demolished after the 2011 earthquakes. In front of that, on the corner of Oxford Street, stands the land agent’s office, home, and stables. The remainder of the buildings in that block all the way down to the seawall, are the Immigration Barracks housing the bulk of the Canterbury Association’s first customers – colonial settlers bound for the Canterbury Plains.
According to the builder Captain Thomas, the barracks consisted of “four large emigration barracks holding from 200 to 300 people (nearly completed); kitchen and wash house, privies, well 44 feet deep ... all enclosed with fence and gates.” These excellent accommodations, as well as the jetty, the roads, 25 houses, two hotels, and a small customs house, were all built by Lyttelton’s founding population of 100 European and 100 Māori workers, all under the employ of the Association.
While initially overwhelmed by the more than 800 new arrivals on the first fleet of four ships, the barracks would also become the town centre, allegedly housing at one time or another over the ensuing years: a library; court house; Reverend Dudley’s church (now the British Hotel!); Reverend Cotterill’s grammar school (before moving to Christs College); as well as the town hall and even a collegiate precursor to the University of Canterbury, all as needed while the town of Lyttelton grew steadily outwards from its modest colonial beginnings.
Reproduction of a painting of Lyttelton in 1850 by J. Gibb
Te Ūaka The Lyttelton Museum reference 14625.11