The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society
The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society
In April 1864 a public meeting was held at the Christchurch Town Hall, presided over by the Provincial Superintendent, Samuel Bealey, who called on Frederick Weld to move the resolution that 'a Society should be formed called the Canterbury Horticultural and Acclimatisation Society.' The motion was seconded by Mark Stoddart, and carried—as well as a further motion to ask the Provincial Government to give, for the Society's disposal, the Government Domain and part of Hagley Park near the hospital. The Society was formally constituted on 25 April 1864, with Superintendent Bealey its first Patron and Weld its first President. Vice-presidents were the Venerable Archdeacon Matthias (a prime introducer of gorse), Sir John Cracroft Wilson (an importer of pedigree sheep), Dr Julius Haast, W. T. L. Travers (who exported New Zealand flora to England) and T. H. Potts (who imported azaleas and rhododendrons to this country). In May the Provincial Government granted the Society the use of 1.6 hectares of the Domain, between the river Avon and the Public Hospital. A cottage was built for the curator, Mr A. M. Johnson, and the Society was well and truly established.
In the years that followed the Society proved itself to be a vigorous and innovative organisation, involving itself wholeheartedly in the introduction of trout, salmon, small birds, pheasants, hares and rabbits. The Gardens at the Domain became a favoured spot with Christchurch citizens for family outings, as they could see deer, kangaroos, emus, a Californian bear, and ferrets that the Society bred on behalf of the Government. In 1897 the Society imported red deer from Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire, and liberated them in the Rakaia Gorge: these were the ancestors of the famous Rakaia deer herd. In 1885, after many attempts that failed, the Society succeeded in importing and acclimatising bumblebees, to the benefit of all the farmers of New Zealand.
In 1916 the inventory of stock in the Society's Gardens included pheasants, peacocks and peahens, quail, geese, ducks, both native and exotic, gulls, keas, various small birds, grey squirrels, angora goats, rainbow and brown trout, goldfish and perch. By 1918 the Society had built a new fish hatchery, considered the most advanced of its type in the Dominion, and in 1917 one million brown trout ova were sold. In addition to this 20 000 rainbow trout fry were taken from the hatchery and distributed in Lakes Pearson and Hawdon.
In 1922 the Hospital Board wanted to extend and build a new nurses' home. It needed at least part of the Society's ground. The Society debated this, and decided to vacate entirely. In November 1930 it purchased a property of 4 hectares at Greenpark—land it retains to this day—building a hatchery there that proved to be one of the most successful in New Zealand. In 1934 more than four million fry were raised. Today the page 91 Society continues its interest in fish management and conservation of freshwater resources. The game farm at Greenpark is also used at times for the raising of game birds like partridges. The management of swan, duck and geese populations also keeps the officers of the Society busy.
In 1917 the Society had a change of name: up until then it had been known as, simply, the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society, with all Annual Reports from 1864 to 1915 referring to the Society under this title. In the 1909 Rules it clearly stated 'this Society shall be called the "Canterbury Acclimatisation Society".' The 1917 Rules aver: 'The Society shall be called the "North Canterbury Acclimatisation Society".' Why? No-one knows. The present Society, despite hours of research by their Chief Executive, Mr Webb, does not know; the Wildlife Service of the Department of Internal Affairs does not know. It is one of life's little mysteries. In the meantime, in true appreciation of the leading role this Society played in the history of acclimatisation in New Zealand, I shall use the name by which the parade of colourful characters that belong to its past would have known it: the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society.