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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]


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In the early days of Canterbury, three pioneers, Messrs William Rhodes, Robert Rhodes, and George Rhodes, secured in partnership some land near the place where Lyttelton now stands. Subsequently Mr George Rhodes secured a large tract of country in the Levels district, and then the three brothers exchanged with the Canterbury Association their property at Lyttelton for a property of between 250 and 300 acres at Timaru. That happened about the year 1851 or 1852, and the property thus acquired, and then in a very wild and rugged state, now forms the very heart of Timaru. In 1856 Timaru consisted of only one accommodation house, and a woolshed, with a hotel on the beach. Prior to that time it had been a whaling station, and the old boiling-down pots were still on the beach in 1856. The early settlers who came overland had to suffer many hardships and to ford swift running rivers, and there were many cases of drowning. These sturdy pioneers were, however, men of the greatest self-reliance, as the privations they endured and the difficulties they overcame amply proved, and whenever a loafer or a bad character came into the small community he was tabooed and received short notice to quit.

In those days it was necessary to go with a pack horse to the Levels station to procure a sheep or half a sheep from Mr. Rhodes, and the supplies thus obtained were sufficient to maintain the few people then in Timaru with butcher's meat for a week or longer. Contrast this with what happens nowadays, when it is a common thing for a large steamer to enter the port and load up with 20,000 carcases of mutton at one time.

The land purchased at Timaru by the Messrs Rhodes was used by them for their sheep yards, woolsheds, etc. In 1856 Mr. E. H. Lough, the present town clerk, who was then in the employment of Mr. Rhodes, drew up a rough sketch of the proposed town, which was to have been called Rhodestown, and marked out the various streets, and named several of them after the Rhodes family. This sketch was afterwards followed, except in regard to a few necessary deviations, in the laying out of the town. At the foot of what is now Strathallan Street a forest of cabbage trees met the eye in those days, and a winding bullock track, constituted the road. One or two straggling houses and a few stores completed the township. Mr. Lough well remembers, when food was scarce, hunting wild pigs close to where the Post Office now stands.

Farming hardly began until well on in the sixties, and in 1864 the first wheat in South Canterbury was cut by Mr. E. Mc-Bratney. From this wheat Mr. Hayhurst made the first flour produced in South Canterbury. At that time bread was a shilling per four pound loaf, meat a shilling per pound, and the other necessaries of life were equally expensive.

In 1856 the land around Washdyke, near Timaru, was covered with shingle, and looked so unsuitable for cultivation that Mr. Rhodes refused to buy it. However, this shingle has since been removed, and the land is now cultivated successfully and yields good crops. The year 1863 was one of some importance to Timaru, for it was then that the telegraph line was carried through to connect Christchurch with Dunedin. Up to 1868 the town had no public buildings, except the Customhouse on the beach. In that year Timaru was proclaimed a borough on the petition of the residents. The late Mr. Samuel Hewlings was appointed first mayor, and Mr. Edwin Henry Lough, town clerk (an appointment still held by that sterling colonist), and there were also nine councillors.

Old Timaru: Stafford Street Looking South.

Old Timaru: Stafford Street Looking South.

Settlement on the fine agricultural land surrounding the town proceeded steadily, but for a considerable time the population in Timaru itself was small, and the buildings comparatively few in number. The main street, Stafford Street, was the only part of the town in which business places were erected, and these were built of wood. The water supply was very insufficient, although a large sum had been expended in an endeavour page 967 to obtain an artesian service. This proved a failure; and a number of ordinary wells were sunk in several parts of the town, but these only partially met domestic requirements. Timaru experienced a heavy flood in February, 1868, when people in the low lying portion of the town had to be rescued in boats, and the country round was in a more or less devastated condition. In December of the same year there was a fire, which in little more than an hour, destroyed forty buildings and property valued at £80,000. Nearly all the business places in the main thoroughfare were swept away. After this disaster the borough council adopted a by-law requiring all buildings within a given area to be constructed of stone or some other incombustible material. One result of this is that, at the present time, the buildings in the main streets are substantially built, and many of them are fine ornamental structures. After the fire small temporary premises were erected to carry on business while the town was being rebuilt.

Old Timaru: Stafford Street in the Foregrouni.

Old Timaru: Stafford Street in the Foregrouni.

In order to provide an efficient water supply the borough council accepted an offer from Messrs Fraser Bros., West Coast miners, to bring water by an open race and temporary fluming for a distance of over twenty miles from the river Pareora, on the condition of “no water, no payment.” The Messrs Fraser so far succeeded that water could be delivered in the low lying portions of the town. This result proved that an abundant supply could be obtained from Pareora. The borough council then raised a loan of £60,000 for a water supply on scientific lines. The late Mr. Henry Wrigg was engaged to carry out the scheme, but he died before its completion, and Messrs E. Dobson and Son, of Christ-church, were employed to complete the work. This they did with success, and Timaru rejoiced in an abundant supply of water for domestic purposes; and then, with the formation of a most efficient volunteer fire brigade, the risk from fire was reduced to a minimum. Since then the borough council has from time to time made permanent improvements in the race and delivery pipes. In this way the original supply has been almost doubled, and surplus water has long been used for motive power in connection with manufactures, etc. The annual income from this source now amounts to over £2000.

As already indicated, the growth of Timaru was somewhat slow, but a change came with the year 1874, when Sir Julius Vogel's public works and immigration scheme began to tell in that part of the colony. People came from all quarters, bought sections at absurdly high prices, and houses and shops sprang up in all directions. A reaction followed, and land and houses were afterwards disposed of at half what they cost a few years before.

Stafford Street Looking South: 1898.

Stafford Street Looking South: 1898.

Still, notwithstanding all the drawbacks with which it has had to contend, Timaru is to-day a fairly populous, substantially prosperous town. Indeed, in respect to its fine buildings, and its trade, it compares well with other towns of similar size in the colony. For this the community is in no small degree indebted to those energetic townsmen who have from time to time directed municipal affairs. Amongst those, who as mayors of the town, have helped in this work may be mentioned Messrs Cain, Cliff, Sutter, Jackson, Jones, Sherratt, Hill, J. J. Grandi, James S. Keith, and James Craigie. These gentlemen and their fellow councillors have wisely effected many needed improvements without burdening page 968 the ratepayers to a large extent, the only indebtedness being the Water Works Loan of £60,000.

The borough council has control of the Park and Otipua Domain at the south end of the town, and a fine stretch of sand at Caroline Bay on the north. The public edifices are fine commodious structures, and include the Government Buildings, Courthouse, Borough Council Offices, Mechanics' Institute, Timaru High School, and the public main and side schools, which accommodate nearly 2000 pupils. There are also many fine churches owned by the Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregational, Wesleyan and other religious bodies. The Roman Catholic Church, Convent, presbytery and Marist Brothers' School form a very attractive group of buildings, situated on the town belt, and have beautifully ornamental grounds.

The Timaru Hospital is equal to any other institution of its kind in the colony, in respect to its structure and its ornamental grounds. The interior arrangements, too, are very complete, and the institution is excellently managed, all with a view to the well-being of the patients.

Timaru is noteworthy for the magnificent views obtained from the higher ground in and about the town. Amongst the mountains to the west, the imperial Mount Cook is clearly visible. Then to the north sweeps the long stretch of the Canterbury Plains, and outward from the shore the South Pacific presents panoramic prospects, which vary with the weather and the seasons. Altogether, it is safe to say that, with its large surrounding tracts of fine agricultural land, Timaru will continue to increase in importance as a commercial centre and shipping port. At the census of March, 1901, the borough had a population of 6424, namely, 3135 males and 3289 females.

The Hon. W. Hall-Jones, Member for Timaru in the House of Representatives, has continuously sat for the borough in Parliament since August, 1820. He has been Minister of Public Works in the Seddon Go-vernment since 1895. His portrait and a brief sketch of his life appear on page 1494 of the Wellington volume of this work. At the general election of the 25th of November, 1902, Mr. Hall-Jones had two opponents who, between them, polled 1742 votes. The number recorded in his favour was 3045.

Timaru from the Lighthouse: 1898.

Timaru from the Lighthouse: 1898.

Mr. James Hutchison Sutter, sometime a Member of the House of Representatives, was born at Peterhead, Scotland, in 1819. On leaving school he joined the merchant service, and after six years rose to be mate. A year later he became master, and for twenty years traded to the West Indies, China, and Australia. Relinqulshing seafaring life in 1859, he came to Dunedin by the ship “Alpine,” from Glasgow. After being four years in business in Dunedin, Mr. Sutter removed to Timaru, where he opened a general store, tiber-yard, and commission agency. He retired in 1880, his general business being taken over by Mr. R. Bowie, the timber trade by Mr. J. Jackson, and the wine and spirit trade by Mr. R. R. Taylor. During his residence in Timaru, Mr. Sutter made two trips to the Old Country. He took an active interest for many years in all matters connected with the progress of the town and district. For four and a half years he was mayor of Timaru, and during that period the extensive waterworks system was successfully initiated and completed. He was one of the earliest members page 969 of the Harbour Board, of which he was chairman for some years, and was also chosen to represent the Gladstone constituency in Parliament from 1881 to 1887. The strain of public life proving too much for his health, he ceased some years ago to take an active part in politics. He, however, still retained his interest in various institutions, and was for years chairman of the Timaru Gas Company. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Sutter, who died at Timaru on the 13th of April, 1903, had three sons; one a medical man in practice in London, another in Japan, and the third, a resident in Timaru.