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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 2 (June, 1926)

Moorehouse Tunnel

Moorehouse Tunnel.

When tho first settlers of the Canterbury Association arrived at Lyttelton they found an excellent harbour, but the steep and rugged hills surrounding it prevented easy access to their lands on the Can-terbury Plains. A bridle path over the hill? Heathcote valley had been formed, but want of funds had delayed the completion of the proposed road to Summer. The settlers could scalethe hill on foot, (or on horseback when horses were available), but there was no road for vehicular traffic. The question of intercom-munication between the port and the productive area thus early pre. sented itself, and has continued to occupy the minds of some Canterbury residents ever since. At first goods were carried from the port i u small boats round to Summer and up theavon river, and later by larger vessels Up: the Heathcote, but apart from the delay and uncertainty due to weather condition, therewas a serious obstacle to navigation, the Sumner bar. Onenterprising settler seeking to lessen the difficulties procured a small steamer, the Alma, to be used in towing thesailing craft over the bar, but the steamerwas wrecked on the first trip to Sumner. The sailing craft continued to negotiate th bar when conditios were favourable.

Early Broad(5ft.3in.)Guage No.7Locomotive at Christchurch

Early Broad(5ft.3in.)Guage No.7Locomotive at Christchurch

It was obvious that the means of access were inadequate for any considerable business. The settlers had many discussions as to the possibilities of improvement, and later, on the establishment of responsible government, the discussions were continued in the Canterbury Provincial Council. It was decided to complete the Summer Road, but there was still doubt as to whether such completion was a satisfactory solution of the difficulty.

In addressing the Provincial Council on 11th November, 1856, the, Superintendent of the Province, Mr. J. E. Fitzgerald, stated that owing to the want of unanimity about the Summer Road the work had not proceeded. As the result of the further discussion it waa resolved to establish a steamer service between Lyttelton and the Heathcote river. The steamer service was established and the trading of sailing vessels up the Heathcote continued, but, with the increase of settlement, it was evident that improved transport for the grow-ing trade had still to be provided. On 11th November, 1858, the provincial Council had resolved that a competent engineer be obtained from Britain to report as to the best means of communication between Lyttelton and Christ-Although doubts were expressed as to whether the province could afford what was recognised as a costly work for so small a community, public opinion had by this time settled thatit was necessary to have a railway between the port and the city. There was the usual diversity of opinion as to tlie best route. Finally the decision had to be made between a line to Sumner with tunnel under Evans Pass to Gollans Bay and the present direct line. A commission, consisting of Messrs. Fitzgerald, Cummins and Selfe, went to London ad referred the question to Robert Stephenson, then a great Railway authority. The latter 1859. No time was lost in commencing operations and a contract was arranged with a British firm Messrs. Smith and Knight of London. The terms of this contract were that the contractors should build the railway page 33 between Christchurch and Lyttelton in five years for the sum of £235,000, but the contract was to be terminable at any time within four months of the arrival of the contractors in the colony if:—(a) The Government could not find the money; (b) The contractors found the work could not be done for the amount.

The representatives of the contractors arrived in New Zealand in December, 1859, and commenced preliminary investigation, but the first Railway Bill passed by the Provincial Council was disallowed by the Governor. On the expiry of the four months in April, 1860, the Provincial Government could not give a definite answer as to when the money would be available. The work was stopped while efforts were being made to obtain the authority of the General Government, but when in November the authority was at last obtained, the contractors declined to continue. In spite of the difficulties the Canterbury people were not discouraged. Mr. W. H. Sefton Moorehouse, the then Superintendent, backed by the Provincial Council, continued to push matters forward. The Provincial Government took over the liabilities of the contractors and proceeded slowly with the trial headings of the tunnel, while inquiries were made for other contractors. Messrs. Smith and Knight in their work had encountered very hard material in the outer surfaces of the hill and the possibility of this continuing had influenced their decision not to continue the work. Mr. Moorehouse obtained the services of Doctor (afterwards Sir Julius) von Haast, a geologist who came to New Zealand with the Hochstetter Expedition, and was then in Nelson. As the result of his investigation he advised that the hill to be pierced was volcanic and that the hard outer crust would not continue throughout. His advice proved to be sound. Armed with this information the Provincial Government was able to negotiate and conclude a contract with Messrs. Geo. Holmes and Co. (Geo. Holmes and Edward Richardson) of Melbourne, to construct the railway (with the exception of the stations) in five years for the sum of £240,500 of which the tunnel was to cost £195,000. The tender was accepted in May, 1861, and the first sod of the work was turned at Heathcote on 17th July of the same year. The work was completed and the line between Christchurch and Lyttelton opened in November, 1867. This determination in overcoming difficulties and pressing forward to the end in view is a fine example of the grit of the early settlers and worthy of remembrance by the present generation. In commemoration of the services of the Superintendent it was decided to name the tunnel The Moorehouse Tunnel.