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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1 (May 1, 1930)

Perseverance in the Face of Great Difficulties

Perseverance in the Face of Great Difficulties

The story of the settlement of Canterbury Province and of New Zealand's first railway enterprise—the establishment of communication between Port Lyttelton and the Canterbury Plains–is a story of pioneer triumph over great natural obstacles, constituting one of the most romantic and interesting chapters of our history.

The Canterbury Association.

The genesis of the colonising effort so far as Canterbury Province is concerned centres in the organisation, in England, towards the middle of last century, of the Canterbury Association. This Association was organised for the purpose of founding a settlement in New Zealand. The Association appointed, as Chief Surveyor, Captain Joseph Thomas (who had previously been in the colony and knew something of its geography), and directed him to proceed to New Zealand, decide upon the site of the settlement, and make preparation for the reception of the settlers. On arrival in Canterbury he considered several suggested sites, and chose the Port Cooper Plains, as North Canterbury was then called.

The Association acquired from the New Zealand Company an area of land, approximately two and a half million acres in extent, between the Ashburton and Waipara Rivers. In reporting upon the suitability for settlement of the Port Cooper Plains, one of the New Zealand Company's surveyors (Mr. H. J. Cridland) showed the advantages of the locality in comparison with earlier settlements elsewhere in New Zealand. In effect his report was: “No natives; no floods; no bush to cut down; a port easy of access.” Though the port was easy of access from the sea, it was by no means easy of access from the land side. Captain Thomas made a landing place at the present town of Lyttelton, and constructed, from there, a bridle path over the hills to Heathcote Valley. As this route was not suitable for wheeled traffic, he also laid out a road over Evans Pass to Sumner. Some progress had been made on this road when the principal Resident Agent of the Association (Mr. J. R. Godley) arrived at Port Cooper some months in advance of the main body of settlers. Mr. Godley, finding the available funds of the Association were exhausted, suspended further operations.

Arrival of the First Settlers.

The first party of the settlers of the Association arrived in December, 1850. To reach the Plains they had to walk over the bridle path and send their baggage and stores round by sea to Sumner, and thence by boats up the Avon and Heathcote rivers. Naturally, the question of means of communication received their early attention. A meeting of land purchasers was held in 1851, and at this meeting the construction of a tunnel through the hill was mentioned, but the work was considered to be beyond the resources of the settlers. The meeting also considered a proposal to raise a loan to complete the Sumner road, but failed, too, to reach any definite conclusion on this matter.

In June, 1852, the Imperial Government passed an Act to grant Representative Constitution to the Colony of New Zealand. On advice page 43 of this reaching the Colony, steps were at once taken by the Governor, Sir George Grey, to give effect to its provisions. There was also issued a proclamation, dated 5th March, 1853, constituting the electoral districts of each province, and directing the procedure for the election of Superintendents and Provincial Councils.

Decisions of the Provincial Council.

Mr. James Edward Fitzgerald was chosen as the first Superintendent of Canterbury, and the first meeting of the Canterbury Provincial Council was opened on 27th September, 1853. This meeting was of a preliminary character for the establishment of the Provincial Government, and terminated on 24th November.

The Council met again on 15th February, 1854, and during the session passed the Lyttelton and Christchurch Road Ordinance, which provided for the appointment of a Commission of five engineers and surveyors to report as to the best line of communication. The Commissioners were: Messrs. W. B. Bray (chairman), H. J. Cridland, E. Dobson, R. J. S. Hanman, and E. Jollie. Their report, dated 21st March, 1854, was of a comprehensive character. It stated that four modes of communication between the seaport and the interior had been under consideration, viz:–

(1) Construction of a harbour at the Estuary of the Avon and Heathcote Rivers; (2) an open road over the hills which surround Port Victoria (the name of the harbour had been changed from Port Cooper to Port Victoria); (3) a road through these same hills by means of a tunnel; (4) a railway through the same hills by the same means.

The first of these proposals was rejected.

The second dealt with four proposed lines, of which the Sumner Road, as already laid out, was considered to offer the best transport possibilities.

As the Pioneers Visualised It. Plan of the proposed Lyttelton terminus of the Lyttelton and Christchurch Railway.

As the Pioneers Visualised It.
Plan of the proposed Lyttelton terminus of the Lyttelton and Christchurch Railway.

The third showed only two lines worthy of consideration. One, a tunnel, 600 yards in length, from the head of the gully descending into Dampier's Bay, to the western slope of the Bridle Path Valley; the other, a tunnel 350 yards in length at 200ft. below the summit of Evans Pass, on the Sumner Road. The first, though the shorter route, was rejected on account of the length of the tunnel and the unsatisfactory nature of the ground to be traversed. The Commission estimated the cost of a road of easy grade from Lyttelton to the Heathcote Ferry, including a bridge over the Heathcote, at £25,731 by the second route. If adequate labour were available this road could be completed in eighteen months.

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Dealing with the fourth mode of communication (a railway), two proposals were considered, viz:—(1) A line from a deep-water jetty in Gollan's Bay, passing through a tunnel three-quarters of a mile in length, to the Sumner Valley, then by another tunnel 660 yards long through the cliffs at Sumner, thence along the line of the Sumner Road to the Heathcote Ferry. To avoid crossing the navigable portion of the Heathcote River, the proposed line would turn south, and cross the Heathcote at Dr. Earle's section (now Opawa). (2) A direct line commencing at about the Custom House in Lyttelton, passing under the hills by a tunnel 1 1/2 miles long to Heathcote Valley, and ending at the town reserve in Christchurch. This line would be 6 1/4 miles in length, and it was estimated, would cost £155,356, and require four years for completion.

An Historic Day in Canterbury'S History. The opening of the first railway in New Zealand (Christchurch to Ferrymead—gauge 5ft. 3in.), at Christchurch, Canterbury Province, 1st December, 1863.

An Historic Day in Canterbury'S History.
The opening of the first railway in New Zealand (Christchurch to Ferrymead—gauge 5ft. 3in.), at Christchurch, Canterbury Province, 1st December, 1863.

The Commission's Recommendation.

The Commission then reviewed the situation, and concluded that it must be left to the Provincial Government to decide whether a road or a railway was best suited to the needs and circumstances of the community. Should the Government consider the railway too costly an undertaking, then the Commission recommended the completion of the Sumner Road by a tunnel through Evans Pass, and the improvement of the Sumner bar by filling in the rocks at the entrance. (It was recognised that the heavy traffic would not be carted over the hill.)

Referring to the working costs and capacity of the proposed railway, the Commission gave the following figures:—Passenger trains in England are run at a cost of 3/- per mile. Allowing double that cost here, the expense of running six and a quarter miles would not exceed 40/-, but the engine would be capable of taking, in addition to one carriage seating 18 passengers, five or six wagons of merchandise, say 18 tons, or in six journeys 108 passengers and 108 tons of goods at a cost of £12. This considerably exceeded the present needs of the settlement. Goods landed and shipped at Christ-church Quay from 1st April, 1853 to 1st April, 1854, did not exceed 2,200 tons, or about seven tons per day. Even this, at 10/- per ton, and 34 passengers each way at 2/6 would defray the expenses of working the railway; but before the line would be opened the quantity of wool would be doubled, likewise agricultural produce in even greater ratio; and this traffic would continue to increase with the progress of the Colony. The fact that the railway was in progress might bring capital from Australia for the purchase of land, and place at disposal funds more than sufficient to liquidate the cost of the railway.

The Provincial Council was prorogued on 12th April, 1854, in order that the Superintendent and other members of the General Assembly might attend the sitting at Auckland. The Superintendent, in his closing address to the Council, stated that there was no necessity for an immediate decision on the report of the Commission, as the plans suggested were of so important a character, involving so large an expenditure of public money, and so closely affecting private as well as public interests, that it was right to postpone any final decision until the public had had ample opportunity of discussing the various plans and expressing an opinion thereon. After the meeting of the General Assembly, the Council would be asked to attend again in order to deal with the question.

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Proposal for Tramway over the Hill.

Meantime, the Superintendent advised the Chairman of the Commission that he was not inclined to spend money on the Sumner bar, or on the railway from Gollan's Bay; in the first place because the filling in of the rocks would not divert the danger of the overfalling sea outside the rocks (which was the real cause of the navigation of the channel being so frequently closed), and in the second place, because if a railway to a deep sea jetty were desirable, the railway through Lyttelton would still be the shortest line of communication therewith, and the value of Lyttelton property would not be injured. The position reduced itself to the question of a railway under the Bridle Path hill, or a road. Without expressing any opinion on the merits of the proposals he considered the railway should not be started if the existing means of communication could not be improved for five years, pending completion of the tunnel. It was therefore requested that particular attention be given to the question of opening some temporary, but efficient means of communication. Mr. Bray was asked to report upon a suggestion that the railway be completed from Christchurch to Martin's (Heathcote Valley), and on the provision of a temporary tramway (to be worked by a fixed engine on top of the hill) to give communication with Lyttelton.

Mr. Bray reported that the tramway proposal was feasible. He estimated the cost of the railway at £37,300, and of the tramway at £6,734. The power for the tramway was to be provided by a powerful gin, worked by bullocks on the top of the hill, with a wire haulage rope on each side. He proposed that the line be double from the terminals, so as to allow the ascending and descending wagons to pass each other. He pointed out that owing to the steepness of the grade the work would be very slow. It would take about 1 1/4 hours to move a wagon containing one ton from Norwich Quay (Lyttelton) to Martin's (Heathcote Valley). The capacity of the tramway would be 10 or 12 tons a day. Because of the time of the journey and the risk of accident the tramway would be ill adapted for passengers. Assuming wages to be at the rate of 5/- per day, and using four bullocks, the working expenses would be £5 per day. The traffic in view would fall considerably short of 10 tons per day, so that high rates would be necessary to meet the working expenses.

(To be continued.)

A Fine Example of New Zealand Railways Publicity Work. A recent display in the window of Messrs. Hallenstein Bros., Christchurch.

A Fine Example of New Zealand Railways Publicity Work.
A recent display in the window of Messrs. Hallenstein Bros., Christchurch.