Notes of Travel in Christchurch

James Copeland kept a travel log in the Presbyterian periodical The Evangelist of his tour of the South Island.  Here is his description of his visit to Christchurch which was originally published in January 1871.  His description is still relevant to Christchurch after the Christchurch Earthquake and its aftershocks.  An edited version of this article has also been previously posted on Facebook.

This city has the appearance of a quiet English town occupying a large area of level ground and presenting an abundance of trees in every part of it.  The streets are regularly laid out, some the principal of them running parallel to the river Avon, and the railway, in the space between the two, with cross streets intersecting them.  Along the banks of the river, which is a pleasant-looking stream of pure water, there are numerous willow-trees, with graceful drooping branches.  The absence of the heavy dray traffic which forms so prominent a feature in Dunedin and throughout Otago is very noticeable.  The railway renders this quite unnecessary.

Of the public buildings, the most remarkable are those belonging to the Government, which contain the hall of the Provincial Council, with the library and numerous government offices.  they are built close to the bank of the river.  The style of architecture is decidedly ecclesiastical.  The Council Hall is unique — richly stained windows shedding their “dim religious light” over what must often be a very stormy scene, at least if we may judge from the frequency with which that curious provincial phenomenon, a ministerial crisis, occurs: while the fretted roof and variegated walls must often resound with the vehement declamation fo the patriotic legislators who assemble here.  The library is handsomely got up, the books being bound in an elegant style and carefully arranged — though we were led to believe that they are regarded by some of the legislators as being more designed for looking at than looking into.

As it is well known, the dominant influence here is that of the Church of England.  there are three congregations, which are ministered to by the Bishop of Christchurch (who is also the Primate of New Zealand), by the Dean of Christchurch, and two or three other clergymen.  There are two Presbyterian churches — St Andrews, of which the Rev. Mr. Fraser is pastor, and St Paul’s, which is shortly to be occupied by the Rev. Mr. Douglas, from the North of England.  The congregation of St Andrews occupies the foremost place.  Mr. Fraser has laboured there for fifteen years, and evidently with much success.  The church building, of cruciform shape, is occupied by a large congregation. The manse close by is surrounded by a a spacious garden, pleasantly laid out.    In many of the congregations the want of manses is a source of much inconvience and even weakness to the church, and brings out strongly by contrast the wisdom displayed by the Synod of Otago in devoting their trust funds to assist in the erection of manses throughout their bounds.

At present there are no less than three or four congregations in and around Christchurch which are without a settled pastor — viz. St Paul’s (which, however, will be immediately supplied), Leeston, Lincoln and Bank’s Peninsula.  One or two of these are perhaps hardly strong enough to be self-supporting; yet if devoted men were found willing to enter upon them they might be able, with some help in the meantime, to do much needful work in the cause of religion, and ultimately to build up fair congregations.

The Wesleyan Church has many adherents, and possesses a large and imposing edifice in the city, which reflects credit on the great interest and zeal which they usually display.  In the course of my trip as far as it had yet extended (and the impression grew stronger as I travelled further North), I felt somewhat painfully that the sectarian spirit was displayed in way to which I had happily been a stranger in Otago.  In Dunedin and throughout every district of Otago I had been familiar with schools for the young which were attended (as had been the purpose contemplated from the beginning) by children connected with all religious denominations.  No difficulty had been felt by the parents, whether Presbyterian, Episcopalian or Wesleyan, in regard to their children mingling with others in the same school.  In Christchurch, however, and in other places further North, I found that such freedom of sentiment did not exist.  There is a High School professedly Presbyterian, and another school of similar description professedly Episcopalian.  This separation of sects, begun in the weekday schools and perpetrated in the churches throughout life, extended its influence to the abodes of the dead, and this not merely in maintaining that rigid seclusion which Episcopalians insist upon, of having their dead buried in “consecrated” ground — a demand which is usually conceded in public cemetaries — but in forming separate cemetaries and keeping the management of each in the hands of its respective sect.  We feel sure that the Presbyterians have never had any scruples in permitting the remains of Episcopalians to repose by their own.  It seems a pity that such liberality should not be reciprocated.

Before leaving Christchurch, it is deserving of notice how bounteous is the hand of Providence when we apply ourselves to receive the gifts.  The want of water of the desired quality and of convenient access had been long felt in the city, when the sinking of Artesian wells was tried, and happily succeeded.  These are now bored in various public places in the city, and in almost every private garden; and a cool clear spring of water is obtained from a depth of  about 80 feet, and at a very trifling coast of about £9.  The value of this discovery cannot be fully estimated.  It gives the city and its surroundings a fresh and blooming aspect, and supplies one of the prime requisites of health.

After a very pleasant though brief sojourn, I again enjoyed the railway ride to Lyttelton, and soon steamed out of its well-sheltered harbour.

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