Leaning churches & busy crowds: recently digitised cartes-de-visite photographs of early Christchurch

Normal School, Christchurch, late 1870s, Christchurch. Unknown photographer. Gift of Mrs E W Gibbs, 1933. Te Papa

This is a wonderful early photograph of a crowd watching what appears to be a sporting event on the grounds of the old Normal School (later Cranmer Court apartments, now demolished). At the time the photograph was taken some of the people were moving, making some of the figures appear blurry (see especially the person walking along behind the crowd and the player dressed in white on the field). Adding a touch of unintended humour to the image is the man perched on top of the horse-drawn waggon looking over the crowd at the game. Meanwhile his horse presumably grabs a mouthful of grass (hopefully the horse didn’t bolt!).

Church, 1870s, Christchurch. Wheeler and Son. Gift of Mrs E W Gibbs, 1933. Te Papa

The two wooden church buildings (above and below) are not identified (if anyone does know them it would be great to hear from you so we can update the database). I like how the angle of the photograph makes the church appear to be leaning to the right as if it is starting to tip over. The photograph below is also an outdoor portrait of a group posed in front of the gate. The woman on the left is holding a basket and looks to the camera. While the one on the right appears to be holding a child but both of them were moving too much during the exposure so the detail is lost.

Church, 1870s, Christchurch. Wheeler and Son. Gift of Mrs E W Gibbs, 1933. Te Papa

The photograph of the Christchurch cathedral taken during the 1870s, shows horse-drawn transportation using the area outside the cathedral as a parking area. Zoom in close and see the different types of horse drawn carriages parked waiting for customers and the printed notices hanging on the fence beside them. The photograph was taken well before the 1888 earthquake which knocked the top of the spire.

Cathedral, Christchurch, 1870s, Christchurch. Wheeler and Son. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa



Lissa Mitchell – Curator Historical Documentary Photography


7 Responses

  1. Lissa Mitchell

    The Roman Catholic Procathedral, Barbadoes Street!

  2. Tony Rackstraw

    The building in photograph above titled “Church, 1870s, Christchurch. Wheeler and Son … ” is a bit like like the Headmaster’s House at Christ’s College. Refer “The Buildings of Christ’s College 1850-1990” Wells and Hamilton, 1991 page 20. There is also later photograph of the building on my “Old Canterbury” website – http://earlycanterbury.blogspot.co.nz/2010/03/christs-college.html

    • Lissa Mitchell

      Thank you Tony – I will check it out. Btw – I enjoy and use your Early photographers blog – thanks for all the work you put into it.

  3. Lissa Mitchell

    Perhaps the crowd are watching a cricket match on the ground in front of the Normal School in Cranmer Square?

  4. ken

    the earthquakes,as an act of GOD,were very hard on CHRISTCHURCH churches,however as my friend said.GOD treated them very equally.

  5. adele

    Dont you just love the old photographs.. I had a lovely article about the Rose window at Ch.Ch Cathedral, sent it to a lady who has a website for all to enjoy. But I have another article, about the original Christ College buildings, must look it up, offered it to the College, never heard from them at all yeah or neigh!

    • Lissa Mitchell

      Thanks Adele and good luck with the articles.

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