A rich maritime history

Lyttelton ‘will come to life’ with the inaugural ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix Christchurch, on 18-19 March 2023. The event won’t be the first major regatta on the harbour, as Haydn Rawstron explains.

Charlotte Godley

Six months after the ‘First Four’ Canterbury Association ships arrived at Lyttelton, the steadily growing settlement held its first sporting event, a regatta in the harbour. It marked Queen Victoria’s 32nd birthday, Saturday, 24 May 1851.

Charlotte Godley described the celebrations at length in a letter home to her mother in Wales: the day was actually ‘too lovely, not a breath of wind all day, so that the sailing boats never started’! Instead, the Regatta [sic] consisted solely of ‘boat-races’.

The first match was for ‘five-oared whale boats’, four of which were Māori boats-and-oarsmen. ‘Only one white crew pulled against them’ and it was easily beaten. The Māori accomplished the feat ‘in remarkably short time and came in very fresh, and in great delight’.

Charlotte continues: ‘The Victoria won, belonging to a chief, who did not go in her, but walked up and down, telling people he was just like Mr. Godley, and only looked on.’
Her effervescent account of the various races and events reveals that Māori and Pākehā were both participants and spectators in the overall entertainment, a day of mutual celebration in games, feasting, and dancing. She summed up, ‘in short it was very successful, and everyone thoroughly tired next day’, no one probably more so than her little son, Arthur.

Jr Godley

Boats, models of boats and stories of boats were his passion during his two years in Lyttelton.

The 1851 regatta reveals positive, early relations between Māori and Pākehā, shaped possibly by the cauldron-like reality of Lyttelton Harbour, in which Lyttelton was the centre of Canterbury social life. Constant daily contact occurred between the two cultures, helping mould together the native and the newcomer in the infant Canterbury, in a way that was never again emulated, once ‘Canterbury’ departed over the hills and far away. It is why we should all treasure those formative years in Lyttelton going forward, and research them widely.

The movingly all-inclusive, communal celebration of ‘regatta day’ in 1851, perhaps offers inspiration for Lyttelton throughout the rest of this year. This month, for instance, one can also celebrate the 175th anniversary of the choosing of names for the new settlement and its principal town: ‘Canterbury’ and ‘Christchurch’.

On 27 March 1848, these names were proposed, at the first management committee meeting of the London-based Canterbury Association, by John Robert Godley, who two years later sailed for Canterbury as Agent-General and ‘founder’ of the Settlement. Education was at the forefront of the vision for Canterbury together with moral responsibility, and these qualities are reflected in the names, themselves. At the time of that March 1848 meeting, membership of the Canterbury Association totalled 50 bishops, noblemen and gentlemen, a remarkable collection of responsibility, education, and culture. All were reformers in various fields. All shared a common interest in colonial reform.

Their contribution to the aura of Canterbury’s first generations is commemorated with place names within the Lyttelton cauldron: Mt Cavendish, Godley Head, Adderley Head, Charteris Bay, and Cholmondeley Children’s Home. Also in Lyttelton Township, where most names – Simeon Quay, Godley Quay, Coleridge Terrace, Sumner Road – are to be found. Memorials to the eight members who were incumbent bishops are reflected in principal street names, commemorating the Archbishops of Canterbury and Dublin, and Bishops of Exeter, London, Oxford, Ripon, St David’s, and Winchester.

Arthur Godley

This year sees two further
Lyttelton-related anniversaries.

1) The three Canterbury Association surveyors arrived in December 1848, 175 years ago: Thomas Cass who did the first detailed survey of the Harbour; Capt. Joseph Thomas, who surveyed Lyttelton, and his assistant, Charles Torlesse.
2) The 150th anniversary of The University of Canterbury’s founding occurs on 16 June 2023.
The name ‘Lyttelton’ is also central to this celebration since Lord Lyttelton of Hagley Hall in England played a seminal role in the establishment of The University. A generation earlier, this same Lord Lyttelton had been Chairman of the Canterbury Association’s Management Committee.

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