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Our story
Discover Christchurch’s history of exploration, from our strong Ngāi Tahu roots to early European settlement.
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The Story of Christchurch

Ōtautahi Christchurch has always been a place of exploration – a place where the status quo is challenged and new ideas are pursued.

Early history and Māori

Christchurch holds special cultural and historical significance to Ngāi Tahu — the Māori tribe that occupies the greater portion of Te Waipounamu and whose ancestors knew the land in this area intimately and treasured its generous natural resources.

Ngāi Tahu made the Canterbury region home in the early 1700s and, by custom, its members intermarried with two tribes whose members had previously occupied the area – Waitaha and Ngāti Māmoe. Prior to European settlement, the iwi maintained numerous permanent and temporary kainga, pa and mahinga kai in the greater Christchurch area. These included Puāri, a large area on the banks of the Ōtākaro/Avon River that later became the central city, and Ōtautahi – near what is now Kilmore Street. Despite this extensive history, our city’s Māori heritage went largely unrecognised following European colonisation in the

1850s, when settler culture and values dominated the landscape. But from the devastation of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, opportunities for embracing a shared history and future emerged. Māori culture, values and design elements are now being woven into the rebuild of Christchurch. Simply put, the earthquakes gave Ngāi Tahu a chance to “put their history back into the city” – from contributing to building designs that incorporate our bicultural heritage, such as the 36-metre long aluminium kākahu façade on the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct, to the naming of new civic centres like Te Pae and Tūranga.

A pioneering past

The first European landed in Canterbury in 1815, 45 years after Captain James Cook sighted what he named “Banks Island”, later found to be a peninsula.

In 1840, the first Europeans settled on the plains and whaling ships were operating out of Lyttelton by 1850.

The settlement of Canterbury was one of a number of private company immigration schemes in New Zealand. John Robert Goldey was principally responsible for the Canterbury settlement. In 1848, the Canterbury Association was formed by Godley and Edward Gibbon Wakefield with the aim of transporting a cross section of English society to a new land. The Canterbury Association gained the support of the Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other members of the English elite.

During 1850-1851, the first Canterbury Association settlers arrived on the 'first four ships' into Lyttelton Harbour. The Association settlers came predominantly from southern England, with smaller numbers of Scots, Irish, Welsh and English from other parts of England.

Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter on 31 July 1856, making it the oldest city in New Zealand. Many of the city's original Gothic buildings dated from this period.

Women's Suffrage

In 1893, New Zealand women achieved a world first when they won the right to vote. This significant event was honoured in 1993 when the Kate Sheppard memorial (located on Oxford Terrace north of Worcester Boulevard Bridge), a commemoration to Women’s Suffrage was unveiled on 19 September 1993.

Economy

The agricultural industry has long been the economic core of Christchurch with Canterbury often considered to be living "off the sheep's back". Although it's economic beginnings were in refrigerated meat and dairy exports, Canterbury now has a diversified regional economy with growth across the tech, innovation and tourism sectors. Christchurch has a strong culture of innovation, exploring new ideas and ways to live, work and play.

Gateway to Antarctica

Christchurch's connection with Antarctica is embedded in the fabric of our city, our landscape and our stories. Christchurch has a history of involvement in Antarctic exploration - both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton used the port of Lyttelton as a departure point for expeditions. Today Christchurch is one of only five international gateways to the icy continent. Explore our Antarctic Connections.

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