Like most New Zealanders, I have at times found
the television pictures of Christchurch’s earthquake disaster too much to bear. I find that I need
to take a break, in a way that those directly involved cannot, from the scenes of personal tragedy and total devastation.
But, as for others no doubt, there is from time to time
a report that has a particular resonance and significance for me. Such a moment came at lunchtime on Saturday
when it was reported that a historic mansion on Bealey Avenue had been demolished.
No one can doubt, as Mayor Bob Parker has said, that the primary focus in the immediate aftermath of
the disaster must be the people caught up in the tragedy - the loss of life, the rescue of those who were trapped and injured,
and the suffering of families who have lost loved ones.
But, in the fullness of time, we will have time to reflect on the loss of heritage as well –
of so much that was part of Christchurch’s history, so much of its very heart and soul. We can already
see the scale of that loss in the damage suffered by the Cathedral and other iconic buildings. The now
demolished mansion in Bealey Avenue was one such.
In 1850, my great great grandfather, George Gould, sailed to New Zealand with his young bride, Hannah. They
arrived in Wellington on the 5th of November. The young couple spent a few weeks in the North
Island before sailing again, this time for Christchurch, where they disembarked on the 11th of February 1851.
While in the North Island, George Gould had built with
his own hands the framework of the house he intended to erect. He had taken the “pre-fab”
on board the “Camilla”, and – on disembarking at Lyttleton - he then had to transport the structure via
Sumner and the Avon river to Christchurch.
The house eventually reached its destination near the south-east corner of Armagh and Colombo streets
and was erected before the month was out. It was the first completed wooden house in the Christchurch city
The building became not only a home
but was also the first site of a store and farming services and trading enterprise - what eventually developed
into Pyne Gould Guinness and which gave its name to the Pyne Gould building in which so many died when the earthquake struck.
The business prospered, and George Gould became one of the most successful and prominent of Christchurch citizens.
By 1856, he had amassed enough money to move from the “pre-fab”
to a house he had built on a 100-acre site he had purchased on the west side of Springfield Road. The new
dwelling was best described as a Victorian gentleman’s residence, though built in the colonial style. It
boasted, in addition to spacious living quarters and a large number of bedrooms, many other features ranging from a large
butler’s pantry adjacent to the kitchen to a panelled ballroom. The house looked out onto extensive
grounds, which included a large, formal garden.
George Gould had been born and brought up in Hambleden, a small English village on the banks of the River Thames.
His grandfather, Caleb Gould, had been a famous lock-keeper at Hambleden; visitors to the lock to this day will see
displayed many references to Caleb Gould and an account of his exploits is to be found in most histories of the Thames.
George Gould decided to name his splendid new house after the place of his birth.
With his new house established as the family home, George than arranged for his
parents, Joseph and Susan, to come out to New Zealand to join them. Joseph and Susan lived in a small house
that George built for them in the grounds of Hambleden.
When I returned to New Zealand from Britain in the mid-1990s, my sister, Ngaire, and I spent some time on a visit to
Christchurch looking for the old family home. It was feared that it had been demolished. We
could find nothing in Bealey Avenue that looked like the photographs of the original house. It took us
some time to realise that the photographs were all taken from the front garden of the house, across the extensive grounds
which had long since been filled in with small houses, and that what could be seen from Bealey Avenue was in fact the unphotographed
back of the house.
We discovered that the
mansion had become the residence of the Bishop of Christchurch in the later part of the 19th century, and had eventually
spent part of its more recent history as a private hotel – also known as “Hambleden”. I had the pleasure
of staying there overnight on one of my visits to the city.
The demolition of “Hambleden”, and the sad and unfortunate link through the Gould family to the
fate of another building that – with its occupants – has been a tragic victim of the earthquake, means the loss
of another small part of Christchurch’s history. In bringing it to the attention of a wider readership,
I discharge an obligation I feel to the memory of George Gould.
26 January 2011
was published in the NZ Herald on 1 March.