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Two tanks and the "Fire Brigade Station" have been hand drawn onto this map. Detail from Plan of the city of Christchurch, Canterbury, NZ, 1868 by W.W. Dartnall

Early fire brigades relied on opportunistic use of water sources. Lyttelton Times, 14 June 1864

No. 1 Fire Tank

formerly at the corner of Tuam and High Streets

The No 1 Fire Tank was built on the corner of Tuam and High Streets. The location is now the garden between the footpath and the outdoor seating at C1 Espresso.


Fire was an ever-present danger

Christchurch did not have a high-pressure water supply until 1909, relying instead on public and private wells, rain water tanks, and water drawn directly from the rivers. Fire fighters had to pump water from whatever supply they could find.


Above-ground tanks

The No 1 Fire Tank was not, in fact, the first. There was already one tank at Matheson’s Agency (corner of High and Cashel Streets).


In 1869, Council built the No 1 Fire Tank “opposite to White’s furniture rooms” as a matter of priority. Mr A J White’s premises on Tuam Street later became McKenzie & Willis.


The tank was built of brick, capped with stone and an iron railing. It probably drew water from the city’s first public artesian well, which had been drilled on the corner in February 1864.


A Council committee also recommended tanks at:

  • Whately Road, near Peterborough Street

  • The northeast corner of Cathedral Square

  • Latimer Square


The committee’s logic was that the hose of the city’s steam fire engines could not extend more than about 10 chains (just over 200 metres) when under strain.

Each tank could hold 12,000 imperial gallons of water (about 5,455 litres), which was expected to keep the steam fire engine’s hoses going for one hour.


New underground tanks

In 1885, at the urging of the Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, the council installed six underground tanks across the city. Each could hold 25,000 imperial gallons (over 113,000 litres) of water. They were made of triple-walled brick, about 2.2 metres wide inside and 1.8 metres high.


The six locations were:

  • St Asaph and Montreal Streets

  • High and Barbadoes Streets

  • High and Cashel Streets

  • Manchester and Gloucester Streets

  • Colombo and Gloucester Streets

  • Salisbury and Durham Streets


Find out more

Tanks! Blogpost and photos by archaeologist Hamish Williams, discusses excavation of the underground fire tank at Manchester Street in July 2015 during SCIRT work to lay a new water mains pipe.


‘Lost Christchurch’ blogpost about the Strange’s fire, “the largest and most destructive fire experienced in the city’s history,” which occurred in February 1908 – the year before Christchurch’s high-pressure water system came on line.


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