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The swampy nature of early Christchurch as captured by Dr Alfred Charles Barker in 1859 (Canterbury Museum)

A reminiscence of the gully . Press, 12 June 1902

Looking down Cashel Street towards Ballantynes (Te Papa)

The Gully

once ran from the river south of Lichfield Street nearly to Cathedral Square

The land that is now central Christchurch/Ōtautahi was a swampy area, criss-crossed with streams flowing in and out of the Ōtākaro/Avon River.  The 1850 town plan for Christchurch overlaid streets and sections over this area, which meant streams and gullies ran through sections of land intended for roads and buildings. For early inhabitants of Christchurch this not only presented a physical hazard, but also a health risk as water-borne diseases flourished in stagnant pools of water that formed in gullies and hollows.


The 1850 map shows us that two major flood channels ran through central Christchurch, running north and south of Cathedral Square. The northern channel was a flowing stream, whereas the southern channel was a dry gully that filled with water during floods and after rain.


When the Christchurch Municipal Council was established in 1862 it immediately recommended filling and levelling the streets, including filling gullies and hollows on private property.  Much of the southern channel was filled in between 1862 and 1877.


The southern gully extended from the Ōtākaro/Avon River, near the church of St Michael and All Angels on Oxford Terrace. It ran through the block where the Justice and Emergency Precinct now stands and crossed Lichfield Street, running through to the corner of Colombo and Cashel Streets under Ballantyne’s. An early Christchurch settler recalled that in his youth a large pool formed behind Anderson’s Foundry, an engineering workshop, situated next-door to Ballantyne’s on Cashel Street. In winter this hollow would fill with water and children would float rafts across it!


Dunstable House (the premises for Ballantyne’s) was built in phases from 1854. Following the tragic Ballantyne’s fire of 1947, black moulding sand from Anderson’s Foundry was discovered at this site during the construction of the new building.

Part of the southern gully remains exposed today, just behind the bell tower at St Michael and All Angels.



Part of the southern channel was exposed during construction works for the Justice and Emergency Precinct in 2014. Archaeologists discovered that the gully was filled in during the nineteenth century with a variety of fill including domestic, commercial, and industrial refuse. During earthworks for the redevelopment of Ballantyne’s in 2018, another part of the gully was discovered. This was also filled in the nineteenth century with a variety of material, including a total of 1814 individual artefacts. This included metalworking refuse from Anderson’s Foundry, domestic artefacts and a large number of bottles for alcohol, condiments and pharmaceuticals.


Find out more

‘Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct Archaeological Report’, by Hamish Williams, Jessie Garland, and Rosie Geary Nichol, February 2017 (Authority No 2014/70eq)


‘Ballantyne’s Redevelopment, 43-47 Lichfield Street: Report on Archaeological Investigation’s by Hamish Williams, Lydia Mearns, and Clara Watson, June 2019 (Authority No 2017/746eq)


Gordon Ogilvie, Ballantynes, The Story of Dunstable House 1854-2004. J. Ballantynes & Co., 2014