101 demolitions : how a disaster shed light on life in nineteenth century Christchurch. (2022)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
On 22 February 2011, Ōtautahi Christchurch was struck by a devastating earthquake. The city was changed forever: lives were lost, buildings destroyed and much of the city’s infrastructure needed to be repaired or replaced. One of the unexpected outcomes of the process of recovery was the volume of archaeological work that was carried out in the city, including the substantial amount of buildings archaeology that was undertaken (that is, recording standing buildings prior to and during their demolition, using archaeological techniques). Amongst the numerous buildings recorded in this way were 101 houses from across the city (but concentrated in those areas hit hardest by the earthquakes), built between 1850 and 1900. This work yielded a wealth of data about what houses in the city looked like in the nineteenth century. It is this data that forms the core of my thesis, providing an opportunity to examine the question of what life was like in nineteenth century Christchurch through these houses and the people who built them.
Christchurch was founded in 1850 by European settlers, most of whom were English. These people came to New Zealand to build a better life for themselves and their families. For many of them, this ‘better life’ included the possibility of owning their own home and, in some instances, building that house (or at least, commissioning its construction). The buildings archaeology data collected following the Canterbury earthquakes enabled a detailed analysis of what houses in the city looked like in the nineteenth century – their form, and both their external and internal appearance – and how this changed as the century progressed. A detailed examination of the lives of those who built 21 of the houses enabled me to understand why each house looked the way it did, and how the interplay of class, budget and family size and expectations (amongst other factors) shaped each house. It is through these life stories that more about life in Christchurch in the nineteenth century was revealed. These are stories of men and women, of success and failure, of businesses and bankruptcies. There are themes that run through the stories: class, appearances, death, religion, gender, improvement. Just as importantly, though, they reveal the everyday experiences of people as they set about building a new city. Thus, through the archaeology of the houses and the history of the people who built them, an earthquake has revealed more about life in nineteenth century Christchurch, as well as providing the means for a deeper understanding of the city’s domestic architecture.
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