A social portrait of Canterbury in 1870
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The concept underlying this thesis is far removed from that of an exhaustive monograph in a closely defined and narrowly restricted field. This is no chronologically staked history of the origins and growth of a local body or a political party; nor is it a definitive examination of the effects of a certain development or trend on another development or trend. It is rather, an attempt to reproduce a still shot of an era in the past; to stop the clock in 1870 and recreate the essence, the pulse, of the Canterbury community at that time. To this end the skill of the artist has been more than usually necessary to supplement the routine of the researcher. For this topic has required continual moulding into shape. There is little unity or coherence natural to such a subject; this must be forcibly imposed by the writer and he has fewer guide rails in social history than in other fields. “A Social Portrait” is a decidedly vague phrase and might include almost anything; most aspects of life can be rendered socially relevant. The difficulties involved in imposing limits and form on such a topic are increased, if anything, by the problem of the number of different view points it is possible to adopt. The polemicist has a fixed end in view and selects and uses his material according; even the political historian is sailing a relatively chartered course. My fundamental problem, I think, has been to decide what guide stars a social historian should rely on. Such guide stars as I have used have sometimes shifted, or else I have abandoned one for another. One might take Canterbury as a twenty year old settlement and attempt to evaluate the scene in 1870 in terms of development from an unpeopled landscape. One might attempt to estimate how successfully earlier aspirations in this most systematic of colonizations had worked out in practice. One might compare the progress of Canterbury with that of the other provinces in New Zealand, or one might compare the conditions of life in Canterbury with those in England, the former home of most of Canterbury's populace. At different times I have used each of these standpoints; there does not seem to have been a more satisfactory way of clothing facts with relevance. If parts of this work appear somewhat loosely strung together this must be attributed to the shifting sands on which I stood as I painted my portrait. Religion and Education deserve separate chapters primarily because of the importance assigned to these matters by the founders of the settlement. Consistent with this static or portrait type of thesis the conclusion does not embody a summary of new findings but is merely an attempt to sketch the essence of the work in a few paragraphs. Much so-called social history has suffered from a lack of concrete evidence to support certain points, more especially certain feelings about the situation or period under discussion. After all, it is not always possible to trace the origin of an instinctive feeling which grows in one's mind after a prolonged soaking in original sources. Concern to base this work on solid, tangible evidence led me to turn to statistics as a foundation and as providing the necessary starting point for investigations. But it has not been my aim to reproduce a dessicated census return and where possible I have adorned and enlivened this skeleton with the flesh of contemporary comment and observations. There is not a great deal of directly relevant contemporary comment readily available and I have relied perhaps too heavily on the writings of Lord Lyttelton, lady Barker, Anthony Trollope, and Laurence Kennaway. Following E.H. Carr's dictum that one must examine the author before his work in order to be awake to whatever bees may be buzzing in his bonnet, I have appended, immediately before the bibliography, a note on these sources, consisting of the relevant biographical details of these writers and an assessment of the significance and relevance of their viewpoints. This is, I feel, in many ways a pioneer work and as such reveals certain obvious weaknesses. Only now, with the necessary background of facts and soaking behind me, am I beginning to sense what kind of questions should have been asked from the start. I am also aware that I have covered too much too superficially. A good deal of the thesis is concerned with the preliminary process of establishing facts rather than placing these facts in their proper perspective, and I have necessarily relied on secondary sources for much material. But I am consoled by the thought that other students may be tempted to use this work as a basis for further research, which could prove exceptionally rewarding. There is a good deal of original source material, possibly directly relevant to a topic such as this, which I have not been able even to glance at. Acknowledgements are due especially to Mr. R.C. Lamb, of the Canterbury Public Library, and to Mr. J.C. Wilson of the Museum Library, Christchurch. My thanks also go to the many other people who assisted me at different stages, particularly people concerned with the various Churches, and those who helped me with maps and illustrations. Finally I wish to thank my typist, who has done a magnificent job despite all kinds of eleventh hour changes and my illegible handwriting.