Dec 7, 2008

The Political Manipulation of History


The history of New Zealand and Canterbury in particular would appear to be awash with half-truths and misrepresentations that are endlessly repeated by everyone from professional historians to journalists.

Among the earlier examples of this ongoing practice is a map of Christchurch alleged to have been completed by the Assistant Surveyor Edward Jollie on the 18th of March, 1850.

This map contains some significant anomalies in the form of much information that didn't exist before 1853:
Referred to in early correspondence as Christchurch Common, and now known as Victoria Square, the site of the first encampment by the original settlers was not renamed as Market Place until 1853.

Cathedral Square was not acquired for such purpose until 1857 and was known as Ridley Square in 1850.

Jollie's original map did not include the 1851 de facto thoroughfares of Victoria and High Streets. The alleged map shows Victoria Street as Whatley Road. The was first known as the Papanui Road and did not acquire the name of the Anglican Bishop of Dublin until after the election of the Irish Protestant James Edward Fitzgerald as the Canterbury Provincial Council's first Superintendent in 1853. Fitzgerald attracted much criticism for his cronyism and conflicts of interest, practises that might still appear to prevail.

The Dissenter's cemetery on the western side of Barbadoes Street at Salisbury Street is not shown on a map named The Town of Lyttelton otherwise Christchurch and dated eighteen months after Jollie's survey.

There also many other discrepencies, but probably the most disturbing is the signature of Joseph Thomas, Chief Surveyor to the Canterbury Association. By the earliest time that the map could have been drawn Thomas had returned to England.
The map is a forgery in order to provide legal status for building on the public reserves and also for the subdivision of three of the green belts that surrounded the original city (first known a West Town Belt, the fourth would later be named Hagley Park, with what is now Deans Avenue being named Town Belt West).

In February, 1854 the Solicitor Henry Sewell (subsequently Prime Minister of New Zealand) advised the Canterbury Provincial Council that the sale of the city's green belts and public reserves was illegal. A year later wise counsel was ignored and 170 acres were offered for sale by auction on ten percent deposit, with the balance on a 7 year term.

But lest one consider that historical revisionism is ancient history, it should be noted that the Christchurch City Council recently erected an interpretive display board within the cultural precinct.

Amongst the information that it conveys to the visitor is the revelation that Christchurch is in fact a 700 year old community originally known as Puari, with a population of about 800.

There's no historical evidence for this assertion, which would appear to be yet another instance of historical revision.

Puari was a large settlement at Port Levy on Banks Peninsula. Known to European Whalers from 1794, the population had declined to about 300 Māori and 12 Europeans by the mid 1840s.


Sarndra said...

Very interesting indeed!

Canterbury Heritage said...

A tad subjectively vituperative in places, but never the less an extensively researched article.

The apparent forgery could possibly bring into question the validity of the legal status of a significant amount of real estate built over the early recreational reserves - quite a lot of incentive to continue concealing an embarrassing truth.

mecamp said...

Very interesting, in light of post earthquake Christchurch. Does anyone know what happened to the skeletons buried in the Puari burial ground underneath the (now demolished ) former public library?