CANTERBURY UNIVERSITY, CHRISTCHURCH, LYTTELTON, EDWARD AND ORIANA WILSON

16 Mar

I have just given a talk on Edward Adrian Wilson at the University of Canterbury, I spoke to the Antarctic Society (Canterbury branch) and the Canterbury Historical Association,– a really pleasurable occasion.

There is much interest here in the early 1900 expeditions, which came to Christchurch and sailed to the Antarctic from the port at Lyttelton. There is also a very particular connection between Edward and Oriana and New Zealand -the couple had married in 1901, only three weeks before ‘Discovery’ sailed off into the unknown and their delayed honeymoon took place in New Zealand after ‘Discovery’ returned to Lyttelton in 1904. They loved the country and wanted to make their home here. Wilson’s ambition was to record of the local flora and fauna for posterity.

In 1912 Oriana lived for a year in Sumner, Christchurch, staying in ‘Terra Nova’s reassembled old meteorological hut. She was eagerly awaiting her husband’s return. She was to read the devastating news of his death on a billboard –he had been dead for nearly a year and she never really recovered from the blow, though always continued faithful to her husband’s legacy and interests. She made many friends in New Zealand and returned regularly, she made careful recordings of the bird life. Her lifelong connection with the country was rewarded with the CBE, awarded for her war work for the New Zealand government.

But following the two devastating earthquakes of 2011and 2012, the Christchurch that Oriana would have known, the elegant Anglo/Scottish city on the Canterbury plane is no more. Ninety percent of the historic buildings have been demolished. There have been painful years of deconstruction and large areas of flattened buildings remain. On a positive note the city is now reconstructing and rebuilding apace. A modern city center, in an earthquake proof style, is emerging.

The cathedral remains an area of contention. Some want restoration of this iconic symbol of the city forefathers- a little piece of the old country – whilst others favour a modern replacement, I imagine, similar to Coventry. The decision is still to be reached.

Lyttelton can now only be reached from Christchurch by road and train tunnels. Its old stone buildings and warehouses were destroyed, though amazingly, the wooden houses in the amphitheater of hills around the port have survived. The port is active, but passenger ships are currently diverted to Akaroa along the coast.

We have driven over 2.000 km in the N. and S. Island, New Zealand is a beautiful country: beaches, rollers, majestic mountains, farms, vineyards, museums (I was particularly impressed by Wellington and Napier) and the oceans. I can completely understand Edward Wilson’s wish to return and I want to return again. I hope reconstruction will proceed apace.

Christchurch Cathedral today

another viewof destroyed end

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