Historical Significance or Value
The Antigua Street Boat Sheds building has historical significance as a rare and well-preserved example of Victorian commercial boat sheds. They represent a quintessentially English component of Christchurch, with both the boat sheds and boating being intimately linked to the city's identity and image associated with the long tradition of boating in England, especially in places such as Oxford and Cambridge. The boat sheds exhibit clear physical evidence of the widespread trend of pleasure boating which has been a popular pastime on the Avon River since the mid-nineteenth century. Although in appearance it is typical of numerous boat sheds built throughout the country, the Antigua Boat Sheds building appears to be the only surviving commercial river boat sheds built to cater to the demand for boats for hire.
Social Significance or Value
The Antigua Boat Sheds building has social significance as a focus for the recreation of the Christchurch public since 1882. Its form, usage and river bank location are an important feature of Christchurch's English character, giving it iconic status in the city centre. Though established over 125 years ago it remains in popular usage by both local people and visitors.
A photographic studio established in the Antigua Boat Sheds from the late nineteenth century provided an early photographic record of boaters and boating and contributed to the establishment of boating-on-the-Avon as a definitive Christchurch experience. The sheds have had a clear, direct and enduring association with this activity since their erection in 1882. They reflect attitudes and behaviours that have characterised the Christchurch community for many generations.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Antigua Boat Sheds reflect the popularity of boating as a recreational pursuit in nineteenth century New Zealand and represent a key social and recreational component of the often perceived peculiar 'Englishness' of Christchurch's European settlement;
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
Antigua Boat Sheds are held in high esteem by the people of Christchurch, who have hired pleasure craft from the green and white striped building for more than 125 years.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
The Antigua Boat Sheds appear to be unique in New Zealand in two regards. They are probably the only surviving example of nineteenth century river boat sheds built for commercial boat hire purposes. They are the only example of such boat sheds that continue to be used for the same function for which they were originally built.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The Antigua Boat Sheds are located on the banks of the Avon River, at the junction where Rolleston Avenue joins Cambridge Terrace. The River meanders through the Botanic Gardens and the building is located several hundred metres to the east of both the Canterbury Museum and the Arts Centre.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
While there remain a number of historic boat sheds in locations around New Zealand, the majority of those are no longer utilised for their original purposes. The Antigua Boat Sheds in Christchurch is clearly very different from other historic boat sheds surviving in New Zealand. While used for storage and boat building purposes, the boat sheds have also always been used for commercial pleasure boat hire on Christchurch's Avon River. It appears that the Antigua Boat Sheds are unique in New Zealand in two regards. They are probably the only surviving example of nineteenth century river boat sheds built for commercial leisure boat hire purposes. They are the only example of such boat sheds that continue to be used for the same function for which they were originally built. Their particular significance lies in this long standing activity, likely to be a deliberate association with the boating traditions of Oxford and Cambridge, an example of the quintessential 'English' aspect of Christchurch. The Antigua Boat Sheds are therefore of special significance.
Board-and-batten timber walls, corrugated iron roof.
Otakaro (Avon River) meanders its way from a spring source in Avonhead through Christchurch city and out to sea via the estuary. It was highly regarded as a seasonal mahinga kai by Waitaha, Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu. Fresh kai included Patiki (flounder) were speared, eels (tuna), ducks, whitebait (inaka) and native trout. The Canterbury Museum holds some important Maori taonga that have been recovered from Otakaro, including a canoe paddle made of manuka.
The development of Christchurch as a city reflects the mid nineteenth century colonial planning models as conceived by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and John Robert Godley, who formed the Canterbury Association as part of their planned programme of systematic colonisation. Along with the port town of Lyttelton, the planned settlement of Christchurch in 1849-50 set itself apart from earlier Wakefield settlements in New Zealand (Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson). Backed by influential English peers, members of the British Parliament and clergy, the Canterbury Association had the ambitious aim of gaining high land sale prices in order to attract a high class of settlers and fund the foundations of a specifically English 'Church of England' settlement. Although the Canterbury Association's ideals were not fully borne out, many of the early institutions which shaped Christchurch and the province of Canterbury were derived from English models. These include the rowing and leisure boating activities on the Avon, following an English tradition that had become hugely popular in England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In Oxford and Cambridge, for example, both places associated with many of the original Canterbury Association founders, there were town rowing clubs alongside the college clubs. Sometimes large ornate barges served as boat clubs and grand stands for events, in lieu of having permanent boat houses. Many country estates had ornate boat houses with wet docks for launches.
The Avon River which winds its way through the central city has always been a defining feature of Christchurch. Rowing a boat or paddling a canoe from the Antigua Boat Sheds up the Avon River through the Botanic Gardens is a quintessential Christchurch activity that has been enjoyed by local people and visitors for generations. A 1879 engraving shows the opening of the boating season on the Avon River, where there are rowing club pennants, men with top hats and women with parasols promenading the river banks and with English trees framing the scene.
Boating on the Avon River was introduced as a commercial activity in 1875 when Mr W Aitken erected boat sheds on the Cambridge Terrace side of the Avon, just below the Montreal Street Bridge. Aitken paid £5 rent to the City Council per year and agreed to charge no more than 1 shilling an hour for the use of his boats. Mr J J McLean took over the boat sheds, known as the 'People's Boatsheds' in June 1882 and kept them open until 10 o'clock on 'moonlight nights'. In the same year, the Antigua Boat Sheds were built further upstream near the Antigua Street Bridge by two Lyttelton boat builders, Albert Shaw and J T Tidd. They appear to have been built in stages as late in 1883 Shaw and Tidd applied to the Council for 30 feet (9.14 metres) more for enlarging their boat sheds.
An Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood published in 1885 gave an account of the relatively new boat sheds as follows:
'Messrs. Shaw & Tidd, who had been boat building in Lyttelton for some years, came to Christchurch in 1882. They erected their large boat-sheds, 90 feet by 30 feet, near the Hospital bridge, on the bank of the Avon. These sheds are the most complete in the colony. They have a landing stage with a frontage of 200 feet to the river, ladies' waiting room, and gentlemen's dressing room, refreshment room, and besides all these easily house the 38 boats, accommodating from one to fifteen persons each, the 16 canoes double and single, and 250 pairs of sculls and oars, which comprise Messrs Shaw and Tidd's stock. The boats have all been built by Messrs Shaw and Tidd, so that they have been able to supply the various requirements of their customers. Those persons who desire it can obtain here a man to row them, the charge for man and boat being half-a-crown an hour.'
Shaw became sole proprietor in 1887. A newspaper article in January 1889 emphasised that boating on the Avon 'is one of the greatest attractions and means of pleasant recreation to the citizens of Christchurch', enjoyed by all whether rich or poor and, notably, one of the too few healthy outdoor recreations open to women as well as men. While boating on the Avon River was extremely popular, river conditions appear to have increasingly threatened the viability of the commercial boating business in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In 1892 Shaw was declared bankrupt. He attributed his financial demise firstly to the removal of the Lane's Mill dam in c1890 which had consequently lowered river levels and thence led to a reduction in his clientele and secondly to his other failed business venture, the management of the Royal Hotel. At the time of his bankruptcy, Shaw's Antigua Boat Sheds and 47 boats were valued at £300. Shaw, a married man with eight children, lost everything.
The Antigua Boat Sheds were taken over by Samuel Anstey in 1896. Anstey's interest in photography and the resultant early photographic record of boaters and boating he generated contributed to the establishment of boating-on-the-Avon as a definitive Christchurch experience. Anstey established a photographic studio at the boat sheds and offered photographic services to clients:
'mementoes of the trips were obtained in the shape of photographs by Mr Anstey himself. This capital idea has done much to make the New Zealand Avon known in all parts of the world, for the photographs find their way right through Australasia and the older countries. Most of the pictures are excellent and the whole of them, framed and shown in the Antigua sheds, form a highly interesting collection.'
Many of the earliest photographs of leisure activities in Christchurch depict boating on the Avon River. Such images appeared in local and national newspapers and promotional material relating to the city.
By 1900 the low river levels were attributed by McLean (owner of the People's Boatshed) to the mud accumulation caused by drains around the city pouring rubbish into the river. Anstey considered the only remedy was to build a dam between the Antigua and Montreal Street bridges. A number of dams and weirs were later established on the river in ongoing attempts to optimise the river levels for boating and other activities. These included weirs built near the Antigua Street bridge in 1916, 1932 and circa 1950. Following public consultation in 2006, the Christchurch City Council made alterations to an existing rock weir immediately downstream of the Antigua Boat Sheds.
In 1904, Albert Shaw, the Antigua Boat Sheds original owner, applied to the Christchurch City Council for a permit to erect another boat shed on the Avon 'between the Cashel Street bridge and the hospital'. Anstey and McLean wrote to the Council stating that they did not believe there was adequate business to support a third boat shed on the Avon River. The erection of a further boat shed did not proceed. It is noted that Albert Shaw did have some later involvement with the Antigua Boat Sheds and his son William bought into that business in 1920.
In 1907 a fire destroyed the eastern half of the Antigua Boat Sheds and about half of the 70 or so boats stored inside. The blaze was thought to have originated in a stove used to steam timber for boat building. The sheds were however quickly rebuilt. They were first single storey reconstructions and latterly, after the 1920s, the two eastern-most bays were altered to become double storey.
A shop was installed in the western-most bay in the 1920s by Albert Shaw's son William. In 1929 the 'People's Boat Sheds' were completely destroyed by fire. Thereafter, the Antigua Boat Sheds became the sole commercial boat sheds on the Avon River. The property subsequently changed hands a number of times before passing to W (Bill) S Dini.
Bill Dini owned and ran the boat sheds from 1948 to 1978. Originally only wooden row boats were offered for hire but in 1956 Dini introduced fibreglass canoes to the fleet. These new lightweight craft soon outstripped the traditional row boats in popularity and began to form the mainstay of the boat hire business. Over the years some of the fibreglass canoes have been replaced with plastic ones. In 1990 one of the original clinker boats was restored for use and in more recent times other replica boats have been built.
The Antigua Boat Sheds were purchased by Maurice and Diane Phipps and Alistair and Beverley Sheridan in 1978. The Phipps, who had previously owned the Antigua Milk Bar adjoining the boat sheds, added a deck where there used to be concrete steps, with tables, seating and umbrellas. More canoes were added to the fleet and paddle boats were introduced. Since 1985 the business has been co-owned and run by Mike and Sally Jones (Sally is the daughter of Maurice and Diane Phipps, co-owners since 1978). In 1993 the Jones altered the shop and one bay to create 'The Boat Shed Café'. A further change was made into the boat shed in 1997 to provide for interior toilet facilities (an outside toilet had been installed in 1993). In 2006 the Jones' have put down decking, re-piled and strengthened the building, and installed a new sprinkler system.
In 1994 a punting business, 'Punting in the park' opened up in the end shed of the Antigua Boat Sheds. The Antigua Boat Sheds can hold about 100 boats, including canoes, rowboats and paddleboats.
The island nature of New Zealand and its myriad inland waterways mean that boat sheds have long been a dominant feature of our lakes, rivers, harbours and coastline. Consequently, a number of historic boat sheds remain in locations around the country. While the scale and purpose of boat sheds vary, they were all originally and primarily constructed for the building, maintenance and storage of boats.
The majority of extant historic boat sheds are marine in nature. These include the 'Boat Building Sheds' (c1870) at Dargaville (Category II, NZHPT), 'Shipyard and Sawmill' at Totara North (Category II, NZHPT), 'Skerret Boat Shed' (c1906) in Lowry Bay (Category II, NZHPT), 'Hobson Bay Boatsheds' (unregistered), Wellington (Category I, NZHPT), boat sheds on the waterfront at Rangitoto Island (some of which lie within a NZHPT historic area) and the 'Akaroa Boat Shed' (unregistered, listed in Banks Peninsula District Plan). The Auckland Regional Council's heritage inventory lists some 25 boat shed or boating club records but these relate to places that are marine/tidal and private or club-houses rather than commercial. The Star Boating Club in Wellington (Category I, NZHPT) and the Wellington Rowing Club (Category I, NZHPT), both two storeyed boat sheds with storage for boats below, have a long history with marine sporting clubs but are not commercial boat sheds.
A number of historic boat sheds (including some in the previous list) have been converted for use as restaurants or function centres including the 'Boat Shed Café' (1880s) in Nelson and the 'Punga Fern Restaurant and Bar' in the Marlborough Sounds. The 'Enderby Island Boat Shed' (1887) is one of the only boat sheds remaining on New Zealand's offshore islands.
Non-marine historic boat sheds are less prolific and include the 'Governor-General's Boat Shed' (1875) in the Karori Valley (Category II, NZHPT) which was used to store a boat for the then Governor General who had fishing rights on the lower dam constructed there in the 1870s. There are also a number of unregistered boat sheds on various inland lakes in the central North Island.
Numerous early boat sheds were also constructed on waterways around New Zealand for rowing clubs (including sheds on the Avon River for the Canterbury and Union Rowing Clubs). However, most such buildings have been moved, upgraded or replaced with modern equivalents.
The registered Flourmill Store (Former) at Ngaruawahia has been adapted by the Ngaruawahia Regatta Association to house canoes for their annual regatta, but that was not the original function of the building.
The majority of surviving early boat sheds that remain in existence today are no longer utilised for their original purpose of building, maintenance and storing boats.
23rd November 2009
Report Written By
Wilson, 1984 (2)
J. Wilson, Lost Christchurch, Springston: Te Waihora Press, 1984.
R. Lamb, From the Banks of the Avon: the Story of a River Wellington: Reed, 1981.
An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966
S. Eldred-Grigg, A New History of Canterbury, Dunedin, 1982.
M Mosley, Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood, J T Smith & Co, 1885
John Wilson, City and Peninsula: the Historic Places of Christchurch and Banks Peninsula, Christchurch, 2007.
John Wilson et al, Contextual historical overview for Christchurch City, Christchurch City Council, Christchurch, 2005.
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.
This place is covered by a Full Conservation Covenant, pursuant to Section 77 of the Reserves Act 1977, between the owners and the Christchurch City Council (July 2006).