Within the north-west of Christchurch is the site of the first permanent European settlement on the Canterbury Plains. In 1843, William and John Deans, having inspected and rejected other parts of NZ, decided to settle on the plains at Putaringamotu - one translation of which is "bush severed from the rest".
When the Deans arrived there were two small pas in the area: one near where the Bush Inn would be built, another in the Burnside area. In 1846 the Deans signed a lease with fourteen Māoris, covering the land for six miles in every direction from the confluence of the Waimairi, Wairarapa and Otakokaro (now Avon River) Streams.
The brothers pitched their tent and began construction of the first house built on the Canterbury Plains. This house no longer exists but a plaque on a tree at the entrance to the Riccarton House Grounds in Kahu Road marks the spot on which it stood.
The NZ Company was much impressed by the Deans brothers’ farm, stocked with sheep, horses, cattle and seeds brought from NSW, and was undoubtedly influenced by their achievements in the choice of Canterbury for the proposed city of Christchurch.
Most of the plains were purchased for the Crown and the town boundary was drawn up a mile from the Deans farm, thus forming a large reserve area (Hagley Park).
There was later criticism of Christchurch being sited in swampy country when firmer land was available, but transport difficulties, already bad enough, would have been worse had the settlement been developed further from the coast. Fendalton stands on a shingle fan of the Waimakariri River, but Lower Riccarton lies between two shingle lobes. Much of the district was swamp and bog and the area between Christchurch and Riccarton was almost uncrossable. One of the first works undertaken was construction of a road to Riccarton Bush. This road, at first called Harewood Rd over its entire length and running through tutu, flax and fern, followed the natural course of the river through Hagley Park to avoid the cost and delay of building bridges.
Much of the forest would be logged for building materials but 6.4 hectares was set aside by the Deans as a reserve.
The Canterbury Provincial Government was formed and it supervised the growth of the town and divided the plains into farming estates and sheep station runs. Selection by the first colonists (those who had applied for land in England before August 1850) was made in 1851. For 150 pounds a purchaser was entitled to two land orders, one for a rural section of fifty acres and the other for a town section of a quarter acre. The land west of Hagley Park was thought suitable for small agricultural and mixed farms and in 1850 there was no planning for suburban areas outside the city. Much of the land in Fendall Town (named for an early settler in the area, W.C. Fendall) was at first purchased by absentee landowners but some large runholders saw the land north of Deans’ estate as suitable for their town houses. So for many years there was only a handful of settlers.
Riccarton was also slow to develop, partly because of the swampy land and partly because Hagley Park acted as a barrier. The 1857 census gave the number of people living in the Riccarton district as 404. Apart from the Deans estate and the Ilam farm, most of the development was at either end of Riccarton Rd. The establishment of a racecourse in Upper Riccarton in 1856 meant this area grew more quickly than Lower Riccarton.
It was not until late in the 1870’s that there was a coach service operating in Riccarton. Fendall Town remained more or less cut off from Christchurch, the way to the city being via Lower Riccarton and across seven creeks with no bridges. Fendall Town had no church until 1876 - it formed part of the Riccarton parish and worshippers made the difficult journey to St Peter’s in Upper Riccarton - and it was not until 1883 that Fendalton was constituted as a separate parish.
The Railway line was begun in 1865, the northern line which cut through Riccarton just west of Hagley Park being built in 1871.
The problem of the swampy land continued: the demand for a complete drainage system was not as great as in Christchurch and such areas as Sydenham mainly because most of the area was still in large blocks of land which were farmed. It was not until 1929 that a sewerage system reached to Clyde Road and nearby streets.
Fendalton also had no store until after the turn of the century and no school until 1883.
The Waimairi District Council was constituted in 1910, and the Borough of Riccarton came into being in 1913.
- Morrison, J.P. The evolution of a city : the story of the growth of the city and suburbs of Christchurch, the capital of Canterbury, in the years from 1850 to 1903. Christchurch: Christchurch City Council, 1948.
- Peninsula & plain: a history and geographical description of Banks Peninsula and the Canterbury Plains. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1955