Earthquakes in Christchurch

The PapersPast website is widely consulted by researchers of local and family history, and deserves its status as an essential research tool. Recent searches on ‘Christchurch earthquake’ produced some interesting results – especially surprising if you thought that the destruction experienced in September 2010 and February 2011 was unprecedented in the Garden City.

It is evident that there were “slight” or “sharp” shocks on numerous occasions in the 19th century.  On 10 June 1869, the Grey River Argus advised of  “Another Earthquake in Christchurch: A smart shock was felt at five to two this morning.” A quick survey of other reports indicate there was a slight shock in August 1871;  an earthquake was “felt in Lyttelton and Christchurch” in November 1880; and other reports appear in July 1881, January 1884, and January 1888.

On 1 September 1888, the Evening Post ran a story about a more serious earthquake that caused damage to the spire of the Cathedral, as well as widespread minor property damage. It reported:

The severest shock of earthquake ever felt in Christchurch commenced this morning a few minutes after four o’clock. It was of a most violent character and awoke everyone in the city. It lasted several seconds, and caused all buildings to rock in the most alarming manner. Wall pictures were dashed to the floor, loose articles of all kinds were upset, and glass windows broken. The worst damage known so far has happened to the Cathedral spire. At the first shock, which was the severest, about 40 feet of the spire was shaken off, and fell on the pavement in Cathedral-square. It knocked large holes in the pavement, and the mass of falling stone was scattered over the street and much of it ground to powder.

The centre of the top of the spire was supported by or built around an iron rod, at the top of which was the large iron cross and the bottom of the rod held, and the cross and topmost stone are now hanging by this rod down the side of the spire. Small pieces of stone continue to fall, and it is quite unsafe to pass by the tower. The only other public building known to have suffered is the Normal School, which is said to have some of its chimneys thrown down. Just before the first shock came it is said large flashes of light were seen in the direction of the Hanmer Plains hot springs. Five distinct shocks were felt in Christchurch, and extended over the space of half-an-hour, the first and fifth were the sharpest.