Christ Church/Christchurch historic ties

The University of Canterbury’s foundation in 1873 owes much to the graduates of Oxford University’s cathedral/college Christ Church and the UC graduation ceremonies reflect that tradition through to the modern day.

The University’s mace provides a tangible link with Christ Church, Oxford, where it was designed and made. The shaft of the mace is made of oak from a beam removed from Big Tom Tower when the bell was rehung in 1953. Even in 1680, when the beam was installed in the Sir Christopher Wren-designed tower, the timber was described as ‘well-seasoned oak’. The mace has been used for every UC graduation ceremony since 1957.

UC celebrates its foundation in 1873, but the inspiration for a college of higher education in Christchurch dates back to 1848 in the aims of the Canterbury Association. Of the 53 Association members, 30 were Oxford graduates, including 17 “Christ Church men”.

Most prominent of these was Christ Church graduate John Robert Godley, a key figure in the establishment of an Anglican settlement on New Zealand’s South Island, who was responsible for naming the city at the heart of the new settlement ‘Christchurch’. From Godley’s day until the 1940s the universities of Oxford and Canterbury remained closely linked. Maintaining the close connection today the Wakefield Scholarship allows UC PhD students to spend a year studying at Godley’s old college.

The Association saw a university as a necessary part of the social cement that would bind together their newly planned colony. As early as 1850 the Association published a paper on a Scheme for the Establishment of Christ-Church College. The scheme laid out plans for a college with two departments that would cater for public school boys and young men over 17 years of age. Young men in the upper department would be required to study theology, classics, mathematics, civil engineering and agriculture, all dressed appropriately in academic cap and gown.

These grand plans were further elaborated upon in the Plan of College which described a new college built firmly on the traditions of Oxford and Cambridge. The Association was determined that “Our settlement will be provided with a good college, good schools, churches, a bishop, clergy, all those moral necessities…”