Computing our way through UC’s history


An example of the IBM 1620

Over the past year the Canterbury College Survey team has been on the lookout for interesting and unusual heritage artefacts held on campus. Amongst the finds were a one-hundred-year old bicycle, a book signed by Helen Keller, and a barograph that was at UC around the same time as Ernest Rutherford. Capturing the stories of these objects highlights the unique and valuable contributions they make to the University’s history. Now the second phase of the survey is about to begin. We are on the hunt for more fascinating artefacts, and this time we will include those that tell the more recent story of UC – such as computers.

An example of an early model of the IBM 1620 in action.

In May 1962 Canterbury was the first university in Aotearoa to obtain a computer. It was only the third computer to be installed in the country, alongside those used by the Reserve Bank and New Zealand Railways. The computer at UC, an IBM 1620, was so valuable it was worth the same as ten average houses. At the time it was installed, there were only four people who had had any experience with computers at the University, and new staff had to be employed just to manage the technology. Nonetheless, in the following year around 500 hours a month were amassed on the machine, showing how eager the Departments were to utilize this amazing contraption.

The University is very lucky to still have some pieces of that IBM 1620 solid state computer at our Ilam campus. Computers like the IBM 1620 revolutionized research and teaching at UC. They represent a small step in our history, but a major change in the way students and staff work. Artefacts like these show that the University has a phenomenal history, and evidence of that history is all around us when we look for it.

As the second stage of the Survey begins, the team will continue the search for older items dating from between 1873-1957, which may not have been identified during the first stage of the survey, and will expand our sights to include objects which were made or used on campus from 1957 onwards – like computers! Our goal is to dig deeper into the University’s heritage and uncover the fascinating objects behind its history.

Please contact us if you know of any items that you think might fit the criteria for the new stage of the project, or which illuminate the history of UC in any way. We are excited to continue working with you all!

Find out more about the Canterbury College Collection online at

Contact the Canterbury College Survey Team at

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