Tag Archives: Canterbury College

When is a chair more than a chair?

There are many places you can expect to find symbolism at a university; in books, in art, or on the University’s crest. Yet, when entering the Registrar’s office a few weeks ago, the Canterbury College Survey team discovered that the most symbolic item in the room was a chair.

In 2012, former Registrar Jeff Field purchased an Australian red cedar colonial hall chair at auction. The chair had once belonged to Canterbury College and was deliberately chosen to project a particular image for the new college by architect Benjamin Mountford.

When he began designing buildings for the College, Mountford wanted to hark back to the architecture of the great British universities, Oxford and Cambridge. Therefore, the original Canterbury College buildings were designed in the neo-Gothic style. To outfit his buildings, Mountford picked furniture that matched their style and grandeur.

Since their invention, hall chairs have been associated with grandeur. Initially, hall chairs were a mark that someone had household staff at their disposal, as they were meant for servants to sit in while waiting for their masters. Over time, integral arms were added to their design and hall chairs became symbols of status, acting like miniature thrones. The chair’s pierced designs amplify its grandeur and reflect the motifs commonly used in neo-Gothic buildings. Both the ivy featured on the back of the chair and the crosses on its arms can be found around the College’s crest on the Arts Centre Clock Tower building, which was once the Registry building.

It is incredible to see the artefacts like this can come full circle, even after nearly 150 years have passed.

We look forward to venturing out to more Departments over the coming weeks, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to provide any information about heritage artefacts that could be included in this survey.

Amy Boswell-Hore, collection technician.
Natalie Looyer, collection technician.

Smoking on Campus; it’ll take your breath away

Recently, the Canterbury College Survey team looked at a series of artefacts that are in the care of the UC Art Collection. The artefacts included a box of stamps that were used by the Registrar, two academic trenchers, several writing implements, and even of a christening gown, which had supposedly been worn by Professor Jack Erskine when he was a baby. The artefact that piqued our interest, however, was a plain ceramic ashtray, embossed with the University seal.

The University has had a strict ban on smoking on campus since 2013, following in the footsteps of the University of Auckland and Victoria University, who banned it in 2009 and 2012 respectively. As the project technicians, Natalie and Amy, were both undergraduate students as the time of the ban, it is not surprising that the UC embossed ashtray came as a bit of a surprise. It spoke of a very different time in the University’s history. Ashtrays would have been a staple piece of crockery in any university common room up until the 1970s at least, as we can imagine how smoking complemented the socialising and scholarly pontification that took place in such settings.

In 2020, as cultural and social norms continue to shift around us, it is difficult to imagine ashtrays being sold alongside the hoodies and graduation bears that you find in UBS. In fact, fifty years from now, a new team of collection surveyors may stumble upon this ashtray and struggle to identify its use. This kind of artefact reminds us of the importance of our task in cataloguing these items, so that the history they provide can be preserved for the future.

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We look forward to venturing out to more Departments over the coming weeks, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to provide any information about heritage artefacts that may be of interest.

Amy Boswell-Hore, collection technician.
Natalie Looyer, collection technician.

Putting the gown in ‘Town and Gown’


After keenly taking on the survey project, our team set out to begin searching for heritage artefacts around the University. Graduate Women Canterbury, an organisation with nearly 100 years of history associated with the University, became the ideal place for us to start.

GWC is widely known these days for tirelessly coordinating the regalia for all Canterbury, Lincoln and Ara graduates every year.  We paid a visit to Jean Sharfe and her team at GWC earlier this month to examine a number of artefacts in their care.

Jean, who is the author of Players, Protestors and Politicians: A History of the University of Canterbury Students’ Association (Canterbury, 2015), was a fount of knowledge on the history of both the University and its historical artefacts.

She provided us with information about two illustrious academic gowns and several trenchers for the survey, as well as a stock of original University of New Zealand regalia hoods and what looks to be an old regalia storage box.

Pictured is an academic gown thought to have been worn by the University Registrar, sometime prior to 1957, for graduation ceremonies. The gown is a rich olive green with dark red and gold trimming, and it was made for someone rather tall.

A similar black gown, thought to be worn by the Vice-Chancellor for graduation ceremonies, is about ten centimetres shorter.

We are unsure yet, however, whether these gowns were personally made for the Registrar and Vice-Chancellor at the time. Perhaps a study into the height of all Registrars and VCs at Canterbury is next on the cards for our project surveyors!

The University of New Zealand graduate hoods were another point of interest. Within the collection were original bachelor’s degree hoods with a fur trim.

Jean explained that bachelor’s graduates were forced to line up for their ceremonies outside in the cold, and so their hoods were adapted to allow any falling snow to blend in. Master’s graduates, however, could line up under cover.

Jean also revealed that the grey material used for Canterbury graduation hoods today was specifically designed to represent the greywacke stone of the surrounding Canterbury landscape.

The discoveries at Graduate Women Canterbury have been a successful addition to the survey project.

We look forward to venturing out to more Departments over the coming weeks, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to provide any information about heritage artefacts that may be of interest.

Gown image credit: Copyright University of Canterbury
James Logie image credit: courtesy of the Steven Family

Amy Boswell-Hore, collection technician.
Natalie Looyer, collection technician.

The Canterbury College Survey has begun!

Are you sitting comfortably? It’s time for some UC history!

The University of Canterbury recently launched a campus-wide survey to catalogue any heritage artefacts that once lived at the original Canterbury College site. The survey is being conducted by two recent UC graduates, Natalie Looyer and Amy Boswell-Hore, under the supervision of Terri Elder, Curator of the Logie Collection and UC Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities.

Earlier this month, the team began their survey in the Department of Classics, where they found several typewriters, two tables, a lectern, and a spindled club chair. The chair was of particular interest as it may have belonged to John Macmillan Brown, one of the founding professors at Canterbury College.

While the chair itself is not remarkable, the same cannot be said for the man who may have once owned it. John Macmillan Brown arrived in Christchurch on Christmas Day, 1874, to take the Chair of Classics, History, and English Literature at a newly founded college with nowhere to call home. Fortunately, Macmillan Brown not only had a passion for scholarship but also for University policy and administration. He became a central figure in the College’s growth.

With his innovative teaching methods, students flourished and class sizes rapidly expanded under Macmillan Brown’s care. To accommodate the growth, he gifted many of his books to the university for the student’s use. His donation eventually became the Macmillan Brown Library, which takes particular interest in Māori and heritage studies like Macmillan Brown himself. Outside of his teaching role, Macmillan Brown became a member of the Royal Commission on Higher Education (1879-82), a member of the University Senate (1879), was Vice-Chancellor (1916-1923), and finally Chancellor (1923-1935). He also acted as a de facto rector in the early years of the College, particularly supporting women and students from lower-income households. By the time of his death in 1935, Canterbury College was well on its way to becoming the world-renowned University of Canterbury that we know it as today.

As the University of Canterbury moves towards our 150th anniversary, it is time that we dust off the artefacts that are hidden away, no matter how unassuming they might initially seem. You never know what story they can tell us.

Keep an eye out for more stories of Canterbury College as the survey team visits more departments around UC.

Want to know more about the survey? You can find contact details and links at http://teecemuseum.nz/collection/canterburycollege/

Image Credit:

London Stereoscopic Photographic Company. London Stereoscopic Company: Portrait of Professor John Macmillan Brown. Haast family: Collection. Ref: PA2-2914. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22590878