Friday, August 5, 2022

That certain Ligar Canal image ...

One thing with going back to a research project that's been simmering away for a few years on the ol' back burner, is that things can be looked at again and reassessed in wider context. That probably won't do a lot to get the description changed/altered on the three main sites that use this image, but -- here's a bit of a go.

According to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, who have a copy of the James D Richardson negative photo-of-a-photo image, this is:

"Ligar Canal, a sewer running down Queen St. Photograph shows the Metropolitan Hotel."


That's not too bad, but it can lead folks astray -- and has done. Folks presume that the Ligar Canal, the drain built from 1843 to tap into Te Wai Horotiu at the Wyndham Street junction with Queen Street to take waters from High Street, Vulcan Lane and Shortland Street out to the west side of Commercial Bay ran down the centre of Queen Street. It didn't -- but there is an asterisk to that.

In 1849, a trench was dug diagonally across the width of Queen Street, just north of today's Swanson Street, diverting the drain's stormwater etc into another drain at the Fort Street junction. Seems really odd that they did that, considering this shifted the outflow closer to the original Queen Street jetty, but the intent may have been to allow the further reclamation of allotments on the western side of the bay.

So – the Ligar Canal was primarily along the western side of Queen Street from 1843, with part diverted across to the eastern side in 1849.

Te Ara, run by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, picked up one of Auckland Library’s copies of the image, and put this caption on their site:

“The Ligar Canal was an infamous open drain that ran along Auckland’s Queen Street. This 1860s photo shows it crossed by rickety footbridges and surrounded by rough fences. The presence of raw sewage in open drains not only made early cities stink – it also led to high rates of disease and death.”

Yes, the Ligar Canal is an infamous drain – so infamous, folks back then and now tend to label part of the Te Wai Horotiu watershed flow by that name, even the natural watercourses south of Wyndham Street. “Ran along Queen Street” isn’t a bad description. But then they get to “This 1860s photo shows it crossed by rickety footbridges and surrounded by rough fences.” Yes, the image is from the 1860s, but they’ve missed the point as to what the image actually shows. Nothing to do with “footbridges.”

So, now we have the Auckland Libraries’ images. They have two versions of the same one online, this description is for 4-400 (I’ve used 4-9015 for the image to this post which has a simpler description):

“Looking north down Queen Street showing east side with the Metropolitan Hotel with a group of men outside on the corner of Fort Street (right) and the Ligar Canal, a large portion of which collapsed after heavy rain on 30 March 1866. Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXII, Issue 2719, 4 April 1866, Page 5: 'On proceeding up the main sewer, a considerable amount of timber and other rubbish was found collected at the junction of Fort and Queen streets. This was caused by an iron bar having been built across the sewer. At this place the sewer has suffered considerable damage, a portion of the bricks on one side having been washed out for a distance of 12 feet in length, and 4 feet in height.'”

Very detailed. And incorrect.

The diagonal diversion across Queen Street collapsed in June 1860 after heavy rains soaked the ground above the trench, which was only covered by timbers right from 1849, causing the heavy soil, mud and clay to make what was described as a gash “resembling an earthquake crack” across Queen Street. (Southern Cross 15 June 1860 p.3) This happened during the construction of the main sewer on the eastern side of Queen Street (that’s the brick sewer photographed at Fort Street corner and almost always mislabelled as the Ligar Canal).

The mess was fixed up, and the Ligar Canal diversion was used as a flush for the sewer. By 1866, the Queen Street Main Sewer had progressed up the eastern side of Queen Street – it reached Wellesley Street by 1865, and all along the way, fresh diversions from both the Ligar Canal drain and the lined watercourse for Wai Horotiu were made, until a diagonal diversion from Victoria Street West in 1865.

So no, this image showing more than just the sewer blown out at Fort Street isn’t 1866 – it’s much more likely to be June 1860, showing the only known event with a contemporary description that matches what we see here.

Really though -- more to do with the Main Sewer works, than the old Ligar Canal.

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