Looking west down London Street from the Oxford Street intersection ca. 1865. Image from the Collett Collection. 

Looking west down London Street from the Oxford Street intersection ca. 1865. Image from the Collett Collection. 

The photo gracing the Lyttelton Museum calendar this February shows London Street looking west from the Oxford Street Intersection ca. 1865. The image was taken before the Great Fire of Lyttelton in 1870 originating in the Queen's Hotel, which can be seen in the lower right corner. 

On the night of 24 October 1870 the conflagration began in the rear part of a building called "The Dive" which was being used by the Queen's Hotel as a liquor store. Given the nature of the room's contents the blaze was soon out of control and "in less than quarter of an hour from the first discovery of the hotel - a large two-storey building with fully fifty feet frontage - was one mass of roaring fire" (West Coast Times 31/10/1870:3).

Lacking a fire brigade in Lyttelton, the inhabitants started demolishing buildings in an attempt to halt the blaze, which was soon out of control. When it was realised in Christchurch that the "lurid glare visible over the Port Hills" was not a scrub fire but the town itself, the steam fire-brigade was sent by special train (West Coast Times 31/10/1870:3). With the assistance of the Christchurch fire brigade, the flames were eventually put out, but not before an estimated two thirds of the town was burnt down with damages thought to total £100,000 (Daily Southern Cross 31/10/1870:3).

 

An image following the fire in 1870. Source: www.flickr.com

An image following the fire in 1870. Source: www.flickr.com

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