1906 International Exhibition

Christchurch in 1906 - 1907


According to the Census taken on 29 April 1906, the total population of Christchurch and its suburbs at that date was 67,878.

  • City of Christchurch had a population of 49,928
  • 1132 in the Borough of New Brighton
  • 2900 in Woolston
  • 2332 in the Spreydon road district
  • 107 in Halswell
  • 4981 in Riccarton
  • 3131 in Avon
  • Heathcote 3367

In Christchurch

  • There were 93.73 females to every 100 males. Over the past 30 years the disparity between the sexes had been considerably reduced.
  • Each dwelling in Christchurch averaged 4.86 individuals, the lowest number among the four main centres.
  • Canterbury was the third largest province after Auckland and Wellington, the latter province having overtaken Canterbury since the 1901 census.
  • Nearly half of the population of Christchurch City belonged to the Church of England, with the remaining individuals more or less evenly divided between the Methodist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and other denominations.

In New Zealand

  • The total population of New Zealand in 1906 was 888,578, excluding Māori.
  • The Māori population numbered 47,731, an increase of nearly 5000 since 1901 and of about 8000 since its lowest point in 1896.
  • In Canterbury, however, there were fewer than 800 Māori recorded.
  • Over two-thirds of the New Zealand’s population was New Zealand-born, with 31.5% aged under 15 and 33.76% aged 21-40; only 4.6% were aged over 65. 83.5% of population was literate.
  • Nearly half the men in work were employed in the primary produce or industrial sectors, while the largest area of female employment remained the domestic sector, followed by industry.


Canterbury’s pastoral economy of wool, meat and wheat was the basis of its prosperity but Christchurch was also strong in secondary industries, including freezing works, tanneries, clothing, footwear and textile manufactures, printing, and furniture-making. "Edwardian Christchurch was an elegant colonial city"1 with an extensive sewerage system, good public transport including an expanding tramway network, handsome buildings and attractive trees and gardens. It was John Eldon Gorst, the British special envoy to the International Exhibition, who coined the phrase, "The Garden City" which is still used today.


The city’s flat terrain made it a haven for cyclists, while from its earliest days, there had been keen interest in sport. Boxing, hockey and tennis were all founded in Christchurch, and it was also a leading centre for rugby, cricket and horse-racing. Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition in 1901 marked the start of the city’s long and continuing association with Antarctic exploration.


In the 1890s and early 1900s, Christchurch was "buzzing with new ideas, full of radicals, reformers and eccentrics".2 It became a Liberal stronghold in 1890 and remained so for the next 20 years. Fabian socialist and architect of many of the Liberals’ social reforms, William Pember Reeves was a Christchurch member of parliament.

Christchurch had also been the cradle of the temperance and suffrage movements, the home of leading suffragists Katherine Wilson Sheppard and Ada Wells, as well as their parliamentary advocate, John Hall.

It was also the home of the trade union movement and of artisan radicalism, led by such men as Thomas Edward Taylor, another Christchurch member of parliament who would later become mayor. Eccentrics and reformers included Ettie Annie Rout and Alexander William Bickerton.

At the same time, the Edwardian period was "without doubt the halcyon years of Christchurch’s identity as an outpost of the British Empire".3 Christchurch citizens were ardent supporters of New Zealand involvement in the South African War and enthusiastic monarchists and imperialists, who nevertheless were beginning to develop their own sense of national identity. The 1906-7 Exhibition marked an important step in the emergence of that identity.



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