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Diamond Harbour lies on the Banks Peninsula directly opposite the major port of Lyttleton where oil tankers, container ships and cruise liners regularly arrive from all corners of the world. I parked Sas at the top of the hill next to the County Stores, much to her annoyance, since there was a definite risk of driving down to the constricted wharf area and not finding a parking space. I was confident about my decision since there was an obvious pathway heading straight downwards to the bay. It was a foolproof scheme. I set off under the shade of the pine trees but unfortunately my marvelous plan ultimately led me to a small bay separated from the actual Diamond Harbour wharf by about four hundred metres of large rocks set right up against the steep slope of the hillside, and no clear pathway between the two. This was indeed a worthy challenge for a juvenile mind and the scramble up, over and around the giant rocks was certainly rewarding. There was absolutely no way I was going to retreat defeated up that path again with Sas looking on. Along the shoreline I passed two Maori lads swimming in the ice cold water searching for their dinner but they told me that so far they hadn't had any luck. The actual location of the wharf and yacht moorings was certainly very pleasing to the eye and a million miles from the sprawling city of Christchurch just beyond the far hill. Diamond Harbour clearly had a small but thriving community and it was therefore an attractive place to live. A frequent passenger ferry provides transport to work for those who wished to do so and to the other facilities that are to be found in Lyttleton and Christchurch beyond. But the civilised life itself remains in Diamond Harbour.
Until very recently a focal point of the settlement used to be Godley House and a billboard by the wharf proudly declared that it offered accommodation, a restaurant, a bar and a cafe. Unfortunately, being of brick construction, the building was seriously damaged by the 4th September 2010 earthquake and the property had been closed for repair, or perhaps demolition, ever since. Godley House was built in 1880 by one Harvey Hawkins as a family home. He was one of Lyttelton's leading citizens and made his living as a ship chandler, ironmonger and speculator. The land that Godley House was built on had been purchased by Harvey Hawkins from Mark Stoddart. However the good times did not last long for Harvey and by 1894 he had been declared bankrupt and when the property went on the market it did not attract a single bid. So by default the house reverted to the Stoddart family. The Stoddarts subsequently lived there until 1913 when their own cottage and the house were both sold to Lyttelton Council. It was the Council that subsequently named the mansion after John Robert Godley, a pioneer settler in the area. When the earthquake struck in 2010 the five occupants of Godley House were asleep upstairs and they were therefore lucky to escape with their lives. Apart from Godley House there were no obvious signs of earthquake damage in the Diamond Bay area that we could see but no doubt every structure had received its own fair share of damage.
We were just about to drive away when a glance to my left revealed a quaint little cottage in a sun drenched clearing which also housed the rugby, cricket and bowls clubs. On closer inspection the sign at the Diamond Harbour Rugby Club entrance proudly declared that it was the first 'smoke free' club in New Zealand but it will be a very sad day when the first New Zealand rugby club declares itself to be the first 'beer free' club. The cottage itself was transported in prefabricated form from Australia to its present location in 1862 as the home of Mark Pringle Stoddart. Mark Stoddart was born in Edinburgh in 1819, the son of an admiral in the British navy. After farming in Australia for a short period of time he travelled to New Zealand in 1852 where he soon became the owner of fifty five acres of land in the place that he himself named Diamond Harbour, reportedly after seeing its waters glistening in the sun. Stoddart's Cottage was also the birthplace of one of New Zealand's foremost artists, Margaret Stoddart. Margaret Olrog Stoddart was born in Stoddart's Cottage on the 3rd October 1865. At the age of 17 Margaret enrolled at the Canterbury College School in Christchurch to study art and it was during this period that her interest in floral subjects began. After the death of her father in 1885 Margaret moved back to Diamond Harbour to live with her mother and sisters in the mansion that was to become Godley House. By the time that she died in 1934 she had become one of New Zealand's most popular artists and had exhibited worldwide.
The story of Diamond Harbour seems to revolve around earthquakes since it was the financial earthquake which led to Harvey Hawkins having to dispose of what must have been his pride and joy, Godley House, for which he received not a single penny. And 115 years later the present owners saw their successful business destroyed in a few minutes by the power of nature. And yet somehow I believe that both families had to bear the shock and as the song goes, 'Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again'.
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