A Provincial Government
There were already five settler communities in other parts of the country but they were very scattered and means of communication and transport were slow. It was decided that each province would be largely self-governing. In effect, six miniature Parliaments were set up to govern a country of fewer than 50,000 settlers.
The Provincial Councils took themselves very seriously, modelling their hierarchies on the British 'Mother of Parliaments' at Westminster.
Three years after establishment, Christchurch was still a straggling village. In 1853, elections were held for the position of Superintendent and later, for the twelve-seat Council.
Only men over the age of 21 who owned property were eligible to vote (it was a good 40 years before New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote). There were no secret ballots and no restrictions on treating the voters, so elections were very festive occasions.
The Provincial Council first met in temporary accommodation but plans for a permanent building began almost immediately. On the 6th of January 1858, the foundation stone was laid for the Provincial Council Buildings.
The day was declared a public holiday with a procession through town and a nine-gun salute.
The buildings were first used by the Council in September 1859.
Because of the buildings' great architectural and historical significance, the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings have been given the New Zealand Historic Places Trust's highest classification.
They are also listed as being worthy of preservation in the Christchurch City Council's District Planning scheme.
Within the buildings there is now an Interpretation Centre that sets out their history in detail.
Through the use of fascinating photographs, historical items, recorded speeches of the day and a video, a rich array of material tells the life story of the buildings.